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The bravery of an 11 year old

Holy crap.

Here’s a story from an 11-year-old survivor of the Houla Massacre I posted about yesterday:

11-year-old Ali el-Sayed says he fell to the floor of his home, soaking his clothes with his brother’s blood to fool the killers into thinking he was already dead.

The Syrian boy tried to stop himself from trembling, even as the gunmen, with long beards and shaved heads, killed his parents and all four of his siblings, one by one.

The youngest to die was Ali’s brother, 6-year-old Nader. His small body bore two bullet holes — one in his head, another in his back.

“I put my brother’s blood all over me and acted like I was dead,”

Humans suck.

Blog, Commentary

War Crime Against Children

It boggles my mind that I’m just now, five days later, hearing about this.

On Friday, May 25th, the Syrian government sent a team composed of its own military as well as government-linked militias to two opposition-controlled villages in the Houla region. Houla was seen as a protest-hub and had often previously been raided before when the government was looking to track down activists and protestors. 108 civillians were killed, and 300 were injured. Of the 108 killed, 34 were women.

49 were children.

I just….what?

Activists contacted local UN observers prior to the raid, pleading for help and fearing an imminent government attack. The UN monitors failed to respond.

Wikipedia (warning for graphic descriptions):

On May 25, 2012, video emerged [showing] the bloodstained bodies of many children huddled on a floor in the dark.Some of the children had had their skulls split open.Others had been shot or knifed to death, some with their throats cut.

The Local Coordination Committees stated that the attack by the military was preceded by mortar shelling of the town, which in itself left entire families dead.

The blog where I first learned of this:

These are the events and photos too graphic even for those who deal with them daily. The Times will not publish more photos from the massacre; neither will CNN.

The blog post links to further news sources, photos for those with firmer stomachs than me, and a detailed description of the photos for those who can’t bear to look at the senseless violence.

The government has blamed the attack on Al-Qaeda, which unsurprisingly contradict all  accounts from local residents as well as activists. The international reaction to this has not been favourable, to say the least. Yesterday, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.S. have all announced that they were expelling Syrian diplomats in protest to this massacre.

If you want to be able to keep a closer eye on what’s going on within Syria, I recommend the Syria live blog from Al Jazeera. There is also the Twitter feed run by Sultan Al-Qassemi, who first rose to prominence during the Egypt/Tunisia chapters of Arab Spring.

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Why not make rape jokes?

I get accused of being overly PC a fair bit, especially when I call out sexist language. These accusations are usually launched with a sense of defiance, as though not being politically correct were a badge of honour, rather than the cowardly status quo. For everyone I’ve ever had a discussion with about why rape jokes are shitty…well, here’s why:

A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?

Rapists do.

They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.

Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.

And, decent guy who would never condone rape, who would step in and stop rape if he saw it, who understands that rape is awful and wrong and bad, when you laughed? When you were silent?

That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.

You. The rapist’s comrade.

Staying silent is part of the rape culture.

The whole post is excellent.

Blog, Me

The confidence of the ignorant

I’m re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is the second English book I’d ever owned. I received Matilda by Roald Dahl when I was ten as a present from a family friend from Britain, and my mom bought me Goblet of Fire in English when it first came out in 2000 because the German translation wasn’t available yet, and because she wanted to encourage me to practice English.

At that time I’d only been studying English out of a textbook for about a year, so my knowledge was pretty limited. I’d forgotten that for the first few chapters I jotted down the Chinese definitions to the words I didn’t know in the book itself:

Looking at this, it’s kind of hilarious that I attempted to read a book like Goblet of Fire at a time when I didn’t know the words “villagers”, “maid”, “though”, “truth”, “ivy”, “face”, “older”, or “entered”. I mean, what?

It’s also kind of hilarious how wrong the definitions I wrote down were. “Maid” I had defined as “young girl”–technically correct, but makes no sense in context. “Spreading” was defined as “a fabric spread”. “Topics” was defined as “thought”.

And don’t even get me started on any sort of colloquialism. The “drawing” room…the story had been “picked over”…the pub did a “roaring trade”. I didn’t stand a chance. English is weird, man.

Anyway, I thought that was kinda fun. Matilda is similarly dotted with notes like that, but they were written in this awful green ink that bled everywhere and there were also pretty terrible doodles in the margins, so I’ll refrain from taking a photo of that.

Why am I re-reading Harry Potter? Shut up, that’s why. And yes, I’m aware of how terrible my Chinese handwriting is.

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Weekly Link Round-Up

A lot of links this week, but that won’t stop my intrepid readers.

From Twitter:

So apparently “Phire” is actually a male name of Armenian origin that means “one who burns brightly”. I’ll take it.

The funny and beautiful Kristen Wiig has been a mainstay on Saturday Night Live for the past seven years. When she decided to move on from the show, the SNL team, along with Mick Jagger, gave her a proper send off.

Harp seals are lazy creatures that do nothing to contribute to the economy. Master parody artist Parry Gripp complains about them.

Here’s how to make your own Super Woman themed heels. You know, in case you were thinking about it.

Noted designer and Internet Person Jeffrey Zeldman has a new web design manifesto.

The failed attempt to organize Ukraine’s first Gay Pride parade has ended in vicious and hateful physical attacks upon its organizers. Goddammit.

The Society Pages has an interesting post about the self-reported happiness levels of women with various types of family lives. It turns out that being a mother kinda sucks.

The students striking against university tuition hikes in Quebec have passed their 100th day of protest this past week. Here are 10 things you should know about the student movement. Here’s why the government’s proposed countermeasure is draconian and over the top. The New York Times agrees.

Esquire magazine has started up a new publishing house dedicated to “Fiction for Men”. Problematic much?

You’ll never believe how addictive it is to watch a Slinky roll down a treadmill to epic background music.

Sci-fi author Jim Hines has put together a handy fact sheet, for anyone who doubts Scalzi’s claim that Straight White Men enjoy a bit of a leg up in Western society.

Indie artist Amanda Palmer (formerly of the Dresden Dolls) put up a post detailing exactly where the money from her fantastically successful Kickstarter is going. This sort of industry-insider financial breakdown is always super fascinating.

Warren Buffett remains one of the only rich people with any kind of empathy. Here’s his open letter to publishers and editors about his dedication to editorial independence for any newspaper that Berkshire-Hathaway gets involved with.

Fans of Doctor Who might be aware of a much-maligned episode called Fear Me, in which David Tennant carried the Olympic torch to its destination when the previous bearer faltered. Well, it turns out Matt Smith will actually be doing that in real life for the 2012 London Olympics.

This week, I wrote about:

Sady Doyle’s incisive analysis of HBO’s Game Change, a TV-movie about Sarah Palin’s rise to political stardom.

The British habit of using “Sorry” instead of “Pardon me” when you’re hard of hearing, and the difference between a pardon and an excuse.

The unexpected and pernicious ways in which the traditional Take Back The Night march can actually be silencing to rape victims.

How to get yourself out of bed when the world seems against you.

That big hubbub on Forbes when Eric Jackson called Sheryl Sandberg an “It Girl” who should keep her head down instead of courting media attention.

Blog, Commentary

This is what you get for using a dated “It Girl” reference

Okay, so normally I don’t write about breaking outrage-news as it happens. This is usually because I like letting things sit for a while until I have enough info to form a judgment about the big picture before publishing anything…but also, my time-available-to-blog is so slim that if I don’t make a conscious decisions to let some things go, I’ll never get any sleep.

But because I actually participated in this story as it broke, and because I find the aftermath so hilariously justified, I’m actually going to write about this. Even though I’ve already posted today. I know.

Continue reading

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Stop laying in bed

Adulting is a blog about how to behave like a grown-up. Specifically, how to do it in 387 easy-ish steps. It’s pretty light-hearted for the most part, but this post about getting out of bed even when the world feels overwhelming is really great:

The problem with feeling depressed and out of control is that it is so, so easy to wrap those feelings around you like the world’s least comforting blanket and then stay in bed until you’re covered in emotional and physical bedsores. This is usually exactly what my brain suggests in these situation, and did this morning. But instead, I tried to think of small things I could do, and then did them.

There will never be a time in my life where everything is under control, when there are no swirling scary difficulties making me feel small and powerless. But there will also never be a time when there isn’t something I can do to improve things, or at least my outlook on them.

As C. S. Lewis says:

“Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”

I’d highly recommend subscribing to the whole blog.

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Take back our agency

April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the most prominent phenomenon of this month is something called the “Take Back The Night” march, where protestors–primarily women, as the majority recipient of sexual violence–take to the streets and proclaim their right to safety. As with every institutionalized attempt to engage with problematic social forces, SAAM is imperfect. Megan Greenwell, managing editor at, discusses one such way that SAAM further silences victims of sexual assault (trigger warning for description of sexual assault):

When I read into the history and intentions of the event afterward, I was struck by the fact that the nation’s most visible series of anti-sexual assault events draws on a very particular type of narrative: the “righteous rape,” in which a stranger jumps out from a dark alleyway. Nowhere does it mention that as many as 90 percent of rape victims on college campuses are assaulted by people they know. Maybe taking back the dorm rooms and frat houses would be more effective than blaming the neighbors.

At my university’s event, the “righteous rape” narrative continued at the post-march speakout, which took place in a dark gymnasium on campus. Women lined up to take a turn at the mic and tell their stories of being assaulted.

But I sat silently in a back corner, growing increasingly frustrated by the stories that weren’t being told. Without any sort of overt institutional pressure, the speakers’ tales slowly built to form an uncomplicated account of rape in America. None of the speakers had been drunk when they were assaulted. None of them had willingly followed their attacker into a room. None of them had been betrayed by someone they trusted.

There is much, much more, but I don’t feel right quoting more in such an intensely personal account of how one person dealt with the aftermath of sexual assault. The conclusion is important to note:

But no matter the circumstances, rape is as much a psychological assault as a physical one, and the reasons not to report aren’t limited to fear of retaliation or justice not being served. Sexual assault is impressively effective at making smart, confident women feel like idiots—every other victim I’ve ever spoken with struggled to get over the idea that she could have avoided the crime, or that her assault even constituted a “crime” at all. And for women who pride themselves on being independent—those of us who have a difficult time asking for help or admitting weakness of any kind—embracing the role of “rape victim” feels particularly unnatural. When even victims’ advocates promote uncomplicated rape narratives, it only makes it easier for the majority of victims to slip into the shadows.

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Pardon my sorry

Not One-Off Britishisms is a blog that covers the rise of words and phrases normally found in British English over here in North America. They put up a post recently about the frequency of people in NA saying “sorry?” when they’re asking someone to repeat themselves:

Bones: Miss Moore, is there anything you wish to say at this stage?

Dotty (in the sense of “Pardon?”): Sorry?

Bones: My dear, we are all sorry

“Sorry?” is my personal favourite in those situations, although I’d never understood it to be a primarily British thing. After giving it some consideration, however, it did occur to me that most of my friends who’ve grown up in North America (rather than Europe) tend to say “Pardon Me” rather than “Sorry”. I first learned English in Germany, and I’m sure that lends itself to a certain amount of quirks.

I went looking for further corroboration about the regional differences in “Sorry” vs. “Pardon me”, and while I didn’t find anything about that specific phenomenon, I did come across this interesting distinction between “Pardon me” and “Excuse me”, posited by a forum poster on the excellent WordReference forums:

The difference is a temporal in nature. There is a marked distinction between an excuse and a pardon. You say “excuse me” for something you are about to do and “pardon me” for something you have already done. In common usage they are often used interchangably [sic] but that is technically incorrect.

I’d never thought about it like that before, but it makes total sense, doesn’t it? Although as J says: “What kind of twisted-up nabob do you have to be to think about stuff that much?”

Answer: my kind of twisted-up nabob.

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Game Change

I’m no fan of Sarah Palin, but I’m highly curious about Game Change, the new HBO movie about the Vice-Presidential people on all sides of the political spectrum love to hate. Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown has a highly excellent analysis about why Game Change is so problematically sexist even as it depicts Palin in a humanized and sympathetic light:

But, until we live in a post-sexist society, it may be impossible to hate Sarah Palin fairly. Men, in particular, tend to see Palin through the fogged glass of sexism, and therefore to aim wide of the mark in their hatred, fulminating against some generic hick or bimbo or slut or bitch rather than the actual, crappy person that she is. And, despite Moore’s amazing performance, which humanizes Palin in a way that Palin herself has never managed to pull off, the movie still seems caught in telling the tale of Palin The Bimbo or Palin The Bitch, or, now, Palin The Hysteric.

I felt sympathy for Sarah Palin, watching Game Change. Real, deep, deeply uncomfortable sympathy, which at times crossed the border into frankly terrifying identification. But I felt it, often, against the grain of the movie. I will never agree with this woman. But I’m still waiting for the movie that portrays an actual truth about her that I can get behind: That plays the story of Palin as the story of a bad person, and not just another bad girl.