New oxymoron: Legitimate rape

The outrage following congressman Todd Atkins’ comments about “legitimate rape” was racked up again when he corrected himself (sic):

I was talking about forcible rape. I used the wrong word.

For those latecomers, the controversy began with an interview in which Atkins’ compounded his oxymoronic thinking with the purely moronic:


During the interview for KTVI-TV on Sunday, Mr Akin was asked about his no-exceptions view on abortion, a highly charged issue in the US, and on whether he would like abortion to be banned even if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

He replied: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

“But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

(Source: BBC News, Video courtesy FOX 2 KTVI)

Note that Atkins sits on the House Committee on Science, the one that believes in magical ladyparts and leprechauns.

Atkins’ clarification today is not intended to be a correction in meaning — it’s just replacing one offensive oxymoron with another, possibly worse –, rather it is a crude attempt to reattach himself to Romney leadership that had tried, half-heartedly, to distance itself from his statements. “Forcible rape” was the term used in a bill, co-sponsored by Atkins and (wait for it, Romney VP nominee) Paul Ryan, from last year that in name attempted to block taxpayers funding abortions, but in fact tried to redefine rape by excluding cases where the victim might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs … or be mentally handicapped.

How does one even begin to respond to this?

Perhaps satire is the only way:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Delving A’dam, espying Eve

After a series of workshops at the University of Amsterdam, we retired to Café Van Zuylen for beer and soup, waiting out the Friday evening traffic before heading south on a three-hour drive done in 2 hrs 10″, thanks to my driver’s belief that speed radars don’t work at night.

Café Van Zuylen
Mobile photo, edited in-camera with Pixlr-o-matic

In the lower bar, I saw a familiar head — grey flattop, hangdog features — red party tie and sobre overcoat. I only put the name to the face a few hours later (Ronald Plasterk, former education minister), and later still, realized that he must have just come from the election for the Labour Party leadership, which he lost.


Freedom means the right to choose your own truth

I love following American politics. It’s so much more fun than in other countries. I think my fascination comes down to the exceptional degree of chutzpah shown by candidates and commentators, and the almost inevitable exposure of the mismatch between what they say and what they do. Once the flaw is exposed, it is fascinating to watch the public story unravel day by day. In the UK recently, we could enjoy the hilarious backsliding, lies and coverups by the Defence Minister; in contrast, such exposure occurs on an almost daily basis in the US during election period (which is in fact most of the year).

And with the death of one of the most insightful US political analysts, Hunter S. Thomson, I rely on The Daily Show for the most pleasurable way to follow US current affairs.

Last week, however, there was a particularly gob-smacking moment with a send-up interview with Republican Party Consultant and Strategist, Noelle Nickpour, on the subject of the place of science in the US.

Watch it and be afraid. Nickpour is actually serious about what she says!


Nickpour:  It’s very confusing for a child to be only taught evolution to go home to a household where their parents say, “Well, wait a minute … God created the Earth!”

Daily Show Interviewer Aasif Mandvi:  What is the point of teaching children facts if it’s just going to confuse them?

Nickpour:  It confuses the children when they go home.  We as Americans—we are paying tax dollars for our children to be educated. We need to offer them every theory that’s out there. It’s all about choice; it’s all about freedom.

Mandvi: It should be up to the American people to decide what’s true.

Nickpour:  Absolutely! Doesn’t it make common sense?

The limits of tolerance

Accept or tolerate?The Dutch like to think of themselves as an exceptionally, even uniquely, tolerant people. The precedent is often cited as Amsterdam’s reception of refugees fleeing religious persecution in the 17th century, although London too hosted Huguenots and Jews, in perhaps greater numbers than Amsterdam. And to the outsider today, the Netherlands is not obviously more tolerant than other northern European countries such as Denmark or Sweden; yet to a Dutch person, whenever conversation turns to identity and what it means to be Dutch, it is the notion of special tolerance of others that comes to the fore, and discussions about immigration, for example, often provoke an indignant response and a feeling of a personal affront.

Maybe a failure of the “MultiKulti” society (Angela Merkel) is also due in part to merely tolerating others rather than accepting them:

If you accept others as equals, you embrace them unconditionally, now and forever. But if you let them know that you tolerate them, you suggest in the same breath that they are actually an inconvenience, like a nagging pain or an unpleasant odour you are willing to disregard.
Source: Arthur Japin

The devotion of the Dutch to an ideal of tolerance sometimes produces tortuous compromises and inconsistencies. Take, for example, the famous tolerance policy on soft drugs: According to the government website, “Weed, marijuana and hash are less harmful than hard drugs (XTC, Cocaine), but they are just as illegal.” In practice, possession of less than five grams of cannabis for personal use will not be prosecuted. You can also grow up to five cannabis plants without prosecution … although “they have to be handed over upon discovery” (?!).

Coffeeshops find themselves in the middle of this bizarre form of tolerance: they are authorized to sell small quantities of weed under very strict conditions, including an interdiction to buy weed. That would encourage trade in drugs rather than personal consumption, goes the reasoning. The result is that the supplies come from illegal cannabis plantations run by criminals with no regard to quality or safety. Just today, the Utrecht city council proposed setting up legal plantations, formed of members each with five plants, in order to reduce health risks and cut out the criminal middleman.

Elsewhere in politics, we currently have a coalition government propped up by a “tolerance” of a third party, Geert Wilders’ PVV. His party (of which he is the only member …) is so repulsive to other members of the rightist coalition that they cannot accept him as a member of the government, but will only tolerate his presence provided he backs them on key issues.

Being "tolerated" sucksThe influence of tolerance stretches down to local community relations too. For example, in our communal garden, a number of house owners have placed plant pots on the paving stones around the garden, effectively extending their garden into the common ground by an extra one or two metres. The reason is that these house owners had understood that the original building plans gave them much longer gardens; when the final product was delivered, with much less land, the owners decided unilaterally to take back their land. As latecomers to the block, we were unaware of the history, but the result was clear: big concrete plant pots in the middle of the path, with plants stretching over the rest of the path, meant that it was almost impossible to walk round the garden without getting smacked in the mouth by bamboo or dune grass. After years of wrangling, the residents’ association produced a tolerance policy whereby owners were allowed to cover one of the three tiles, but that their plants could not extend any further than that single tile. So far nothing has changed; we’ll have to wait until the weather gets warmer before people start using the garden again, and the plants start growing.

And now the final example of the limits of Dutch tolerance, and the story that first motivated me to write this post six months ago: in the regional newspaper on 3 September 2010, I noticed a short article on the front page about three members of a cycling club who had been reprimanded by the club executive because they had stopped for a coffee during a bike ride. The rest of the club members had no problem with it, but the board insisted on the club principle of “Out together, home together”, and the rule that members are not allowed to stop during a club ride. The story continued on the inside pages, with a photo of dissident member, Adri de Schipper stirring a cup of coffee, in his cycle kit, with his bike parked behind him. The practice of stopping for coffee had always been tolerated, he explained, and it was now a pity that the club executive had suddenly changed its mind, threatening to kick the dissident coffee drinkers out of the club if they didn’t conform to the club rules.

As Japin says, “Tolerance is cloaked menace: the mood can change at any moment.”

Thanks a lot, Voltaire

News just in: seven out of ten Dutch people have participated in a poll about Geert Wilders.

Whatever issue Wilders addresses becomes the discussion of the day, and in such a way that Wilders himself becomes the issue once again. I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but I read somewhere that someone’s brother-in-law overheard a source close to a rumour … that Wilders was a Mossad agent, codenamed Mephistopheles.

Watching Wilders today contemplating the debate on dual passports that he had initiated, I found myself straining to tweak Evelyn Hall‘s famous defence of free speech, usually misattributed to Voltaire:

I do not agree with what you have to say,
but you’ll deaden the deaf with your right to say it.

On a more sombre note, another quote that is attributed to Voltaire strikes a sensitive point in recent political events in the Netherlands:

The ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.

However, I’ve only found the quote in English, without reference to an original source, and without a trace of an original version in French.