Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Julian Assange and Rape-Rape

This may be a rather controversial post, so I will have an extremely short temper with anyone who does not actually read what it says on the page. In that spirit, this comes with three disclaimers:

Disclaimer 1: I think Wikileaks' actions are excellent and necessary. The Iraq and Afghanistan war logs show that we cannot trust governments to do what is right in the absence of transparency. They will abuse our trust to cover up killing journalists, spying on the UN, and letting outlawed munitions into the country. I look forward to further leaks, especially to the ones promised early next year featuring the deeds of a major US bank. And they make me hopeful that individuals can in fact challenge those who consider themselves beyond human accountability.

Disclaimer 2: Julian Assange does not equal Wikileaks. One can fall while the other survives. If Assange were to blink out of existence tomorrow morning, the leaks would continue. If he were assassinated, as some US politicians who should really know better have suggested, the leaks would happen a lot faster, courtesy of the infamous insurance file. And if it turns out that Assange is actually a horrible person, this does not invalidate what Wikileaks has done. They are not the same.

Disclaimer 3: Assange has just been arrested in the UK to be extradited to Sweden on charges of rape. (Having walked into a police station of his own accord with the intent to fight the extradition to Sweden, mind). He says that the allegations are false and orchestrated by the US. The two women who have accused him say otherwise. Swedish prosecutors are acting in a strange manner by refusing to actually communicate with him.

It's possible that Assange is right, and that the charges are bogus and a result of US pressure on Sweden. But it's also possible that Assange is in fact guilty of rape. I don't want that to be the case, but we can't just dismiss that possibility because we don't like it.

Now, assuming the charges are genuine:

What exactly is he accused of? Most news sources just recount the unhelpful official arrest warrant. But according to Feministe, his actual deed is this: "in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn't, and the woman didn't realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not".

At this point, I'm going to make a cruel comparison using a made-up summary:

"Well-travelled man, his work beloved by many, is accused of rape. Supporters rush to side, saying 'it was not really rape, those who say otherwise have ulterior motives'."

When Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland last year, his supporters rushed to his side, voicing their anger that such a great man would be so unfairly hounded. When challenged, they would tend to downplay Polanski's crime. Whoopi Goldberg infamously explained on TV that Polanski's sexual assault of a thirteen year old was not "rape-rape": not actual, proper rape.

Many people now say that what Assange is accused of is not rape but simply a bit of naughtiness, not a very nice thing to do, but not enough to warrant arrest. Sometimes this is because the crucial fact that he did not stop when told to is omitted by many reports, but others simply don't see what he did as rape. "Rape", to many people, is half-human monsters lurking near bus stops waiting to assault total strangers, not a "disagreement in the bedroom".

But if we actually want to clearly define rape, we end up with something like "sexual intercourse without consent". Polanski is definitely guilty of this. So is Assange, according to the women he slept with in Sweden. It makes me wince to see people who were baying for Polanski's blood now refuse to entertain the idea that Assange may be guilty of rape.

As a Swiss, it also makes me extremely angry to see a Swiss bank close Assange's account on a technicality, given that the Swiss government, having nabbed Polanski, ended up releasing him again, on a technicality. It seems such technicalities always crop up whenever there is sufficient political pressure.

But here's the thing: It is possible for Julian Assange to be both a crusader for openness and a rapist. After all, Polanski is both an accomplished director and a rapist.

Famous people are never entirely good or entirely evil. All human beings have flaws and contradictions. Assange can be a maven on political freedoms and a dunce on sexual ones. He can have a sophisticated moral compass in politics and still think "I don't like wearing condoms, and I'm not going to be told otherwise".

This does not excuse his actions. We can't simply offset a person's good deeds against their bad ones and judge them on the result. It may be that the right thing to happen is for Assange to go to prison for rape and for Wikileaks to continue leaking state secrets. After all, they are not the same thing.

We must evaluate Wikileaks' actions on their own merits and not confuse them with those of its figurehead.

Friday, 3 September 2010

What would you do with £20million?

In September, Pope Benedict XVI will pay a state visit to the United Kingdom. The cost of the visit will be at least £20,000,000, not including security. This is a staggering amount to spend in order to welcome the head of a state (the Vatican City) and head of an organisation which have been responsible for:
  1. opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of AIDS
  2. promoting segregated education
  3. denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women
  4. opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people
  5. failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
  6. rehabilitating the holocaust denier bishop Richard Williamson and the appeaser of Hitler, the war-time Pope, Pius XII.
 -- as well as resisting "signing many major human rights treaties and [forming] its own treaties (‘concordats’) with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states."

Several groups have joined together to organise a protest against the Pope, on Saturday 18th September at 1.30pm, at Hyde Park Corner, London. For more information, see Protest the Pope.

Another website to check out is 20million.org, where you can see other people's suggestions of what they'd do with £20,000,000 and submit them yourself, if you are on Twitter. Some examples:

  1. rmc47
    rmc47 http://20million.org - If I had #20million... I'd spend it on educating people about scientific principles, and how statistics works.

  2. Simon Carpentier
    SimonCarpentier http://20million.org - If I had #20million, I would invest in renewable energy, technology, and alternative transport

  3. Sarah Benwell
    kalpana_s http://20million.org - If I had #20million, I would start developing a literacy programme that works in favour of African countries!

  4. Joe Knowler
    Joeyfr88 http://20million.org - if I had #20million, I would donate it all to mental health charities.
-- this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

This isn't a matter of the Pope being allowed to visit the UK as a religious leader, which of course he is entitled to do, but of the type of head of state whom the British government thinks it is appropriate to offer a state reception to.
There is a lot more information available at the links above if you're interested in having your say on the issue.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Welcome to the Age of Austerity

David Cameron says we are entering an Age of Austerity. Grant Shapps, our Housing Minister, says we are entering an Age of Aspiration.

Austerity + Aspiration = Asperity, defined by dictionary.com thus:

1. harshness or sharpness of tone, temper, or manner; severity; acrimony: The cause of her anger did not warrant such asperity.
2. hardship; difficulty; rigor: the asperities of polar weather.

— Welcome to the Age of Austerity

We're still on hiatus, though we are accumulating ideas for more posts and hope to reboot the blog once we're no longer busy with moving and its aftermath.

Meanwhile, I'd like to direct you to a blog called Welcome to the Age of Austerity, recently started by a friend of ours who works in UK local government. It's about government, society, and the economy of the UK under its new coalition government.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Not Dead.

As you've probably been able to tell, things have been very quiet at Not Powerless. In the case of my co-contributors, this is because they have become very busy with work. In my case, it's because I have developed a chronic pain in my right shoulder that leaves me unable to write more than a few sentences.

But rest assured that we will be back. We all have posts in our heads we want to do, and we are plotting them and writing them and storing them up for a rebirth.

So stay tuned.

Monday, 8 February 2010

On the pointless embrace of mandatory flowers

In less than a week's time it will be Valentine's day, that most manufactured of holidays, when we are asked to buy flowers and chocolate and dinners for our partners - mostly by the people selling flowers and chocolate and dinners.

But to put it bluntly, if your partner doesn't know you love them by now, you've got bigger problems. And any romantic gesture done on the 14th is diminished: did you buy those flowers out of love, or out of habit? Isn't it frankly demeaning to be told how to conduct our love lives by a bunch of advertisers?

So how about, this Valentine's day, use the money you'd spend on dinner and flowers to donate to the Red Cross to help in Haiti.

Of course, the difficulty with saying "I don't want to do anything for Valentine's day" is that neither side wants to make the first step. So to help matters, avail yourself of this handy and to-the-point e-card:

I love you. I know you love me.

Don't get me anything for Valentine's day, help the people in Haiti and donate to the Red Cross instead.

Use the following convenient form to send it:

(The email addresses will not be recorded in any database or passed on to any third party. The site uses them to send the card, then forgets about them.)

(Forward this via twitter and DiggThis and submit to reddit reddit and delicious and and and and to free more people from the pointless embrace of mandatory flowers.)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Homeopathic "cure"

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is an umbrella term for a variety of treatments that fall outside of the traditional medical realm. This includes practises such as hypnosis, chiropractic and homeopathy. I'm not a firm believer in such treatments myself, but the practitioners and regulatory bodies of CAM seem intent on not allowing the scientific community a chance to argue with actual facts.

This is most obvious in the recent libel case brought against Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. Despite not having provided any evidence to prove that their practice works they were allowed to bring a case against Mr Singh for an article against the use of chiropractic for treatment of colic. The fear against legal action that denouncing CAM could bring is, in my opinion, stifling the progressive and active research and publication of evidence for or against such practices.

Luckily there is something we can do. A campaign, named Ten23, has been started to raise awareness of Homeopathic practices and question their place alongside legitimate medicine. The campaign isn't aiming to spread unsubstantiated (or substantiated for that matter) claims about Homeopathy's lack of efficacy, but to merely highlight the theories and reasoning behind such treatments.

Please take a look at the site and sign their open letter to Boots the Chemist requesting that Homeopathic treatments aren't marketed alongside actual medicine.

Sign up here.