Monthly Archives: March 2013

So Mother Teresa wasn’t very nice. Who knew?

Quick, think of somebody who you should never criticize ever. Did you say Mother Teresa? Because I imagine a lot of people think you should have. Earlier this year researchers in Canada posted a paper online in the Journal “Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses”. The paper, called “Les côtés ténébreux de Mère Teresa” or “The dark side of Mother Teresa” will be published this month in the March issue. It looks at 287 documents, covering 96% of the literature on her life and work. The University of Montreal posted an article in advance of the publication which claims “the researchers conclude that her hallowed image—which does not stand up to analysis of the facts—was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.”

The researchers also said that her “rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.” In life when she was presented with criticisms about how the poor suffered in her care she responded with “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” Lovely.

And the research isn’t that surprising. Everyone from the British Medical Journal to the New Left Review to The Lancet has taken a pop at her for her work at one point or another. Christopher Hitchens even got an entire book out of it. And an article in Slate. And a channel 4 documentary. And he mentions it at the start of Letters to a Young Contrarian and again in God is Not Great. I’m assuming he stopped eventually as there would have to come a point where even he would admit he was just picking on a dead nun.

Of course none of this unique to Mother Teresa. In fact she stands up pretty well when compared to some of the other people canonized by the Catholic Church in the past. Vice helpfully did a list which includes such miraculous and pious pricks as Christina Mirabilis (who hallucinated and flew a lot), Cædwalla of Wessex (who killed a shit load of Saxons) and Ambrose of Something (who really didn’t like the Jews. Like, really hated them). If you’re interested, Cracked has a couple of lists of some of the other interesting miracle workers that are included in the over 10,000 saints currently recognized.

Even with the well documented, and often deserved, criticism of Mother Teresa the cult that seemed to surround her in life is alive and well. Céleste Owen-Jones, an Associate Producer of HuffPost Live, decided to write a defence of Mother Teresa which can easily be summed up as “Erm no, not even though, and even if you’re right she’s still better than nothing which is why she’s awesome”. The best bit of the article though has to be in response to her opposition to abortion and contraception: “Yes, Mother Teresa was adamant and very vocal about this. Although I usually scream loud and clear when I hear any politician questioning what I consider two fundamental rights, I do not hold it against Mother Teresa.” So, question these two fundamental rights and make Céleste Owen-Jones scream, unless you’re Mother Teresa and it just becomes yet more proof of how Super-Special-Awesome you are.  Sounds cult like to me.

Anyway on a slightly related note please enjoy this video of Frankie Boyle making a joke about another “icon” of our time.

The EU is trying to take your porn. Kind of.

In honour of International Women’s Day the European Parliament is preparing to vote next Tuesday on a motion aimed at “eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU”. The title alone sounds good, and I very much doubt that many people would have a problem with it. however the Swedish Pirate Party has pointed out that some of the wording in the small print could potentially lead to an EU wide ban on porn. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party, wrote on his website that Article 17 of the motion calls for “a ban on all forms of pornography in the media”, along Article 14 which “Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet” could be used together to justify a ban.

Of course the actual vote next week is wholly non binding and no new law will actually be created if it passes (which it probably will, no one wants to vote against eliminating stereotypes. ). However if could potentially be used as the basis for actual proposed legislation by the European Commission, although European Digital Rights believe that the wording is almost too absurd to ever be taken seriously. But if you are genuinely worried, Rick Falkvinge helpfully provides a way to contact Europe’s MEPs (although in all likelihood your email will just end up in their spam filter).

Some of the other articles included with the motion call for:

“12. Stresses the need to run special courses on gender stereotypes in the media for national advertising standards committees and self-regulatory and regulatory bodies so as to raise awareness of the negative influence of gender-discriminatory images on television, the internet and in marketing and advertising campaigns;

13. Calls on the EU to develop awareness campaigns on zero-tolerance across the EU for sexist insults or degrading images of women and girls in the media;

14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;

15. Calls on the EU and its Member States to conduct training and awareness training actions with media professionals on the harmful effects of gender stereotypes and good practices in this area;

16. Stresses the importance of promoting the representation of the female image in a way that respects women’s dignity, and of combating persistent gender stereotypes, in particular the prevalence of degrading images, whilst fully respecting freedom of expression and freedom of the press;”

And all of this is supposed to be provided by the same organization that attempted to encourage more women to pursue careers in science with this advert:

It just fills you with confidence, doesn’t it?

Chavez Dead & Buried.

Hugo Chavez, 58, died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer. In total he was leader of Venezuela for 14 years, he was involved in two attempted military coups (once as the instigator, once as the target), his premiership coincided with a massive decline in his country’s Human Rights record and his most enduring image is that one clip of him sniffing around the podium at the UN General Assembly like a police dog looking for crack. Oh, and apparently he didn’t believe in Al Qaeda or the moon landings.

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This is what you should be thinking right now

His government rammed the Supreme Court with political supporters who then openly disregarded the notion of separation of powers, In 2009 he called for the arrest and 30 year imprisonment of a judge who returned a verdict he didn’t like (she remains under house arrest), the government passed legislation to make it harder for the press to criticize or offend them (while vowing to deport any foreigner who did the same) and the government consistently voted against UN Resolutions condemning Human Rights abuses in Burma, Syria and North Korea (among others).

His funeral was attended by such dedicated and well known defenders of human happiness as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (President “elect” of Iran), Alexander Lukashenko (Europe’s last dictator) and Sean Penn (Spicoli). Following his funeral his body will be put on display “eternally“, following in the footsteps of previous heralds of revolutionary socialism as Vladimir Lenin,  Mao Zedong,  Kim Il-sung and Ho Chi Minh. Because he spent his elected premiership constantly trying to show up the US whenever he could and chose to buy his weapons from Russia rather than the West he’ll be forever remembered as a dedicated anti-imperialist, because, of course Russia could never, ever, ever be described as an aggressive nation.

Of course it could easily be argued that so far I’ve been a slightly one sided about his death. The truth is that in life Chavez suffered from what I’ve just decided to call “Richard Nixon Syndrome.” Few people can doubt that Nixon was an asshole and yet he was the asshole who helped negotiate the first arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, created the Environmental Protection Agency, passed the 1970 Clean Air Act, fought hard (and partly succeeded) to reform US healthcare, oversaw the desegregation of public schools and helped lay the groundwork for the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

And Chavez falls into exactly the same trap. You have to be a completely myopic anti-US cyclops to be blind to all the mans faults, but you cant deny that his time as Venezuela’s leader lead to some huge improvements for the country. He passed progressive trade union laws, reduced poverty and increased health and education standards, all of which makes him more difficult to classify, but does it undo all that bad and make him a saint? Of course not. And yet his supporters continue to ignore the abuses and excesses as if they either didn’t happen or don’t matter as they chant his successes as if they’re revealing a never heard secret. It’s almost like the kitchen scene in Fight Club where the Space Monkeys start to chant “His name is Robert Paulson“. We all knew Chavez wasn’t Satan, that doesn’t undo the bad the he and his government was responsible for.