Friday, June 29, 2012

Scattered thoughts on circumcision

In the wake of a German court ruling that circumcision cannot be performed on a child who is too young to give consent, I thought I would share my thoughts on circumcision. This post will be broken down into sections to organize it a little, but I am not going to attempt to really weave it together into a coherent whole. Just some scattered thoughts.

My background

In the interest of full disclosure: I am circumcised. Both of my sons are not. Most (but not all) of my male peers are circumcised; most (but not all) of my friends with young sons have chosen not to circumcise. I'd like to think this is a generational thing, but while there is some data to support a shift, I think in my case it has more to do with selection bias, namely in the fact that a lot of my friends are into natural birth, attachment parenting, and related stuff.

The health effects

Well, there's a lot of conflicting data out there. My general read is that the risks and benefits seem to very nearly cancel each other out. Circumcision does seem to have some modest prophylactic effect against infection, some sexually transmitted diseases, possibly against a rare form of cancer, etc. Given the sociopolitical pressures to justify circumcision, I suspect this data might be exaggerated, but there does seem to be something to it.

This, of course, is weighed against the direct risk of complications from the procedure, which are rare but not unheard of. The upshot is that you are balancing a very small number against another very small number, and it is difficulty to say which is larger.

In any case, one thing we can be certain of is that the total effect on health is small, even if we don't know whether it is a net positive or net negative. With the possible exception of curbing transmission of HIV in areas experiencing an extreme epidemic, it does not seem that health effects alone are sufficient to indicate either for or against circumcision.

Update: I am glad I used the phrase "possible exception" in the above paragraph, as it has since come to my attention that there is good reason to doubt the claimed efficacy in terms of HIV transmission. The research that has been used to back this contention has some very serious problems (most egregiously, the circumcised groups received sexual health counseling that the control groups did not), and to further compound the matter, there are reports of circumcision being oversold to African men, even going so far as it being pitched as a "natural condom". Obviously it is a terrible HIV prevention policy if men are getting circumcised in lieu of using a condom!

The quality of life effects

This is something you don't hear a lot about outside of outspoken anti-circumcision circles. Part of that is because people tend to focus only on the health effects and cultural issues, but I think it's also partly because this is incredibly difficult to measure.

There are numerous anecdotes to suggest that circumcision has a negative effect on sexual pleasure, possibly for both partners. I employ my routine skepticism here, in that I generally am not willing to accept a conclusion based on anecdote alone, but the idea is at least plausible.

In short, there's not enough data here to really say much of anything... but the fact that this is at least a possibility ought to enter into the evaluation.


Here's where I agree, at least in principle, with the German court. It is possible based on what we've seen so far that there is a very small but real health benefit, and that there are no quality of life effects. My response: So?

It would seem that performing an invasive medical procedure that resulted in a rather drastic cosmetic change, without consent, for only a modest health benefit, violates the principle of primum non nocere. Even if there are no quality of life effects -- which is far from certain -- you're still performing a non-trivial body modification, and to do so without patient consent seems to be a cost that must be taken into account. And while that cost is not insurmountable, the modesty of any possible health benefit (if it even is a net benefit) does not seem to me to have any prayer of balancing it sufficiently.

In other words: In even the best possible scenario, the lack of consent argues against routine circumcision.

Culture, religion, and discrimination against an ethnic minority

This is where it begins to get a little tricky. Not so much in Israel or in Muslim countries, of course, but in countries where circumcision is a ritual practiced primarily by an ethnic minority. I don't really have much to say about it, other than that it's important to examine both others' as well as one's own motivations. It is undeniable that opposition to circumcision has, at sometimes in history, been used as a club to promote antisemitism and Islamophobia. And that's just not okay.

Harm reduction

So one can pretty easily tell from this that I don't think circumcision is a good idea. But what do I think about public policy? Do I agree with the German court? Should circumcision without consent be banned?

I'll give my answer in the final section, but first I want to point out that if circumcision were banned in the US tomorrow, it would put countless baby boys at risk. Why? Because there are thousands of Jews and Muslims who are simply not going to stop the practice, and if you make it illegal then they will find a way to have it done underground. The back alley abortion will be joined by the back alley bris. "I know a guy who knows a guy... I can vouch for you, but don't bring anything with you except the cash and the baby. These mohels will cut you!" (Bah-dump)

I joke, but this is deadly serious. If people are going to circumcise their infants, it's better that they get hospital care (or, if having a mohel do it in a home, at least know they can go to the hospital if necessary without fear of prosecution). This, of course, has to be weighed against all the people who presumably would not circumcise if it was not a legal option. But I have a partial remedy in mind for it...


So my wife and I choose not to circumcise, and I exhort others to make the same choice. But what do I think about public policy?

I would like to see it start with a very modest incremental step, which I think would drastically reduce the number of circumcisions taking place in the United States, while not creating any sort of undue burden on ethnic minorities nor creating any inadvertent dangers by way of driving the practice underground. It is simply this: Hospital staff should be legally barred from bringing up the topic of infant circumcision, unless there is a specific medical indication in favor of it. If a parent/guardian inquires about it, doctors and nurses are then free to discuss it without limitation, just as they are now.

It is impossible to quantify, but it seems highly likely to me that there are tremendous numbers of parents, in the US at least, who have their sons circumcised as a matter of course, not because they have strong feelings about it, but because they just assume that is what's done. They would presumably not seek it out if it were not offered, but if offered, they may simply check the "yes" box (figuratively speaking) without thinking about it. If we can only get these people to stop circumcising, that is a tremendous win, and could have a profound snowball effect against routine circumcision.

On the other hand, the most harm that can possibly result from such a policy would be that a family who was passionate about circumcising for cultural reasons might "forget" to ask about it, and would have to come back later. That would indeed be a nuisance, but it is a relatively minor one, and I imagine it would be relatively rare: most people who are passionate about it will simply ask their obstetrician at a prenatal appointment.

Many would argue that such a change would not go far enough. I don't necessarily disagree, but nevertheless I fear the specter of black market circumcisions, and in any case I think anything more drastic is simply a political non-starter right now. My suggestion would reduce routine circumcision dramatically, while enacting a tactical retreat in regards to religious tradition.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Not sure what's happening, but will pray."

So a friend of mine is going through some serious shit right now in her life, and she posted a little about it on Facebook, without going into specifics. One of her FB frends commented:

Not sure what's happening, but will pray.

Okay, he means well, but I just want to point out something extra dumb about this: If you aren't sure what's happening, how can you pray about it? How will you know what to ask god to do? Oh, god just knows, is that it? Well then why do you need to pray in the first place? Shouldn't just saying, "Yeah, god, that stuff you're supposed to do, get right on it," shouldn't that be plenty specific enough? Why pray specifically for my friend if you don't even know what you are praying for? And if god is just guessing it for you, why pray specifically for my friend?

Good intentions, yes, I know. Good, incredibly stupid intentions.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Welp, the last time I've had a drink was Saturday evening. So that's what, five days I guess? Can I say it's been six days since I had a drink? Dunno what the standard is for how you count this shit...

Right now it's sort of indefinite. Enjoying good beers and brewing are hobbies of mine, so I am loathe to give it up forever completely. I'd like to get back on some sort of moderation track at some point. There are some promising signs that this might be an option for me in the future, but right now it's waaaay too soon to tell. This might just as easily turn out to be permanent.

I've been a fairly heavy drinker since my early 20s, and my wife's been urging me to address that for some time. But I personally have never really been all that uncomfortable with my drinking level, at least not until recently. The last half a year, however, it's gotten a bit out of hand (not to the level of missing work or anything remotely like that, but still...), and a big catalyst for that is that my drinking has gotten all tied up with some relationship issues, to the point where the two problems are not really separable. I don't want to say too much about it, but right now I basically need to untie this knot before I can really make progress on solving either problem. It's absolutely impossible to say how much one problem is contributing to the other right now, because they are too intertwined.

So, abstinence it is, at least until this Gordian knot is cut. Blah.

I went to an SOS meeting at a local UU church a couple weeks ago, I'm gonna go again on Monday. I'm not sure if these meetings are going to be helpful for me or not... I am not someone who easily identifies with other people, and to be perfectly honest, the two times I've been to meetings in the past, I see some of the people there and I'm just like, "Wow, I am absolutely nothing like that person and never could be. What am I doing here again?"1 I am sorry if that sounds elitist; I guess it is. But I can't help myself from feeling that way.

On the other hand, it's been helpful the last few days to picture myself showing up on Monday and saying, "I'm Jay and I haven't had a drink in nine days." (Or is it eight? How am I supposed to count this again? Fuck it, I've been imagining myself saying nine, so I'm saying nine, dammit!) It might be worth it just for that aspect, although I still worry that my anti-identification with some of the people there (yes, even at the SOS meeting) will be counterproductive. Just going to have to play it by ear.

Anyway, I might write more about this in the future. Since I blog under my real name, I sort of don't want to go into too many details, at least not until I have a better idea of how this is going to play out. In any case, here's a music video for ya:

1I am pretty sure this is not a case of denial, either. It's not the amount of substance abuse that these people-I-can't-identify-with are engaging in, it's their attitude towards it and how they deal with it. At the SOS meeting, there was an older guy who, even though his problem and his solution were a fair bit different than mine, I could kind of identify with him. And this is even despite the fact that, at it's worst, his drinking problem was way worse than mine, both in terms of sheer amount of alcohol, as well as direct impacts on his life (he nearly lost his job over it). So please don't misunderstand me, my failure to identify with these people is not a case of me failing to imagine myself having an abuse problem of that level. It's something else entirely.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You women don't understand what it's like to have privilege (and I'm only half-joking)

My wife and I had another couple over for swimming with the kids last night, and the woman in the other couple -- Jenny -- was telling a story regarding a friend of hers dealing with sexual harassment reports at a school where she teaches (or rather, her friend failing to report it when she witnessed it taking place -- long story, not mine to tell, so I'll say no more). I brought up that shitstorm taking place in the atheist/skeptic blogosphere right now, and we talked about that and related issues for awhile.

Elevatorgate also came up, since I had told my wife about it before. And actually, Jenny had read about it in the news, believe it or not! In any case, I made a contrast between the present issue regarding anti-harassment policies, which I think is a relative no-brainer, vs. the issues surrounding Elevatorgate, which I think are really complex and difficult.

Jenny got what I meant by that right away, referring to Elevatorgate as "relying on a lot of subtext." My wife, however, said, "Jay, come on now, any time you ask a stranger in an elevator to do just about anything, that's just not appropriate."

She's right of course, and in that sense Elevatorgate is simple. But I still say that dealing with these issues is hard, and here's why: While I pretty quickly saw why you can't go propositioning a stranger in an elevator once it was pointed out to me, it is not something that would have easily occurred to me on my own.

As I explained to her last night, I simply have not ever been in a situation in my entire life where I seriously thought I might get raped. Never happened, not once. Moreover, it's rare that I even experience situations where somebody is making vague implications that encourage me to comply lest I be overpowered in some way.

My wife responded by asking me how I would feel if a 6'5" man got into an elevator with me at 2AM and tried to proposition me for sex. Oh sure. And I can use empathy to understand what that might feel like. But the key point is that neither that nor anything like it has ever happened to me, ever. It's something I can empathize with, it's something I can train myself to think about, but it's not something that I naturally intuit, because I have no direct frame of reference.

It's a theme that gets repeated over and over again: Privilege itself makes you blind to privilege, unless you make a deliberate effort to educate yourself and train yourself to see it. And even then, it will always come harder to those of us who lack a frame of reference.

So what's the practical upshoot of this? Well, certainly I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for us poor menz who don't understand what it's like to fear being raped. And in fact, despite the deliberately provocative title of this post, I don't think there's a whole lot that women can do about this. I think some women might benefit, just from a personal sanity perspective, to keep this in mind when they encounter cluelessness that seems shocking and willful to them. But that doesn't mean they should react to said cluelessness any differently; it's just, if it helps you not completely tear your hair out, you might remember that these knuckleheads probably really actually don't have any idea what you are talking about.

More importantly, though, this is about what men need to do differently. Now, many men have indeed experienced rape or the fear of rape. I don't want to downplay that. But we must recognize that, while virtually every woman has legitimately been concerned that she might be sexually assaulted, it is probably fair to say that the majority of men have not. Maybe not a vast majority, but a majority nonetheless.

And that means that most of us are lacking a pretty freakin' important piece of the puzzle here, and if we're going to get that piece we need to listen. This is not something you can make intuitive sense out of, because you don't have the reference frame to apply your intuition. It's like trying to gauge the difficulty of doing a layup if you've never even handled a basketball before: You might be able to analogize to other experiences you've had, but maybe it would be better to just ask a basketball player. And if the answer she gives seems wrong to you, then consider the possibility it might be because of your lack of experience in situations like that, rather than intransigence on her part.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A pair of past posts

I just wanted to say that I see no contradiction between these two posts, one very recent, and the other from almost a year ago:

Three reasons why gnus especially should temper their criticism of outspoken feminists
(In which I argue that, just as it's more important that irreligious voices be heard in the first place than it is for our voices to always be perfectly fair or polite, the same logic applies to feminism)

Distinguishing between friends, foes, and those in between
(In which I argue that some of the recent rhetoric from some-not-all feminist FtB bloggers has failed to draw a distinction between friend and foe, and is less effective than it could be as a result)

It might seem like there's a contradiction between those two posts, but there's really not. And I think the reason it might seem so is because there are some points that I did not make forcefully enough in the latter post. Namely: I totally get why people are fed up and are not bothering to be nice to allies when those allies are being clueless; I don't think anybody owes anybody anything in that regard, i.e. there is no ethical imperative to be nice to friends when they are being idiots; and even if these bloggers continue to lob the same type of bombs at friend and foe alike, they will still be effective in the long-term, though I suspect it may take somewhat longer.

It's total bullshit that dealing with sexism in our movement is so tedious. The level of pushback, the sheer bile of the vitriol from some quarters, it's disgusting, and it's disappointing -- no, not even disappointing, devastating. It should not be like this, and I can't really fault those who have completely lost all patience with it.

I wrote the latter post not to condemn, but rather because I think there are some missed opportunities. To be clear, it is not about the hurt feelings of the clueless. See the first post I alluded to for why I'm not shedding a tear over that. It's also not about tolerating wrongness in our allies. I'm not going to falsely reassure a believer in theistic evolution that I think their position is philosophically sound just because I'm glad they aren't a Creationist; and neither am I going to shy away from calling out a fellow skeptic when their privilege is showing.

What it is about is this: To the extent that any given individual is able to do so, if you can tell the difference between somebody who just needs a nudge in the right direction vs. somebody who's really begging for a brutal cockpunch, you can be more effective doling out the nudges and the cockpunches accordingly. If you're not someone who has a talent for that, well okay then, carry on, do your best. If you have been able to discriminate friend from foe in the past, but now you have simply lost patience, well, okay, I get that. I don't think it's a good thing, but -- what can I say? You've got every reason to have lost your patience.

I don't think the bloggers I called out are bad or are overly shrill or anything. I think they'd be more effective by tailoring their rhetoric more to each individual situation, but at the same time they are under no moral obligation to be maximally effective 100% of the time. The pushback against even such a modest suggestion of having an anti-harassment policy at conferences, it's shocking, and if some people are too fed up to be at their most effective, I don't blame them one iota.

I don't get people who deny common descent

Random thought here: The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, but you do actually have to educate yourself about some of that evidence. You can't just look out your window and deduce, say, some of the really striking evidence coming from molecular biology that is helping to clarify the tree (er, tree-ish, allowing for horizontal gene transfer) of life.

But the evidence for common descent? I mean, are you kidding me? First of all, anybody who denies that humans are a type of ape, I mean.. Really?!? Have you, you know, like looked at a chimp or an orangutan or anything? You didn't notice that they look almost exactly like us? Second of all, the Satan is a Dick Theory notwithstanding, the frikkin' fossil record... I mean, I guess I can understand this one because many Creationists studiously avoid ever acknowledging the incredible wealth of transitional fossils that are constantly being paraded in the media as the latest example of "The" missing link. But come on...

That such incredible change could have taken place through natural selection and genetic drift alone, that's hard to comprehend, I get that. A lot of that I think is because our ability to conceive of the time scales involved is very poor (I have found that when thinking about big numbers, there's a point where I start treating exponential growth as if it were linear, e.g. I have a tendency to think that the order of magnitude difference between 10,000 and 24,000 is on par with the difference between 10110 vs. 10124, but of course that's absurd -- and I know how absurd that is, and yet that's still how I think about very big numbers instinctively, so imagine how bad it is for someone who is less familiar with large quantities). But in any case, if somebody accept common descent, but thinks there needed to be some kind of outside force to help natural selection along... well, they're still wrong three ways from Sunday, but that's a mental error I can grok. You have to actually look for the evidence to understand what is wrong with that argument.

But denial of common descent? Denial that we are, plain as day, primates? Don't get it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Distinguishing between friends, foes, and those in between

I really don't care for the phrase, "Everyone is a racist." Oh, I agree with the intention: Every single one of us from time to time engages in actions, harbors unconscious attitudes, or perpetuates institutions which have undeniably racist consequences. That doesn't make us bad people; it's how we deal with this, especially when it's pointed out to us, that makes the difference.

But I really hate the phrase itself, for a few reasons. For one, it sacrifices a useful distinction. There are people who are very aware of race issues and try their best almost all the time; there are people who don't have any overt racist attitudes, but who are pretty clueless about racial sensitivity; and there are people who, though they might claim otherwise ("I'm not racist -- I have piles of black friends! I even let them use my bathroom!") consciously harbor unapologetically racist attitudes and regularly employ them in their decision-making. To give all three of these groups the same label seems hopelessly coarse-grained to me. For my part, I reserve the noun "racist" for the final group.

Another problem, which is related to the first, is that it's using the maximally negative word even for the most minimally impacting behaviors, thus increasing the potential for defensiveness. Someone who might be responsive to having the unintended racist consequences of their behaviors explained to them might well completely block out anything that comes after, "Hey, you're being a racist." Nobody wants to think of themselves that way, and if you start the conversation that way, you've ended it already.

Not that that's always a bad thing, of course. A lot of people aren't going to be responsive either way, and in those cases, coming out with guns blazing can be exactly the right thing: You turn the conversation into a stalemate, but you still might influence people who are listening in/reading the conversation.

But if you fail to distinguish between friends, foes, and those in between, and just lob the same size bombs at any of them when their behavior falls short, then you're being less effective than you could be and even discouraging people from taking the time to understand your point. And the reason I'm writing about this now is because I fear some of the "good guys" in the ongoing Secular Sexism Wars are starting to lose that friend/foe distinction.

Before going further, it's important to make clear that I'm not trying to pull a false equivocation here. The people I am criticizing in this post -- and I am going to name names, by the way -- are generally in the right, while the people they are arguing with are generally in the wrong. And the absolute worst behavior coming from the "good guys" pales in comparison to the typical bile coming from the "don't you tell me not to objectify women!" brigade. An example is in order, starting first with one of the worst moves from our side:

DJ Groethe recently said something really, really dumb about the declining registration among women in this year's The Amazing Meeting. And he deserves some serious criticism for that. But is DJ friend or foe? In the past, DJ has seemed to indicate that he is on the right side of these issues (TAM was one of the first skeptic conferences to have a harassment policy, after all), but he has also demonstrated that he doesn't always "get it", and has made his share of non-trivial missteps in regards to sexism. He's in that in-between region. And as such, perhaps some relatively nuanced tactics are in order.

And yet look at how the news broke at FtB. Greg Laden, in one of his regrettably common over-the-top displays, calls for DJ Groethe to resign, without even giving him a chance to respond. If I may mix metaphors here for a moment, Greg just took a giant shit in the well.

Some more tempered criticism of DJ Groethe's faux pas followed, but already the damage had been done. DJ went into total defensive mode. At least a couple of otherwise-sympathetic FtB bloggers were so shocked at the suggestion that DJ resign that, rather than address the problems with his shoot-the-messenger statement, they rushed to his defense. The rhetoric on both sides escalated rapidly, and now the possibility of TAM actually addressing this problem constructively seems remote.

Hell, the organizers of TAM don't even have that much incentive to do so: The situation became so acrimonious so quickly that a lot of the people with concerns have already announced they just simply won't go, no matter what. I don't necessarily blame them, either, as Groethe's follow-up responses were in some cases even worse than the initial comment. But then again, I can't help but wonder if DJ might have been more responsive if he didn't feel like his very job was under attack right from the get-go.

Trigger warning for next paragraph.

But as bad as Greg fucked this all up, look at what he did not do: Greg did not suggest that maybe DJ Groethe needed a nice prison-ass-rape to fix him up. He did not call him a fag or a homo (or even a man-cunt!), or suggest that his misstep had something to do with DJ being too ugly/too sexy/too prude/too slutty. As unkind as I've been to Laden in this post, the very suggestion that he would say something so vile stretches the imagination to the breaking point.

And yet these kinds of comments would not at all be out of place coming from some of the more unseemly elements of the "anti-harassment policies are Talibanesque!" side. So please don't think I am making a false equivalence here.

But the "good guys" can do better, and they can do so without compromising a single crucial principle. I know this is the case, because I've seen it done on FtB. Where? Well, as promised, I'm going to name names. I'm going to restrict this to FtB bloggers, because I'm not familiar enough with any others:

I've already mentioned Greg Laden, and I think he's the worst when it comes to this sort of thing. I like Greg, he's often entertaining, and his fascinating life experiences sometimes give him unique insight. (His series on eating insects is not to be missed) But he's so black-and-white sometimes, it really grates on me. This is not the first time I've criticized him on this blog, either. Actually, it's at least the third, although the second time I did not mention him by name.

Who's next? Stephanie Zvan and Jason Thibeault. Now, I read both of those blogs regularly. I've learned a lot from both of them, and in the case of Stephanie's blog, I can even to a certain extent credit her uncompromising attitude for that. (I can't say if I would have "gotten it" faster or slower if she and the commenters there had been nicer... the aggressive approach ultimately worked, but at the same time it was very difficult not to get overly defensive) But lately I see both of them occasionally losing a bit of this friend/foe distinction. Jason recently came dangerously close to lumping Chris Hallquist in with the rape-threaters, simply because Chris failed to understand the context of an anti-booth babes clause in a proposed anti-harassment policy. (Jason clarified in a comment that he thought Chris was merely "jumping the gun" rather than turning all the way to the dark side, but I still think it was wrong to toss a mention of Chris in with that particular post without clearly distancing Chris' reasoned-but-wrong disagreement from the rest of the reactionary bile) Both of these bloggers are great overall, but I suspect both of them have had to deal with too many people for whom the absolutely proper response is "Fuck off you hate-filled toadie," that they sometimes forget some people -- even some people who are badly wrong -- deserve something more along the lines of "Hey, I know you're a decent person and you mean to do the right thing, but I think you need to re-examine the unintended consequences of what you said about X."

A few other bloggers cross the line here and there... PZ -- but of course that's his schtick, I guess. Ophelia Benson every now and then I think, but I love her so I maybe don't notice it as much.

So does anybody get it right? Is there anybody who is just as strong on issues of sexism, racism, and other matters of privilege as people like Stephanie, but who consistently gets the friend/foe distinction correct and consistently sets the right tone for the right audience?

Yes there is: Ian Cromwell, a.k.a. Crommunist. I can't say enough good things about Crommie's approach to people who are straddling that friend/foe line, people who's intentions are in the right place but who just don't fully "get it" yet. I could have counted myself among that group many times in the past, and probably will again many times in the future. Crommunist is just as uncompromising on calling out privilege as anybody else at FtB, and yet it somehow feels safe to be wrong at his blog.

More than once, I have had an issue where I was basically like, "I sorta worry that this thing I think is racist, but I still kinda think it anyway and I'm not sure why it's wrong," and Crommunist has been able to patiently set me straight. If I'd asked the same question in, say, Greg Laden's blog, I'm quite sure I would have been shouted down, had all sorts of terrible adjectives attached to me, and I might have just turtled up and stopped listening.

Crommunist still has just as much fire to fling at the irredeemable assholes, but he has a talent for distinguishing friend from foe (and everything in between), and treating each accordingly. Again, I really want to avoid making a false equivocation here... but nevertheless, too many of the recent volleys coming from the right side of the Secular Sexism Wars have struck me as the rhetorical equivalent of carpet bombing. In the long run, that approach works, but I think it's less effective than the surgical strikes for which Crommie has such a talent.

In short: Keep up the good work, FtBers -- but I think you can do even better.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thank the New York Times for your latest right wing meme

We had a project lunch today at work, and somehow I managed to get into politics with another guy -- typical Dunning-Kruger conservative, if you know what I mean. At one point he claimed that an elementary school in New York City was now requiring Arabic. I immediately said, "No way, that's bullshit, and I'm gonna debunk it right now," and whipped out my phone. (I'm somewhat of a gunslinger with my phone when it comes to debunking, heh...) He assured me it was true, and that his source was the New York Times.

My first search turned up a bunch of hits repeating the claim from a bunch of right-wing asshole sites like The most "reliable" source I found in my initial search -- and the scare quotes are very much justified there, I think -- was the New York Post. Not exactly a paragon of journalistic integrity, but I usually expect that they don't outright lie. And sure enough, the Post seemed to confirm that Arabic was required, although it was made clear even in the article from that conserva-tabloid rag that it was simply in lieu of where other foreign languages, like Spanish or French, might be offered. Of course, French isn't spoken by quite as many brown people, so I guess that would be okay.

So I figured I'd better find the original New York Times article. And I did. Turns out to have been a blog post. And lookie at the update at the bottom:

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this post, and the headline, said the Arabic program would be mandatory at the Hamilton Heights School. School officials said that while the lessons will be offered to all students, it is not mandatory.


Thanks a lot, Elbert Chu, for stirring up a whole bunch of anti-Arab race-baiting with your sloppy journalism. You lazy dick...