Notes and Comment Blog

The course is taught by a homeopath

Jul 7th, 2015 10:35 am | By

Apparently the University of Toronto thinks it’s fine to teach medical woo at a university, not as a meta subject but just plain as a subject. Jen Gunter is not amused.

Earlier this year, two groups of academics at the University of Toronto wrote letters of concern to the President of the University to protest an Alternative health course that fostered distrust of vaccines, cited Andrew Wakefield, and completely mis-applied Quantum Mechanics to explain a bevy of bizarre health claims. This week, the school finally addressed their claims; and the university’s response is both wholly inadequate and totally baffling.

The course, Alternative Health: Practice and Theory is taught by Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath. During week 9 of her curriculum, she addresses: “Vaccination — The King of Controversy.”

No medical, nursing, or basic biology/immunology textbooks or articles are referenced in the required reading, nor is any information from Health Canada or the World Health Organization. Instead, the required reading and additional information for the students includes Andrew Wakefield (who lost his medical license for falsifying data in a now beyond-infamous retracted study) and anti-vaccine propaganda sites.

Not for the purpose of analysis and criticism, but for the purpose of digestion and retention. Not “say what’s wrong with this” but “learn this.”

Regarding the use of Quantum Mechanics, scientists at the University of Toronto had issues with the following paragraph in the curriculum as well as the required reading:

We will delve into a quantum physics’ understanding of disease and alternative medicine to provide a scientific hypothesis of how these modalities may work. Quantum physics is a branch of physics that understands the interrelationship between matter and energy. This science offers clear explanations as to why homeopathic remedies with seemingly no chemical trace of the original substance are able to resolve chronic diseases, why acupuncture can offer patients enough pain relief to undergo surgery without anesthesia, why meditation alone can, in some instances, reduce the size of cancerous tumors.

Maybe Deepak Chopra is the department head?

The university has said there’s no problem. Jen Gunter is gobsmacked.

In my opinion, the response basically boils down to: “Oh give her a break, she’s new and it all sounds a bit new age and that’s really what people want, but we’ll have her make it a little more sciencey next time” when it should have been a “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we share your concerns and they will be addressed immediately. This instructor is now on probation and all course material related to medicine and science will need to be approved by a faculty member in the appropriate field.” Remember, this isn’t misquoting a study, a new field where there is little published work, or a published academic having an unpopular but scientifically plausible opinion in a field. The material presented about Quantum Mechanics and immunizations is wrong. It’s the equivalent of an “alternative geology” course teaching that the world is flat, with references from 1300.

Maybe the university figures we’re heading back to the technology of 1300 – once all the oil is gone – so we might as well prepare intellectually.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

His real subject

Jul 7th, 2015 8:39 am | By

Because of a stupid time-wasting SIWOTI argument I’m having with a tedious prolix humorless commenter in an earlier thread about Howard Jacobson’s reactionary rant about Tim Hunt in the Independent, I want to make clear how strongly Jacobson did imply that Hunt was “hounded out of a job.”

He starts with three paragraphs riffing on personal grooming with a specific focus on nose hair, claiming to be deeply concerned with it himself in contrast to other sorts of people who are not so concerned.

We shouldn’t be too hard on vanity. It can be a mark of respect for the world. The day I don’t attend to my nostrils is the day I will have forsworn that world and become a different person. Someone otherwise preoccupied. Someone who couldn’t care less what anyone thinks of his appearance, someone for whom the material life has lost its appeal. I will have retreated into myself, to that place where eccentricity and maybe even madness reside. Science, perhaps.

He’s joking, of course. Novelists aren’t generally considered worldly and respectable in contrast to those zany scientists.

Then there’s the next paragraph, the fourth:

The astute reader will by now have worked out that in truth nostril hair is only my sub-theme, and that my real subject is Tim Hunt, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who recently made a joking reference to the lachrymosity (were there such a word) of women, in punishment for which University College London expeditiously removed him from the honorary post he held there.

His real subject is Tim Hunt.

Then we get four paragraphs on eccentricity in dress and the academic life.

Then we get two paragraphs in which he makes the transition from eccentricity in dress to eccentricity in opinion:

So what right did we have to expect modern attitudes from them? Of course they were sexists, racists, pederasts, colonialists, anti-Semites. Of course they made jokes which not another living soul found funny. Bigotry was expected and even required of them. There have to be places where people let nostril hair run wild, think differently from the rest of us, implicitly call into question and even deride everything we have made up our minds about, find wisdom through unconventionality, and say a lot of foolish things along the way. Universities are such places. Correction: universities should be such places.

Show me a university which is a hotbed of thin-skinned offence-taking, where every unacceptable idea is policed and every person who happens to hold one is hounded out of a job, and I will show you a university that isn’t a university but an ideological prison camp and indoctrination centre.

He’s already told us his real subject is Tim Hunt, so yes, “every person who happens to hold one is hounded out of a job” is meant to apply to Tim Hunt even though he didn’t name him in that sentence.

He does name him in the next sentence though.

Reaffirming the college’s pusillanimous decision to show Tim Hunt the door, the Provost of University College London said: “Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern.”

Jacobson said the college decided to “show Tim Hunt the door” – i.e. to throw him out, i.e. to sack him from his job.

I don’t know how intentional all this implication was. I don’t know if Jacobson deliberately worded those passages to create the impression that Hunt was sacked from a job, or if he just lost track while writing – but he decidedly did write that piece in such a way as to create the impression in the unwary reader that Tim Hunt was sacked from a job.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The yacht has nothing to do with it

Jul 6th, 2015 6:10 pm | By


Rebecca Carroll at the Guardian explains how feminist Rihanna’s video is.

Helen Lewis of the New Statesman wrote that the video is not feminist “because it is not very feminist to torture women. Even if they are white. Even if they are rich. Even if you are a woman yourself.” By those standards, I have a thing or two to say about a whole history of white women who abused black women both because they were black and because they were women, and yet, somehow, are still considered feminists – many regarded as pioneers. Women from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who did not believe black women deserved any such rights as white women, to Miley Cyrus, who has used black women as stage props.

Then say it. Say what they did was very un-feminist. Say they weren’t feminists at all if you want to. That doesn’t make it feminist to torture women or to make videos about torturing women.

[W]hat really has white feminists upset is that in the video Rihanna, a black woman, puts her own needs before a white woman’s needs. And it’s clear that when those needs involve money, social class and privilege (say, lounging on a yacht), there is no room for perspective. White women will fight to obtain food stamps for black women, but don’t let us have a yacht, pretty clothes or – God forbid – payment of money we are owed.

Horse shit. Complete, unmitigated horse shit, and blatant deflection besides. It’s not about yachts and it’s not about getting money owed, it’s about torture of a bystander.

To be sure, the video is vividly violent – an unabashed revenge fantasy – but here’s what didn’t occur to me: is it anti-feminist? Feminist? Misogynistic? Why would it? Rihanna is a grown woman who makes life and career choices for herself with the expectation and understanding that she is as free to do that as her male peers are. How is that not feminist?

Wut? Grown women make life and career choices all the time, and some of them are bad, and we can and do say so. If a grown woman makes the career choice to murder someone, I don’t consider that a feminist act. Freedom to make the choice to torture and murder isn’t what feminism is about.

The obsession over what constitutes feminism in mainstream media and popular culture strikes me as resolutely anti-feminist. As for the misogyny – really? That’s just dumb, shortsighted and so deeply patronising. Because the assumption here is that Rihanna isn’t smart enough to anticipate the various interpretations of her work. She knows. She doesn’t care. I don’t either. What I care about is that Rihanna has the agency to create her music and direct her career on her own terms.

Agency shmagency. Mere “agency” is not enough. Agency is necessary for feminism but it is so very far from sufficient.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

If you disagree, just delete everything

Jul 6th, 2015 5:44 pm | By

This from the NSS is alarming.

The Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society’s website has been deleted, shortly after the group received a message warning they would “feel remorse” if they didn’t stop criticising Islamic fundamentalism.

The Free Speech and Secular Society (FSS) was sent a message, from an IP address in Saudi Arabia, which warned: “Please stop mocking Muslims otherwise you will feel remorse.”

I thought that meant the Society had closed the website down, but no.

A spokesperson for the Society said that on the same day the sinister message was received, “someone tried to get access to the website, as multiple accounts received password reset prompts that weren’t initiated by the account holders.”

Despite not thinking much of the initial apparent threat or the attempts to hack into the website, by the 27 June the Society found that their website had been deleted entirely. The hacker “deleted everything that could be deleted,” according to the FSS. “No message was left on the site.”

They talked to their webhost, who said it was not their doing, nor a technical problem.

They want to run us all, these fuckers – they want to force us all to obey the rules of their horrible stupid pinch-minded little god.

The FSS said that they had “some articles critical of Islamic fundamentalism” on their website, and also commentary about their Student Union’s decision to ban the FSS from displaying the ‘survivors’ edition’ of Charlie Hebdo published after the attack on their Paris office.

I posted about that here at the time. I remember doing it.

The Society writes that their focus is on “free speech and secularism” and that they have been “hacked and threatened for supporting free speech”.

The historian Tom Holland said the society had been “menaced” by “enemies of free speech”.

Ben Jones, the National Secular Society’s communications officer, commented: “This appears to be a particularly sinister attempt to stop debate, criticism and commentary about and around Islam. We hope the Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society have their website restored soon and can recover from the attack quickly. We offer our solidarity and support. No-one group or individual should be left to face the danger of defending free speech alone.

“Threats to freedom of expression are coming thick and fast and from all quarters. Whether it is student unions censoring student comedy shows for ‘blasphemy’, or university administrators cancelling events about Islam to avoid causing ‘offence’ or on other spurious grounds, or the invidious prosecution of Christian preachers for criticising Islamic beliefs, the right to freedom of expression must be defended.

“There are concerted attempts to establish global blasphemy laws coming from the OIC, who still long for a global law against the ‘defamation of religion'; from terrorists using violent jihad; moves by complicit student unions and universities to indirectly support these efforts in the interest of ‘cohesion'; and in this case from hackers and what the FSS call ‘cyber-jihadists’. No matter what form the attack comes in, free speech must be defended.”

Their horrible stupid pinch-minded little god can go swim with the ducks.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

He was just helping them have a nice nap

Jul 6th, 2015 5:17 pm | By

There it is.

Bill Cosby admitted in 2005 that he got quaaludes with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and that he gave the sedative to at least one woman and “other people,” according to documents obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

“Have sex with” isn’t quite the right way of putting what he wanted to do to the luded women.

The AP had gone to court to compel the release of the documents from the deposition in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed by former Temple University employee Andrea Constand — the first of a cascade of sexual abuse lawsuits against him. Cosby’s lawyers had objected on the grounds that it would embarrass their client.

Cosby settled that lawsuit under confidential terms in 2006.

So…there could be more lawsuits in his future?

Cosby, 77, has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct, including allegations by many that he drugged and raped them in incidents dating back more than four decades. Cosby has never been criminally charged, and most of the accusations are barred by statutes of limitations.

Criminal accusations; that doesn’t mean civil suits are barred.

Cosby, giving sworn testimony in the lawsuit accusing him of sexual assaulting Constand at his home in Pennsylvania in 2005, said he got seven quaalude prescriptions in the 1970s. The lawyer for Constand asked if he had kept the sedatives through the 1990s — after they were banned — but was frustrated by objections from Cosby’s lawyer.

“When you got the quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” lawyer Dolores M. Troiani asked.

“Yes,” Cosby answered on Sept. 29, 2005.

But it was just a “joke.” There must be no witch hunt.

Cosby resigned in December from the board of trustees at Temple, where he was the popular face of the Philadelphia school in advertisements, fundraising campaigns and commencement speeches.

Witch hunt! Lynch mob! Fired from his job over a joke!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 6th, 2015 4:20 pm | By

The other day I recommended David Oshinsky’s book Worse Than Slavery to a friend; he’s finding it painful to read. I’ve read it more than once, and read a chunk of it again after recommending it. It’s a horrific and brutal story – and one that every American should know inside out.

From a review at H-net by Robert M. Goldman (Virginia Union University):

The Parchman Farm story begins with the Reconstruction era. Determined to overthrow Republican regimes, Mississipians devised what would become the model for Democratic redemption elsewhere, the so-called “Mississippi Plan.” It elements were straightforward enough. Use whatever means necessary, from fraud to murderous violence, to regain political control. It worked, and by 1875 Democratic legislatures were back in control and immediately set out to resolve what they considered to be two key problems: a shortage of labor, and the need to restore white supremacy. Criminal statutes were enacted such as the “Pig Law” in which theft of a farm animal worth more than ten dollars was punishable by up to five years in prison. Along with laws such as these, which were almost always aimed at the thousands of poor freedmen, was the “Leasing Act.” This statute allowed convicts to be leased out if their sentences were less than ten years. Since whites were usually only charged and convicted for the most serious of crimes, their sentences entitled them to the relative safety of the state penitentiary at Jackson.

As it developed in Mississippi, convict leasing successfully replaced racial bondage with a system of racial castes while at the same time fueling the economic development of the late 19th century “New South.” The use of convicts for everything from raising cotton, to building railroads, to extracting turpentine gum spread rapidly. It solved the problem of high fixed labor costs, since minimal expenses for food, clothing, and shelter were necessary. Moreover, there was always a ready supply of replacement labor, so incentives against the mistreatment of convict workers were non-existent. Olshinsky catalogs the horrors that awaited a leasee–from ubiquitous lash to the use of metal spurs riveted to the feet to prevent escape. The mortality rate was high, and the system encompassed all ages. The state penal code made no distinction between juvenile and adult offenders, so that by 1880 “at least one convict in four was an adolescent” (pp. 46-47).

Goldman puts that rather mildly, but what Oshinsky details is a horror of overwork in terrible conditions, with torture for anyone who fell behind or screwed up in any way. It was worse than slavery because there was no incentive to keep the prisoners alive. It was profitable, and there was no dainty reluctance to arrest black people for the most ludicrous of reasons.

From a review by Ken Wytsma:

Convict leasing, something I knew little about, was a way of exploiting and profiting off of black powerlessness in Jim Crow South.  For two generations, convicts would be leased out, worked harder and treated worse than slaves had been prior to the Civil War.  These black convicts (the few white male prisoners, usually in jail for heinous crimes such as murder, were kept behind prison walls instead of being placed in convict leasing work details) would die at the mind numbing rate of 15-40% per year.

That’s right.

There was a time in America when convicts – held for such things as petty crimes, stealing food or not being able to pay court fees – were being worked to death at 15-40% per year!

Additionally, when new contracts came up, young black men would be rounded up and incarcerated on trumped up charges (loitering, disrespect, gambling, ‘insinuation’ etc.) simply to fill work ranks.  These young men, victims of racial and criminal injustice, would then die at the rate of 15-40% per year.  Can you imagine?

The criminal justice system under Jim Crow also began the disturbing trend of large scale African American male incarceration that continues till today.

We Americans live in a country with a hideous history…more hideous than the Nazi interlude in many ways, since it went on for so much longer.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A position different from all other subject classes

Jul 6th, 2015 2:27 pm | By

How about some John Stuart Mill.

[excitedly] Yes, please! What shall we have?

The Subjection of Women.

All causes, social and natural, combine to make it unlikely that women should be collectively rebellious to the power of men. They are so far in a position different from all other subject classes, that their masters require something more from them than actual service. Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds.

The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of other. All the moralities tell them that it is the duty of women, and all the current sentimentalities that it is their nature, to live for others; to make complete abnegation of themselves, and to have no life but in their affections. And by their affections are meant the only ones they are allowed to have — those to the men with whom they are connected, or to the children who constitute an additional and indefeasible tie between them and a man. When we put together three things — first, the natural attraction between opposite sexes; secondly, the wife’s entire dependence on the husband, every privilege or pleasure she has being either his gift, or depending entirely on his will; and lastly, that the principal object of human pursuit, consideration, and all objects of social ambition, can in general be sought or obtained by her only through him, it would be a miracle if the object of being attractive to men had not become the polar star of feminine education and formation of character. And, this great means of influence over the minds of women having been acquired, an instinct of selfishness made men avail themselves of it to the utmost as a means of holding women in subjection, by representing to them meekness, submissiveness, and resignation of all individual will into the hands of a man, as an essential part of sexual attractiveness.

He wrote that awhile ago. Some things have changed…but not as many as we might like.

Outside Quiverfull and other fundamentalist movements we don’t exactly represent meekness as an essential part of sexual attractiveness for women any more, not in the sense of saying “you’d be more attractive if you were meeker”…but by god we certainly do let women know that we’ll punish and degrade the bejeezis out of them if they’re “too” – blunt, mouthy, outspoken, critical, challenging, argumentative, opinionated, independent, ambitious, clever, tough, competent, knowledgeable…

You get the idea.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Droning on about their fetishes

Jul 6th, 2015 11:44 am | By

Another one from The Onion: S&M Couple Won’t Stop Droning On About Their Fetishes.

According to friends of Jason Roder and Gina Von Poppel, the sexually adventurous couple won’t stop droning on about spanking, caning, ball gags, erotic photography, fetish parties, leather, rubber, PVC, latex, whips, floggers, and countless other S&M-related objects and activities.

“When Jason first told me about his and Gina’s kinky sex life, I was amazed. I wanted to hear all about it,” said Stan Pritchard, Roder’s best friend. “But around the 15th time I heard about how great it is to be tied to a chair, I was, like, ‘Yeah, I know. The chair. The whip. Being straddled. Got it, thanks.'”

How sex-negative of him.

Meredith Engler, a close friend and former college roommate of Von Poppel’s, said she has frequently found herself subjected to hours-long accounts of the couple’s S&M exploits.

“Gina and Jason have a pretty open-minded group of friends and, at first, we all thought it was cool that they were being so frank about sex,” Engler said. “That was our mistake–giving them an opening.”

As Roder and Von Poppel delved deeper into sadomasochism, they began dominating nearly every party and social event with endless talk of fetishes, secret fantasies, and forays into bondage and discipline.

Well when you say “dominating” – you mean they take over the conversation? But what if that’s their kink? You’re just being sex-negative by objecting, aren’t you? Not wanting to hear every detail of other people’s sexual activity means you hate sex.

The couple’s friends try to avoid topics that might inadvertently lead to discussions of S&M, but the subject always manages to come up.

“It’s amazing what will prompt Jason and Gina to talk about sex,” Pritchard said. “We had a barbecue last weekend, and I said, ‘Pass me the tongs.’ So Jason and Gina exchange a knowing look and, before you know it, we’re off on an hour-long discussion of how you should put your metal sex toys in the freezer for a few hours before using them.”

It’s because Gina and Jason are sex-positive. They’re showing you the way! They’re doing you a favor! You’d be grateful, if you weren’t so goddam sex-negative.

After many unsuccessful attempts to subtly communicate her irritation to Roder and Von Poppel, Engler determined that she needed to be more direct.

“Last Friday, Gina was blathering on and on about domination, and I couldn’t help but say, ‘Well, you’re certainly good at conversation domination,'” Engler said. “I can’t help but wonder if this S&M thing is all a cover-up for their real fetish: talking to people about fetishes.”

Talking to people about fetishes against their will – that’s the really sexy part. If you object, you’re sex-negative…which is great, because that’s the really sexy part. Keep objecting! Louder! Louder!!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tell the lie again and again

Jul 6th, 2015 11:30 am | By

The Big Lie is repeated yet again. The Washington Examiner this time. In the second sentence of the very first paragraph, so that readers will have the story wrong from the outset. Yay journalism.

Professor Sir Tim Hunt had won every honor in his field, from Fellowship of the Royal Society to the Nobel Prize. But last month, the pioneering biochemist was dismissed from his post at University College, London (UCL).

From “his post,” the one that didn’t exist. UCL has never employed Tim Hunt. Tim Hunt has never worked for UCL.

The second paragraph introduces the lynch mob – instigated by a black woman, for extra points.

One of the women present, a lecturer called Connie St Louis, complained on Twitter about his “sexism”, triggering the usual lynch mob. By the time the professor had returned to London, his career lay about him in broken shards.

No, it didn’t. His career remains. The post-retirement portion of it got messed up, but the career itself remains. He’s still a Fellow of the Royal Society and still an emeritus at the Crick Institute.

Then the writer – Dan Hannan, a British Conservative MEP – goes on to say what’s all this fuss about the confederate flag. Lynch mob!!

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The militants that never were

Jul 6th, 2015 10:30 am | By

Chris Moos writes about the rise of the university faith warrior at The Freethinker.

British universities might not seem to be the most fertile ground for the faith warrior. After all, most of them have been built on secular principles. And yet, it is in British academia that a new breed of faith warrior is pushing for power. Ideologically and financially, they are propelled by the various strands of the international religious far-right and their allies on the post-modernist left. And their influence is growing.

The star among them is Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, whom we read about via the NSS yesterday. Chris’s article was the source of the NSS piece.

Calhoun has just published a paper with the Leadership in Higher Education Foundation. The thrust of his argument is that in our “postsecular society”, “religion needs attention in scholarship, research and teaching because it is important in the world”.

Of course, it is the hallmark of religious privilege to demand a share of the public space simply by reason of self-ascribed importance, while failing to provide any convincing argument for this demand.

It is, isn’t it. That’s very neatly put. Of course faith warriors would say they do provide convincing arguments, but…well they would say that, wouldn’t they.

[Calhoun ] wants religion to be a frame of reference in everything a university does, as a remedy against “repressive secularism”.

That’s reminiscent of the “naked public square” nonsense that’s been so popular over here for so long. Secularism isn’t the space where people can meet as equals no matter what their religion or non-religion – it’s “repression” by demonic unbelievers.

Then Chris gets to Calhoun’s distorted account of the Jesus and Mo T shirts at LSE.

It is only when it comes to the question of non-believers that Calhoun provides a clear assessment:

Atheists have recently grown more active – even militant – within universities, often making free speech an issue as they seek to challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students […] [making] a point of mocking religious convictions and symbols. […]

The LSE experienced its own small episode of this in 2013 when members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society approached Muslim students at Freshers’ Fair wearing T-shirts taken to mock Jesus and Mohammed, and were asked by [sic!] general secretary of the Students Union either to cover the offending T-shirts or to leave.

Except that they didn’t. Just like the people shouting that Tim Hunt was sacked from his job, Calhoun makes his case via a misrepresentation of what happened. Chris and Abhishek did not “approach Muslim students.”

Of course, we never approached Muslim students with our t-shirts. We were standing behind our stall, and Muslim students actually approached us in good spirits. We had friendly chats, exchanged invitations, and discussed possible joint events.

Nobody even mentioned our clothing – until the Students’ Union officials barged in, ripped down our posters and demanded that we “cover up”. Later, we would ask for evidence of complaints from LSE. We never received any. Neither was there any mention of us having “approached” Muslim students with our t-shirts in the subsequent exchanges between us and LSE. But of course, drawing a picture of us harassing our fellow students makes for a much better case for riling about “militant atheists”.

It must be especially nice when it’s the Director of your own university misrepresenting you that way. Ah well, Chris has his PhD now, so he can snap his fingers under Calhoun’s nose.

That does not mean to say that there was no grave case of harassment. The Students’ Union did indeed ask us to cover the t-shirts. But this is not what caused the internationally reported outrage. What did cause outrage was that, over the course of two days, we were surrounded, intimidated, humiliated and harassed by Director Calhoun’s security guards and eventually forced to cover up our t-shirts under threat of physical expulsion, disciplinary procedures and allegations of infringements of the law.

Yet Calhoun is calling secularism “repressive.” You couldn’t make it up.

Read the rest, including the comments.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Because that’s not what the vanilla partner originally signed up for

Jul 5th, 2015 4:38 pm | By

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on About the boyfriend who wanted to choke them.

I recently was asked to watch “50 shades of gray” by a friend, who is exploring BDSM and wanted to know what I thought of the representation of D/S in the movie. For starters, it was wrong in every possible way and was badly acted and the dialogue was terrible, besides. But there is a thing that it almost kinda sorta gets right* namely that the two protagonists utterly “do not get it” through the entire movie. He is so intensely focused on his desire to be a “dominant”** that he utterly fails to see that there’s another person involved. She’s so, uh, well, she’s such a cardboard cut-out that perhaps he’s right that there really isn’t anothe person involved. But the one little slice of “getting it right” the movie manages to accomplish is at the end, when he finally gets sadistic on her*** and she freaks out and leaves. OK, that was great: utter failure to understand her other than as part of a relentless effort to manipulate coupled with utter failure to understand him as part of being beglamoured by wealth and attractiveness****

The reason it’s relevant to this discussion is that there are (as Dr Carrier says) people who legitimately like to play on both sides of erotic power exchange. But it’s a textbook example of what happens when someone who is kinky tries to forcibly introduce someone “vanilla” to kink. Vanilla relationships take a lot of communication. Kinky relationships take a lot more, especially if they involve any kind of edge-play. Putting your hands on someone’s throat is edge-play. If some idiot watches a bunch of BDSM porn and decides it looks fun and they try to introduce their vanilla partner to it, they are flat-out wrong. Because that’s not what the vanilla partner originally signed up for. This applies to BDSM, or threesomes or moresomes, or pretty much anything else in a relationship. If I’m into ballroom dance competition and I get into a relationship with someone and somehow neglect to mention that fact, it is going to affect our lives together: my partner either learns to dance with me, or expects me to be gone a lot. It’s a matter of violating the initial expectations you establish when you are forming a relationship. It’s nightmarish when it happens. It’s like falling in love with someone and forgetting to find out that they are a Republican, or a racist, and then you have this great big WTF that both of you have to deal with. Cue me up a gender-neutral version of Paul Simon’s “50 ways to leave your lover” at that point.

There are powerful critiques that can and should be levelled at porn, and the question of how much consent counter-balances them; often when I think about this issue I am minded of the brain-washed individuals who claim that wearing a burqua is their choice. I know several sex workers and porn performers and they’d all say they are happy with their jobs, etc. The economic/patriarchy critique of porn is powerful and relevant and I don’t want to even pretend to have anything to say about it. 50.S.O.G. appears to address that critique by the simple expedient of making both characters utterly thoughtless shallow chucklefucks who are thereby excused from attempting to unpack the vast power-differential between them until he exceeds her limits*****. In the BDSM communities I’ve hung out with, the 50.S.O.G. scenario or the “watches porn now wants to choke” scenario would have triggered at least some sad head-shaking or some sotto voce advice to either or both parties.

Tl;dr of the above: in scenarios where you are seeking consent for things that are beyond the edge of “normal” consent, you need to communicate a whole lot more and brain a bit harder. I would file this not as a porn problem, though there are plenty of problems with porn, but more as a didn’t talk enough/didn’t listen enough/didn’t think enough problem that should be addressed with improving understanding of consent and expectations in a situations not just in edge-play.

(* I am pretty sure that the sequel, if there is one, will un-right it)
(** Actually, he’s an ‘asshole’ who mistakes himself for a ‘dominant’. Picture what being in a ‘relationship’ with Vox Day must be like: you’re an inflateable accessory)
(*** He’s a “sadist in denial” not a ‘dominant'; there are a lot of them in the BDSM community)
(**** Other than that, he appears to have no personality except ‘asshole’ and ‘control freak’)
(***** Prior to that the majority of the movie appears to be about him trying to gain written blanket consent to do whatever he wants, which someone who was experienced in BDSM relationships would take as a Big Red Flag unless there was solid reason to believe there was no danger)

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Universities are for men who like to dress down

Jul 5th, 2015 3:35 pm | By

Damn, yet another one. Howard Jacobson has a nasty, inaccurate, reactionary column in the Independent about Tim Hunt. Defend to the death the right of important men to talk sexist shit to groups of women scientists at conferences!! The world will fall out of orbit if you don’t!!!

Tim Hunt has the air of a man who doesn’t put his appearance first, a man who, whether calculatedly or otherwise, inhabits that sphere of extraterrestrial idiosyncrasy whose uniform is a cream linen jacket bought from one of those shops in Piccadilly where they come pre-battered, a fisherman’s smock (probably picked up in Cornwall), stained owlish spectacles, a cord that goes around the neck to hang them from (else they’d fall into a laboratory bath) and, yes, figurative tufts of nostril hair.

Among the reasons universities exist is that such men should have a habitat. They are a dying species. When I went to university, there was almost no other way for a don to look. A few military men and dandies were the exception, but even their moustaches and cravats were mildewed and wouldn’t have passed muster anywhere but in the Fens. Otherwise, the Scarecrow look from The Wizard of Oz prevailed. Bicycle clips, one trouser leg still in the sock, ties unevenly knotted, hair growing out of their ears and from their noses, sometimes in odd fringes above their shirt collars, occasionally in tussocks on their cheeks.

And on and on he goes. It’s all about men, you see – men as endearing disheveled nerds at universities, men with bicycle clips and sloppy ties, men men men. That’s their world; women are intruders. Women are this weird off eccentric little species that you hardly ever see, and they have no place at universities or much of anywhere else except kitchens and beds. Therefore, Tim Hunt wuz lynched.

His next step is to say they all have terrible opinions, of course they do, what do you expect.

There have to be places where people let nostril hair run wild, think differently from the rest of us, implicitly call into question and even deride everything we have made up our minds about, find wisdom through unconventionality, and say a lot of foolish things along the way. Universities are such places. Correction: universities should be such places.

Show me a university which is a hotbed of thin-skinned offence-taking, where every unacceptable idea is policed and every person who happens to hold one is hounded out of a job, and I will show you a university that isn’t a university but an ideological prison camp and indoctrination centre.

And there it is – that big lie, yet again. Tim Hunt was not hounded out of a job.

Reaffirming the college’s pusillanimous decision to show Tim Hunt the door, the Provost of University College London said: “Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern.” Wrong, Mr Provost. The right of women to enjoy equal opportunities, receive equal pay and enjoy equal respect to men in science, or anywhere else come to that, is without doubt a matter of high importance. But it is not as high, if we are to talk of “ultimate concerns”, as the freedom to think freely and independently – a freedom which matters as much to women as to men, and without which equality must lose its savour.

Tim Hunt wasn’t shown the door. He wasn’t inside to be shown the door. There was no door to show him. He wasn’t fired, he wasn’t sacked, he wasn’t hounded out of a job, he wasn’t shown the door. His honorary professorship, which is not like a real one, was withdrawn. That’s all.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They make free speech an issue

Jul 5th, 2015 12:58 pm | By

Benjamin Jones, communications officer of the National Secular Society, discusses a worrying set of claims by the Director of LSE.

A paper published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has claimed that atheists can be “militant” on university campuses, while describing religion as a “public good” and the exclusion of religion from the public sphere as “repressive.”

Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, has said atheists make “free speech an issue” in efforts to “challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students”. He described “controversies over religious cartoons” as ‘disruptive to “campus harmony” and compared rows over free speech and blasphemy to ‘clashes’ between religions.

He’s the director of a university – a secular university – but he thinks it’s a bad thing to challenge the beliefs of religious students. It’s a truism, but all the same – universities are supposed to challenge the beliefs of students, especially secular universities. (Religious universities should, but that doesn’t mean they’re seen as having a duty to do that. It makes sense to expect some orthodoxy at a religious university.)

The Professor referred to his university’s outrageous censoring of students for wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts as a “small episode” and said that “harmony was restored eventually but not without acrimony, accusations and threatened lawsuits.” Professor Calhoun fails to acknowledge that any friction was ultimately down to censorious student union officials ordering the removal of materials they deemed “offensive” and the threats of physical removal from LSE officials unless the students censored themselves.

The National Secular Society supported the students involved, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis, back in 2013, after they were threatened with being physically removed from the LSE Freshers’ Fair unless they covered the ‘offensive’ t-shirts. At that time, Professor Calhoun said staff had “acted in good faith”.

Meaning they were “sincere”…but that’s not the issue.

In his paper, Calhoun seems extremely dismissive of secularism. He writes, “Attempts to exclude [religion] from the public sphere are intrinsically repressive.” He doesn’t seem to mind the LSE Student Union physically, literally excluding atheists, humanists and secularists from a literal public space though. His institution had to be threatened with legal action just to exact a modest “half-apology”, as the students in question described it.

Extending his analysis, the Professor compares secularism – and the concept that religion and the state should be separate (not that religious people may not fully participate in public life) – to exclusion and repression of Catholics.

So religious believers get the religious universities, and they get the secular ones too. Public religion is mandatory. You can have any color as long as it’s black (and wears a cross).


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Fellow Food Lion shoppers are worth it

Jul 5th, 2015 12:42 pm | By

From the Onion: a guy who is refreshingly open about his personal life.

Some people never let you know the “real” them. They keep their deepest thoughts and emotions tucked away from the rest of the world. Why they would want to, I’ll never know. I, for one, am refreshingly open about my personal life.

Would you like to know about the problems I’m having with my wife? No need to ask. If you are vaguely acquainted with me, you doubtless already know about the miscarriage, the affair, the second miscarriage, the man from Oklahoma City, and the fact that Gloria’s allergy-relief medication has a dehydrating effect, which necessitates our use of lubricants during sex. (Chances are pretty good you also know that we prefer WET-brand lubricants over Astroglide.)

It’s good to know that. It’s important that we get rid of these silly inhibitions about boring people, being intrusive, talking endlessly about ourselves, oversharing, being inappropriate, and forgetting that we’re not the only people in the universe. We have to shake off all that and become free to tell everyone everything about Beloved Self.

You see, unlike some people, I’m honest enough with myself to admit that I have problems. And, as part of my healthy attitude, I’m comfortable letting everyone in on them. Sometimes, it takes hours of explanation to really get to the heart of things, but my friends, coworkers, and fellow Food Lion shoppers are worth it.

And the people waiting for the bus. The people waiting for the bus are always worth it, because they’re kind of pinned there unless they want to drift away and have to wait for a later bus. Being pinned there gives them the opportunity to hear a really full account of my problems.

I’m not just refreshingly open about my emotions, but my desires and interests, as well.

Take, for example, anal sex. I really enjoy it, giving and receiving it. Now, I know I’m hardly alone in this, but for some reason a lot of people consider this classified information. But why should it be? Do we really have to bury our feelings all the time? If my dentist asks me how my weekend went, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that the highlight was all that great anal sex. Well, I’m no liar. And I refuse to put up walls between myself and those around me.

Knock down those walls!

I like to share with people. It brings us all closer together. That’s why, if you know me, you know I like masturbating to women’s tennis magazines. Of course, I like masturbating to plain old porn, too, but how many times can I mention that before I feel like I’m intentionally trying to hide my enjoyment of tennis magazines out of some societally imposed notion of shame?

Kink-shaming is bad enough but tennis-shaming is the worst.

Freedom is glorious.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Freedom to blot yourself out

Jul 5th, 2015 10:34 am | By

A woman in London has made a short movie called My Freedom, My Right. Go sister! What’s it about – reproductive rights? Freedom to work, freedom to travel, freedom to learn?

No, it’s about wearing that great symbol of freedom…the niqab.

Twenty-two-year-old Joni Clarke, resident of southeast London, has decided to raise awareness of the abuse and discrimination that Muslim women face by making a short film. The film, My Freedom, My Right, features Clarke reciting a poem that recalls comments made to her because of her niqab.

Does she say anything about comments made to women who don’t wear the niqab in say Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia?

Clarke wants everyone to be treated as ‘individuals’ and urges people to stop ‘judging a book by its cover’. She turned to Islam when she was only 17 and chose to wear a niqab after studying the history of Islam.

If she wants everyone to be treated as ‘individuals’ and urges people to stop ‘judging a book by its cover’ then she made a mistake by “turning” to Islam.

My Freedom, My Right is not only a step towards creating awareness among the people about the sufferings of the Muslim women but also aims to alleviate their sufferings.

Not as described it doesn’t.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

About the boyfriend who wanted to choke them

Jul 4th, 2015 6:10 pm | By

Sarah Ditum changed her mind about porn.

[F]our years ago, [Gail] Dines and I took part in a debate titled “Is Porn Hijacking Our Sexuality?” Dines, a veteran anti-porn feminist, argued for yes, and I put the case for no. In the end, I got the impression that we’d both slightly wrong-footed each other: I didn’t use the insinuations of sexlessness and prudery she’d anticipated, and her argument contained all the economic and ethical subtlety I’d foolishly assumed it would lack. The debate dragged out for over a year, then collapsed unsatisfyingly, and I wrote a grumpy blogpost about it which led lots of people (most of them, it has to be said, men) to declare me the winner.

But she didn’t feel like a winner. She suspected she’d fudged parts of the argument, especially around racism and sexism. She started to think it wasn’t all that reassuring to keep pointing out there are no control groups of men who haven’t been steeped in ” the insistent chauvinism of pornography.”

And there was one more thing, which happened more gradually: I heard from friends about the boyfriend who wanted to choke them, or the one who slapped them about in bed, or pressured them to do anal, or wanted to film it all. The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew.

Is it naïve of me to ask what the hell that is about? To ask why sex is mushed together with violence? To ask why the fuck it doesn’t creep everyone out?

She also realized that Dines wasn’t advocating for censoring porn.

I was asking “Why should we be able to censor anything?” Dines had a different question too. Hers, paraphrased, was probably something like this: “Why should the pornographers be able to repackage and retail sexuality as violence?” Her answer is that they should not be able to, and her solution doesn’t involve censorship at all: as she explains in her documentary Pornland, it’s one of public education and grassroots resistance to the porn industry, enabling individuals to discover “a sexuality… that is life-loving, life-affirming, and that we ourselves authored, not the pornographers”.

But Dines is one of those people who has been stuck with a reputation that doesn’t match the reality.

Dines firmly rejects the Center’s claims: “I am critical of the johns,  the pimps and the porn producers and distributors, but not the women who end up in the industry through poverty, racism, violence and trafficking,” she says. “It is like calling Marx capitalist-phobic and refusing to engage with his arguments about the nature of economic exploitation.”

But it doesn’t matter what she says; the labels stick.

Anti-porn feminism recognises a link between the propaganda of sexual violence and its practice, and stopping porn is understood to be essential in ending the rapes, killings and torture that men practice against women. These campaigners believe that lives are at stake – and even so, they are somehow less censorious, more open to dialogue, more creative than those who now police the “safe spaces.”  In these spaces, everyone must be warmly welcomed and intellectually unchallenged, except of course for feminists speaking against male violence. One wonders exactly why Pornland was such an intimidating prospect for supporters of the sex industry in Austin. Perhaps it is a perverse testament to Dines: maybe her opponents know that, if viewers approach with a readiness to debate in good faith, they might, like me, end up changing their minds.

Oh well, it’s only women.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Good-bye Lion

Jul 4th, 2015 3:12 pm | By

Oh crap, another one. The worst one yet, by some accounts. AFP via the Guardian:

Islamic State jihadis have destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a lion outside the museum in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities director has said.

Maamoun Abdelkarim said the statue, known as the Lion of al-Lat, was an irreplaceable piece. “IS members on Saturday destroyed the Lion of al-Lat, which is a unique piece that is three metres [10ft] tall and weighs 15 tonnes,” Abdelkarim told AFP. “It’s the most serious crime they have committed against Palmyra’s heritage.”

The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archaeological mission at the temple of al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, and dated back to the 1st century BC.

Abdelkarim said the statue had been covered with a metal plate and sandbags to protect it from fighting, “but we never imagined that IS would come to the town to destroy it.”

lion of al ata

That. It’s gone now. It’s rubble. It was there, a testimony to a human genius for art and sublimity, and now it’s just lumps of stone.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Comparative honorary professorship

Jul 4th, 2015 11:10 am | By

I’m consulting some other universities’ policies as stated on their websites.

The one at Cardiff is interesting:

2.16    Honorary Professor

The title is awarded to an individual who is making a substantial commitment of a non-transient kind to the teaching and research activities of the University at a level deemed to be worthy of this title when assessed against the criteria for promotions to personal chairs and following the consideration of two external assessors.

Persons nominated could be senior academics at other Universities (that is to say those already in possession of a Chair), Professors who have left the University to undertake work of an essentially academic nature outside of Higher Education, or recent retirees who are not eligible for conferment of the title of Professor Emeritus by virtue of their continued contribution to the University’s activities.

Category B [which is the relevant category]

3.3       The normal period of tenure for all titles in Category B will be five years, though this may be less for those with the “Visiting” title.

All awards in both categories are subject to regular review to ensure that the award continues to be merited.  The University reserves the right to cancel an award where there is a sufficient justification.

Heads of Schools should write to the HR Division with a justification for the renewal of the award, which should be based on a continuing contribution to the University.  The HR Division may ask for further justification where this is deemed to be appropriate.


All involvement with the University should be agreed with the Head of the relevant School.

Honorary staff will be required to abide by University policies in so far as they are applicable; and in particular those relating to the Financial Regulations and Human Resources and Health and Safety polices.

[several paragraphs about safety and intellectual property]

At all times Honorary staff will be expected to maintain the good reputation of the University.

It’s pretty clear that at Cardiff, at least, an honorary professorship is not at all like, say, the Booker prize – it’s not something you get as an honor and then get to keep forever because you won it. It’s something Cardiff can renew or not renew, as it decides, and can withdraw if it decides that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 4th, 2015 9:50 am | By

Aseem Trivedi wants us to share his cartoons – and to join him in sharing cartoons if so inclined. He wants us to send suggestions.

What should ‘B&W’ campaign for? Do you know of an issue that should pursued here? ‘B&W’ is about detailed cartooning on topics that matter: human rights violations, corruption, conflicts of interest, broken systems, abuses by institutions and individuals with power, whether that’s government, nonprofits, or the press itself.

Mail your suggestions and ideas to with ‘suggestion’ in the subject line.

If you want to start a campaign through your art, you’re most welcome to join the crusade. You can send your cartoons on any local or international issue to get them published and circulated by ‘B&W’. You can also contributet to any of the cartoon campaign launched by B&W.

Mail your cartoons with ‘submission’ in the subject line.

You can help ‘B&W’ cartoon campaigns by circulating the cartoons and PDF copies of the magazine. You are always free to post, publish and exhibit the cartoons where ever you feel as all of these cartoons are free from any copy right and are created to help the campaign. You can also suggest some ways for better and effective circulation of the magazine.

He has a set on recent killings of journalists in India.

Two journalists in India died this month after being set on fire. In the first case, Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist from the Shahjahanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, was allegedly set on fire for his reporting. Police have registered a murder case against several officers, other men and state dairy development minister Ram Murti Singh Verma.
Singh, who operated a Facebook page called “Shahjahanpur Samachar” (Shahjahanpur News), uploaded posts regarding the alleged involvement of the minster in illegal mining and land grabbing. Verma, along with others, has been named in the first information report (FIR) although a forensic report suggested that Singh might have burned himself.
In the second, a Madhya Pradesh journalist Sandip Kothari was kidnapped and later burned to death, allegedly by the mining mafia.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom

Jul 4th, 2015 9:26 am | By

Bruce Barry, a professor of management and sociology and a board member of the Tennessee ACLU, has an informative take on whether or not academic freedom is a license to provoke without consequences.

The rules are different depending on whether the university is public or private; academic at public universities have more protections.

After having his job offer rescinded, Salaita filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his rights to free speech and due process had been violated; a judge’s ruling on whether Salaita’s lawsuit can go forward is expected any day.

That kind of constitutionally based lawsuit isn’t available to Grundy at Boston University or to Hough at Duke since their appointments are at private institutions.

Although Grundy and Hough cannot claim a constitutional infringement on their rights, they can appeal to the principle of academic freedom.

Which sounds like saying they can make grand rhetorical claims and hope that gets them somewhere, but actually it’s more concrete than that.

This is what distinguishes the occupation of professor from other kinds of employment: universities pledge (in the form of an implied contract) to respect professors’ free speech rights beyond what typical private sector job holders can expect, when they make academic freedom a foundational principle.

I didn’t know that about the implied contract. The link takes you to only the first page of the article, and the first page doesn’t discuss the implied contract, so I don’t know more than I did before I clicked it. An implied contract sounds like just another rhetorical claim, but the link seems to imply (there’s that word again) that it’s not. What Barry says next seems to confirm that:

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom, but they are also quick to couple them with cautionary caveats.

At Duke (where Hough is), the faculty handbook cedes to professors the right “to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.” Duke warns, however, that the right to “espouse an unpopular cause” carries with it “a responsibility not to involve the university.”

Making a similar pledge, the handbook at Boston University (where Grundy is) adds that a professor’s right to speak as a citizen carries “special obligations” to be accurate, exercise restraint and respect others’ opinions.

With reasonable-sounding but rather vague conditions like these, universities (both public and private) have reserved the ability to impose boundaries on “outrageous expression” that the professor might assume is protected by academic freedom.

Tricky, isn’t it. Difficult. A mine-field. An “implicit contract” to a lofty abstraction coupled with vague stipulations…wear protective gear.

The question of when a professor’s provocation becomes actionable cause for termination is a hornet’s nest of subjectivity around the meaning of words like “offensive” or “bigoted” or “harmful” or “restraint.” A university that chooses to act against the professor – as Illinois did against Salaita – puts itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what these terms mean and where lines are drawn.

Instead of appeasing offended stakeholders by drawing lines in shifting sand, a more enlightened approach prioritizes a free exchange of ideas over the “dubious judgment” of a free-speaking professor.

That’s the path Duke and Boston University are following: condemn the objectionable remarks while preserving the professor’s freedom to make them, leaving a verdict to the court of public opinion.

This of course is to do with actual jobs, paid tenured contractual jobs. The bar is high for actual jobs; it’s not as high for honorary and/or pro bono positions.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)