Notes and Comment Blog


Nov 13th, 2015 2:32 pm | By

Oh shit – simultaneous attacks all over Paris. At least 26 dead so far.

USA Today says 46 dead, 100 taken hostage.

The BBC reports:

At least 18 people have been killed in several shootings in the French capital, Paris, as well as explosions near the Stade de France.

French media say at least 15 people have been killed near the Bataclan arts centre. A hostage taking is under way, with reports of up to 60 held.

At least one man opened fire at a restaurant in the 11th district, causing several several casualties.

Three explosions are also reported outside a bar near the Stade de France.

A BBC journalist at the Petit Cambodge restaurant says he can see 10 people on the road either dead or seriously injured.

He says police have now arrived and sealed off the area.


At least 30 people were killed in attacks in Paris and a hostage situation was under way at a concert hall in the French capital, French media reported on Friday.

Several explosions were heard near a stadium where a friendly France-Germany football match was being held, attended by President Francois Hollande.

Police helicopters circled the stadium north of Paris as Hollande rushed back to the interior ministry to deal with the situation.

Police confirmed there had been shootings and explosions at the stadium, but not the number of casualties.

Witnesses said police closed down a neighbourhood in central Paris where media said gunmen had fired in a restaurant, causing multiple casualties.

“I was on my way to my sister’s when I heard shots being fired. Then I saw three people dead on the ground, I know they were dead because they were being wrapped up in plastic bags,” student Fabien Baron told Reuters.

The cold fusion of autism therapies

Nov 13th, 2015 10:21 am | By

I thought “Facilitated Communication” had been killed once it was demonstrated to be a Clever Hans phenomenon, but how silly of me – of course it wasn’t. David Auerbach has a long, informative piece on the subject at Slate.

FC has never been accepted by the medical or psychological communities (it’s been called the “cold fusion” of autism therapies). Dozens of professional organizationshave specifically issued statements against its use, including the American Psychological Association, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Clinical psychologist Jerome Sattler categorically states in his standard Foundations of Behavioral, Social, and Clinical Assessment of Children: “Under no condition should you use facilitated communication to interview a child with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]” (emphasis mine).

But FC found a home in education departments. Douglas Biklen’s Facilitated Communication Institute (recently renamed the Institute on Communication and Inclusion) at Syracuse, which offers training programs in FC, is the center of FC activity then and now. FC advocates are funded in large part by two private foundations that have each donated millions, the Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation and the John P. Hussman Foundation. Advocates have gradually penetrated into the public school system, the autistic community, and even the President’s Committee on Intellectual Disabilities. Biklen himself was appointed Dean of the School of Education at Syracuse in 2005—over strong objections from many academics—possibly relating to Syracuse’s then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s enthusiastic approval of FC. Non-academic support for FC is generated through sympathetic organizations such as the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (also known as TASH), the Autistic National Committee (AutCom), and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), which all parrot the FC party line to varying degees, as well as propaganda films for FC like 2005’s Autism Is a World, co-produced by Biklen. Nonprofits help fund institutes like the one at Syracuse, while the FC supporters at those institutes serve on the boards of those nonprofits.

What’s so creepy about this is that it’s not just that FC doesn’t work, it’s that it creates a situation in which the people who do the FC speak for the people they are facilitating, as opposed to making it possible for the locked-in people to speak for themselves.

The science of FC remains as sketchy as ever: A comprehensive 2014 article confirms that little new evidence has emerged to support FC even as more has stacked up against it. Biklen pointed me to a 1996 study that claims to support FC’s effectiveness, but he grossly overstates its case. In an attempt to demonstrate “message passing,” researchers showed words to FC subjects that their facilitators could not see, then had the facilitators help the subjects report the word they had just been shown. As psychology professor James Todd points out, the overall failure rate is 90 percent, “suggesting that facilitators were guessing.” In response to criticisms, Biklen told me, “That could show the fragility of the method, but it could also show the fragility of the research situation.”

Biklen’s Syracuse institute attempts to cast doubt on such methods of testing for “authorship,” or whether the disabled person being guided by a facilitator is really responsible for the content of FC messages. He insists, “it is crucial that the [FC subject] learns means of demonstrating authorship, for example by learning to pass messages,” even as he writes elsewhere, “Some of the so-called tests of authorship of FC have been oppressive to people with disabilities,” and “research tests could intrude upon and upset the communication process.” Such authorship tests are rarely performed rigorously, and such controlled experiments are even termed “inhumane” by FC advocates like Institute on Communication and Inclusion director Christine Ashby, Biklen’s protégé and successor. It remains an unanswered question why these tests are so difficult and oppressive when subjects like D.J. are supposedly writing papers and presenting them at conferences within a year or two of starting FC.

Claims of “stressful environments” and “confrontational testing” are very much akin to the excuses psychics like Uri Geller use when they cannot replicate their spoon-bending feats under controlled laboratory conditions. In the early 1990s, skeptic James Randi performed his own tests on FC users at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, obtaining predictable results like a facilitated message saying, “I don’t like this man from Florida. He is upsetting my facilitator. Send him home.” Randi still has an unclaimed $1 million prize for a successful demonstration of FC.

Ventriloquism isn’t good enough.


Nov 12th, 2015 5:55 pm | By

Hardeep Matharu in the Independent:

Guards shot at protestors who had carried the coffin of a young girl to the Afghan president’s palace after she was found beheaded on Saturday.

The girl was one of seven Hazaras – a minority group of Persian-speaking Shia Muslims – whose bodies were discovered in the country’s south-eastern Zabul province. It is believed that the group was taken hostage by militants about a month ago.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killings, but Afghan officials have blamed extremists ranging from the Taliban to Isis.

We know it was extremists of some sort. Non-extremist people don’t take hostages and they don’t murder.

Female protestors carried the coffin of the youngest victim, named Shukira, through Kabul draped in a green flag representing Shia Muslims.

The thousands marching called on President Ashraf Ghani to step up security in the country or to resign.

Presidential guards opened fire at some of the protestors who tried to scale the walls, wounding 10 people, according to the president’s deputy spokesman.

Shukira was beheaded.


God is great.

A world sodden with violence against women

Nov 12th, 2015 12:13 pm | By

Sarah Ditum connects a pornographic murder of a teenage girl to pornography.

She starts with a character in Ali Smith’s novel How to be Both, a teenage girl named George who watches a pornographic clip over and over as a way of acknowledging what happened to the girl depicted in the clip.

Most people, of course, do not watch pornography for the same high-minded reasons as George. Most of them watch it to get off, and most of them are men – pornography is produced by and for men, an orgiastic confirmation of the most brutal sexual and racial stereotypes. At this point, it’s habitual for pornography defenders to step in and muddy the waters. Not all porn is like that, you will be told, and anyway how can you define porn, and even if you could, how would you prove that pornography actually caused harm?

One thing at a time. There is actually a perfectly good and workable definition of pornography – it’s from Dworkin and MacKinnon’s Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance. This is it: “Pornography is the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words.” They also specify that in porn, women will be dehumanised as sexual objects, or shown to enjoy pain and humiliation, or to take pleasure in being raped, or shown tied or mutilated or injured, or presented in sexually submissive poses, or reduced to body parts.

So the kind that’s erotic and mutual doesn’t qualify.

It is not a question of whether pornography “caused” Matthews and Hoare to commit their crime. What matters is this: in a world sodden with violence against women, pornography is one more form of it. Matthews and Hoare apparently made no distinction between legal images and the video of the rape. All served the same need to see women (in Hoare’s case, other women besides herself) subordinated and dehumanised. Pornography is the propaganda of gender. Through it, men and women alike learn what women are supposed to be for: something to fuck, something to use, something to hurt if you’d like to, and something to dispose of when you’re finished. Matthews and Hoare dismembered Becky Watts with a circular saw.

There are CCTV photos of them buying the equipment they needed to get rid of Becky Watts’s body. People are probably using them as porn now.

Time’s up

Nov 12th, 2015 11:26 am | By

Hatefulness in Utah:

A judge in the US state of Utah has ordered that a foster child be removed from the care of a lesbian couple, and placed with a heterosexual family.

The Utah Division of Child and Family Services is searching for ways to challenge to Tuesday’s decision.

Without a challenge, the child will be removed from April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce’s care within a week.

The decision, made by Judge Scott Johansen in the town of Price, has been criticised by gay rights groups.

The judge wants the child removed because the foster parents are a lesbian couple. Not because they’re bad foster parents, but because they’re not straight.

The decision to remove the child that the lesbian couple had been raising for three months, has drawn heavy criticism from gay rights groups.

“Removing a child from a loving home simply because the parents are LGBT is outrageous, shocking, and unjust,” said president of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin. “All major studies on the matter show that parents’ sexual orientation is not related to a child’s mental health and social development.”

It’s a terrible thing to do. Assuming the couple are good and affectionate foster parents, it’s a terrible thing to do. Children need security, and foster children have the least security of any children.

The foster agency has said that it is unaware of any issues with Ms Hoagland and Ms Peirce’s performance as foster parents.

The agency’s attorneys are now reviewing the decision to see what challenges might be mounted.

“We just want sharing, loving families for these kids,” Sumner said. “We don’t really care what that looks like.”

The agency is tasked with keeping children in one foster home for as long as possible, on the condition that the parents – who are all screened before becoming foster parents – are providing adequate care.

As long as possible, because going from one to another to another is awful for children.

Now we don’t even get to be the default woman

Nov 11th, 2015 4:13 pm | By

Another blasphemer: Penny White at Feminist Current on why she no longer hates “TERFs”:

Women are socialized to be caretakers. We learn to put everyone else’s needs before our own and, likewise, we are socialized to believe that everyone else’s oppression is more important than ours — especially the oppression of biological males. The oppression of men of colour by whites, for example, has always been taken more seriously than the oppression of women of colour. Police violence against women of colour receives far less coverage than police violence against men of colour.

Recently Caitlin Jenner was honoured at Glamour’s “Woman of the Year” awards, but Chaz Bono has yet to be nominated as “Man of the Year” by his brothers. The closest he got was a “Person of the Year” award at LA’s gay pride festival. I can only imagine how enthusiastically men would embrace an Esquire or GQ cover proclaiming Chaz Bono “Man of the Year…”

Yet Caitlin Jenner, a conservative Republican and deadbeat dad, who used to hang out at the Playboy Mansion and who can’t even be bothered to support gay marriage (because it’s not “traditional”), is championed by women. We celebrate her even though she supports a political party that seeks to systematically eliminate the reproductive rights of women. Because Jenner is transgender, she’s understood to be a member of an oppressed group (despite her wealth and whiteness). We must consider her feelings and needs above our own because that’s what women are socialized to do. Is it impossible to understand why some women might be angry about this?

She’s a member of an oppressed group who has a show about her on cable tv. Some oppression.

Females have never been the “default” human — that honor has always gone to males. And now we don’t even get to be the default woman.

That is a great line.

We are now labeled non-trans or “cis” women. Some trans activists are even claiming it is “cissexist” or “transmisogynist” just to refer to pregnant women aswomen. The Midwives Association of North America (MANA) will no longer use the term “pregnant woman” because they have been informed this is transphobic. Instead, they will use the term “pregnant person,” because it is now considered bigoted to imply a direct connection between women and pregnancy. So “womanhood” has been erased from the language of midwives in order to protect the feelings of a tiny percentage of the trans community.

But, we’re told, that’s not erasing women, it’s just including others (and doing so by not mentioning women).

Is it really so unreasonable that many women are offended by their own erasure? What equivalent erasure are men asked to accept in deference to the trans or queer community’s feelings? I can’t think of a single one.

When women of all ethnicities, abilities, and classes are referred to as “privileged” in relation to transwomen — even transwomen who are white and middle or upper class — it feels to many of us as though we are being erased, that the systemic oppression of women, based on sex, is being erased, and that still the default human is someone else. Is that concern really so hateful? So evil? So beyond understanding or empathy?

Many liberal feminists and trans activists say yes. Even in the women’s rights movement, women’s oppression must never be centered.

And if feminists don’t, nobody else is going to.

Simply by existing

Nov 11th, 2015 3:30 pm | By

Huh. Assigned Male has a new strip out.

Wednesday’s update is a collaboration I did with Eli Erlick. Don’t appropriate trans experience!

So…trying to escape or reject or disavow gender altogether is appropriating trans experience?

What does that mean, exactly? That everyone has to be either trans or cis? That choosing a third option is appropriating trans experience? That trans people have a monopoly on how we all think about gender? That trans people have a veto on what we say about gender?

That’s not how any of this works.

The limits of internal self-perception as the sole arbiter of truth

Nov 11th, 2015 10:36 am | By

Glosswitch notes a certain lack of cordiality toward women who forget how to be young.

Being an older women is, by all accounts, grim. It’s not just that women in their fifties are hit hardest by the gender pay gap, with most drives for pay parity aimed at their younger countertparts. Nor is it simply that, to quote a recent Guardian correspondent, older women “face daily insinuations in the media that we are ugly”. As women get old, their age is seen to cast a shadow over every contribution they make and every belief they hold.

As shown by the recent furore over Germaine Greer lecturing at Cardiff University, it’s not enough to disagree with an older woman. One must cast her as “a dinosaur” facing “a slow and painful extinction”.

True story. As I’ve mentioned before, all this disdainful use of the label “second-wave” is very thinly veiled “fuck off and die you disgusting old hag.”

You would think, then, that younger feminists would champion the cause of older women. “Help the aged”, as Jarvis Cocker sang in a song only some people will remember, “’cos one day you’ll be older too”. To which, alas, the standard younger feminist response seems to be “no, I won’t. I’ll identify my way out of it.” Unfortunately older women have come to symbolise everything that contemporary feminism seeks to deny: biological necessity, the body, the limits of internal self-perception as the sole arbiter of truth. These women let themselves get old! How could they have been so stupid? Ageing is such a deeply unimaginative, essentialist thing to do!

Right? Right? Why don’t people get to “identify as” young? Why is it that age is still taken as a brute fact while sex/gender is taken as the opposite? Why isn’t internal self-perception decisive for all categories?

Asking that question is one of my Listed Crimes. I still don’t know the answer though.

Trying to figure this womanhood thing out

Nov 10th, 2015 3:54 pm | By

Buzzfeed had an inspiring conversation with Caitlyn Jenner last night.

Last night, Glamour magazine held its 25th annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards, celebrating powerful honorees like Caitlyn Jenner, Reese Witherspoon, Misty Copeland, Victoria Beckham, and more.

Yeah, so powerful.

We sat down with Caitlyn Jenner backstage at Carnegie Hall to hear her brilliant words of wisdom, and, unsurprisingly, it was incredibly inspiring. Here’s what we learned.

Yay, brilliant words of wisdom! I can’t wait!

Over the last six months it’s really been a progression. I have found that women have so much unleashed power that they don’t really utilize because they don’t have confidence in themselves about who they are, and what they can do. I have always actually been with and attracted to very strong women, and I think I’ve learned a lot from them. The power of the woman has just not even been unleashed around the world.

Well thank god we finally have Caitlyn Jenner to tell us how to do it right.

I think that’s to come, but I think that’s gonna come from confidence as these women grow up and get in better positions of authority — I think that will come. So, I am SO glad to be on this team and help it along!

Thanks so much for the help, Caitlyn!

Buzzfeed asked:

What’s the hardest part for you about being a woman?

Being dismissed? Being interrupted? Being patronized? Being underpaid?

The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear. It’s always that way; I never thought it would come to this. I had really no sense of style. Everyone around me in my family had the sense of style — I learned as much as I possibly could.

The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.

The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.

The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.

But it’s more than that. I’m kind of at this point in my life where I’m trying to figure this womanhood thing out. It is more than hair, makeup, clothes, all that kind of stuff. There’s an element here that I’m still kind of searching for. And I think that’ll take a while. Because I think as far as gender, we’re all on a journey. We’re all learning and growing about ourselves. And I feel the same way.

It is more than hair, makeup, clothes! Who knew?! I literally had no idea of that. How lucky we all are that Caitlyn Jenner is going to figure this being a woman thing out for us.

Greta spots the obvious, months later

Nov 10th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

And now for a bit of hilarity.

Greta Christina has a new post at Freethought Blogs.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

I would have thought this was obvious. But it seems not to be. So here comes the measured rant.

There’s this pattern I’ve been seeing for a while. I keep seeing people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to other people’s behavior on social media. I don’t mean “things people say on social media”: I mean their behavior. Who are they friends with? Who are they not friends with? Who did they un-friend or un-follow or block? What posts did they like or share or re-Tweet? What posts did they not like or share or re-Tweet? A lot of people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to this social media behavior — and then tie it in with a micro-analysis of the thoughts and feelings and intentions that supposedly lie behind it. People make assumptions about shifting alliances, secretly-held opinions, behind-the-scenes machinations — based entirely on this friending and unfriending, this blocking and un-blocking, these likes and dislikes. I’ve started calling it “reading the Facebook tea leaves.”

Why yes, yes they do.

Like, for instance, the way they did that about me, just three short months ago – the way they went trawling through a large busy Facebook group to record the few comments I had made there, and even what I had Liked there, and used that as items in long wordy prosecutorial venomous accusations against me. Why, even some of Greta Christina’s very own friends and colleagues at Freethought Blogs did that. Greta herself blocked me on Facebook at that time, presumably partly because of that very trawling through my Facebook activity. Greta was vocally and explicitly happy to see the way our colleagues were trashing me on their blogs, partly on the basis of that creepy intrusive secret-police-like trawling through my Facebook. So this post strikes me as very funny – and, of course, disgusting.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

Some people use social media more for their personal lives, to stay connected with friends and family. Some people use it more professionally, to promote their work or do research or maintain professional connections. Some people have a couple hundred friends, or fewer, mostly or entirely their actual friends. Some people have hundreds or thousands of “friends”: their actual friends, plus colleagues, neighbors, friends of friends of friends, people they met at a party or a conference that one time, people they friended because they made a funny comment on someone else’s page, pretty much anyone who sends a friend request.

Some people “like” pretty much everything they see on their feed. Some people “like” only things they feel strong agreement or affinity with. Some people “like” posts to express agreement or support. Some people “like” posts to keep track of the thread, so they’ll get notifications when new comments appear. Some people share or re-Tweet only when they agree with something. Some people share or re-Tweet to increase the visibility of ugly opinions they think people are ignoring or denying.

True. So where was all this last July and August? Nowhere, that’s where.

So it’s a really, REALLY bad idea to make assumptions about people’s thoughts and feelings and intentions, their shifting alliances and secretly-held opinions and behind-the-scenes machinations, based solely on what they like or don’t like on social media, who they are and aren’t “friends” with, who they do and don’t “follow.”

Uh huh. Well spotted. Shrewd observation. Cool that it’s safe for you to make it now.

Again, I’m not talking about the things people actually say on social media. The words that come out of people’s mouths and fingers are, I think, a pretty reasonable guide to at least some of their thoughts and feelings and intentions. But when it comes to the other ways people use social media — liking and friending and following and blocking and the rest of it — can we please quit using it to decipher hidden meanings? Can we please quit trying to read the tea leaves? They’re a crappy news source, about as reliable as the National Enquirer. And trying to read them just adds more misinformation, more paranoia, more general noise, to an Internet that seriously doesn’t need any more.

Well done, Greta. Really, really well done – saying it now, instead of saying it last summer when it might possibly have gotten through to some people. You self-important coward.

You’ve got to believe that God is the judge of the earth

Nov 10th, 2015 11:37 am | By

So there’s this fella Kevin Swanson. He’s the one who organized that National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa where Ted Cruz said men have to start the day on their knees to qualify to be president. Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch tells us about him:

After yelling quite a bit about Leviticus, Swanson clarified on Saturday that he does not actually want the U.S. to implement the death penalty for gay people at the moment, but instead to wait and give them time to repent first.

Then, in the same speech, Swanson declared that anyone who believes in God must see that there “might be a connection” between wildfires and flooding in Colorado and the state’s government refusing to enforce biblical law, and specifically a picture that ran on the front page of the Denver Post showing Colorado’s House speaker kissing his husband after a vote on civil unions.


I watched a little of that and found it very disturbing. It’s disturbing that men who want to be elected president of the country perform at a National Religious Liberties Conference organized by him.

That, by the way, is genuine hate speech, the real thing. Blaming sets of people for natural disasters and accusing them of insulting Almighty God – that’s hate speech, the kind that can incite violence.

“You see, when this happens, it is the most egregious, the most abominable, the most arrogant insult to Almighty God,” Swanson said of the Denver Post photo. “And then, the very same year, we had the very worst fires, the most devastating fires we ever did in the state and the worst floods. In the very same year, we had the most devastating floods and the most devastating fires and the worst possible legislature in terms of well, any standard of God’s laws as conveyed in [the Bible].”

“You’ve got to believe that God is the judge of the earth and indeed there might be a connection between the worst flood, the worst fires, and the worst government in the history of the state of Colorado,” he said.

He then defended his statement that thanks to gay rights and pro-choice laws, Colorado might be becoming worse than North Korea, saying, “Well, they murder. We put homosexuals on the front page of newspapers.”

Right – not equivalent then. Not equivalent, not related, not connected, not comparable in any way. Murder is bad. Having a picture of two men kissing on the front page of a newspaper is not bad.

Kevin Swanson is one scary guy.

Every day on his knees

Nov 10th, 2015 9:22 am | By

Religion must never be free and voluntary; atheism must never be a viable option. On your knees, peasants.

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Friday that he believes anyone who wants to be president must fear God and pray daily.

Speaking at the National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, Cruz joined other GOP presidential candidates for a discussion about the persecution of Christians in the U.S. and around the world. After some very extreme, very weird comments about homosexuality, right-wing pastor Kevin Swanson introduced Cruz to the stage to ask him how important it was for candidates to submit to Jesus Christ as “the king of the President of the United States.”

“Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country,” responded Cruz.

You have to be a man, first of all, and then you have to grovel on the floor first thing in the morning, declaring your submission to an imaginary god, in order to be in charge of the US military.

I suppose it’s very wrong of me to expect people who want to be president to make efforts to be reasonable and grownup and decent.

Guest post: We are supposed to text them, tweet them, and friend them on Facebook

Nov 10th, 2015 7:49 am | By

Originally a comment by iknklast on 13 administrators.

And does she think the professors are her substitute parents?

In a word, yes. This is actually the message being given to many faculty. I have recently sat through a 2 day faculty meeting where the main message to professors at our school was to be “best friends” and “parents”. We talked a lot about making students happy, making them feel at home, about enhancing relationships, and zero about increasing the rigor of our courses, achieving high standards, or ensuring that our students got the education they came for. We are expected by our students and by our bosses to be substitute parents, substitute best friends, and personal life coaches/counselors. If we have any time left over, well, maybe we’ll get to teach them a thing or two before we leave. We are supposed to text them, tweet them, and friend them on Facebook.

I have heard students complaining about one of the English professors here who tells them up front he is not their friend, he is their instructor. As far as I can see, he is accessible, helpful, and a good teacher. But this is too much for them. How dare he? The fact that I don’t put myself out there as surrogate parent also gets some bad vibes from my students occasionally, even though most acknowledge that I am friendly and approachable, and that I do a lot to help them survive my class (Survive is not overstating in their world; I am told my tests are lethal).

The fact is, if education means being made a bit uncomfortable, we are supposed to move the other direction. After all, education is a business, and students are customers. That’s the current picture. Make the customers happy.

13 administrators

Nov 9th, 2015 6:24 pm | By

And then there’s Yale. Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic:

[N]o fewer than 13 administrators took scarce time to compose, circulate, and co-sign a letter advising adult students on how to dress for Halloween, a cause that misguided campus activists mistake for a social-justice priority.

It’s easy enough to think of costumes one would really prefer students not to wear – minstrel show type stuff, KKK sheets, Nazi uniforms, you know. But does it take 13 administrators to say that? “A word to the wise, students: no racist costumes. You know what we mean by that. Thank you.”

Erika Christakis wrote and sent an email putting in a word for imagination and not stamping out every spark of it.

I wanted to share my thoughts with you from a totally different angle, as an educator concerned with the developmental stages of childhood and young adulthood.

As a former preschool teacher… it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde ­haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.

And more in the same thoughtful vein.

That’s the measured, thoughtful pre-Halloween email that caused Yale students to demand that Nicholas and Erika Christakis resign their roles at Silliman college. That’s how Nicholas Christakis came to stand in an emotionally charged crowd of Silliman students, where he attempted to respond to the fallout from the email his wife sent.

And the students lost their shit.

“In your position as master,” one student says, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?!”

“No,” he said, “I don’t agree with that.”

The student explodes, “Then why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!”

She ended by screaming at him, “You’re disgusting!”

She’s clearly correct that it’s not about creating an intellectual space. It should be though.

Ding ding ding went the trolley

Nov 9th, 2015 3:53 pm | By

The Trolley Problem, with extra bells and whistles.

Plus there is like a 50/50 chance that you are just a brain in a vat, so none of this matters

Philosophers in this comic: Philippa Foot

Support the comic on Patreon

Hedy Lamarr

Nov 9th, 2015 3:22 pm | By

Check out today’s marvelous Google doodle, stashed on YouTube

A smackdown for the BJP

Nov 9th, 2015 3:01 pm | By

Very good news: elections yesterday in Bihar, India, were a resounding rejection of Modi and the BJP.

Prime MinisterNarendra Modi of India suffered a severe political setback on Sunday when the voters of Bihar, the country’s third most populous state, overwhelmingly rejected his party in state assembly elections.

Mr. Modi, who had eagerly cast the Bihar elections as a referendum on his first 17 months as India’s leader, acknowledged defeat shortly after noon.

Recriminations were swift within his Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. Some party leaders questioned whether Mr. Modi had erred in the closing weeks of the Bihar campaign by elevating hard-right appeals to Hindu nationalism over his more unifying message of “vikas,” or development, for all Indians.

Those appeals — in which Mr. Modi depicted his opponents as favoring Muslims and insulting cows, a revered Hindu holy symbol — fell flat in Bihar, a desperately poor state in eastern India where millions of people eke out a living as subsistence farmers without electricity, plumbing or even two meals a day.

“Favoring Muslims and insulting cows” – would you believe it? Grown-up politics? It’s almost as embarrassing as US politics…and quite a lot more lethal. (People got killed over that bullshit about cows, you may remember.)

The battle for Bihar, fought through five rounds of voting over the past five weeks, played out against a raging national debate over whether Mr. Modi’s India is becoming increasingly intolerant of secularists, Muslims and political dissent in general. According to the police, four Muslims were attacked and killed by mobs of Hindus in the past six weeks because they were suspected of stealing, smuggling or slaughtering cows.

Hundreds of writers, filmmakers, scientists and academics have protested what they see as rising intolerance by signing petitions or returning awards they had received from government-supported bodies.

I learned about this because Gita Sahgal posted a marvelous picture:

Two writers – Nayantara Sahgal ( on right) and Kiran Nagarkar ( on left) watch Bihar election results at the home of Neelam Mansingh, one of India’s leading theatre directors. Hearts in mouth, waiting for fantastic election results.

Congratulations, India.

Jingle jingle jingle

Nov 9th, 2015 2:41 pm | By

I also like the Starbucks red cup.

Starbucks Red Holiday Cups

I like red, I like shades of red. It’s a nice cup.

Apparently there’s a pretend-controversy about the cup as a new front in the war on Christmas.

Ok so have this one then.

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Jamilah Lemieux

Problem solved.


Nov 9th, 2015 2:16 pm | By

I can’t help loving it that Ben Carson has a painting of himself with his buddy Jesus.

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Not just with Jesus, either, but with Jesus dropping a matey hand on his shoulder, and with the other hand telling the world, “Behold, here is my beloved Ben Carson, in whom I am well pleased.”

Although…are they really sure that is Jesus? It’s not Ben Carson’s trainer? I’m not sure why Jesus would be wearing a snowy-white bathrobe, or sporting a ’70s goatee.

But no, I’m just being blasphemous, I’m sure that’s the authentic Jesus, after a vigorous session on the elliptical.

They just started stabbing them

Nov 9th, 2015 12:01 pm | By

The wife of one of the men injured in the Dhaka attack October 31st lives in Montreal. Nick Logan at Global News reported her story a few days ago. It includes gut-wrenching photos of him in the hospital.

Monika Mistry said her husband, Tareq Rahim, was hacked multiple times in the head, hands and torso and was shot in the stomach. His condition has improved but he remains in critical condition, with a bullet still inside his body. Mistry’s afraid he could be attacked again.

Rahim, she said, was meeting with writer friends Saturday afternoon in the office of Shuddhashar publishing house, in capital city Dhaka, when a purported group of Islamist extremists stormed in and began hacking them with machetes and cleavers. “They didn’t even talk. They just started stabbing them,” she said.

Mistry had spoken with her husband just four hours before a friend in London, England called her in the middle of the night to let her know about the attack.

She said she feels powerless to be on the other side of the world while her husband is fighting for his life. Mistry, a Bangladeshi who came to Canada in 2006 and now lives in Montreal with her daughter from a previous marriage, said she can’t afford to go back to Bangladesh to be with Rahim.

In a way I’m glad she can’t afford to, because it would be dangerous for her.

Mistry said she wants her 32-year-old husband to be in Canada, where interfaith marriage is more accepted; she’s from a Hindu family, he’s from a Muslim one.

Something of an understatement there. Interfaith marriage is more accepted, secularism is more accepted, not being Hindu or Muslim or any other such label is more accepted.

Mistry fears Rahim’s life will continue to be at risk because he survived the attack and the assailants are waiting to finish the job.

“These killers, they’re on the street. You don’t know, maybe they’re walking around the hospitals because they couldn’t fulfill their mission. They wanted these people dead, but they’re not dead,” she said.

Indeed. You never know. They can burst in anywhere.

The Centre for Inquiry (CFI) Canada, a non-profit education organization, is leading calls for the newly elected Trudeau government to intervene in the case.

“CFI Canada is making an appeal to the Canadian government, and certainly Justin Trudeau, to ask for some compassionate support for someone who would have likely been coming to Canada if they hadn’t been attacked by terrorists before getting a chance to do that,” said Executive Director Eric Adriaans.

Well done CFI Canada.