Notes and Comment Blog

This was not the first time

Mar 11th, 2013 11:38 am | By

Student Rights tells us about several university events in London that have been promoted as “fully segregated.”

This even includes events featuring Tzortzis at UCL, with the audience at an event attended by our researcher Rupert Sutton at the School of Pharmacy in October 2012 seating women at the back of the hall and men at the front.

During 2012 Student Rights also logged several events which were advertised in this way, with a speech given by Dr Khalid Fikry at London Metropolitan University in June pronounced “FULLY SEGREGATED!!!

In January the same was true at London South Bank University, where an event encouraging non-Muslims to attend was advertised as “100 Per Cent Segregated”.

Promotional material for November’s talk by Abu Usamah At-Thahabi at Brunel, which saw protests from students after Thahabi’s views were exposed by Student Rights, also declared “all our events are always segregated to the best of our ability”.

Clearly it’s time to pay more attention to this.

To suggest that what happened at UCL this weekend is a one-off therefore ignores the consistent use of segregation by student Islamic Societies around the country.

Whilst this may be portrayed as voluntary by those who enforce it, the social pressure put on female students to conform to obey these rules should not be underestimated.

One student who attended stated on Saturday highlighted this, saying “I regret not joining my male friends in openly opposing this violation of gender equality in public premises. However, I was genuinely fearful of the repercussions“.

Here at Student Rights we would like to see universities coming clean about why they allow such practices in public spaces, and are glad to see that despite its claims of ignorance, UCL has issued a robust response, barring IERA from campus in future.

Time to push back, people.

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

A large container of assorted girls

Mar 11th, 2013 11:21 am | By

Well there’s one good thing about gender segregation, as Maureen pointed out in linking us to this news item about three men arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and false imprisonment at an Islamic girls’ school in Lancaster – it’s a handy way to collect all the girls in one place for ease of access.

Officers are investigating a single alleged incident last Tuesday involving a small number of girls at Jamea Al Kauthar in Lancaster.

A 40-year-old from Bolton and two men from Blackburn, aged 30 and 53, are in police custody.

So was it halal?


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

UCL on iERA event

Mar 11th, 2013 10:16 am | By

From UCL News.

An organisation known as the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) booked a room at UCL for a debate on Saturday evening (9 March). UCL was notified during Friday by some individuals planning to attend the event that the organisers intended to segregate the audience by gender.

This was directly contrary to UCL policy. We do not allow enforced segregation on any grounds at meetings held on campus. We immediately made clear to the organisers that the event would be cancelled if there were any attempt to enforce such segregation. We also required the organisers to make it explicit to attendees that seating arrangements were optional, and guests were welcome to sit wherever they felt comfortable. We also arranged for additional security staff to be present to ensure that people were not seated against their wishes.

It now appears that, despite our clear instructions, attempts were made to enforce segregation at the meeting. We are still investigating what actually happened at the meeting but, given IERA’s original intentions for a segregated audience we have concluded that their interests are contrary to UCL’s ethos and that we should not allow any further events involving them to take place on UCL premises.

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

Guest post on the “debate” at UCL

Mar 11th, 2013 9:01 am | By

Guest post by Abishek N. Phadnis

The Missionary Position

Six weeks ago, Student Rights published its findings on the infestation of rabble-rousing Islamic preachers in British universities over the past year. Topping the charts was trash-talking noisemaker Hamza Tzortzis, with his hit single “we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom”. That he has alchemised this rather exotic view into a career as a self-styled ‘intellectual activist’ is the least of his many contradictions.

Mr. Tzortzis is an alumnus of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a global Sunni extremist movement against the evils of homosexuality, Jewishness, women, democracy, freedom and probably happiness itself. He is a champion of such worthy causes as the criminalisation of homosexuality , the dragging of Britain into the Islamic Caliphate and the amputation of limbs for minor crimes. His brand of rabble-rousing, however, eschews violent radicalisation for a more insidious form of reactionary preaching that sexes up a dark and twisted interpretation of Islam as the ideal.

It is almost received wisdom now that intellectual honesty isn’t one of Mr. Tzortzis’s strongest suits. During his invasion of Sheffield Hallam University last month, his acolytes in the Islamic Society secured him a debate with the Atheist Society who, until the very eve, were given the impression that the opponent would be an Islamic Society student. This afforded Mr. Tzortzis the opportunity to alternate his gormless pseudo-profundity with some self-indulgent whingeing about the reluctance of high-profile unbelievers to debate him.

This bag of squalid tricks resurfaced in the run-up to Mr. Tzortzis’s debate with the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss at University College London. The London heathen audience’s preparations for the debate, focused largely on devising rude puns of Mr. Tzortzis’s name, were thrown into disarray when it emerged that the organiser, Big Debates, was a front for the missionary Islamic Education and Research Academy , which counts among its ‘Permanent Staff’ one Hamza Tzortzis.

Intrigued by this subterfuge, they dug further and discovered that an iERA functionary was to moderate the event, that questions had to be submitted in advance and had to include a mention of the questioner’s religious belief, that the organisers’ insistence on knowing the religious inclination of each ticket-holder at the time of registration was ostensibly to guide the allocation of tickets and that, in the heart of Bloomsbury, a supposedly serious debate was to be conducted before a gender-segregated audience. Meanwhile, a number of closeted ex-Muslims were distraught to discover that they had been hoodwinked into handing over their personal details to an Islamic organisation.

A spirited volley of e-mails ensued, as the agitated atheists petitioned UCL to reassert first principles of equality. Britain’s original mixed-gender university issued a swift, firm and decisive statement the same afternoon affirming that no gender-segregated seating arrangement would be permitted.

By then, the LSE atheists had discovered the typical iERA debate to be a raucously self-congratulatory affair with an audience ten parts Muslim to one part unbeliever, where every mention of He-Who-Must-not-be-Named is prefaced with a chorus of superstitious Arabic gobbledygook, every mention of homosexuality is greeted by sneering catcalls and crowing videos spring up not long afterwards, with titles like like LOL Brother Muslim speaker CRUSHES/DESTROYS/OWNS atheist opponent.

It became amply clear that iERA had pulled a textbook bait-and-switch on Professor Krauss and his supporters, who, resigned to an evening with Mr. Tzortzis, would now be subjected to the further indignity of doing so amidst an audience so unashamedly stacked against Professor Krauss, he might as well have saved himself the airfare and delivered his address to a cactus in his native Arizona.

In the event, UCL’s assurance wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, as its Equality and Diversity Policy was roundly trashed in a brazen display of religious chauvinism that will rankle long in the memory of those who attended. The evening turned sour right at the outset, as attendees were herded through segregated entrances into ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ sections. Five minutes of remonstration yielded a slender two-row mixed section for the debauched, with the remaining twenty devoted to good old-fashioned chastity. The five rows with the worst views comprised the Ladies’ Area.

Matters came to a head when two male attendees were forced out of a section of the auditorium which turned out to be part of the Ladies’ Area. Incensed, they raised the matter with the organisers but were staggered to see the organisers set the guards on them instead, this time with the express intention of evicting them from the auditorium itself for “unruly behaviour”. Verily this behaviour cited consisted of little more than the temerity to occupy a vacant seat in a public auditorium and to protest one’s unjust eviction, without recourse to raised voices or physical contact.

By then, Professor Krauss had been informed of this scandal, and hurried upstairs to intercede on our behalf. He insisted that the two seemed dignified and restrained, and did not appear to pose the slightest threat to the peace of the gathering. Undeterred, the guards piled falsehood upon falsehood, levelling slanderous allegations of harassment and intimidation, though it eluded many why any man without a Dementor fetish would choose such a gathering for sexual mischief. That the objectors were outnumbered seven to one by the guards indicates how laughable this allegation was. Professor Krauss, unable to unable to bear this pious farce any longer, issued a terse ultimatum – he would leave in protest unless the evictees were returned, unscathed, to the auditorium.

This nuclear option concentrated the organisers’ minds and they sought refuge in one last petty trick, emptying out a row of the Ladies’ Section for the pair by scattering its previous inhabitants to upper reaches of that section.

It is difficult to express fully how disillusioning it was to see UCL’s staff openly siding with scripture-sodden prudes bent on simulating the social mores of 7th-century Arabia. A Dr. Rehman, reportedly of the UCL Chemistry Department, staunchly defended the His ‘n’ Hers farce as being endorsed by UCL. The UCL guards refused to intercede on the pair’s behalf, claiming that their brief was to follow the organisers’ instructions.

To complete the infamy, only one of the ten or so questioners in the Q&A session at the end of the debate was a ‘sister’. Her pathetic contribution was to exhume the carcass of the seating issue. Professor Krauss shot back that women so viscerally offended by unthreatening male company in a public space would do well to stay home and spare others their sanctimonious conservatism.

Organisations like iERA find visceral joy in the blood-sport of bringing down a giant of the opposition, like Lilliputians downing Gulliver, in the rigged travesty of a format they call a debate. One finds increasingly that this lack of scruple is visited upon dissenting members of the audience too. To the extent that Mr. Tzortzis is currently on an Islamic Awareness Tour, we’re delighted he’s raising awareness of the sinister strain of Islam that’s peddled on Britain’s university campuses, a spiteful and bigoted thing that appeals to the base instincts of the hot-headed and the impetuous. That the unapologetic crookedness of his cabal caught us unawares suggests we could all do with a little more awareness.

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

Press release on gender segregation at UCL event

Mar 10th, 2013 6:47 pm | By

The following is a statement by concerned students.

Sexual segregation at a UCL event is a scandal

A policy of sexual segregation was enforced at an event at University College London on Saturday, with the organisers’ security trying to physically remove members of the audience who would not comply.

Seating at the event was segregated between men and women, with a small ‘mixed’ space allocated for couples.

Separate entrances were in place for women and men, although ‘couples’ were allowed to enter via the men’s door. Male attendees were refused entry via the women’s door.

The event “Islam vs Atheism” on Saturday 9th was organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), and pitted writer Hamza Tzortzis against Professor Laurence Krauss in a debate.

A policy of segregation was suggested by IERA in a statement before the event, which said: “As for seating, it is according to when the ticket was booked and gender.” This was raised by students with UCL, who gave assurances that no segregation would be allowed.

Fiona McClement, UCL equalities and diversities adviser, said on 8th March: “We have been in contact with the event organisers and made it clear that UCL will not permit enforced gender segregated seating. All attendees are free to sit wherever they feel comfortable.”

Sarah Guise, head of equalities and diversity, deans of students Mike Ewing (academic) and Ruth Siddall (welfare), as well as UCL gender champions Professor Mary Collins and Baroness Diana Warwick of Undercliffe, were also informed of the plans of the organisers to breach UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy.

Ms McClement and Rob de Bruin, co-chair of the 50:50 Gender Equality Group, said: “The UCL security team will be in attendance to ensure compliance with this. If the event organisers do not comply, the event will not be permitted to go ahead.”

Despite these assurances, segregation was enforced on the night.

At the entrance to the UCL building audience members were separated into male and female only queues by the organisers’ security staff.

The policy of segregation was strictly enforced inside the building. Male attendees were refused entry via the women’s door to the lecture theatre. When asked if the event was segregated, one of the security staff said: “It’s slightly segregated.” Dr Aisha Rahman said she was an organiser and that the room had been booked on behalf of UCL Chemistry. She said the segregation had been agreed with the University and suggested more than once that the men should be refused entry.

Several attendees approached UCL’s security personnel to alert them to the situation, but found that the staff were unwilling to intervene, and were instructed to comply with the organisers’ policy of segregation.

After more discussion, three male attendees were told they would be permitted to sit in the women’s section, but were directed to an isolated space on the side of the lecture theatre, away from everyone else.

One of the students, Christopher Roche, said: “It was clear that the segregation was still in effect as when I sat in the same aisle as female attendees I was immediately instructed by security to exit the theatre. I was taken to a small room with IERA security staff and an organiser named Mohammad who told me that the policy was actually given to IERA by UCL.

“Shocked, I said that I would like to return to my seat but was told that security would now remove me from the premises for refusing to comply with the gender segregation.”

The organisers’ security staff then tried to physically remove Mr Roche and Adam Barnett, a journalism student and friend of Mr Roche, from the theatre.

Professor Krauss intervened and threatened to leave to stop the removal of the two audience members. The organisers then prepared a row near the women’s section at the back of the room where the two men sat quietly for the event. Professor Kraus said he had been told in advance that there would be no segregation, and that people could sit wherever they wanted.

Adam Barnett said: “What happened on Saturday is a scandal. UCL and the organisers owe an apology to me, my friend, the audience and the general public. For a London University to allow forced segregation by sex in 2013 is disgraceful.

“The organisers should also apologise for their appalling behaviour if they want to hold any more events on campuses in the future.”

He added: “It’s insulting to be told that because I’m a man I can’t sit near women in the audience. I’m not in the habit of forcing my presence where it’s unwanted, but the event’s organisers have no business policing social matters of this kind. Furthermore, the women in question were never asked whether they cared where we sat.”

“In this case the segregation was non-voluntary. But voluntary or not, segregation is wrong, as well as a violation of UCL policy.”

Chris Moos, a PhD student who sought assurances from UCL before the debate, said: “Having personally attended this event, I cannot tell you how disappointed I and many other attendees are that UCL did not live up to its promise to make sure that its Equality and Diversity policy was enforced.

“Overall, the atmosphere of the event was intimidating for both male and female students, who were shocked to see that although concerns about the plans to enforce gender segregation had been raised before with UCL, the organisers were able to

violate its policy and create a threatening and divisive atmosphere that was not inclusive to all attendees.”

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

SMF asks Miliband to rethink his support for ritual genital cutting

Mar 10th, 2013 6:11 pm | By

A press release from the Secular Medical Forum:

On 7 March Ed Miliband told an audience in London that he supports ritual genital cutting of children.  In reference to circumcision and kosher food the leader of the Labour party said:  ‘These are important traditions … ways of life must be preserved’.  The Secular Medical Forum condemns this announcement and asks Mr Miliband to rethink his support for ritual genital cutting.

It is a Jewish tradition to remove the prepuce (foreskin) of baby boys when they are eight days old.  This operation disregards autonomy and exposes the child to significant risks, including bleeding, infection and death.  The Secular Medical Forum questions why Mr Miliband supports ritual circumcision given that it is ethically flawed and medically dangerous. Ironically, the meeting was held at the Royal College of Surgeons, a respected organisation that educates surgeons in the ethics and practice of surgery. The first principle of healthcare is ‘primum non nocere – first do no harm’.  This guidance is disregarded by supporters of ritual circumcision.  The meeting was arranged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the senior representative body of Jewish people in the United Kingdom.

The Vice-President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, debated the controversy of circumcision with the chair of the Secular Medical Forum, Antony Lempert, on 28 February. Mr Arkush astonished the audience by refusing to protect babies from metzizah b’peh, the tradition in which the Jewish circumciser sucks the infant’s cut penis.  Mr Arkush, a barrister, disapproved of oral-genital contact between an adult and a child but refused to call for a ban upon this tradition saying: “I’m not in favour of banning things”.  The full debate is available here.  The Secular Medical Forum would like to ask Mr Miliband if he is aware that metzizah b’peh takes place in the UK and whether it should be banned so that children are protected from the harms of this tradition.

Mr Miliband, quite rightly, told the Board of Deputies that he was against anti-semitism, which is the hatred of Jews simply for being Jewish.   In confusing contrast, Jonathan Arkush compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler. Dr Lempert, who is the GP representative member of a Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, responded to this misguided attack. Dr Lempert said that he also abhors anti-semitism and explained that anti-semitism is happening when well-meaning people fail to protect children of Jewish parents from the harm caused by ritual circumcision.  Supporters of ritual genital cutting, including Mr Miliband, should not attempt to preserve a way of life at the expense of the genital integrity of a child who is too young to consent to the operation.

The Secular Medical Forum calls on Mr Miliband to focus squarely on the rights of vulnerable infants and children.  Mr Miliband should prioritise the rights of children rather than harmful religious traditions.  Mr Miliband should defend the weak, rather than preserve abusive traditions.  He should not be misled by misplaced allegations of anti-semitism against those striving to protect children from harm.

The Secular Medical Forum works to protect all people from the imposition of other people’s beliefs in medicine.  The Secular Medical Forum wants there to be freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion, especially for children. The Secular Medical Forum campaigns against all forms of ritual genital cutting and campaigns for a safer world where children can grow up with an intact body and can make their own decisions later in life.  The Secular Medical Forum is a non-profit campaign organisation run by volunteers for the protection of patients.

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

Child inmates flung themselves to the ground

Mar 10th, 2013 4:50 pm | By

Marie-Therese has a powerful article about shunning at ur-B&W. She has extended and corrosive experience of being shunned, starting with the nightmare of life in the industrial “school” in Dublin where she was imprisoned from childhood through adolescence.

The very thought of the word absolutely sends shivers down my spine. Shunning is indicative of pure ruthless social rejection, a thing I grew up with in Goldenbridge. I also associate it with children who were very friendly with each other in the institution, who, alas, were severely mocked and jeered and separated from each other by staff. The latter called them ‘love birds’ then castigated and shunned them. There were also children who were different from others, and they too were deliberately avoided by other children and not allowed to associate with the group. Goldenbridge children, who did not know the meaning of mother or father figures, should not have been targeted in a shunning manner by grown-ups, whose sole responsibility was to act in loco parentis. It was the antithesis of any kind of loving parenting or caring guardianship. The children who turned their backs on other children, however,  were only doing what they had seen those in charge doing all the time. It was learned behaviour. A warped environment begets warped behaviour. 
Mother and father figures are most important in children’s lives and deprivation of them was punishment enough, without having the added burden of being shunned by grown-ups. Mother and father words meant nothing to institutionalised inmates…excepting that they were words synonymous with beatings, whereby children had hollered out those very words…’O Mammy…O Daddy’ after a big thick shiny polished bark of a tree was rained down heavily by the nun in charge after the children had spent hours on a cold landing awaiting said floggings. Child inmates were also prevented from knowing  or [O1]  speaking to the nuns in the convent. The latter were just like aliens from another planet. When child inmates dared to look back at them sitting in their personal convent chapel pews, with black hooded heads completely hidden and matching black gown trails sprawling all over the aisles, they were invariably told by the nun who caught them to go and wait on the dreaded cold landing for punishment.

There was always so much punishment. The Ryan Report has many chapters on the subject.

I have vivid recollections of sumptuous scraps of Marietta biscuits, soldier crusts of toast, and particles of cake from St. Ita’s staff table, that had been placed in an aluminium sieve by minor staff, and each day methodically flung out of the corridor window that faced directly into the sunless prison yard ground. Child inmates flung themselves to the ground and fiercely grabbed at the luscious leavings. The ‘scraps’ were as regular as clockwork, so inmates eagerly awaited them, as the scraps by the inmates had been considered as rare sumptuous food items. Inmates, who never had toast to eat, would gobble down the black burnt bits, as if they were expensive oysters. Dog-fights ensued. Some inmates snatched not only the gorgeous tasty scraps, but also the hair on the heads – the little that was left, anyway, – after-all getting heads shorn and cut short was the norm – of some inmates, and locked themselves into each other for a half an hour or so, at any given time, as they were so enraged at each other for getting the best scraps. The staff thought theses scenarios were hilarious. They thrived on inmates being vicious towards each other.

I also remember on rare occasions such as feast-days when child inmates sitting on hard benches in the REC (euphemistically known as “the wreck” because of the savage beatings that regularly occurred there by staff members when the nuns were up praying in the convent) were given two or three bulls-eye sweets. If a dislike by a staff member to a particular child occurred, with the shiny silver mirrored can with delicate handle the nasty staff member would bypass that child, and the one sitting next to it got extra sweets, to rub it in even more. The horrible staff member – hugging the can – would then glide along the benches with a smirk on her face. It not only caused terrible tension in the child who was left sweet-less but also to the rest of the onlookers who wondered whether they were going to suffer the same ignominious despicable fate. Shunning innocent children was normal behaviour.

At first blush that perhaps doesn’t look like shunning as such, but in fact it is. Children who aren’t shunned aren’t treated that way. The children were treated that way because they were so thoroughly, comprehensively, horribly shunned, by the staff, the nuns, the chursh, the state – which allowed the church to brutalize them that way – and all of Ireland, which knew they were there and turned a cold hard blind eye. It’s only shunned children who can be thrown scraps as a joke for adults. It’s only shunned children that an adult will torture over sweets.

When I returned to Ireland from Birmingham in the mid-eighties I resided in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan. It is a small rural town in the province of Ulster, which now comprises fewer than 2,000 inhabitants. Its claim to fame is Father Brendan Smyth, who was a notorious paedophile – who in the early nineties almost brought the Irish government to its knees because of the child abuse scandals. In this community I experienced shunning on a gargantuan scale by a certain section of that close-knit society. I put the shunning down to not having had any proper place, or family status, and due to being friendly with an unmarried mother, who by large swathes of the community was forever shunned. Some townies would cross the other side of the main street to avoid her. I saw it on so many occasions and was absolutely infuriated with their low-down ignorant behaviour. Think fallen woman! She had become hardened to all the hostility she grew up with in the town and was aware of the two-faced shenanigans of some specific insular folk. The same community that mostly never spoke out about alleged heinous crimes of the priest for fear of offending the religious. The hypocrisy knew no bounds.

I also lived in a bed-sit and was frowned upon by snootier elements of the town. They were wont to steer clear of those less fortunate. Survival of the fittest! The things as they were must always be maintained to keep their superior status – one mustn’t let one’s self be contaminated by the mere riff-raff who wandered out of nowhere into town, and even worse still, a returning emigrant. I was “a blow-in.” In small towns everyone must know everyone else’s business. They have to know one’s intergenerational antecedents. My Goldenbridge institutional past was a well-kept secret. I had never spoken to a sinner in my entire life about my childhood. In fact, I had spent my entire time in England concocting stories about a family that never existed. I created them to suit the occasion. A lot of survivors of industrial “schools” would know exactly what I’m talking about here, as they would have resorted to similar survival tactics. I was completely unaware of the trap I was falling into upon deciding to live in a wee town in “the valley of the squinting windows.” My mother and her husband had lived three miles away in the country, so I fell naturally into that situation. Besides, I never would have dreamt of going to live in Dublin, as I was actually afraid of any association connected to Goldenbridge. It actually took me ten years to come to terms with facing Dublin. To this day I still cannot go back to the industrial “school” area. I thought I was safe in a small town, but no, not at all. The opposite.

There was a particular incident where I went to an audition to join The Frolics Musical Society. A whole group of people who were known to me by sight was in full conversation on my arrival to the audition. There was suddenly utter silence when I entered the room. One person even got up from her seat to move away from me, when I sat down in the chair beside her. I was so mortified that I quietly went into the loo and disappeared. I know that I was in a bad place with respect of familial problems, and it might have shown in my demeanour. I thought that by entering into a hobby that I was very interested in, that it would bring me out of myself, and help me to get back on my feet. I was gobsmacked, as the amount of courage it took me to even contemplate on going there, knowing that a lot of them would not even bid me the time of day on the street was devastating to the psyche. I just didn’t have the emotional skills to turn it around and change things, as such emotional energy had until then been drained because of having to continually cover up about my past.

Read the whole thing.

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

Meet Kirk Sneade

Mar 10th, 2013 4:10 pm | By

Something I didn’t know about – a guy who pretended to self-identify as female to run for Women’s Officer at UCL. Oh ha ha, I can smell the jokes from here.

The UCL student uploaded a video of a woman being punched by a man and a photo with the slogan “memes are gay” as part of his campaign. Sneade, who is now claiming discrimination, reportedly likened his plight to the communist persecution in Nazi Germany.

Sneade’s original manifesto stated:

    • Kirk Sneade has self defined as a woman ever since he realised it gave him legal access to the women’s changing rooms at the Bloomsbury gym.
  • Kirk wants to make clear his desire to attend all Women’s forums to talk about Important Woman Issues such as hair dressing, shopping and walking sassily away from confrontations with your exes.
  • Kirk understands the need for equality. He wants to campaign to encourage women of UCL to wear leggings, jeggings and summer-time denim hot-pants.
  • Kirk would also like to formally change the name of the Print-Room Cafe to the Pretty-Girl Cafe, and launch an official enquiry into why there are so many pretty girls in the cafe compared to the rest of UCL and what can be done about it.
  • More speculatively, Kirk also suggests perhaps herding up the pretty girls you see around campus and keeping them ready for emergency transport to the Roxy later on when things start to get a little dry.
  • Kirk is worried that people may see this manifesto as sexist. Kirk wants to make clear that while it is sexier than most, you should probably have a look at the others because some of them are pretty sexy as well.
  • Kirk also wants to campaign for reinstatement of the Varsity rugby match, campaign against student politics being full of students who are out of touch with the student body and start the dissolution of the Women’s officer position as it an inherently sexist and outmoded position of power within the union.

Hahaha. Funnier than anti-Semitic humor, funnier than racist humor, funny than homphobic humor – there’s just nothing quite as funny as contempt-for-women humor.


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

A war on information now?

Mar 10th, 2013 1:10 pm | By

As I mentioned, Richard Dawkins has an informative post about the UCL debate yesterday at RDF. Very good. I tried to add to the information Richard provided by linking to the information I had provided on Friday, but a moderator removed the link to my post almost instantly.


I took a look at the Terms & Conditions, and I can’t find anything that forbids links to blog posts. I’m not surprised not to find such a thing, because that would be an incredibly stupid policy for a website to have. Blog posts can be informative, so it would be ludicrous to make a general policy against links to blogs.

So then why?

I have no idea. The Friday post is relevant because it documents that the organizers were on the record as having agreed to Krauss’s insistence that there be no gender segregation. It documents that this was public information on Friday.

Why on earth remove that?

I did another comment explaining the (obvious) relevance and asking for the link to be left, but that whole comment was deleted.

What is wrong with them? If they have an ironclad rule against posting blog links, why isn’t it visible somewhere? And if they do, why do they, when it would be such a stupid rule?

Then I wrote the post that quoted Chris Moos’s new letter to UCL, and commented at RDF to say I had new information and posted that link – and it was instantly removed.

What is wrong with them?

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

Krauss says no

Mar 10th, 2013 12:51 pm | By

Dana Sondergaard attended the debate at UCL yesterday, and she recorded a video of Lawrence Krauss packing up his things and leaving because the gender segregation he’d objected to was still being enforced. It’s a public post on Facebook.

“No!” he says, making the “no” gesture with his hands. “No gender segregation or I’m out of here.”

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

More on yesterday at UCL

Mar 10th, 2013 12:23 pm | By

Chris Moos has written again to UCL, and urges others to do the same. He gives a detailed account of how the gender segregation was enforced and what a crap job UCL did of interfering with it. Hello world, it’s 2013, and University College London is allowing segregated events on its campus. Chris has given me permission to quote his letter.

Following up on the emails I had sent you on Thursday and Friday, I am writing to inform you that I was shocked about the manner in which the Islam or Atheism: The Big Debate event was carried out yesterday.

1) The organisers clearly and repeatedly violated UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy. Not only did they enforce gender segregation, but five security guards of the organiser intimidated and attempted to physically remove audience members who refused to comply, falsely claiming that these attendees had been disruptive. Both male and female audience members felt intimidated by the actions of the organiser’s security guards.

Only after Professor Krauss threatened thrice to leave the debate if the organisers should continue to enforce gender segregation (follow this link: ), the organisers cleared one row of the women’s area and allowed the male attendees to sit there, thereby maintaining forced gender segregation. Notably, the women who were sitting in that row were not asked by the security guards whether they would feel comfortable with a man sitting next to them, or whether they would be willing to move. Forced gender segregation was thus maintained.

Keep in mind that the segregation was arranged in advance, by assigning seating on the tickets and stipulating that the seating assignments could not be changed.

The five security guards of the organiser – that’s new information. I didn’t know that via any of the tweets, or Krauss’s Facebook post either. Fabulous. They enforced gender segregation and they tried to physically remove people who disobeyed. London, 2013.

2) Separate entrances were in place for women and men, although ‘couples’ were allowed to enter via the men’s door. Several members of the organiser’s security team directed people to stand in either the male or female queue based on their sex, both at the entrance to the building and the lecture theatre. Signs pointing to “men” and “women” areas were in place.  There were no signs for a mixed seating area, and attendees were guided by the guards to either the “female” or “male” area. Only attendees who insisted not to be separated were guided towards a “mixed” area, which only comprised two rows.

That is not what the Equality advisor told Chris would happen. She said there would be a large mixed area. She also said people could self-segregate if they wanted to – which she should not have said. It’s not possible to self-segregate in a public space without shunning other people, so we’re right back where we started.

God almighty. Segregated fucking queues – in London, in 2013.

3) A woman who identified herself as a Chemistry teacher at UCL said the segregation had been agreed with UCL. She also stated, that “I’m actually booking this room on behalf of UCL Chemistry, I’m Dr Aisha Rahman”. Dr Rahman repeatedly refused two male attendees access to the “women’s” seating area. When asked if the event was segregated another security guard said: “It’s slightly segregated.”

Oh, slightly, well that’s all right then.

4) There were only two UCL security guards on site, and they at first declined to help two audience members who were being denied access to the “women’s” seating area. They said that the only instructions they had received were to follow the instructions of the organisers. They specifically told the attendees who wanted to sit in the woman’s area to comply with the instructions of the organiser. Only after pointing the UCL security guards to that fact that they might be complicit in a breach of UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy, they reluctantly agreed to “look into the issue”.

None of that matches what the Equality Advisor told Chris on Friday. It’s a stinking outrage.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I and many other attendees are that UCL did not live up to its promise to make sure that its Equality and Diversity policy was enforced and that the event was inclusive for all attendees.

Overall, the atmosphere of the event was intimidating for both male and female attendees. Attendees were shocked to see that although concerns about the plans to enforce gender segregation had been raised before with UCL, the organisers were able to violate UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy, discriminating attendees by their apparent gender and creating a threatening and divisive atmosphere that was not inclusive to all attendees.

It is an outrage.

Chris provided contact addresses last week:

Head of Equalities and Diversity Sarah Guise
For staff and student queries related to age, disability, gender, race, religion & belief and sexual orientation.
Ext. 53989

Equalities and Diversity Adviser
Fiona McClement
For staff and student queries related to age, disability, gender, race, religion & belief and sexual orientation.


Ext 53988

Policy Advisor – Athena SWAN and women in SET
Harriet Jones

For queries related to the Athena SWAN Charter.


Equalities and Policy Administrator Sonal Bharadva
For general enquiries.

Ext. 53991

50:50 Gender Equality Group
Annette Dolphin, Co-Chair,

Rob de Bruin, Co-Chair,

Professor Mary Collins
Gender Champion
Dean of Life Sciences .uk

Baroness Diana Warwick of Undercliffe
Gender Champion
Member of Council

Dean of Students
Academic, Mike Ewing

Welfare, Ruth Siddall
Ext. 32758

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

Yesterday at UCL

Mar 10th, 2013 11:04 am | By

Richard Dawkins has a fuller account of what happened yesterday at the “Islam or Atheism?” debate at UCL, via Krauss himself.

A few days ago, I had received a tip-off from somebody who had made an inquiry about tickets: ‘We contacted the organizers today and learnt that “as for seating, it is according to when the ticket was booked and gender”.’

I’m guessing that somebody was Chris Moos, since he’s been all over this and I don’t know of anyone else who has. Chris does great work.

I passed this on to Lawrence, with the suggestion that he might consider withdrawing from the whole affair. He immediately asked the organizers, who assured him that the audience would not be segregated by sex, and Lawrence agreed to go ahead.

Yes indeed. I reported that here, on Friday. I updated my post on the subject twice to report that the organizers had agreed on no gender segregation. Well guess what: they had their fingers crossed behind their backs. In short, they lied to Krauss to get him to show up.

When he got to the meeting he discovered that actually the seating in the auditorium was indeed segregated by sex. There was a men’s section, a women’s section, and a “couples” section. Did the “couples” have to produce a marriage certificate, one can’t help wondering? And, while wondering such things, what would have been the reaction of the audience if they had been segregated, as in apartheid South Africa, into a black section, a white section and a “coloureds” section?


When Lawrence realised that he had been duped, he immediately secured permission from the organizers to announce that – contrary to previous instructions – people could sit wherever they wanted. Three young men, described by Lawrence as nice gentle guys, then got up and moved to the women’s section in the back. “In the back”, by the way, may resonate with those who remember Rosa Parks in Alabama in 1955. Security guards then tried to eject the three young men. Lawrence went to find out why, and the guards told him the three were a “threat”. Threat to whom, one wonders?

Ah-ha – remember that tweet from Mo Ansar yesterday? About the big atheist meanies insisting on sitting with the “Muslim women” who didn’t want them to? How tf did he know? Since the seating was segregated, it’s not clear that the women in the back had a choice. [Which raises a new question. What about the "non-Muslim" women there? Were there any, and if so, did they object to being put in a "women's section"? Perhaps they didn't realize it was one at first. The segregation was stealthily done via assigned seating on the tickets.]

Lawrence then packed his bag and walked out, explaining why he was doing so, and this part of the evening’s events was filmed by Dana Sondergaard on a smartphone. She sent the film to Lawrence and has said that I can re-post it here. Her own eye-witness account of the event is on her Facebook page.

And on Krauss’s Facebook page, eleventy hundred times. I saw her tweets yesterday – I wondered if she was the only secular woman there. She may well have been.

It is unclear whether the UCL authorities were aware that sexual apartheid was being practised in one of their lecture rooms, but we may hope that a full inquiry will be launched.

University College, London is celebrated as an early haven of enlightened free thinking, the first university college in England to have a secular foundation, and the first to admit men and women on equal terms. Heads should roll.

Ah, the authorites were aware. Chris Moos told them, and they responded to him, as we saw on Friday.

The plot thickens.

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

“Don’t get involved – don’t speak – it’s pointless.”

Mar 9th, 2013 5:27 pm | By

Guest post by Simon Davis.

On Thursday March 7, an Athens court acquitted Greek neo-nazi Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris on charges of assault. Outside the courthouse, Kasidiaris stated:

I am rubbing this decision in the faces of the media and sad politicians. I have a lot of opposition that today would like me to be in jail and a lot of people who want Chrysi Avgi to be on the sidelines, but we are here, we are very powerful and soon we will be dominant.

The Greek site Luben published the following account from a person who “had the misfortune of living through this seven year ordeal from the beginning”, which I have translated to English. I have spoken to several people familiar with the case who have vouched for the veracity of the account. The original in Greek is here.


You are a graduate student.

You are on campus.

A car stops at a location where you are alone.

Five muscle-bound men with shaved heads and sticks beat you to a pulp and stab you in the leg.

They steal your police ID and therefore know where you live.

The only reason for their actions is your appearance.

Despite your fear, you decide to fight back.

You find out that someone had recorded the car’s license plate.

You press charges.

The police discover that the car belongs to a man by the name of “Kasidiaris”, who is a candidate for parliament in the Golden Dawn political party with 0.5% in the polls.

The court case drags on for seven years due to repeated delays.

During that time, you see the thug that stabbed you be elected to parliament.

You see him become of popular hero to a segment of society.

The day of the trial, you have to testify about your traumatic experience in front of a court room that is full of Golden Dawn members in the audience.

You ask that the trial be held in a different hall. Your request is denied.

As you describe the scene of the attack, the hostile audience mocks and teases you.

The orchestrator of the attack, the person who in previous delays of the trial would taunt you in the courthouse corridors, now speaks as if he is Mother Teresa and that he “sympathizes” and “condemns violence, as does the whole of Golden Dawn”.

How ironic.

He is found innocent of the charges.

He rubs the verdict in your face, they are all-powerful, they are dominant.

You learned your lesson. “Don’t get involved – don’t speak – it’s pointless.”


You are 60 years old.

You have worked at the university your entire professional life.

Your husband is in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy.

You see five muscle bound men beating up a student on campus.

You record the license plate number.

You try to find out what happened. The students who are there tell you “I didn’t see, I don’t know, don’t involve me”.

You report the incident to the university, and you together with the victim, give a statement that you saw the license plate number to the police.

After a few days, the police officer informs you that the car belongs to a man named “Kasidiaris” that is a member of a neonazi gang. He recommends you do not get involved. (It will turn out that he gave good advice)

You know that you will go through a gruelling process, and you know that your are getting involved in a case that could put your life at risk, but you decide to do the right thing regardless of the cost.

You find out from television that you are a “top official for the SYRIZA political party” despite the fact that you have never been a member of any party.

Kasidiaris refers to you publicly as a “pimp”, claiming that you are following orders.

He states publicly that you are charged with a crime, without mentioning that this because he has sued you for perjury.

You are in and out of court for seven years as the case is repeatedly delayed.

You testify about what you witnessed.

The pro-nazi lawyer insults you and insinuates that at 60 years of age you decided to involve in a totally unrelated case a complete -at the time- unknown person, for political purposes.

The prosecutor and the judge allow the lawyer to insult you and to speak to you as if you are a criminal. They dismiss your testimony.

A reporter with spiky hair states from the witness stand that you could have very easily found the license plate number from the website indymedia. You did not even know that indymedia existed.

You are found to be an unreliable witness, as opposed to the defendant’s friends who testify that they saw him in his car that morning, who are found to be reliable despite there never having been any evidence presented that the car was located elsewhere.

The trial is over. Innocent.

Now you are charged with perjury. At 67 years of age. Your predicament continues and the court decision will weigh against you.

The newspaper “Proto Thema” publishes your name and picture which are now on neo-nazi sites alongside filthy comments.

This is what you won for your good deed.

You learned your lesson. “Don’t get involved – don’t speak – it’s pointless”


You are a thug for a neonazi organization.

You write odes to Hitler on their official magazine.

You manage to become the great führer’s right hand man.

You go on raids with your car and beat people up.

One of these people dares to press charges.

Now you are a member of parliament.

Beating up a 50 year old woman and avoiding arrest for two days you manage to become a popular hero and a political star.

Seven years later when you can’t get any more continuances, you appear in court.

You have arranged to have 100 muscle-bound men sit in all the seats in the courtroom two hours before the start of the trial.

Even though your car was leased by your employer and you claimed it was in a parking lot, and even though your company asks for receipts in order to reimburse for expenses, you have no evidence to present to the court.

The judge and the prosecutor speak to you with the utmost deference. The word “defendant” is never used.

The prosecutor recommends acquittal. It is obvious that this a political conspiracy from the left.

The presiding judge agrees. Disagreeing in that atmosphere was hardly an option.

You rub the verdict in their face. You are all-powerful, you are dominant

Now they learned their lesson. “Don’t get involved – don’t speak – it’s pointless”

Simon Davis is director of online marketing at a healthcare publications company. He grew up in Greece. You can tweet him at @SimonKnowz

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

Some tweets from Krauss v Tzortzis

Mar 9th, 2013 1:03 pm | By

Apparently the big fuss happened after all, even though we were told that the organizers had agreed that there would be no segregated seating. Apparently Krauss had to make a fuss to make that concession a reality.


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

It was about Reddit

Mar 9th, 2013 12:43 pm | By

There’s an event this weekend, called SXSW, at which there was a panel on Reddit. It was somewhat fraught, apparently.

By the end of the first hot-ticket panel at SXSWi, things had gotten tense. The panel was made up of Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo, Gawker‘s Adrian Chen and Rebecca Watson of Skepchick. It was about Reddit.

The discussion of the site was largely critical — over the past year, the site has wrestled with its first real identity crisis, induced in large part by Chen’s outing of ViolentAcrez, who moderated, among other subreddits, a section called “jailbait.”

The concerns raised by the Violentacrez controversy were real and worthwhile: the value and pitfalls of anonymity, the overbearing abundance of white male voices on the site, the limits of free speech on the internet. The panel, perhaps predictably, tracked along those lines. Attendees — many avid Reddit users — were not happy.

That sounds familiar.

A guy voiced some unhappy from the floor. Check him out.

He reads some droning unhappy from his phone and Rebecca breaks in to ask a question, and he lets her ask a question for a few seconds but then resumes his droning unhappy from his phone while Rebecca is still talking, so they compete for a few seconds and then she gives up, and he drones and drones – and Rebecca breaks in to say, “I’m sorry, I’m actually finding this really weird and a little rude.”


Look, questions to speakers and panels are supposed to be questions, not speeches. This is well known. If a questioner makes too much of a speech people in the audience start calling “what’s your question?!” Using a question opportunity to give a speech is really bad manners. The guy with the phone was giving a damn speech. Rebecca interrupted him, but he was giving a damn speech; she attempted to make it a more interesting dialogue, and he decided to simply talk over her and ignore her. But she was on the panel. Yes, his droning was both weird and rude.

That sounds familiar.

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

No VAW Act for you

Mar 9th, 2013 10:26 am | By

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops covers itself with glory again by finding stupid pettifogging reactionary reasons to refuse (officially, publicly, in a statemently) to support the Violence Against Women Act. Anything to be conspicuous, eh guys?

The chairmen of four committees and one subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a joint statement to voice their concerns on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, passed recently by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. These concerns, as the bishops state, prevented the USCCB from supporting this version of the act.

Aw. Concerned, are you? Poor things. Tell us all about it.

“All persons must be protected from violence, but codifying the classifications ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as contained in in S. 47 is problematic,” they wrote. “These two classifications are unnecessary to establish the just protections due to all persons. They undermine the meaning and importance of sexual difference. They are unjustly exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition, and marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

Oh get over it. Meanings change, importance changes, definitions change, institutions change. Get over it. A woman and a man can still marry, still unite, still have children. You don’t need to issue statements and draw attention to yourselves just because other kinds of couples can also do that. You don’t need to police sexual difference, either. You’re not in charge of everything. Just get over it.

The bishops also expressed their concerns about the exclusion of conscience protections from the bill as passed, which would protect the conscience rights of faith-based service providers that assist victims of human trafficking.

Meaning, the “conscience rights” of theocratic pests who want to stop people using contraception and abortion. They want a protected right to interfere with the rights of other people.


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

A large crowd from a nearby mosque

Mar 9th, 2013 10:03 am | By

What’s new in Pakistan? Oh, the usual – a mob enraged over some alleged “blasphemy” torches dozens of houses in a neighborhood of Lahore. Rageboys just wanna have fun.

The mob attacked the houses in Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh police precincts in the provincial capital following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man. The man was booked under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy but the police was forced to register a case to placate the mob, a local police official said.

Allah is wise, merciful.

Police officer Multan Khan said the incident started Friday when a young Muslim man accused the Christian man of committing blasphemy.

A large crowd from a nearby mosque went to the Christian man’s home on Friday night and Khan said police took the man into custody to try to pacify the crowd.

Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight.

Khan said the mob returned on Saturday and began ransacking Christian homes and setting them on fire.

Fridays are a scary time in Islamist countries. It doesn’t even do any good to stay home, because the ragemob will just torch it with you in it.


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

What about dentists?

Mar 8th, 2013 6:47 pm | By

Good thinking, South Dakota – pass a law allowing teachers to carry guns. That will for sure prevent the extremely rare phenomenons of a mass school shooting, and will for sure never lead to any commonplace oops situation in which a teacher flips out or fires the gun by accident. Uh huh.

Under the Republican-sponsored bill, school staff given permission to carry firearms on campus will be known as “school sentinels”. The state has given a law enforcement commission the task of establishing a training programme for the sentinels.

Several representatives of school boards, teachers and other staff spoke against the bill in legislative hearings, arguing guns would make schools more dangerous.

But sponsor Representative Scott Craig said this week had heard from a number of school officials who back it.

Mr Craig said rural districts do not have the money to hire full-time police officers.

Plus it’s like a love letter to the second amendment.

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

Meet Rebecca Goldstein

Mar 8th, 2013 6:15 pm | By

I actually did an email interview with Rebecca Goldstein once. Yes really! You didn’t know that, did you. I’m not just some shlub with a blog. [struts] I did an interview with Rebecca Goldstein once.


Rebecca Goldstein has a new book out: Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel.

Readers at Science Daily call Incompleteness ’Outstanding’ and ‘Superb’.

Butterflies and Wheels: Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont call chapter 11 of their book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science: ‘Gödel’s Theorem and Set Theory: Some Examples of Abuse.’ They give a quotation from Régis Debray as an epigraph: ‘Ever since Gödel showed that there does not exist a proof of the consistency of Peano’s arithmetic that is formalizable within this theory (1931), political scientists had the means for understanding why it was necessary to mummify Lenin…’ The chapter’s first sentence starts, ‘Gödel’s theorem is an inexhaustible source of intellectual abuses…’

Sokal and Bricmont go on to quote more such abuses, from Debray, Alain Badiou, and Michel Serres, who wrote, ‘Régis Debray applies or discovers as applicable to social groups the incompleteness theorem valid for formal systems…’

Paul Gross and Norman Levitt examine literary critic (or ‘theorist’) Katherine Hayles’ musings on Gödel in Higher Superstition: ‘Hayles then cites the Gödel incompleteness result as the deathblow to the Russell-Whitehead program…This is  intended to figure the movement away from post-Enlightenment ideals of “universal” knowledge to postmodern skepticism…’

Is this a widespread view of Gödel? Is it a view held solely by people who don’t actually understand Gödel’s work? Are there any mathematicians or logicians who think Gödel is a social theorist or a postmodernist?

Rebecca Goldstein: I’m not sure that there is a “widespread view of Gödel.” While I was writing “Incompleteness” and people asked me what I was working on these days, I usually drew a blank stare when I said his name. Sometimes mentioning the title of Douglas Hofstadter’s popular book, “Gödel, Escher, Bach,” brought on a faint gleam of recognition.    So, by and large, Gödel – unlike his soul-mate, Einstein – is strangely unknown, and this anonymity is in itself something I wanted to address. I say in the book that Gödel is the most famous person that you probably haven’t heard of, and that if you’ve heard of him you probably have, through no fault of your own, an entirely false impression of what it was he did to the foundations of mathematics.

Which brings me to the crux of your question.  Among “humanist” intellectuals who do invoke Gödel’s name, he is often associated with the general assault on objectivity and rationality that gained such popularity in the last century.  I’d often find myself pondering which would be the preferable state of affairs regarding Gödel, anonymity or misinterpretation.  Which would Gödel have preferred?  I’m going to indulge in “the privileged position of the biographer” to presume I know the answer to the latter question, at least: Gödel, who was so passionately committed to the truth, would have far preferred utter oblivion to the falsifications of his theorems that have given him whatever fame he has in the non-mathematical world.

And what falsifications!  He had meant his incompleteness theorems to prove the philosophical position to which he was, heart and soul, committed: mathematical Platonism, which is, in short, the belief that there is a human-independent mathematical reality that grounds our mathematical truths;  mathematicians are in the business of discovering, rather than inventing, mathematics.   His incompleteness theorems concerned the incompleteness of our man-made formal systems, not of mathematical truth, or our knowledge of it.  He believed that mathematical reality and our knowledge of mathematical reality exceed the formal rules of formal systems. So unlike the view that says there is no truth apart from the truths we create for ourselves, so that the entire concept of truth disintegrates into a plurality of points of view, Gödel believed that truth – most paradigmatically, mathematical truth – subsists independently of any human point of view.  If ever there was a man committed to the objectivity of truth, and to objective standards of rationality, it was Gödel.  And so the usurpation of his theorems by postmodernists is ironic. Jean Cocteau wrote in 1926 that “The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood.”  For a logician, especially one with Gödel’s delicate psychology, the tragedy is perhaps even greater.

I’ll give you just one example of misinterpretation, not only because it’s quite typical, but also because it had a personal effect on me.  The summer before entering college I was told I would have to read, in preparation for honors English, the then-influential book, by William Barrett, called “Irrational Man” published in 1964. Gödel’s name is linked by Barrett with thinkers like Nietzsche and Heidegger, destroyers of our illusion of objectivity.  After correctly stating the first incompleteness theorem (there are in fact two theorems, the second a consequence of the first, so long as one presumes that arithmetic is free of contradictions) Barrett draws this conclusion: “Mathematicians now know they can never reach rock bottom; in fact, there is no rock bottom, since mathematics has no self-subsistent reality independent of the human activity that mathematicians carry on.”  If you negate the conclusion that Barrett draws from Gödel’s work, you end up with precisely the conclusion that Gödel himself drew!  How often does that happen? A man sets out to prove a philosophical position mathematically, so that there can be no doubt.  And he does prove it, but people draw precisely the wrong conclusion from it.

So, returning to your question as to whether “it [the rejection of objective knowledge] is a view held solely by people who don’t actually understand Gödel’s work?” I would answer, unequivocally: yes.

B and W: Are there any mathematicians or logicians who think Gödel is a social theorist or a postmodernist?

Rebecca Goldstein: I don’t personally know of any, and it’s hard to imagine any either.  Since mathematical logic is not the most central part of mathematics, there are mathematicians who don’t pay all that much attention to Gödel’s work and may not be terribly familiar with its details.  But it’s hard to imagine – even for me, with my overworked novelist’s imagination – a mathematician who would draw the sloppy conclusions that others have regarding the incompleteness theorems.

The same, by the way, can be said about Einstein’s relativity.  These very names – “incompleteness,” relativity” – have encouraged very fanciful extrapolations that stand in direct opposition to the views of the scientists connected with these important results.  Einstein was as little committed to the “relativity of truth” as his good friend Gödel was committed to the view that  mathematics is the result of “the human activity that mathematicians carry on.”

The two of them had, by the way, a legendary friendship. Einstein was an old man and Gödel was relatively young when they became friends in Princeton, both of them refugees from Nazified  Europe.  (Gödel, by the way, was not Jewish, though even Bertrand Russell made the mistake of assuming that he was.) The two of them would regularly walk home from the Institute together. In fact, toward the end of his life, Einstein confided that his own work meant little to him now, and that he went to his office primarily to “have the privilege of walking home with Gödel.” They were very different in terms of their personalities – Einstein sagacious and worldly, Gödel quite hopelessly unworldly and seriously neurotic.  I interviewed people at the Institute who used to watch them making the trek home each day, wondering what it was that they spoke to one another about.  In my book I speculate about this deep bond, speaking of the philosophical commitments that both men shared, commitments which were so often either dismissed or misunderstood.  It’s yet another irony – the story I write is full of somewhat sad ironies – that the two intellectual titans of their age should have felt marginalized, their own work often cited as the most persuasive of reasons for making the subjectivist turn.  After Einstein died, Gödel really had no one else to speak with.  This isolation certainly contributed to the psychological troubles that deepened and darkened over the years.

B and W: Is your book partly intended to correct the misinterpretation of Gödel’s work?

Rebecca Goldstein:Today I got an email from a professor of English at a prestigious university saying, among other things: “By the way, I too was assigned to read William Barrett’s The Irrational Man, but in my Freshman year at Saint Joseph’s College (now University), and from that and other references to Godel’s work over the years, I came to assume that it was a sort of proto- deconstruction of the edifice of modern math and science.”

B and W: Edward Rothstein said in the New York Times: “It is difficult to overstate the impact of his theorem and the possibilities that opened up from Gödel’s extraordinary methods, in which he discovered a way for mathematics to talk about itself. (Ms. Goldstein compares it to a painting that could also explain the principles of aesthetics.)”.

Can you tell us a little about that impact?

Rebecca Goldstein:Before Gödel, logic was considered more a branch of philosophy than of mathematics, the discipline associated with Aristotle rather than, say, with Gauss.  Gödel developed extraordinarily powerful tools in the course of proving his theorems which both opened up new areas of mathematical research (recursion theory, for example) and also provided the means for solving more standard problems in mathematics.  Mathematical logic now, as a result, has far more mathematical respectability.  As Simon Kochen, a Princeton mathematical logician, told me, “Gödel put logic on the mathematical map.” But there are many other ways in which the impact of his famous proof is felt.  In the course of proving  the limitations of formal systems, Gödel sharpens the very concept of a formal system, as well as a whole interrelated family of concepts: The concepts of a mechanical or an effective procedure, of recursive and computable functions, of combinatorial processes and of an algorithm: this family of concepts all pretty much come down to the same thing, centering around the idea of rules that are applied to the results of prior applications of rules, with no regard to any meanings or interpretations except for what can be captured in the rules themselves.  In other words, these concepts all have to do with procedures that can be programmed into computers.  There’s a sense in which Gödel’s proof, especially as it was filtered through the work of Turing, helped to invent the computer.

And then there’s the more philosophical fallout from his theorems, the light they shed not only on the nature of mathematical knowledge – the fact that it can’t be captured in a formal system – but also on the nature of the mathematical knower herself.  If computers run according to formal systems and our minds provably don’t, not even in knowing arithmetic, then does this mean that our minds are provably not computers? Gödel himself, rigorous logician that he was, was reluctant to draw so conclusive a conclusion; he hedged it in logically important ways.  Other important thinkers, however, have drawn precisely this conclusion.  Just such an argument served as the basis, for example, of Roger Penrose’s two celebrated books, “The Emperor’s New Mind” and “Shadows of the Mind.” He used Gödel’s incompleteness theorem to argue that our minds’ activities exceed what can be programmed into computers.

B and W: We’re in something of a Golden Age of intellectual biographies of philosophers. Wittgenstein, Russell, Ayer, Kant, Hegel, Spinoza and others have had rich biographies in the past decade. What sort of work do you think biography can do? Were you inspired by any biographies in particular?

Rebecca Goldstein:I didn’t think of “Incompleteness” as a biography.  The aim of the book – the aim of the entire Norton series of which this book is a part – is to fit the scientific results into a “narrative framework.”  I could have chosen the biographical story as my narrative arc. That strategy was the one that my editor kept encouraging me to take. He kept urging me to begin the book with Gödel’s birth in 1906 and go on from there.  But I resisted him.  I wanted the intellectual passions of Gödel to supply the narrative framework.  Here’s the story I wanted to tell:  Gödel, like many of us, first fell in love when he was an undergraduate, and that love forever changed him. Only it wasn’t a person that Gödel fell in love with but rather an idea, a grand philosophical vision that has attracted thinkers, and most especially the mathematically inclined, since the very first Platonist in the fifth century B.C.E..  Gödel met this great love of his in a philosophy class. (So much for the claim that philosophy can have no practical results: from Plato to – by way of Gödel and then Turing – google. )  He had been a physics major until his introductory course in philosophy,  but he changed his major to mathematics under the influence of his impassioned Platonism.  Devoted lover that he was, he resolved to find a way of proving – mathematically proving – mathematical Platonism.  This was a daunting ambition.  (The dichotomy between the outward timidity of this man, prey to terrible paranoid worries, and the inner vaulting intellectual confidence is one of the most fascinating things about his personality.) And then the amazing thing was that he actually went and did it, he actually produced mathematical theorems that had the philosophical consequences he was after;  and then he lived to see his ideas twisted around so that they served the very viewpoint that he had hoped to conclusively refute.  The drama I wanted to create, the story I wanted to tell, was all contained in this love story, a tragic love story (as almost all gripping love stories are).

B and W: Philosophers are sometimes drawn to fiction because fiction is a kind of thought-experiment. Does this aspect of fiction interest you?

Rebecca Goldstein:Well, of course, fiction is, in a certain sense, a kind of thought-experiment, but unlike the thought-experiments we use in, say, analytic philosophy in order to tease out implications or make conceptual distinctions or provide counterexamples to theses, the thought-experiments of fiction are not deliberately put forth in order to figure something out. Sure, there’s plenty of figuring out going out, for both the reader and, even more so, for the writer, but figuring out is not the paramount aspect of the deep experience of participating in fiction. I resist the view that the pleasures of fiction derive from its purely thought-experimental aspects. And yet I do think of the narrative imagination as a cognitive faculty;  but its cognitive aspects are far more complicated than “thought-experiment” suggests.  I’m fascinated by the unique phenomenology of reading and, of course, writing fiction, the fact that we’re drawn  into a world that we know isn’t real but that we participate in almost as if it were.  I think fiction manages to tamper temporarily with the boundaries of our own personal identity – we inhabit identities not our own –  and also with our sense of time – narrative time is measured out in units of significance, unlike regular time which is generally just one damned insignificant thing after another – and that this tampering puts us in the way of deep insights to which we’re not usually privy.  How else to explain the fact that novelists are so much smarter when they’re writing novels than at any other time, which is why it’s often such a profound disappointment to meet a revered writer in person!

B and W: Do you agree with for instance Martha Nussbaum that fiction is one of the best ways for people to learn empathy? Do you think such a view of fiction can be in tension with aesthetic judgments? If a novel has its heart in the right place but is badly written, which do you think matters more?

Rebecca Goldstein:Yes, I do think that storytelling is the basic way that we make our way into others’ psychology, which is of course central in regarding them as people just like oneself, in all the morally relevant aspects, an observation that ushers one into the moral point of view.  The narrative imaginative is not only a cognitively significant faculty but a morally significant one as well.  I don’t, however, think that the moral benefits of storytelling provide us with aesthetic standards.  What makes art great has little to do with its uplifting tendencies – aside from the fact that great art is intrinsically uplifting.

B and W: Did you find in writing the biography that you missed the novelist’s license to assume inside knowledge of the protagonist’s thoughts? Did you find yourself wanting to bridge gaps in the evidence with Perhapses and conditionals, or were you more interested in making clear where there was evidence and where there wasn’t?

Rebecca Goldstein:In some ways Kurt Gödel was like some of the fictional characters I’ve created. I’m thinking of, say, Noam Himmel, in my first book, “The Mind-Body Problem,” or Samuel Mallach,  in my last novel, “Properties of Light.” I’ve always been interested in geniuses, especially of the mathematical or scientific sort.  Even within this small sub-set there’s a particular type of personality that fascinates me, one that’s characterized by both the intellectual heroism of thinking one’s way where no man or woman has thought before coupled together with a marked lack of heroism in any matters removed from the intellectual high ground. It’s easy to make fun of helpless and/or lunatic geniuses; but I find the dichotomy between intellectual grandeur (and in mathematics the grandeur can seem almost superhuman) and “human-all-too-human” smallness to be touching and very telling of our uneasy human position.

I came to feel extremely close to my subject while I wrote “Incompleteness.” Of course it wasn’t that all-penetrating closeness that a writer feels with her characters, but there was something sometimes approximating it.  Again, this was not a biography in the usual sense of the word; I was interested in Gödel’s life only insofar as it related to his theorems: what they meant to him as well as to others, and how the latter facts affected him.  (Ludwig Wittgenstein’s hostility to Gödel’s theorems is of particular importance here.)  But you can see that, given what I came to believe about the man and his most famous results, there was a great deal of pathos that I saw in his story, and – the payoff of the narrative imagination – a great deal of empathetic participation in it that then helped to further along  my understanding.  So I did feel quite often that I’d penetrated into the soul of the man.  He was an unusually reticent person in life. Aside from those animated walks to and from the Institute with Einstein, that others watched in wonderment, he eschewed social intercourse as much as possible.  He mistrusted, more and more, our ability to communicate with one another.  Even when he was very young, before the historical result, and its historical misinterpretations, he remarked  to one of his acquaintances that the more he considered language, the less likely it seemed to him that we ever understood one another. This is the statement of a profoundly lonely person, someone in some sense constitutionally lonely, and this, too, touched me and made me all the more eager to hear what he’d wanted to say.  He had wanted to communicate through his proofs, to let his deep mathematics do the speaking for him; so again, the fact that the mathematics was heard to say the very opposite of what he’d meant by it is poignant.  He did write some letters protesting others’ misinterpretations of his works, particularly Wittgenstein’s.  Wittgenstein had been an enormously influential figure in the Vienna that Gödel inhabited before his move to Princeton; part of the story I reconstruct is that Gödel resented Wittgenstein’s influence, especially after Wittgenstein dismissed Gödel’s theorems as ”logische Kunststücken,” logical conjuring tricks.  Gödel, being the outwardly timorous man he was, never sent these letters off, but they’re there in his literary remains, in the basement of Princeton’s Firestone Library.  Those unsent resentful missives – both their content and the very fact that they were unsent – played a role in my constructing a partial model of Gödel’s psychology.  But about his more terrifying demons – and unfortunately it’s very clear that he had them in abundance and, in the end, they did him and his intellectual grandeur in – I would never dare to speculate.  I never deluded myself into thinking I’d arrived at the sort of access a novelist has toward her fictional characters (who, strangely, also develop something of an independent life).

B and W: Does writing a biography bring up interesting epistemological issues? Do you think people with philosophical training are more aware of such issues than, for instance, historians and journalists? Or, perhaps, aware of them in different ways? As interesting issues in themselves rather than as methodological problems?

Rebecca Goldstein:I think that anyone who tries to write a biography, even a modified biography such as mine, comes smack up against the “interesting epistemological issues.”  It’s a good exercise for a biographer to consider the question of how much of her own life’s narrative, at least as she tells it to herself, could even her very best friends reproduce. I was able to read the memoirs of those who had known Gödel and to make use of their observations and speculations; and I was fortunate to have met him once, though only very briefly, during a small window of his life when he was somewhat more outgoing than usual.  But in the end what I was trying to do was come up with a story that would make sense of the rather small number of external facts about his life that he left us.   It was a story that made much sense to me, as I hope it will to my readers.  But in the end, no story about a person can be true.  We are all of us, not to speak of mathematical/philosophical geniuses, far too complicated and self-contradictory to be contained in a “narrative framework.”  The biographer, as much as the mathematical logician, is keenly aware of the incompleteness necessarily inherent in her project.

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel .

Rebecca Goldstein’s web page is here.

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

“Ways of life must be preserved”

Mar 8th, 2013 3:55 pm | By

Via Secular Medical Ethics on Twitter I see a dreary item from Ed Milliband reported by The Jewish Chronicle Online.

Ed Miliband has pledged to protect Jewish customs including brit milah and shechita if he becomes Prime Minister.

Speaking at a Board of Deputies event the Labour leader said he was opposed to boycotts of Israel and warned of the need to be “ever-vigilant”against antisemitism.

Asked whether he would work to ensure religious slaughter and circumcision practices could continue in Britain, Mr Miliband said: “Yes, these are important traditions. The kosher issue has recently been brought to my attention. Ways of life must be preserved.”

That’s a terrible thing to say. It depends on the ways of life! Not all ways of life must be preserved, and not all aspects of ways of life must be preserved. It depends.

Just breezily agreeing that parents must continue to be allowed to cut bits off their infant sons’ penises is a slap in the face to human rights. Breezily agreeing to to ensure religious slaughter is not so hot for animal rights.

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