Notes and Comment Blog

If you’re not Nabokov

Sep 28th, 2013 4:12 pm | By

And then there’s the academic peonage aspect.

In all the recent talk about dead white males and the living white males who teach them, we’ve missed something about the David Gilmour controversy. It’s not at all unusual for people to want to teach only the things they like, but, generally speaking, it is unusual for them to get what they want.

In other words, why did David Gilmour get such a sweet deal?

Consider this set of well-worn truisms about higher ed: arts enrolment is at an all-time low. The academic job market is bleaker than a house in a novel by Charles Dickens. Actual PhDs, who have trained to teach the curriculum, compete with hundreds of qualified applicants for every one position available. Those who don’t opt out altogether fall back on “sessional” instructor work, which is widely known for its poverty-line wage, lack of job security and low status.

Sessionals don’t get to teach the material they love. They’re usually just grateful if they land in the right department. The image of the overworked instructor working out of the trunk of her car as she commutes between two (and sometimes three) colleges or universities is the poster child for the new “working poor” academic. In many universities, sessionals account for about half the teaching staff, since universities can’t afford to hire more full-timers — what with the system being in crisis and all.

Yet David Gilmour got one of those scarce jobs. It’s hard not to wonder why.

As I’ve said, I can see wanting to have a working novelist teach novels and stories. But…why David Gilmour when there is, say, Rohinton Mistry?

Aside from the alleged sexism, one of the many offensive aspects of Gilmour’s comments is his cavalier attitude about what to teach. Academic inquiry is all about giving reasons — for many things, including what to teach. Sometimes they are bad reasons, like many of the ones provided by both sides of the culture war the first time the dead white male topic blew up. But at least they were reasons.

Which leads one to believe that what Gilmour is doing at Victoria College might not be all that academic. It’d hard to blame him for that, frankly. If U of T offered me “ENG 350 — Books I Like,” I’d teach it in a heartbeat. And if I were offered an office with a view of the fall foliage, I’d even throw in “BIO 310 — Evolution: How I See It” as part of the deal.

Gilmour has every right to prefer literature written by whatever small portion of the population he chooses. But, since the university is publicly funded and the system is in “crisis,” it’s fair to question whether or not it’s right for an institution to spend resources on a course that seems to fall outside of the normal confines of academic inquiry.

To be fair, this is not without precedent. In fact, bringing in a real live author or critic is a time-honoured tradition. But writer-in-residence gigs generally last a year and Gilmour’s been there for six. Now it’s not entirely unheard of for it to be extended, either. For example, the PhD-less Vladimir Nabokov taught at Cornell from 1948-1959 and it’s pretty likely he had free reign to teach books he was passionate about. Of course, he was Nabokov.

Well quite – he was Nabokov. Gilmour is not. I don’t mean to be all “Rebecca isn’t Ayaan Hirsi Ali so ha,” not least because I’m not Ayaan Hirsi Ali either, but I do wonder why Gilmour is being treated as if he were a Nabokov-equivalent.

The university needs non-academic voices. But choice is key and the university better start providing some good academic reasons for their choice of Gilmour, given that, at present, it’s apparently impossible to pay the sessional teachers who are doing all the heavy lifting. When appointing writer-in-residence types, the candidates need to have both serious literary chops and be entirely above reproach. Since a good deal of Gilmour’s fame seems to have come from his most recent gaffe, it looks like the University of Toronto has failed. On both counts.

Looks that way to me.


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

If you be mainstream everyone will love you

Sep 28th, 2013 3:14 pm | By

Yeah I already knew that, thanks.

Study: Everyone hates environmentalists and feminists

Of course everyone does. And you know why? Because lots of people work hard to make everyone hate environmentalists and feminists. People who hate feminism and feminists themselves work hard to convince everyone else that feminists are witch-hunters from North Korea. Oil companies and other interested parties hire PR firms to make environmentalists seem like soppy tree-hugging fools who will steal your SUV to plant potatoes in.

Writing in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Bashir and her colleagues describe a series of studies documenting this dynamic. They began with three pilot studies, which found people hold stereotyped views of environmentalists and feminists.

In one, the participants—228 Americans recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk—described both varieties of activists in “overwhelmingly negative” terms. The most frequently mentioned traits describing “typical feminists” included “man-hating” and “unhygienic;” for “typical environmentalists,” they included “tree-hugger” and “hippie.”

Another study, featuring 17 male and 45 female undergraduates, confirmed the pervasiveness of those stereotypes. It further found participants were less interested in befriending activists who participated in stereotypical behavior (such as staging protest rallies), but could easily envision hanging out with those who use “nonabrasive and mainstream methods” such as raising money or organizing social events.

Or writing blog posts and speaking at conferences.

No no no no no no no! That’s even more abrasive and not-mainstream than “staging protest rallies.” Except that one of the much-recycled indictments of the feminist blogging conspiracy is that it’s all slacktivism. Like this for instance:

Embedded image permalink

See? Feminist baaaaaaaaaad because she doesn’t happen to be Ayaan Hirsi Ali (which she has in common with everyone else in the world except one person, so why it’s a rebuke is somewhat mystifying). Feminist does nothing but whine a lot. We hates feminists, precious.

Let’s face it: being a feminist is seen as “abrasive” and non-mainstream no matter what we do. The only way we could be “mainstream” enough to change that is to stop being feminists at all, which would suit the people who hate feminism but would rather defeat our purpose (we who are feminists). In other words, no.

This is, needless to say, frustrating news for activists, and not just the ones mentioned here. The researchers suggest this dynamic may very well apply across the board, such as to activities advocating gay rights or Wall Street reform.

“Unfortunately,” they write, “the very nature of activism leads to negative stereotyping. By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy and unconventionality or eccentricity.”

“Furthermore, this tendency to associate activists with negative stereotypes and perceive them as people with whom it would be unpleasant to affiliate reduces individuals’ motivation to adopt the pro-change behaviors that activists advocate.”

So the message to advocates is clear: Avoid rhetoric or actions that reinforce the stereotype of the angry activist. Realize that if people find you off-putting, they’re not going to listen to your message. As Bashir and her colleagues note, potential converts to your cause “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”

And by shutting the fuck up.


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

Just because it made me laugh

Sep 28th, 2013 2:38 pm | By

A bit of spam, exactly as is, including quotation marks and line breaks.

“Wow, this post is fastidious, my sister is analyzing these kinds of things, therefore I am
to let know her.”

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

The First Amendment right not to be taught science

Sep 28th, 2013 10:51 am | By

So Judge John Jones might as well not have bothered writing that opinion in the Kitzmiller case? I ask because some eternally hopeful types in Kansas have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that science is religion and must be kept out of the public schools.

TOPEKA, Kan. — An anti-evolution group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to block Kansas from using new, multistate science standards in its public schools, arguing the guidelines promote atheism and violate students’ and parents’ religious freedom.

So is it promoting atheism and violating students’ and parents’ religious freedom to teach about gravity without any balancing teaching that actually it’s God pushing everything down?

The nonprofit organization based in the small community of Peck, south of Wichita, was joined in its lawsuit by 15 parents from across the state with a total of 18 children — most of them in public schools — and two taxpayers from the Kansas City-area community of Lake Quivira. The parents say they’re Christians who want to instill a belief in their children that “life is a creation made for a purpose.”

“The state’s job is simply to say to students, ‘How life arises continues to be a scientific mystery and there are competing ideas about it,’” said John Calvert, a Lake Quivira attorney involved in the lawsuit.

Is it? Is that also the schools’ job? If so is it the state’s job and the schools’ job to say that to students about everything? Are public schools supposed to throw up their hands and say “there are competing ideas about it” on the Civil War, the table of elements, the structure of the atom, the Holocaust, the solar system, the location of Brazil, math, writing, reading?

Calvert was a key figure in past Kansas evolution debates as a founder of the Intelligent Design Network, contending that life is too complex to have developed through unguided evolution. Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, said Calvert has been making such an argument for years and “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.”

“They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” Rosenau said, dismissing the argument as “silly.”

Way to go, Josh.
        The lawsuit argues that the new standards will cause Kansas public schools to promote a “non-theistic religious worldview” by allowing only “materialistic” or “atheistic” explanations to scientific questions, particularly about the origins of life and the universe. The suit further argues that state would be “indoctrinating” impressionable students in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s protections for religious freedom.
Desperate measures, eh. Once they admit indoctrination is a bad thing, they’re doomed.

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

Guest post: two real teachers of literature respond to Gilmour

Sep 28th, 2013 8:15 am | By

Andrea Day and Miriam Novick read these remarks yesterday at the event Serious Heterosexual Guys for Serious Literary Scholarship, held at the statue of Northrop Frye at Victoria College in the University of Toronto. The remarks are on Facebook, and posted here by permission.

For those of you who couldn’t be there yesterday, below are the remarks @Andrea Day and I read at the start of yesterday’s events.

Good morning, serious and unserious readers, teachers, and lovers of literature! We’ve asked you to join us here today to respond to David Gilmour’s recent comments about why he teaches what he calls only “very serious heterosexual guys” in his literature courses here at Victoria College. In his own words, “I teach only the best.”

Because Gilmour does not “love” any Canadian authors or writers who “happen to be Chinese or women” (except, of course, Virginia Woolf), he focuses on books about white, middle-aged male authors here in his classes at Vic. This misrepresents our profession: as teachers of literature, we want to introduce our students to a range of perspectives and to encourage them to think critically. This is particularly important in introductory courses, where many students are encountering university-level literary studies for the first time. “I don’t like it, so I won’t do it” is not a thoughtful approach to reading or to teaching. We don’t let our students stop there; why allow it from our faculty?

Indeed, Gilmour’s real offense is against his students. By telling them to go “down the hall” if they wish to hear non-dominant voices (perhaps voices like their own) or challenge a narrow, heterosexist, racist, and patriarchal view of what the literary canon “should” be, he is effectively telling them to think as he thinks, to read as he reads. Teaching, contrary to Gilmour’s beliefs, is nothing like being on television. Teaching is interactive, and our students deserve to be engaged, challenged, and respected. They deserve better.

We’ve asked you to join us around this statue of Northrop Frye for a reason, and not only because, as Professor Emeritus Germaine Warkentin reminds us, “His lethal wit would have disposed of Gilmour in a millisecond –and he liked women” (presumably, Professor Warkentin is using ‘like’ in a broader sense than the Seriously Heterosexual). Frye is an example par excellence (that’s French, for those of you who don’t speak the most serious of languages) of Serious Heterosexual White Guys Who Have Thoughts About Books. More importantly, he was both a student and a teacher here at Vic, an advocate for peace during the Vietnam War and South African Apartheid, and a literary critic who passionately believed in the role that literature had to play in the shaping of the imagination. In The Educated Imagination, he writes:

… what is the use of studying a world of imagination where anything is possible and anything can be assumed, where there are no rights or wrongs and all arguments are equally good? One of the most obvious uses, I think, is its encouragement of tolerance. In the imagination our own beliefs are also only possibilities, but we can also see the possibilities in the beliefs of others.

Frye thus encourages us to read widely, the better to build empathy and understand the imaginations of those around us, and he would no doubt encourage Gilmour’s students to take that trip down the hall. We are not young women who want to make a little name for ourselves, but we are the people down the hall. (Not literally; neither of us is lucky enough to have an office as nice as Gilmour’s.) And so are all of you, and so is everyone who expressed outrage at Gilmour’s comments publicly, on social media, and in private conversation. We are all the people who believe that writers of colour, women writers, disabled writers, queer writers, and trans writers are absolutely worth reading.

In one sense, Gilmour has done all of us a favour. His comments have made explicit what is so often implicit. He has gracelessly articulated the biases that too often dictate what sort of literature is considered “serious” and “useful,” opinions which too often shape teaching and reading at all levels of education and private life. This is why we’ve invited you to join us today to share viewpoints and readings from down the hall: we want to make it clear that many, many students and teachers at the University of Toronto do not share these views. We also want to open a conversation that uses Gilmour’s ridiculous remarks as a starting point for an interrogation of the systemic oppressions that too often relegate particular voices and perspectives to second-class status in some classrooms and in society more broadly.

Reading broadly and deeply is particularly important in the current academic climate. This is an academic climate in which the humanities are under attack in the popular press and at institutional levels. This is an academic climate in which adjunct instructors are tenuously employed and paid pittances – you may remember the recent death of the 83 year-old French instructor, Mary Margaret Vojtko, who died penniless and nearly homeless after twenty-five years of service to Duquesne University. This is an academic climate in which men’s rights groups – thinly-veiled fronts for misogynist grumbling – flourish on university campuses, including on this one. This is an academic climate in which now, more than ever, we should all attempt to look beyond our own experiences and privileges in order to think critically about the world around us. Only after we open our minds can we communicate effectively and better empathize with others. Good teachers and great books facilitate that process.

We echo Anne Theriault’s challenge to Gilmour. She writes,

I’ve got a dare for you, David Gilmour. I dare you to spend six months reading nothing but writers who aren’t white cis males. Read female writers. Read Chinese writers. Read queer and trans and disabled writers. Read something that’s difficult for you to love, then take a deep breath and try harder to love it. Immerse yourself in worlds and thoughts and perspectives that are incredibly different from your own. Find a book that can change you and then let yourself be changed.

We invite you to join us and read from literary works that have opened your imaginations despite the fact that they were not written by “very serious heterosexual guys.” In the spirit of “tolerance” and empathy that Frye believed that literature encourages, we should emphasize that this is not a witch hunt, and our primary concerns today are pedagogical. We want to start a conversation about what it means to teach and to study literature, and about what doing so in a way that expands the imagination of both teachers and students might look like.

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

Narcissism as literary appreciation

Sep 27th, 2013 5:51 pm | By

Exactly. Holger Syme, Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto, on David Gilmour’s version of professing literature.

…unlike Mr. Gilmour, who teaches the odd college course, I am a professor of English literature here, and it stung to see his bizarre, reactionary views on literature and teaching associated in the media with my institution, and in particular with its literary scholars.

That’s why I think it’s important to say that David Gilmour is not a colleague of mine (though I speak in this, and in the rest of this essay, only for myself, not for U of T). As far as I can tell from his published comments, he’s not much of a literature professor either. He seems to be fond of authors, and he says he loves their work–provided they are male, white, and very much like him. If they check those boxes, there are few limits to how far Mr Gilmour is willing to go in his passion. Take Proust, whom he loves so much, he’s read him twice.

Right?? Two whole times!

I don’t know if this inane interview bears any resemblance to what Gilmour is telling his students. I rather hope it doesn’t, but he said what he said, and he hasn’t taken anything back in his subsequent interviews. And what he did say, besides the generally offensive stuff, barely reached the level of the average Wikipedia entry.

It certainly didn’t have much to do with literature. I get why David Gilmour might want to do shots with Chekhov, but I have no idea why he would want to read his works. Authors sound a lot like George W. Bush when Gilmour praises them: great guys to have a beer with. Never mind about the writing, or the government bit.

Quite. It’s really not the sexism that has made me so interested in this, it’s the crudity, the shallowness, the lack of any apparent real interest in literature.

It is obviously Gilmour’s prerogative, as a middle-aged writer, to be interested exclusively in other middle-aged writers. It may make him sound staggeringly narrow-minded and parochial, but so what: it takes all sorts. But what this attitude of I-relate-only-to-myself has to do with teaching is entirely beyond me.

Is passion about our subject matter important in the classroom? Absolutely. Is the passion required in teaching typically stirred because the teacher identifies with the author or the text she teaches? I seriously hope not. I can only speak for myself, but I can categorically say that I have never identified with Shakespeare or Ben Jonson.

One of the qualities needed for teaching is surely curiosity. You need to have it so that you can evoke it in others. You need to know what it’s like in order to know what can awaken it.

Gilmour’s right, though, that passion, even love, are necessary ingredients in pedagogy. What he’s got completely wrong is the who and the what of that love. Great teaching requires empathy — the effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you. Some of those people are your students. Some of those things are of the past. Some of those ideas are the ideas of authors from different cultures than yours, and yes, shockingly, even of a different gender. Engaging with those people, things, and ideas is what teaching is all about. And not coincidentally, it’s also what research is all about, and why research and teaching go well together. Most crucially, engagement with the other is what reading is.

Quite, and that’s where curiosity comes in. Without it you just want more of the same old thing. You don’t need teachers or books or universities.

What David Gilmour professes isn’t literary scholarship or criticism. Never mind that he says offensive things (a big thing not to mind, I know). I’m sure we all say offensive things from time to time. Far more troubling, to me, is his basic failure to grasp why anyone should read literature at all, his stunningly self-righteous elevation of narcissism into the most powerful source of aesthetic appreciation — the infantile pleasure of self-recognition, and ultimately of self-affirmation as the highest, even the only end of reading.

We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art doesn’t give you that choice. If you’re playing along at all, it forces you to look in a mirror; and what you see there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, or alien, or scary, or ridiculous, or dull; beautiful or hideous; unsettling or vaguely comforting. But whatever it is, it demands engagement, an engagement that can’t ever be entirely on your terms. And sometimes, the mirror reveals something that you realize isn’t strange at all, but is in fact you — but that shouldn’t be a happy realization. It’s supposed to come at a price. It’s meant to matter. And it’s not meant to be as easy to come by as self-love.

If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong. David Gilmour is most certainly doing it wrong.

Oh yeah.

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

Mandatory belittlement

Sep 27th, 2013 4:53 pm | By

Another spike that turned up in the stats: the JREF forum, a 214 page discussion titled Atheism Plus/Free Thought Blogs (FTB). This is on page 212.


I don’t know that person from a hole in the ground. Apparently it’s just perfectly normal to call me Ophie.

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

As told by

Sep 27th, 2013 4:35 pm | By

Ok I had a mouthful of broken end of the bag Safeway house brand corn chips when I started reading this so I nearly choked myself laughing while keeping my mouth closed. Nobody likes soggy half-chewed generic corn chip bits sprayed all over her desk.

The Life of Virginia Woolf, Beloved Chinese Novelist, As Told By David Gilmour

Virginia Woolf was a famous Chinese novelist. She was born in China, as is so popular among the Chinese, where she was born. She came in third during the Boxer Uprising, after which she wrote The Good Earth, which was about China, while being a woman novelist.

It was “She came in third during the Boxer Uprising” that did me in.

Virginia Woolf was a Chinese novelist but she was not a wolf; nor was she from Virginia. This is a common mistake. She was eaten by wolves in 1942, shortly after finishing The Joy Luck Club, which she also wrote. Those wolves were not from Virginia either. There’s a Chinese guy — I think he’s Chinese — whose office is right down the hall from mine. I don’t know his name. I think maybe it’s Stan. I’m pretty sure he’s Chinese, but I don’t know if he’s ever written a book. I think you’re only allowed to write one novel per family over there. China: a land of contrasts and Virginia Woolf.

Have you ever been to China? They just love Virginia Woolf over there. Can’t get enough of Virginia Woolf. They even made a movie about it. Everybody Loves Virginia Woolf. Liz Taylor was in it. I don’t teach about it, though. I was never a big Liz Taylor fan, and you know what they say: Only teach what you love, even if it’s not Chinese. Some people, they only teach women Chinese novelists, but not me. I’m not afraid to go up against Big Chinese Women Novelists. They don’t scare me. I’m not afraid of Virginia Woolf. You ever been to China? You’re kinda quiet. You Chinese? It’s not offensive, it’s just a question. Have you ever written a novel?

There’s more. You have to read it there. It would be mean to put it all here. Read it there. You Chinese? It’s not offensive, it’s just a question.

H/t Al Dente.

Update: Forgot to say author. Mallory Ortberg.


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

Loosen up, secularists

Sep 27th, 2013 3:14 pm | By

Hamza Tzortzis explains why it’s ok for a man to fuck a nine-year-old-girl if all the right conditions are met, and how much better that is than the stupid secular way of just having a flat law that nobody can fuck a nine-year-old-girl, period, end of story, never mind if the right conditions are met. Even if her father and her tribe give her to the man, secular law would still say no! Would you believe it?!

That part starts at one hour 56 minutes. The audience applauds enthusiastically.

In case you don’t want to watch, Secular Party of Australia did a transcript of that section. (The debate was in Melbourne.) John Perkins represents Team Atheism.

John Perkins: Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [Faraz interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either Faraz or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.

Hamza Tzortzis: There’s other Islamic principles that you have to take into consideration, right. For example, it’s not just about. . . You see, I’ll ask you the question, what age should a woman get married at? [Pause.] You answer me, what age should she get married at? Give me an age!

John Perkins: When she’s old enough.

[Audience disturbance, laughter, Hamza crying out, “What does that mean?”]

Hamza Tzortzis: You give me a number! I want an answer.

John Perkins: The legal age here—

Hamza Tzortzis: [interrupts] Wait a second, what is the legal age? What is the legal age?

John Perkins: Eighteen.

Hamza Tzortzis: In England it’s sixteen. In Spain it’s twelve. In Greece it’s thirteen. In some places in America it’s twenty-one. This is the fallacy of secular law. It’s very arbitrary. This is our law: it’s nothing to do with age. Now listen to the principles. Number 1. Is she physically fit? Number 2. Is she emotionally ready? Number 3. Is she mentally ready? Number 4. Is this socially acceptable? Number 5. All these different kinds of principles that we apply. And it happened, that there was an outlier from the statistics that a nine-year-old was physically fit, was mentally ready . . . was . . . given by her own father and the tribe, so we have principles which makes our law far more typist, rather than putting a number, saying, you can do it when you’re sixteen. There are some sixteen-year-olds in this country that can’t even tie their shoelace. The point is: if that’s all you’ve got, a sexed-up view of sharia law, a Fox News narrative, if you study the situation properly it’s based on principles that you apply to different scenarios, and yes, if you apply them properly, the eight-year-old will not get married, because look you’ve damaged her, because the problem I have, is that there is no harming, so there should be no harm. So the point is this is really about sharia law on the basis of [inaudible] things and BBC News and Fox News and god knows what we have.

[Audience claps and cheers loudly.]

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

Such men are dangerous

Sep 27th, 2013 12:46 pm | By

More on David Gilmour.

Gilmour seems to think enough of himself to believe that he’s somehow unique in his approach to teaching literature. The only female writer whose work he teaches is Virginia Woolf, and then only a single short story. So he’s proud of teaching a curriculum that’s limited to his own narrow viewpoint, which is apparently going unrepresented “down the hall,” in a class that is clearly beneath him.

It’s obvious to me, having read the full transcript, that Gilmour is an appalling misogynist. Not only does the transcript show him interrupting the female reporter several times, he also addresses her as “love” and describes a female author’s book as “sweet.” You can read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions to his comments on “serious heterosexual men,” and the fact that he doesn’t like any Chinese authors. The transcript was released by Hazlitt when Gilmour claimed the reporter quoted him out of context. As though the full context of his remarks would make them any less reprehensible.

I wouldn’t say misogynist, I would say sexist. He doesn’t express outright hatred, he expresses casual oblivious dismissive contempt. It’s friendly enough, in a patronizing way, but it’s utterly belittling.

Men like Gilmour are dangerous. They’re dangerous because they’re not your run-of-the-mill misogynist/racist/homophobe stereotype. He’s not a frat boy. He’s not a Klan member. He’s not toothless redneck swilling Budweiser and complaining about the gays. He is a man who is appears thoughtful and intelligent. He’s a college professor and a published author. It is assumed by the reader that his opinions have been shaped by his education, that he has a better understanding of the world than your average pleb.

That is exactly right. That’s why it was worth pointing out and disputing Shermer’s “It’s more of a guy thing.” It’s precisely because he is a man who is appears thoughtful and intelligent and it is assumed by the reader that his opinions have been shaped by his education, that he has a better understanding of the world than your average pleb. Both men have intellectual influence, so when they talk sexist nonsense in public, yes, that’s dangerous.

So when he says that he’s not interested in teaching anything but white male produced literature, he’s lending credibility to the pervasive belief that if there’s something a woman/person of color/LGBT identifying person has to say, a white man can probably explain it better. Because the only thoughts and experiences that matter are the thoughts and experiences of educated white men. The world must consume the material produced by these important figures, and anything written by anyone else is optional. And he’s teaching his students and readers to believe the same.

But at least tv and movies are doing a better job.


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

Imagine what the private schools must be like

Sep 27th, 2013 11:10 am | By

Zoe Williams writes on the privatization of state schools in Britain.

Many of the problems associated with free schools are related to the fact that they’re run by faith organisations. But faith schools have been around for decades without letting in the kind of injustice parents complain of now.

In Derby, a headteacher at a Muslim free school left, complaining, among other things, that girls were being asked to sit at the back of the class. Elsewhere there is talk of discrimination on the basis of caste; documented faith provision that doesn’t reflect the local demographic (a Jewish primary school in Wandsworth, a borough that only has 1,600 Jewish constituents in total)…

Girls were being asked to sit at the back of the class? Let’s take a look at that. It’s from the Derby Telegraph, about the Al-Madinah school in Derby.

A FORMER teacher at a school accused of ordering female staff to wear a hijab – an Islamic scarf – claims she quit over pressure to follow Muslim dress code.

The Derby Telegraph revealed exclusively on Friday claims that the city’s Al-Madinah School had imposed a strict dress code, made female pupils sit at the back of classes and told staff they could not take non-halal food into school or wear jewellery.

This is, remember, not a private school, it’s a state school, in the US known as a public school. (Notice also that Zoe Williams actually softened it – she said the girls were asked to sit in the back, but the linked article says they were made to sit in the back.)

The teacher wasn’t told ahead of time that she would be required to “cover her head”; that was sprung on her at an induction session just before the school opened. She reluctantly complied while in the classroom, but then was hassled for not wearing it outside the classroom. Then it got even more so.

The teacher, who does not want to be named, said she began to be “hassled” about the rest of her clothing  and, on one occasion, was sent a text from the school saying it “insisted on” a “modest dress code. Full length dress or skirt acceptable”.

She said she asked how her outfit – a business suit – was not modest. “The skirt was well below the knee and I wore thick black tights that covered my legs.”

She said she was offended   at the suggestion that she had dressed immodestly in the workplace.

The teacher said she was particularly angry after she was told to take instructions from two male teachers about what was considered “modest”. She said: “I wrote back to the head pointed out that ‘in nearly 20 years in teaching, I have always dressed in a professional manner’.

After starting at the school when it opened in September 2012, she claims it was October before the dress code was issued in a handbook to all staff, which indicated that they should only have their faces and hands uncovered when in the school.

Because every bit of the rest of them is pure genitalia. They really shouldn’t be allowed at all.

“I also objected to the school’s policy of sitting girls at the back of classrooms, to no avail. The reason given was that girls are allowed to look at boys but the boys are not allowed to look at the girls, but how can that be good for the children’s education?”

Yeah, that’s what the back of the bus has always been about – who gets to look at whom. Right.

The dress code is included:


AL-MADINAH is an Islamic Free school. Within the school we value and esteem our teachers and consider them to be strong role models for all of the students and representatives of the school with all external individuals and organisations. We wish to create an Islamic environment within the school for the sake of the students and to cater for the sensitivities of the community. Although some of the following points are not Islamically-binding upon all individuals except those who wish to adhere to the faith by choice, Al-Madinah School has adopted them as a code of dress for all teachers.

The code of dress for teachers has been adopted by the school and all teachers must adhere to it. By signing the contract of employment with Al-Madinah school all employees agree to adhere to this policy.

1. Clothing must cover the entire body, only the hands, face and feet may remain visible

2. The material must not be so thin that one can see through it.

3. The clothing must hang  loose so that the shape of the body is not apparent.

4. The design of the clothing must not display any symbols of other faiths.

5. All clothing must be full sleeved and all lower body  garments must be loose and covering to the ankles.

6. Skirts must be ankle length and must be loose and flowing.

7. Teachers should not wear overt jewellery or clothing accessories.

8. Wearing of the Niqab or Burqa during work hours is not permitted.

Allah has stated in the Quran that women must guard their modesty. “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof.” (Quran: 24.31)

“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty that will make for greater purity for them, and God is well acquainted with all they do.”   (Quran:24.30)

“To cater for the sensitivities of the community” bollocks. One doesn’t “cater” to “sensitivities” of that kind. People are “sensitive” about Other Races, about foreigners, about immigrants, about The Lower Orders, about untouchables, about The Gayz, about The Feminist Menace, about all sorts of stupid shit. Do not cater to such phobias.



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

If you want women writers go down the hall, in full

Sep 26th, 2013 5:47 pm | By

When the silliness of David Gilmour hit the newspapers, Hazlitt magazine posted the full transcript of the interview. It changes nothing.

Keeler: So do you teach mostly, I guess classic lit, or Russian?

Gilmour: I teach modern short fiction to third-years and first. So I teach mostly Russian and American authors. Not much on the Canadian front.

Keeler: That’s too bad.

Gilmour: I know, it is, but I can only teach stuff I love. I can’t teach stuff that’s on that curriculum, and I just haven’t encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach.

Gilmour: Come in!

[A student or colleague of Gilmour’s comes in. They speak to each other in French.]

Keeler: I notice that you don’t have many, like, books by women.

Gilmour: I’m not interested in teaching books by women. I’ve never found—Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one short story from Virginia Woolf. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Um. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I try Virginia Woolf, I find she actually doesn’t work. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too sophisticated for even a third-year class. So you’re quite right, and usually at the beginning of the semester someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I’m good at is guys.

Keeler: And guys’ guys, too.

Gilmour: Yeah, very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys. That’s a very good observation. Henry Miller. Uh. Philip Roth.

Being the kind of novelist Gilmour truly, truly loves is just more of a guy thing, that’s all.

That’s ok. If the University of Toronto wants a novelist teaching novels – which is not a crazy thing to want – then ok, he doesn’t have to measure up to normal academic standards which would require a considerably broader curriculum. That’s ok. But still the fact is that he’s very narrow, and apparently not even aware that he’s very narrow.

Mary Ellen Foley pointed out a satirical response from the woman down the hall.

I teach only the best. I don’t have low shelf-esteem, so I won’t tell you how many times I’ve read To the Lighthouse (100 times). What happens with great literature is that the shadows on the pages move around. The same thing happens with mediocre literature on a slow afternoon, but I digress. I teach only the best. I haven’t encountered any Russian writers yet that I love enough to teach. Once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Next semester I plan to offer a seminar on me.

[UPDATE:] Those remarks were totally off the cuff. At the time of the interview, I was Skyping with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate peace. Moreover, I was gestating a human child inside of my own body.

Someone’s knocking at the door, I gotta go.


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

Josh v Guido

Sep 26th, 2013 5:18 pm | By

Josh Spokesgay has a new blog which covers food and sarcasm.

In this one he has just a little fun with Guido Barilla, the heterosexual-pasta guy.

The comments are good, too.

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

There was a French guy in the room, I tell you

Sep 26th, 2013 1:41 pm | By

Now David Gilmour is in the hot seat for saying such stupid things in that interview. He explains to the National Post why he didn’t really say it and he said it wrong and it was jokes and it’s the young woman’s fault. (Everything always is.)

This was an interview I gave sort of over the shoulder. I was having a conversation, in French, with a colleague while this young woman was doing this interview. So these were very much tossed-off remarks. They weren’t written down. It wasn’t a formal sit-down interview or anything like that.

Eh? So, what happened? He was having a conversation with a colleague, in a coffee shop or his office or the colleague’s office, and this mysterious young woman just came along and started firing questions at him? And he didn’t tell her to go away, he answered her? How odd. Except he calls it an interview himself, so that can’t be what happened. Maybe it’s that he scheduled an interview with Emily Keeler and then rudely talked to a colleague when he should have been doing the interview.

I can sell anything to anyone, but I have to be passionate about it. For example, I have a degree in French Literature, and I speak French fluently, but I don’t teach French Literature because I don’t feel it as deeply and as passionately as some of the other teachers here. So I actually send people down the hall to somebody who can teach it better. The same thing goes for German writers, for women writers, for gay writers, for Chinese writers. It’s got nothing to do with any nationality, or racism, or heterosexuality. Those were jokes by the way. I mean, I’m the only guy in North America who teaches Truman Capote, and Truman Capote was not what you’d exactly call a real heterosexual guy. So I really don’t know what this is about.

What? The same thing goes for German writers, for women writers, for gay writers, for Chinese writers and it’s got nothing to do with any nationality, or racism, or heterosexuality? Boy does that not make any sense. It could be used to illustrate what “a contradiction” is.

And this is a young woman who kind of wanted to make a little name for herself, or something, because when I said “real heterosexual guys” I’m talking about Scott Fitzgerald [and] Scott Fitzgerald was not what you’d call a real guy’s guy, a real heterosexual guy.

It’s all The Young Woman’s fault! All of it, I tell you!

Quite frankly, I was speaking to a Frenchman, so I was more concerned with my French than I was with what I was saying to this young woman.

Because…he was there in his own office, speaking to a Frenchman, minding his own business, when this young woman threw open the door and aimed an AK-47 at him and fired off a bunch of questions. Or something.

The interviewer asked if he was going to reassess.

No, I’m not, because you love what you love. As Woody Allen once said, “The heart goes where it goes.”

Hey, yeah, he did, and you know when and why he said that? He said it about secretly fucking his long-term partner’s adopted daughter, that’s what.

Q: You said you admire Chekhov because he believed in kindness and hated bullies. But these comments, if you read them the way I did, are not kind.

A: I’ve done thousands of interviews in the last five years, and I’m not exaggerating, and it’s not self-aggrandizing, because I did ten tours for The Film Club. And you get on an automatic pilot, and then you get careless. And then you start to just actually not govern your words very much, because you’re not running for office, it’s this small little thing, there’s a guy in the room talking to you in French, you’re more concerned about your French accent than you are in actuality what you’re saying to her, and what happens is you get careless with the interpretation the words might have.

Nicely put. You’re more concerned about your French accent than you are in actuality what you’re saying to her, to that young woman who kept yapping when there was this important French guy in the room.


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

Zero football team

Sep 26th, 2013 12:25 pm | By

Usually it’s the other way around. Usually the high school football team gets to do whatever it wants to, and everyone else has to put up with it. A coach at a high school in Utah decided not to have that.

Faced with reports that members of his team were cyber-bullying a fellow student, a Roosevelt, Utah high school football coach suspended the entire squad, not letting them reform until they agreed to an extensive set of conditions.

Good move.

The Deseret News reported on Tuesday that Labrum also met with the student who was targeted by the online harassment to apologize. Because the bullying took place on the chat website, which allows for anonymous usernames, the offending team members had not been identified at the time.

“We don’t want that represented in our program,” Labrum told the News. “Whoever it is (doing the bullying), we want to help get them back on the right path.”

Let’s hope that becomes a trend.

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


Sep 26th, 2013 12:01 pm | By

Two more of the people who were killed in the Nairobi attack: Elif Yavuz and Ross Langdon.

Elif Yavuz was a malaria specialist working in Tanzania. The Johns Hopkins News-Letter reports:

This evening, the Hopkins community learned that Elif Yavuz, an alumna of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), was killed in the terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall this week. More than 60 people, including Yavuz’s partner Ross Langdon, have been confirmed dead so far.

“The entire SAIS community mourns the loss of Elif, who committed her all-too-brief life to serving others around the world. We express our deepest condolences to Elif’s family and friends,” SAIS Dean Vali Nasr wrote in an email to the SAIS community.

Yavuz, a 33 year-old Dutch citizen of Turkish descent, was a malaria specialist working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Despite reports to the contrary, she was not employed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Yavuz received her M.A with a concentration in European Studies from SAIS in 2004, spending a year each at both the Bologna and Washington D.C. campuses. Yavuz worked for the World Bank after receiving her degree from Hopkins. Earlier this year, she received her ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Apparently a good and useful person with a good and useful education, destroyed by theocratic deathmongers.

Plamen Nikolov, one of Yavuz’s classmates at both SAIS and Harvard, reflected on Yavuz’s qualities.

“She was a wonderful human being, a very talented person with a lot of international experience. You know, she was always smiling,” Nikolov said. “So I am incredibly shocked to find out that she was one of the people who was in the mall at that time.”

Nikolov was able to connect with Yavuz in Africa when they both conducted fieldwork in Kenya and Tanzania in 2011 and 2012.

“Other than the fact that it’s a big personal loss, it’s also a huge global loss,” Nikolov said. “She was exactly the kind of person who makes the world a better place by putting a lot of her education into wonderful use, and so it is very, very tragic.”

People who actually are doing something to make the world a better place are a particular loss. Theocrats who murder people are making the world a worse place. Don’t make the world a worse place.

Yavuz’s partner, Ross Langdon, was an award-winning architect.

Langdon studied at the University of Tasmania and University of Sydney before setting up his own architecture firm and basing himself in London.

He had been working on the design of a HIV centre in Uganda before his death, while Dutch-born and Harvard-educated Yavuz was employed by the Clinton Foundation as a Tanzanian-based senior vaccines researcher.

Uncreation. Deletion. Erasure. A bad project.


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

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women”

Sep 25th, 2013 5:15 pm | By

Then via PZ a brilliantly transgressive and original Canadian guy who writes novels and got a gig teaching novels at the University of Toronto despite no PhD. He talked to Emily M Keeler for a series she does for a website at Random House, nicely titled Hazlitt.

I’ve just moved, so my library at home is unfortunately in storage. A thousand, maybe twelve hundred books are in storage. The books here, this tends to be what I teach. These are, of course, the treasured Proust, one of my great joys is not only having read Proust but having read him twice, and having listened to the audio CD twice. There’s two versions, one’s 50 hours and one’s 150 hours. They’re both dazzling. I like volume 4, Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s the most entertaining, it’s the funniest. It’s very, very funny about human vanity, particularly gay vanity.

But the photo under that shows the Random House edition of Proust, which of course is a translation. It’s a little odd to say you’ve “read Proust” just like that when you’ve read him only in translation. It’s not odd in casual conversation of course, but when you’re talking for publication and you teach at a university – well I would think you’d be aware that reading a translation isn’t just straightforwardly reading the author.

But that’s not the interesting bit.

I got this job six or seven years ago, usually the University of Toronto doesn’t allow people to become professors without a doctorate. You have to have a doctorate to teach here, but they asked if I would teach a course, and I said I would. I’m a natural teacher, I was trained in television for many years. I know how to talk to a camera, therefore I know how to talk to a room of students. It’s the same thing. And my book The Film Club is about teaching my son about life and the world through film.

I teach modern short fiction to third and first-year students. So I teach mostly Russian and American authors. Not much on the Canadian front. But I can only teach stuff I love. I can’t teach stuff that I don’t, and I haven’t encountered any Canadian writers yet that I love enough to teach.

I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.

So that’s who that is.

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

Dave gets mail

Sep 25th, 2013 3:52 pm | By

Creepy mail. Very, very creepy mail.

Twitter pic:

Embedded image permalink

Stalker baby Jesus.

But also – the usual “I made all the good things” crap which ignores all the bad things. “Today I gave someone cancer for you. In fact I gave thousands of people cancer. I caused thousands of spontaneous abortions. I broke backs, I watched while cars crashed into each other, I killed hundreds with that earthquake in Pakistan, I did nothing to stop those suicide bombers in Peshawar on Sunday or the shooters in Nairobi on Saturday, I give people malaria, and food poisoning, and Crohn’s disease, and mental illnesses. All because I luuuuuuuuuuuv you. Please call. Dad says hi.”

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

Bed, breakfast and a tract

Sep 25th, 2013 3:35 pm | By

Remember the Christian couple who run a bed and breakfast in Cornwall and refused accommodation to a gay couple because their religion? They’re going out of business, but not because everything fell apart after they lost their case – no, it’s because their b&b is shit. It sounds like Fawlty Towers except dirtier and with extra added piety. Barry Duke at the Freethinker gives us the insalubrious details.

One Christian reviewer on Trip Advisor had this to say of Peter and Hazelmary Bull’s Chymorvah Hotel:

Awful! Simply Awful.

I am Christian but that’s not the reason I went there. But I felt the place had a terrible atmosphere. I am vegetarian and there was a very limited menu. I felt like I committed a crime when I mentioned I was vegetarian. The look I received from woman could kill you. The room was cramped, not particularly clean and smelled strange, it was also cold and damp.

I really don’t like the thought of religion being forced down my throat whilst on holiday/taking a short break. I wanted to enjoy my time but I felt like I was a burden to this hotel not a guest.

It’s a real shame because it could be a lot better if the rooms were cleaner/up to date and fresh and the people running the hotel more hospitable.

That’s a real trifecta – the hotel is cold, dirty, smelly, and damp, plus the people running it are grumpy, plus you get religion forced down your throat. Anything else? Broken glass in the muesli? A rabid pet Corgi?

There are some very enthusiastic reviews on Trip Advisor too, but there’s also this one:

We were particularly disappointed with this hotel – although the owners went to very considerable lengths indeed to attempt to persuade us to leave a favorable comment with Tripadvisor. Apparently numerous people who stayed earlier were dissatisfied and made their thoughts known and there appeared to be a genuine failure to comprehend most things in this small hotel are simply substandard. Unfortunately the whole establishment is quite old, shabby,‘tired’ and most disappointing of all it’s not particularly clean anywhere. The bathroom in our bedroom was probably at least thirty years old and everywhere looked as though it needed a through deep clean – we have the photos to prove this too! Numerous fire doors are propped open most of the time and I have serious doubts if the elderly owners are actually aware of the simple fact it’s now illegal not to be fully compliant with mandatory fire regulations applied to Hotels and guest Houses throughout England – we actually felt quite unsafe. The poultry and pet animals kept on the premises were also in need of attention and cleaning and animal odours seemed to permeate everywhere. The food served was of low quality and after the second day we even had breakfasts elsewhere. Unfortunately, the elderly owners are some sort of fundamentalist evangelical Christians, and although this normally would not be a problem one does not want to read numerous wholly inappropriate religious texts than are crudely and inaccurately reproduced everywhere. Without doubt this is the worst small hotel or guest house that I have ever had the misfortune to visit and would advise any discerning visitor to totally avoid.

  • Stayed June 2013, travelled as a couple

It’s pretty hilarious to think of cats and dogs and chickens running around all over the hotel, crapping on the religious magazines and pecking at the furniture.


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

She stoops

Sep 25th, 2013 2:13 pm | By

I took a glance at the stats, as I do occasionally (mostly to see if there are spikes from the slyme pit), and saw a spike from AtheismPlus. So I looked at the page.* Ima go all #FTBulies/AtheismPlus whrblgrbl now.

Kidding! But it is pretty…dense.

*New improved link.

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