too many of our profession’s big shots continue to show indifference or, worse, cover for philosophically talented peers about which there are plenty of “open secrets.”
What if (more) big shots spoke up? October 13, 2015
Philosopher Janet Stemwedel has written an excellent piece for Forbes on the Marcy sexual harassment case. She explores the interesting fact that the astronomy community seems more responsive to victims’ needs than his university is.
You might think a university would recognize itself as something like a community, and that it would prioritize protecting vulnerable individuals within the community (like students) from harm. Maybe a university’s institutional policies are even intended to protect students, but in their operation they seem not to work that way. In this case, a professor found to have violated a university policy is essentially told not to do it again — because if he does, maybe the university will suspend or fire him.
This doesn’t seem to do a lot to protect current and future students from the same kind of harm from the same professor.
Jason Stanley on the Rise of Trump and Carson October 12, 2015
Since the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, every presidential campaign has included accusations that candidates use code words so they can appeal to antidemocratic sentiments without violating what the Princeton political scientist Tali Mendelburg has called a “norm of racial equality.” This strategy was made explicit as early as 1981, when the Republican strategist Lee Atwater explained in a radio interview that politicians, who by around 1968 could no longer use the word “nigger” to denigrate black people, turned to abstracting the issue by talking about “forced busing,” “states’ rights” and “cutting taxes.” Such terms, he said, are “totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.” Violations of this sort have surfaced as recently as 2012, when Mitt Romney faced criticism for the claim by his campaign in South Carolina that President Obama wanted to eliminate work requirements from welfare.
So far, the current presidential campaign has been different…
Sexual harassment as a con October 11, 2015
Really interesting post from an astronomer reflecting on the sexual harassment in his field. Here’s just a bit of it:
Something that people rarely think of as a con game is sexual harassment, but after listening to the lived experiences of women who have been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I feel the analogy is apt. Like a con artist, the sexual harasser usually knows their victim well and uses their authority or “friendship” to gain trust. With that trust, the harasser then works to gain access to something far more valuable than money. They gain access to the victim’s body, their sexuality, their most private selves. In addition to anger and frustration, the common theme in the stories I’ve heard is shame and guilt. These feelings are why sexual offenses are so infrequently reported.
However, what’s worse than the betrayal of trust is that even when sexual harassment/assault and rape are reported, victims are often met with disbelief, invalidation, shaming and inaction. In my case, if I had overcome my shame to report my con artist, I likely would have had the charge reimbursed and the company investigated. But I seriously doubt that the person on the other end of the phone at the consumer protection agency would have asked, “Are you sure you didn’t lead the con artist on?” or “Oh, I know him. He’d never con anyone!” or “You know what, we need to keep this quiet. I think the best approach is for me to have a private conversation with the con artist to clear things up.”
So there are similarities, but there are also huge differences between being conned and being sexually harassed or assaulted. But the analogy should help doubters who question the intent of the victims who are brave enough to speak out, or question why they didn’t report the crimes right away. At least it should. I’ve been a part of the astronomy community long enough to expect some very ugly behavior and words in the wake of what is soon to follow. Sexual harassers are protected by the silence of their victims, inaction from authorities, and also apologists in their community.
He also goes on to reflect on the way that people like him are kept silent. I really recommend reading it.
Open Letter about Conservative Party Politics in Canada October 9, 2015
The Canadian Federal Election is coming up on October 19th, and the Conservative Party, under current PM Stephen Harper, has been using some extremely questionable tactics (to put it mildly), perhaps with the guidance of his new political consultant, Lynton Crosby. Crosby is an Australian political strategist who has worked for years for conservative parties there, as well as for David Cameron’s Tories. Regardless of the source of Conservative tactics, many of them have capitalized on divisive anti-immigrant sentiments.
Earlier this year, Bill C-24 came into effect, which many have criticized as creating a two-tiered citizenship system. Under this bill, it becomes possible to strip dual citizens and naturalized Canadians of citizenship if they are convicted of serious crimes in Canada or abroad. Canadians who become citizens under Bill C-24 can also lose citizenship if they fail to display sufficient intent to reside in Canada. However, the government’s interpretation of dual citizenship has proved itself to be extremely broad, given their revocation of Saad Gaya’s citizenship. Despite his having been born in Canada to parents who are Canadian citizens (having given up their Pakistani citizenship), none of whom have applied (or re-applied) for that citizenship, the onus is upon him to prove that he is not a Pakistani citizen.
A phrase used by Harper more recently, during the Globe and Mail debate in September, has also been seen as an instance of dog whistle politics. In discussing whether or not his government had taken health care away from immigrants and refugees, Harper said, “We do not offer them a better health plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. That’s something new and existing and old stock Canadians agree with.” The phrase “old stock Canadian” was something for which he was quickly called out by the Liberal Party on Twitter. When asked to clarify later, Harper suggested that he was referring to Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations. (Though given the appalling treatment of indigenous people by the Canadian government, and Harper’s own dismissal of missing and murdered indigenous women, this clarification seems to make the whole thing even worse.)
There has also been a Conservative attempt to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that women are allowed to wear face coverings such as niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. This has been centred around the case of Zunera Ishaq, who successfully fought for the right to wear her niqab during her citizenship oath, just in time to vote in the upcoming election. But just on the heels of the Conservative loss in this case came a statement saying that the Conservatives would seek to establish an RCMP tip line for the reporting of “barbaric cultural practices.” The cultural practices in this case are acts such as child marriage and honour killings, which are already illegal under Canadian law. While this idea has gathered some satirical responses, it does have plenty of support in the Conservatives’ base.
As a response to the current tactics being used by the Harper government, an open letter drafted by four Canadian academics, but signed by almost six hundred more, was published in the Ottawa Citizen and has been picked up other mainstream news sources, such as the CBC.
NYT interview with David Haekwon Kim October 8, 2015
George Yancy – continuing his fascinating series – interviews David Haekwon Kim in the NY Times’ The Stone column. The whole interview is a great read – covering topics from the ‘model minority’ myth, the Euro-centrism of philosophy, and responses to racist abuse. Here’s one particularly interesting excerpt:
Transformative efforts face a complex legacy of insularity. For example, currently, there is an increasing presence of “East-West” comparative philosophy in the profession. Unfortunately, the wider picture, one including a “North-South” axis, reveals that non-Asian, non-Western philosophies, like those found under the headings of Africana philosophy, Native American philosophy, and Latin American philosophy, do not even make it onto the map in the Western profession of philosophy. I think it’s no coincidence that these exclusions are of philosophies of colonized peoples. And it should be pointed out that Asian peoples and philosophies, too, have been enmeshed in colonial conditions. A sign of significant progress would be the robust development of what we might call “East-South” philosophy. In fact, I propose that we operationalize this idea and build it into the infrastructure of the American Philosophical Association. This would not only indicate the admission of “South” philosophy into the profession, but also “South” philosophy’s engagement with “East” philosophy would imply a strong decentering of Western philosophy. Perhaps all this is to say that I long for the day when we let the world teach us about the world.
Tensions are running high around the case of Anna Stubblefield, the Rutgers-Newark philosophy professor convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled man. This post is a – no doubt inadequate – attempt to explain some of the complexities involved, and also an attempt to explain why those of us (like me) who think there’s very damning evidence that Stubblefield committed sexual assault and should absolutely go to jail nevertheless find so many of the issues here tricky and complicated, and find the whole thing almost unbearably sad.
- ‘Mental age’ – The subject of assigning ‘mental age’ to cognitively disabled adults is deeply controversial within the disability rights community. This blog post gives a good outline of the main points of contention. This post gives a first-person narrative of why the idea of ‘mental age’ can be so offensive, and links the writings of various non-verbal autistic persons who, prior to having access to the technology which has allowed them to express themselves, were thought to have the ‘mental age’ of children. ‘Mental age’ is simply meant to assess specific aspects of cognitive function, but too often when we say that someone, e.g., ‘has a mental age of 13’ we assume that they are basically a permanent 13-year-old. This kind of slide has shown up over and over again in the reporting on the Stubblefield case.
- Communication and cognitive disability – There are many very sad cases of cognitively disabled people being denied access to the communication methods and communicative technology they need. And this lack of access has contributed to incorrect assumptions of incompetence and lack of awareness, especially for autistic people (see above). So in the disability community there’s both skepticism about mental age assessment and a deep desire for better communicative technologies.
- Facilitated communication – Enter facilitated communication, which is purported to be a method of communication for cognitively disabled persons whereby they can communicate with others via the help of a ‘facilitator’ who helps them to point to letters or symbols on a keyboard or other communication device. And it would be wonderful if this method of communication works. But the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it doesn’t (at all). And there’s also substantial evidence that the facilitator influences the result, sometimes to terrible consequences.
- Sexual abuse and cognitive disability – Disabled people are, in general, very vulnerable to sexual abuse, and evidence suggests that cognitively disabled people are especially vulnerable. Abuse often comes from caregivers or those with assistive roles in the person’s life.
- Sexual desire and cognitive disability – On the flip side, we tend to forget that adults with cognitive disability very often have sexual needs and urges. The language of ‘mental age’ no doubt contributes to this. A 10-year-old doesn’t have sexual needs. An adult with a so-called ‘mental age of 10’ certainly can.
- Consent and cognitive disability – Meaningful consent is a necessary condition of non-abusive sex. But how on earth do we determine meaningful consent in the case of cognitive disability? This is an incredibly difficult issue, with the twin specters of sexual abuse and infantilization looming on either side. And it’s an issue that, personally, I have no idea how to think about.
I don’t believe Anna Stubblefield had meaningful consent – I don’t think there’s any way facilitated communication could have provided her with meaningful consent. And Anna Stubblefield worked with DJ in a professional capacity, as his communicator. That’s enough for me to think that what she did was horrifically abusive, whatever her intentions or beliefs may have been. And I also think that her gender, her victim’s gender, and her self-identification as a feminist are coloring many people’s reaction to the case. (If she was a man and DJ was a woman, I think the reaction would be very different.) But such an ugly coalescence of all these incredibly fraught, painful issues is also just incredibly sad.
It is so easy to forget that there are many gaps between being a prodigy and being known at all well as a genius, a potentialy or actually transformative figure. So though I hope I am not the only who won’t recognize the subject of these quotes, I suspect I am not.
She was 25 when she made her groundbreaking “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975). That film, which runs more than three hours, follows a widowed housewife as she prepares food, does chores and receives a gentleman who pays her for sex. The minimalist repetition builds quietly to a traumatic climax.
“ ‘Jeanne Dielman’ is a film that created, overnight, a new way of making films, a new way of telling stories, a new way of telling time,” said Nicola Mazzanti, the director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive. “There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history. And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.”
Chantel Akerman is The director of “Jeanne Dielman,” which is available on Hulu. See also Amazon.com. She made a large number of exploratory films. Supposing a lot of others do not recognize this seminal (ovular) figure, I would guess it is because she was largely ignored in Hollywood and NYC.
Akerman died in Paris at 65 on Mon, Oct.5. No cause has been reported.
Ms. Akerman’s last film, “No Home Movie” (a title that can be read two ways), is largely set in her mother’s Brussels apartment and documents their conversations in the months before the older woman’s death.
“No Home Movie,” which is to be screened Wednesday and Thursday (Oct 7 and 8) at the New York Film Festival, ends with Ms. Akerman alone in the empty apartment. It was heartbreaking when I saw it last week and it is devastating now.
“Calcium does not increase bone density” October 6, 2015
According to the NY Times:
Calcium, eaten in foods or taken as supplements, has little or no effect on bone density or the risk of fracture in people over 50, according to two large reviews of studies in BMJ.
Presumably that’s the British Medical Journal. Before dismissing the finding as just another of these reversals of beliefs so ingrained as to seem like common sense, do know that the studies together had over 50,000 participants. And the BMJ is very highly regarded.
I can’t decide quite why I’m feeling a bit irritated. Maybe one or many of these:
– The chances of a reversal of this showing up within a year, given how these hot health news stories get worked out.
– The sanctimonious manner in which one can be asked by anyone taking health data, “And calcium supplements”?
– The number of times I’ve checked on the calcium content of foods.
– The times I’ve bought prime cost yoghurt because of its high calcium content.
She remains a model for combining political engagement and social philosophy.