Sunday, October 31, 2010

United Kingdom of Censorship

The UK is clearly currently losing it on the censorship front. On the one hand, thankfully parliament abolished blasphemy legislation a few years back. On the other hand, the country's Advertising Standards Authority in recent months cancelled two advertisements because they ('potentially' - I like that phrase) offend the feelings of religious folks. The ads were both for - get this - an ice cream. In each of the advertisements, while religious symbols were used, the actual transgression did not take place. Let's leave aside for a moment the question of whether in the age of gay marriage and legal civil partnerships two guys in black dresses kissing each other is a transgression of a kind. Oh, right, the transgression is about the black dress. They're God people. God people don't kiss (each other) it seems. Well then, it's here where the Advertising Standards people moved in. They cancelled one advertisement because they received six complaints from Catholics saying they're - get this - offended by the ad.

Why would a tiny number of complaints (six) justify canceling a nationwide advertising campaign? Advertising is still a speech act, so really the advertising watch dog is saying that freedom of speech may legitimately be curtailed when a - however small - number of religious people complain.  This is surely unacceptable. I get offended all the time by the activities of religious folks (eg Christian aid agencies taking photos of starving black kids to get money out of me so they can use my donations to feed and indoctrinate kids in developing countries). I'm hugely offended by this. If I wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority, would they cancel those ads, too? I bet you that they would not. Should they cancel this ad because I am upset? Of course not. Offense in its own right is insufficient a reason to limit speech acts. Nobody has an absolute right not to be offended (pace Muslim activists who think otherwise)! The very idea that offense could be a reasonable principle for limiting speech acts makes no sense, because on that logic the most fanatic folks (of whatever persuasion) would decide what can and cannot be said. After all, they'd be most likely to be upset whenever the views that they hold fanatically are contradicted. So on this logic the most fanatic would also be the judge of what can or cannot be said with regard to whatever they are most fanatic about. Absurdistan in action. Yet this is precisely the logic of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority. I wonder how long it will take until Il Papa central will declare it a 'saint' :-).

There's another aspect of this that also troubles me. The advertising company that produced these two advertisements will probably think twice about using religious symbols for future ads, seeing that two of its ads were cancelled. Almost certainly self-censorship will occur in the wake of these decisions! Seeing that the new government in Britain has a liberal coalition partner, I wonder whether the powers that are in charge now will do something about this.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How sickening is that...

Really, how sickening is that? How can it be that Haiti suffers a cholera outbreak killing scores of its people? I mean, since the earthquake a lot of money was given do do-good operations (let's ignore for the time being the 'Bibles for Haiti' type collections by religious fanatics), and yet there is a cholera outbreak. So, these do-good operations have REALLY not yet managed to secure clean water supply for the Haitian people? What have they done with all that money?

Either way, it beats me, how it can be that we spent worldwide trillions of $$ to prop up a gone-nuts banking system in order to ensure that bankers (investment and otherwise) don't see their gazillion $$ bonuses shrink to thousand $$ bonuses, yet seemingly getting our acts together to ensure that the people of Haiti have clean water supply is asking too much.

I'm giving up. It just doesn't make sense, no matter how I look at it. Enjoy the photos of the hardware the do-gooders have amassed to impress their donors...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Those reference letters

The older you get, the more reference letters you are asked to write. The price you pay for moving closer to death. - This thing cuts really both ways. Initially you spent your while hassling busy mentors of yours to do reference letters for you, and another, and another ... you felt bad, and no doubt, so did they. Well, eventually you find yourself in the same situation, provided you do/did some mentoring or other.

Here are several problems I have both with writing and reading reference letters:

1) More often than not what I read is utterly dishonest and stands in no relation to the person who is being praised over the moon. As a result of seeing this time and again, I barely - if at all - bother reading reference letters. I assume that whoever requested one asked someone with the understanding that it would be a positive, uncritical letter. Well, if all I find out is what is good about a particular job applicant, and I have good reason to assume that whatever is written down in the reference letter is hyperbolic, what's the point?

2) My problem as a reference letter writer is that I can't get myself to lie even in order to help good people. So, if you were to ever compare my reference letters to those of people who do the whole hyperbolic shebang, you'd think I hated a candidate who I actually think would be a good choice. Am I supposed to put on the rhetorical battle gear and write about that 'one in a life-time' future academic, a coming academic superstar? I don't even think of current crowned academic superstars (just check the philosophical gossip site Leiter Report for ongoing coronation activities) in those terms.  I know that, secretly they go to the loo, just like I do, and just like Professor Middle-of-the-Road at Popplesdorf University.

3) I would love a system whereby reference letters could be honest and balanced. In the absence of this, I prefer to stick only to objective markers like peer reviewed publications, citations of those publications, teaching evaluations, etc, when it comes to academic appointments. You might want to take a closer look and check how frequently, especially in the arts and humanities, appointments are made based on verifiable evidence of excellence versus appointments made entirely on a candidate's capacity to drop names and attract reference letters from crowned superstar academics. It's painful to watch.

4) Dishonest reference letters reflect very badly on the professional who wrote them! I mean, once I have seen Prof XYZ praise a weak student to me, and I fell for the praise, what would I think of future reference letters I received from that same professor? These sorts of activities can only work efficiently for a short period of time, begging the question why Prof XYZ thought it would be sensible to lie about her supposedly to brilliant student!

5) So, what lesson is there to be drawn from this? Are we really compelled to lie reasonably qualified to good candidates into jobs with our reference letters, because that's what everyone else is doing?

All a bit self-defeating, isn't it? As I said, I give close to no weight and attention to reference letters. I wonder how many others in more senior positions do the same. Are we all wasting our time with this sort of stuff?

ps: you're welcome to make use of the disposable bullshit bag displayed to the top left of this blog. Seems the perfect place for most reference letters.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Iran again... and again... and again

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son, Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, and lawyer, Houtan Kian, were arrested along with a German journalist and photographer in Tabriz on 10 October 2010 at 1900 hours local time. The security forces raided the lawyer’s office where an interview was taking place and arrested all four.

Their whereabouts are currently unknown and no news has been received of their situation since the arrests. It is known they were arrested given that at the time of the raid, one of the journalists was on the phone speaking with Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson of the International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution. The four have not returned home or to their hotels since; the Islamic regime has confirmed the arrest of the two journalists.

We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran for the arrests and call for the immediate release of the four. We also demand the release of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and an end to stoning and execution.

Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, International Committee against Stoning and International Committee against Execution, Germany
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Iran Solidarity and One Law for All, UK
A C Grayling, Writer and Philosopher, UK
Alfred Breitman, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Angela Payne, HQ Coordinator, Anti-Injustice Movement, UK
Anne Zelensky, Présidente, La Ligue du Droit des Femmes, France
Anne-marie Lizin, Senate Honorary Speaker, Association of the Wallonia Women Council, and Coordinator of HOCRINT, International Association against Honour Crimes, Belgium
Annie Sugier, President, Ligue du Droit International des Femmes, France
Åsa Dahlström Heuser, Campaigner, Belgium
Bernice Dubois, Coordination Française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes, France
Catherine Auberger, Human Rights Campaigner, France
Catherine Deudon, Photographer, France
Chantal Crabère, Campaigner, France
Christiane Labarre, Women’s Rights Campaigner, Belgium
Christiane Mauchauffée, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Daniel Lardy, Primary School Teacher, France
Daniel Salvatore Schiffer, Philosopher, Writer, Promoter of the “Open Letter to the Iranian Authorities” to support Sakineh, Belgium
Daphné Pavia, Regards de Femmes, France
Dario Picciau, Director, EveryOne Group, Italy
David Pollock, President, European Humanist Federation, UK
Dennis Penaluna, President, Nottingham Secular Society, UK
Dominique Peignoux, Regards de Femmes Ile de France, Vice President, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneurm, France
Ed Buckner, Board Member, American Atheists, USA
Eli Vieira, President, Secular Humanist League of Brazil, Brazil
Elizabeth Sidney, OBE, Chair, Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality, UK
Eloise Power, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Fabio Patronelli, Artist, EveryOne Group, Italy
Francis FitzGibbon QC, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
G. R. Joly, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Georges Delpech, Campaigner, France
Ghulam Mustafa Lakho, Advocate High Court of Sindh, Pakistan
Giti Thadani, Writer and Filmmaker, India
Glenys Robinson, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Gudrun Schyman, Spokesperson, Swedish political party Feminist Initiative and elected member of the local parliament in Simrishamn, Sweden
Harold Kroto, FRS, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, USA
Hope Knutsson, President, Sidmennt the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Iceland
Huguette Chomski Magnis, President, Mouvement Pour la Paix et Contre le Terrorisme, France
Ibn Warraq, Author, USA
Iza Desperak, Campaigner, Poland
Jaya Gopal, Coordinator, International Committee to Protect Freethinkers, India
Joëlle Wiels, Research Director, CNRS, France
Josette Vial , Lyon Association Regards de Femmes , France
Katarzyna Kopystyńska, Democratic Union of Women and Federation Polish Women’s Lobby, Poland
Katarzyna Zwolak, Women Space Foundation, Poland
Laura Dubinsky, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, UK
Laura Guidetti, President, Marea Association, Italy
Leo Igwe, Executive Director, Nigerian Humanist Movement, Nigeria
Liisa Rantalaiho, University of Tampere, Finland
Manouchehr Ganji, Human Rights Campaigner, USA
Maria Calderar, EveryOne Group, Italy
Maria Rohaly, Mission Free Iran, USA
Marie-Christine Exsteyl, Vice-Présidente, Groupement Belge de la Porte Ouverte pour la défense économique de la travailleuse, Belgium
Marie-Hélène Clochard, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Matteo Pegoraro, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Philosopher and Spokesperson, Giordano Bruno Foundation, Germany
Michèle Vianès, Présidente, Regards de Femmes, France
Mireille Popelin, Feminist and Secularist, France
Monica Lanfranco, Director, Marea Feminist Review, Italy
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, President, Stop Child Executions, Canada
Nina Sankari, President, European Feminist Initiative, Poland
Olga Rémy, Member, HOCRINT, Belgium
P. Mazelpeux, Campaigner, France
Pascaline Segard, Women’s Rights Campaigner, France
Pedro Almeida, General Director, Secular Humanist League of Brazil, Brazil
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner, UK
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters, UK
Richard Dawkins, Scientist and Author, UK
Roberto Malini, Writer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director, American Humanist Association, USA
Russell Blackford, Philosopher, Australia
Shahla Abghari, Women’s Rights Campaigner, USA
Siba Shakib, Author and Filmmaker, USA
Sonja Eggerickx, President, International Humanist Ethical Union, UK and President, Unie Vrijzinnige Verenigingen, Belgium
Steed Gamero, Photographer, EveryOne Group, Italy
Tasneem Khalil, Editor, Independent World Report, Sweden
Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society, UK
Udo Schuklenk, Professor of Philosophy and Ontario Research Chair in Bioethic, Canada
Valérie Surville, Campaigner, France
Venita Popovic and Nermin Sarajlic, Zenicke Sveske journal, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Viviane Teitelbaum, MP and President of the Council of Women, Belgium