Archive for September, 2011

Thomas Caldwell has written an interesting opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Making stupidity a virtue in Hollywood is dumb“. His thesis is that Hollywood has a habit of making experts into the baddies:

Consider the family-friendly blockbuster Mr. Popper’s Penguins. The hero is a wealthy real estate agent who wants to keep the penguins his late father left him so he can bond with his children. The bad guy is an experienced and knowledgeable zookeeper who wants to remove the penguins to care for them properly. In Hollywood, experts like the zookeeper have secret agendas while average dads just want to rediscover family values. We are living in an era in which expressions such as ”over-educated” are used to mock those who have conducted years of research in a specific area and words such as ”intellectual” and ”academic” are terms of abuse.

A few thoughts. (more…)


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I love David Mitchell. I love everything he’s done – Peep Show, Would I Lie to You, That Mitchell and Webb Look, Sound and Book, his work on QI, Mock the Week and any other panel show, Soapbox, and various articles. I was listening to a conversation with Mr Mitchell on CarPool with Robert Llewellyn of ‘Red Dwarf’ fame. He started talking about his time spent studying history at Cambridge, and why it interested him:

If you don’t want to explain things, then you’re a moron. As far as I’m concerned, trying to explain things through what the molecules people and things are made up of, or the chemicals and how they react to each other, is an incredibly roundabout way. You know, I don’t want to know that. I assume that will keep going whether or not I understand it. I want to know why we are in a country called Britain, why are these people in charge. That seems to me to be the direct way of generally explaining things. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of time for the scientific urge to explain. But for me, that’s always been a bit secondary to specifically explaining “what’s this stuff, and don’t tell me what it is at a subatomic level!” (more…)

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I didn’t really say that

Via thedailywh.at:

A 22-year-old senior named Sarah Grunfeld complained to local Jewish groups that Professor Cameron Johnston had the audacity to exclaim “all Jews should be sterilized” in his “Self, Culture and Society” class.

Except that, had Grunfeld not tuned Johnston out before leaving the classroom in a huff, she might have heard him say “‘All Jews should be sterilized’…would be an example of an unacceptable and dangerous opinion.”

Luckily, Johnston managed to talk the Jewish community down from their calls to have him fired. The incident was “a very unfortunate misunderstanding,” said Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs rep. Sheldon Goodman.

Grunfeld, however, is not backing down from her claim that Johnston is an anti-Semitic Jew: “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth,” she told the Toronto Star, “so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”

Comment of note:

“‘Jews should be sterilized’” – Sarah Grunfeld, York University student campaigning to have Jewish professor fired.

The Toronto News notes that, before anyone had talked to Professor Johnston,  “She contacted Oriyah Barzilay, the president of Hasbara at York — an Israel advocacy group on campus — who then sent a press release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston to be fired.”

The stupidity of this episode goes without saying. I’ve noted before that being taken out of context is hardly the fault of the individual in question, and yet careers can and have been jeopardised by  someone else jumping to wrong conclusions.

We need a new word, since “say” in this context is ambiguous. Did Prof. Johnston say that all jews should be sterilised? Yes and no. Those words literally came out of his mouth. However, he does not believe that sentence to be true, and was not affirming it to be true. He didn’t really say that. Prof. Johnston couldn’t respond: “I didn’t say that all jews should be sterilised”, because he did. However, the sentence – “Though I literally said the words ‘all jews should be sterilised’, from the context it was clear that I do not believe and was not affirming the proposition: ‘all jews should be sterilised'” – is too long to be a sound bite. We need a headline-able comeback, something as punchy as “I didn’t say that”, but literally true in cases of quotations taken out of context.

Here’s the challenge. We need a single verb to put in this sentence:

I didn’t X that.

where X means something like: “affirm and believe, though the exact words that came out of my mouth – when taken out of context – seem to suggest otherwise”.

Some ideas: affirm, assert, claim, confirm, contend, declare, defend, endorse, profess, state, sustain, substantiate, support. These all seem a little weak. we need something stronger.

Finally, Oriyah Barzilay must resign. Anti-Semitism is a very serious thing, and a charge of anti-Semitism is a very serious charge. Likewise, a false accusation of anti-Semitism is a grievous thing – it needlessly damages the accused and cheapens the offence. Anyone willing to write a press release calling for a career to be ended over anti-Semitism while not making even the smallest effort to check the facts (in this case, the second half of the sentence in question) has so abused their position as a representative of the Jewish community that they must go. Those in a position to claim to be the victim of a hate crime must accept the full responsibility of a false accusation.

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