sexual harassment

What we talk about when we talk about sex in the academy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/05/2018 - 9:46am in

I have a piece in The Chronicle Review about a genre that has annoyed me for some time:

Every few years an essay appears that treats the question of sexual harassment in the academy as an occasion to muse on the murky boundaries of teaching and sex. While a staple of the genre is the self-serving apologia for an older male harasser, the authors are not always old or male. And though some defend sex between students and professors, many do not. These latter writers have something finer, more Greek, in mind. They seek not a congress of bodies but a union of souls. Eros is their muse, knowledge their desire. What the rest of us don’t see — with our roving harassment patrols and simpleminded faith in rules and regulators — is the erotic charge of education, how two particles of mind can be accelerated to something hotter. In our quest to stop the sex, we risk losing the sexiness. Against the discourse of black and white, these writers plea for complexity: not so that professors can sleep with their students but so that we can speak openly and honestly about the ambiguities of teaching, about how the most chaste pedagogy can generate a spark that looks and feels like — maybe is — sexual attraction.

I call this genre The Erotic Professor.

The latest addition is Marta Figlerowicz and Ayesha Ramachandran’s “The Erotics of Mentorship,” which recently appeared in the Boston Review. Like many practitioners of the genre, Figlerowicz and Ramachandran are professors of literature. (You’ll never find a professor of chemistry or demography among the authors of such pieces.) Also like many practitioners, they have a high estimation of the academy’s sexiness. “There are perhaps no places more vulnerable to the intertwining of work and romance,” they tell us, “than colleges and universities.” That belief, of course, reflects the happenstance of their being in the academy rather than any empirical comparison of the academy to other workplaces. The office romance is a ubiquitous feature of the culture, after all, its settings as various as a bar (Cheers), a detective agency (Moonlighting), a paper company (The Office), and an insurance firm (The Apartment).

One of the conventions of the genre, in fact, is for the erotic professor to imagine what her students must be feeling by reference to what she once felt, and then to state that feeling as if it were a universal law (“intellectual magnetism, a notoriously protean force, often shades into erotic attraction”), scarcely noticing that when she had that feeling, she was a student on her way to becoming a professor. What about the student on her way to becoming an HR rep? Or an accountant?

The question never arises because the real shadow talk of the erotic professor is not sex but class.

You can read more here.


Concordia Philosophy Faculty Response to Sexual Harassment Allegations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/04/2018 - 2:48am in

Last month it was reported that several students had accused a professor of philosophy at Concordia University of sexual harassment. Faculty in the university’s Department of Philosophy have now issued a statement in response to the allegations.

In the letter, the faculty write that they “take seriously the allegations,” and, though unable to discuss specifics of the case, they affirm an “ongoing commitment to a zero tolerance approach to misconduct and inappropriate behaviour” and “call upon the administration to investigate any allegations.”

They also endorse Concordia’s recent policy initiative, “The Consensual Romantic or Sexual Relationship Guidelines,” which draws attention to the problematic “unequal institutional power inherent in [an instructor-student] relationship.” The faculty add:

Our purpose, the education of students, is fundamentally undermined and disrupted by instructor-student sexual relations, and is even more deeply undermined by sexual harassment, violence, and abuses of power that exploit the vulnerability of our students. The Guideline “strongly discourages all instructors from commencing or continuing any consensual romantic or sexual relationship with a student.” We agree. Students are not for dating.

The letter is reproduced in whole, below:

The “demand of our Graduate Philosophy Student Association” refers to this statement.

The post Concordia Philosophy Faculty Response to Sexual Harassment Allegations appeared first on Daily Nous.

Students Allege Sexual Harassment by Concordia Philosophy Professor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/03/2018 - 3:14am in

Several students at Concordia University have accused a professor in its Department of Philosophy of sexual harassment.  One of the students has accused the university of “systemic failings of its sexual violence and sexual harassment policies,” filed a civil rights complaint against the school that includes a  request that the accused professor “face sanctions for his alleged behaviour,” and is suing for CA$60,000 (approximately $45,000) in damages.

The CBC reports:

“Alya” [not the student’s real name] was a Concordia undergraduate student in 2009 when she began receiving emails from her professor, asking her to party with him at bars. In the emails, obtained by CBC News, she told him she doesn’t drink. In one email, she reminded him of that fact.

“I could always slip some vodka into your pop when you weren’t looking!!!!!!!” he responded.

She deflected his advances in her responses, but he persisted. He began one email by writing “Hi [Alya], hug and kiss.”

In May 2009, another student filed a formal complaint about the same professor and Alya agreed to testify on that student’s behalf, reporting her experience dealing with him.

The stress of testifying, in addition to an end-of-semester illness, made it difficult to finish three of her final assignments. “I just didn’t want to go to class anymore,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around the department.” 

She wrote an email to the chair of her department, philosophy, asking for an extension to finish her assignments. The chair responded, calling her reason—the anxiety and stress associated with reporting the professor’s behaviour—“insufficient.” He also asked she not tell other members of the department about the ongoing harassment case. 

“It really made me realize what I was dealing with, in terms of who the chair and the department was out to serve, and it wasn’t me,” she said…

She went on to fail two of the courses, causing a permanent blemish on her academic record. She left Concordia and transferred to York University at significant personal expense.

Five years after the alleged harassment, Alya approached Concordia again, hoping to file a complaint about how she was treated. She said when she approached the university, she was shuffled from department to department, “like a ball in a pinball machine.”

First, she contacted the new chair of the philosophy department, who forwarded her emails to the school’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities.  She was told it was too late for her to file a complaint and was told to call the ombudsman or the dean. She contacted the ombudsman and received no response. Disheartened, she gave up.

But then, in 2017, she met another student who was enrolled at Concordia’s philosophy department. That woman told Alya she had recently been harassed by the same professor.

Alya said she was appalled the professor was still working at the university, and decided to file a human rights complaint, naming the school.

“It really indicated to me there is still a culture of inappropriate behaviour being tolerated in the department from the same person, almost 10 years later, and it disgusted me,” she said.

She said she met with officials from the school’s administration, who agreed to remove the failed classes from her academic record and instead mark them as incomplete. But by then, Alya had already been rejected for graduate programs, a fact she blames on those failed classes.

The CBC’s article is here.

The post Students Allege Sexual Harassment by Concordia Philosophy Professor appeared first on Daily Nous.

Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Accused of Sexual Harassment, Racism and Anti-Semitism by Former Employees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/03/2018 - 5:30am in

I found this clip from the David Pakman Show, reporting that Alex Jones, the main man behind the conspiracy internet show, Infowars, has been accused of being a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist perv by two former members of staff. One of these is a Black woman, Ashley Beckford, who claims that Jones and other members of senior management leered at her, made comments about her colour, called her ‘coon’ and that she was not given the same terms and conditions as the other members of staff, who weren’t Black. She also claims that she was being groomed for some kind of sexual relationship with Jones, who often appeared shirtless around her.

The other person suing Jones is Rob Jacobson, a Jewish guy, who had worked for Jones for 13 years before he was sacked. He claims that Jones regularly humiliated him because of his Jewish heritage, referring to him as ‘that Jewish individual’ or ‘the resident Jew’, and on occasion pronouncing his name ‘Yakobson’, presumably his attempt to imitate a Yiddish pronunciation.

Pakman, who is himself Jewish, makes fun of Jones, asking rhetorically how anybody could be surprised at these accusations, knowing what a sane individual Jones is. Behind him there’s a video playing of Jones ranting and banging the table like a foam-flecked Hitler on speed. He also jokes about how Jones’ behaviour must have been cause by the ‘male vitality pills’ he tries to flog on his wretched show. There is some good news for Jones, though. His audience are so paranoid and obsessed that everything’s a conspiracy, that they’ll believe this one is too.

His producer here goes on to raise the reasonable point that its doubtful how far these accusations can be trusted. Jacobson was working for him for 13 years before he was sacked, or released, and has only now come forward with these allegations. It might be a case of disgruntled employees trying to hit back at the employer who sacked them.

having said that, Black American women do suffer more from sexual harassment than White Americans, according to an article I read in Counterpunch. There’s a perception that Black women are ‘easy’, and so some White guys harass and sexually assault them, which they would not dare to do to a woman of their own colour.

The section of the video reporting this latest development with Jones and Infowars is relatively short. Most of the video is David Pakman promoting a self-help book. I realise he needs the money from sponsorship, but it is still irritating. Here’s the video:

Professors Dating Students, Professors Harassing Students

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/03/2018 - 2:12am in

“As for the fact of being a lecturer in bed with undergraduates in particular, there was no possibility of avoiding the charge that this was an abuse of my position.”

Those are the words of Ted Honderich, now 85 years old and emeritus professor of philosophy of mind and logic at University College London. They were published in 2001 in his memoir, Philosopher: a Kind of Lifeand refer to a time in the mid 1960s, when he was in his 30s.

He continues:

But it was not easy to make clear sense of the charge. It was not as if my partners were reluctant, which they were not. They were not seduced, or hardly more seduced than me. To use a term not then current, there was no harassment worth the name. Nor did they act from the promise or anticipation of academic favours, or fear of reprisal if they declined my casual invitations. If they were impressed by me in my position, which very likely they were, I did in fact possess the attributes in question. Being impressed was not in itself being a victim. Evidently I was breaking a tacit undertaking to Sir John Fulton [a university administrator] and to others of his mind. But was the conventional view of the weight of this obligation correct? Why was there no explicit rule? It did not escape me either that I was not alone in my ways. There were others than our Abelard who were not burdened by their tacit undertaking.

So I would have said in setting out to defend myself. In fact, in these buoyant times, I did not reflect a lot on my actions and my moral standing, or suffer guilt, partly because of the optimistic feeling that if I worked at a defence, a confident one might be constructed. I was never called on to provide one. (pp.128-29)

This passage and related ones were brought to my attention by Joshua Habgood-Coote (Bristol), who discussed them on Twitter. (It is unclear whether these students were ones Honderich had any supervisory role over.)

I’ve reproduced the passage here not to provide an occasion for excoriating Honderich. It isn’t obvious today that it is wrong for professors to have consensual romantic or sexual relations with students at their university over whom they have no supervisory role, and it is not clear to what extent such a judgment was seriously entertained 55 or so years ago. Further, even if one thinks Honderich acted wrongly by engaging in those relations, whether and how he should be blamed or otherwise held responsible for them today is another matter. (To be clear, it’s not that I’m endorsing relativism here; I am, however, saying that judgments about how to react to these kinds of cases are complicated by uncertainty and social and temporal distance.) I would add that Honderich’s personal life was widely discussed in reviews following the book’s publication, and we needn’t rehash all of that here. (Though I would recommend reading this excellent review by Catherine Wilson.)

The circulation of these passages, rather, presents an opportunity to discuss some of the disputes over romantic or sexual relations between professors and students. I’ll raise just two here: (1) arguments over blanket policies that some schools have adopted banning any such relationships, and (2) arguments concerning the treatment of philosophers who’ve engaged in such relationships.

(1) Blanket Relationship Bans

One consideration relevant to relationship bans arises in another passage of Honderich’s book that was part of the Twitter discussion:

Feminism had begun, with books and marches, but it did not include the charge of harassment by teachers. Harassment there certainly was, once by me in at least one mind. A young woman of good family told me of her sad marriage to an Indian gentleman, I sympathized too much, and did get an idea in my head. Something was said to Richard [Wollheim, then chair of the department] of this, and he found her another tutor. It was a good lesson of a kind. It preserved me from an undergraduate or two with the invigorating idea of an extra-curricular connection with their tutor. (p.189)

That’s one worry about professor-student relationships. Even if we suppose that there are some that are consensual and otherwise unproblematic—“successful”—we need to look at the ongoing context in which such relationships might come about. An ongoing context that produces some successful relationships probably involves a greater number of relationship attempts. Some of these attempts fail, and it is likely that some of these attempts will involve sexual harassment. So a context in which such attempts are not discouraged is one which may lead to more sexual harassment (this sounds plausible but is ultimately an empirical question so if you know of work on this feel free to share it). If that is so, it should be taken into account in reasoning about whether to have such policies.

Now in this latter case the student Honderich admits harassing is one he has institutional authority over. Can we at least agree that professors have very strong reasons not to attempt relationships with their own students? Whether such relationships would involve a power imbalance that undermines the possibility of consent, I don’t know; I think the diversity of actual cases means that this is hard to generalize about that. However, such relationships clearly violate widely-accepted and well-justified norms regarding conflict of interest, and there is no sufficiently compelling reason in these cases to override these norms. Many universities now have policies that prohibit such relationships (or, in cases in which the lines of institutional authority are less clear, policies that require disclosure of the relationship to the relevant administrators).

On the other side of the debate over blanket bans are the goods of romantic or sexual relationships and sexual liberty. Last year, philosopher Neil McArthur (Manitoba) published an article, “Relationships between university professors and students: Should they be banned?” in Ethics and Education, arguing against bans of professor-student relationships (also discussed in this Times Higher Ed piece). McArthur acknowledges  that “romances between faculty and students are minefields, both emotionally and ethically, and they should be approached with the utmost care and trepidation.” However, “such matters are far too complex for the blunt tool provided by outright prohibitions, and that such prohibitions cannot be justified” (p.138).

On whether such relationships are likely to be nonconsensual, McArthur looks at some empirical work:

In Glaser and Thorpe’s (1986, 49) survey of 464 former graduate students, all female, about their sexual involvement with professors, nearly all reported that they ‘felt no coercion or exploitation whatsoever.’ Bellas and Gossett (540) similarly found that, among those in their smaller survey, ‘none of the students felt coerced to initiate or to sustain their relationships … students believed that they entered into them freely—their relationships were, at least in their own minds, consensual.’ We must consider, too, that it is by no means always the professor who initiates romantic contact. Skeen and Nielsen (1983, 39) reported that in only three of the twenty-five cases they studied was the sexual interaction initiated by the professor. (p.136)

(See below for a criticism of McArthur’s intepretation and use of some of this data.)

Part of McArthur’s argument against blanket bans is that enforcing them well would be problematic and difficult. For example, interestingly, he claims that such bans would make the aforementioned conflicts of interest harder to detect and avoid. He writes:

Supporters of relationship bans will say that such relationships often create conflicts of interest, such as cases where a student is involved with his or her supervisor. This is certainly true, and these conflicts must be dealt with. However, they can be easily addressed non-punitively, such as by transferring supervisory responsibility to another faculty member. But banning relationships outright actually works against, not in favour of, this important goal. If we are to prevent conflicts of interest, it is crucial that the conflicts be reported as they arise, so that they may be managed. The threat of punitive action for consensual sex makes it impossible for professors to disclose a relationship that creates a conflict, and so these relationships, when they develop, will be kept secret. It is only by removing the threat of punishment that universities can ensure they know about, and can thus eliminate, conflicts of interest. (p.134)

This seems to assume that compliance with a policy that bans professor-student relationships will be low, and that compliance with a policy that merely requires their disclosure will be quite high. Without these assumptions in place, it could be that the overall reduction in the number of student-professor relationships brought about by the ban is so significant that, while it still results in some such relationships remaining undisclosed, there are fewer such undisclosed relationships with the ban in place than without it. Are those assumptions about uneven compliance warranted? I doubt we can make an informed judgment about that at this time, but in general, when comparing policies, we should guard against just helping ourselves to empirically unsubstantiated assumptions of differential levels of compliance.

That said, I think McArthur is smart to draw our attention to what the potential costs of certain versions of blanket bans would be, especially since they would be administered by imperfect human beings.

Along those lines we might ask about the “right to sexual intimacy” or to “sexual activity in private” that McArthur thinks is threatened by a blanket ban. How much of a threat is it, really?

We should note that such bans amount to saying to professors: “Given your position, you cannot attempt to exercise your ‘right to sexual intimacy’ with the small number of particular people who are currently students at your school. However, you may (a) exercise your ‘right to sexual intimacy’ during this time with any of the billions of other adults in the world who consent to it, (b) wait a little while until the particular people who are currently students at your school are no longer students at your school and then exercise your ‘right to sexual intimacy’ with any of them who consent to it, or (c) abandon your position in the school and be free right now to exercise your ‘right to sexual intimacy’ with any of them who consent to it.”

Framed this way, such blanket bans seem like less of an incursion on people’s rights to sexual intimacy—especially at schools in well-populated areas. It should be acknowledged, though, that people at more remote schools may indeed be more negatively affected by them. (See, also, this previous post: “Are Bans on Faculty-Student Sex Unjust to Students?“)

After Times Higher Ed wrote about McArthur’s article, it published a response piece by five philosophers from the University of Guelph: Maya J. GoldenbergKaren HouleMonique DeveauxKaryn L. Freedman, and Patricia Sheridan. In it, they argue that McArthur’s evidence does not support his conclusions about whether student-professor relationships are generally consensual:

He cites a 1986 study of 464 female psychologists, claiming that it shows that “nearly all” of those who had sexual involvement with their professors during graduate training “felt no coercion or exploitation whatsoever”. But a closer look points to an altogether different conclusion. In fact, 10 per cent of these women reported feeling coerced at the time, and 30 per cent said that they later came to feel that there was coercion. More alarming still, 71 per cent of all of those who had experienced sexual advances by educators (some of whom had rejected those advances) felt that they were coercive to some degree. Lastly, only women who completed their doctorates were surveyed—a crucial limitation (acknowledged by the study’s authors) given that many impacted by sexual harassment abandon their studies.

The authors also believe that McArthur overlooks the impact of such relationships “on the learning community as a whole”:

As highlighted by a growing body of research, “available” (usually male) faculty members advertise that fact in subtle and not-so-subtle ways in order to cast a wide net. In so doing, they hijack the learning spaces for their own purposes. In philosophy, for instance, they might let it be known in seminars and classes that they are single or party to an “open” marriage, using the example of polygamy when talking about natural rights; even arguing in favour of extramarital affairs as their illustration of utilitarian reasoning. They may be doing it unconsciously, but it in effect sexualises the learning space for everyone. 

Those who, quite reasonably, feel uncomfortable about a sexualized work environment, may find that their best option is to reduce their participation in it, or leave academia altogether:

Some will be unsuspectingly flattered by an academic who takes a keen personal interest in their work. Discovering that their bodies, not their intellect, ignited that attention will be, at best, embarrassing, and may discourage them from continuing their studies in this field. Other students who sense that their professor’s interest is not merely professional will be hampered by deep uncertainty and insecurity. And how, in either case, can the students deflect the professor’s interest without damaging the professional opportunity that comes from their support—or potentially hurting their academic futures by offending him? So they avoid the department when he is around, stay away from talks and reading groups and abstain from social gatherings where he is likely to be present. In short, they lose their footing in the intellectual and social community. 

I appreciate these concerns. I think, though, that we could usefully distinguish between an environment in which consensual professor-student relations are allowed and an environment which is “sexualized.” Some people might meet at church, for instance, and then go on to develop a romantic relationship. Is church thereby a sexualized environment? (Okay, maybe some people will think that’s a bad example, but you get the idea.)

What this distinction amounts to in practice, or in regards to policy considerations, I’m not quite sure. I think we have good reasons to favor policy approaches which expand rather than contract opportunities and options, other things equal, so I’m inclined to oppose a blanket ban. But there’s no doubt that a learning environment that’s tolerant of lecherous behavior, innuendo-filled lesson plans, and sexualized interactions and events is one that effectively reduces acceptable opportunities of the kind it is supposed to provide for a significant number of the very people it is supposed to serve. So what to do?

Here’s one possible approach: take steps to keep your school from being the kind of place that needs a blanket ban. Such steps would likely include: professors cultivating in themselves a disinclination for relationships with students, schools and units holding meetings aimed at explaining the various reasons not to engage in such relationships, strictly enforced disclosure policies, and colleagues being willing to speak to each other about problematic behavior (including that which is disguised in the veneer of plausible deniability). Advice on how to take these steps, and what other steps to take, are welcome.

The steps would probably also include the explicit acknowledgment that if the less formal mechanisms of conscience, discouragement, norms, and criticism fail—that is, fail to keep an environment in which attempts at such relationships, while technically allowed, are rare, from becoming problematically sexualized—a ban, if it would not be counterproductive, would be worth trying.

I  imagine that some people believe, correctly, that their institutions are ones in which these less formal methods have already failed. I wonder if that is true of most colleges and universities. In any event, it will be interesting to see if the bans being tried at various institutions yield the desired results.

At the departmental level, concerning graduate students, I think there are reasons to be less permissive. It’s a relatively small community, so individual relationships will likely have more of an effect on its culture and what work and life feel like in it. Additionally, the lines of power at that level are harder to disentangle—a professor may not have an explicit supervisory role over the person they’re dating, but will have some kind of relationship with whoever does; a professor may not participate in departmental decisions that concern only the individual they’re dating, but in general decisions and policy matters that may affect the graduate students as a whole—so the risks of conflict of interest seem significant. A ban on relationships between professors and graduate students in their department seems reasonable.

I’ve thrown my view into the mix here as one to consider alongside the rest. I welcome hearing from others as to what alternatives to consider, or as to how I’ve gone wrong in my thinking on this.

(2) How To Treat Those Who Have Harassed

In his discussion on Twitter, Dr. Habgood-Coote disapprovingly notes that Ted Honderich was the subject of conference honoring his work in 2016 at the Royal Institute of Philosophy (of which he had previously been Chair of the Council and Executive Committee) and that the conference led to this book, published just this month.

(For what it’s worth, in an interview (scroll down to #4 on this page), Honderich says, “I’ve been prudent with regard to undergraduates for decades. All those affairs were in my flaming and possibly more rational youth.”)

More generally, there are questions about the extent to which a person’s having harassed people should affect how they (and their work) are treated by others in the profession. We have discussed some of these issues before, for example, in “Banning the Guilty,” “Should You Continue To Teach The Work of Sexual Harassers?“, “Hiring and ‘Unofficial’ Information,” “Disbelief, Inaction, and the Persistence of Harassment and Assault,” and “When, If Ever, Do Scandals Belong On A Scholar’s Wikipedia Page?“.

Further discussion of the issue is welcome, but I ask that commenters refrain from making accusations of harassment or related misconduct here. Also, please recall the comments policy.

Felix Schramm, “Spatial Intersection”

The post Professors Dating Students, Professors Harassing Students appeared first on Daily Nous.

Did Jill Abramson Plagiarize Ian Milhiser?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 2:59am in

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, has an article in the current issue of New York making the case for the impeachment of Clarence Thomas. I don’t have any problems with the substance of the piece, though I don’t think Abramson breaks much new ground on the Thomas sexual harassment front or with respect to the fact that Thomas committed perjury in his Senate confirmation hearings. (Having co-authored, with Jane Mayer, the book on Thomas and Anita Hill, Abramson knows this case better than almost anyone.)

My problem is that Abramson seems to have lifted, sometimes word-for-word, an extended passage from a October 2016 blog post by Ian Milhiser.

Here is Milhiser:

He [Clarence Thomas] joined the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, holding for the first time that an employer’s religious objections can trump the rights of their women employees. And, in one of the most under-reported decisions of the last several years, he cast the key fifth vote to hobble the federal prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace.

In Vance v. Ball State University, a 5–4 Supreme Court redefined the word “supervisor” such that it means virtually nothing in many modern workplaces. Under Vance, a person’s boss only counts as their “supervisor” if they have the authority to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

One problem with this decision is that modern workplaces often vest the power to make such changes in employment status in a distant HR office, even though the employee’s real boss wields tremendous power over them.

Here is Abramson:

He joined the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, holding that an employer’s religious objections can override the rights of its women employees.

And, in one of the most underreported decisions of the last several years, Thomas cast the key fifth vote to hobble the federal prohibition on harassment in the workplace. The 5-4 decision in 2013’s Vance v. Ball State University tightened the definition of who counts as a supervisor in harassment cases. The majority decision in the case said a person’s boss counts as a “supervisor” only if he or she has the authority to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.” That let a lot of people off the hook. In many modern workplaces, the only “supervisors” with those powers are far away in HR offices, not the hands-on boss who may be making a worker’s life a living hell.

The number of direct repetitions—of words, phrases, and sentences—is sizable. The faint rewording of other passages is plain. The choice of quotations from and description of the Ball State case, the set-up and syntax of the whole section, the conceptual choices (Thomas “cast the key fifth vote,” which Abramson borrows from Milhiser in order to suggest, wrongly, that Thomas was somehow the last vote cobbled together by the conservative majority, or to suggest, improbably, that if Thomas had not been approved by the Senate, a more liberal justice would have been nominated in his place and, 15 years later, would have cast a different vote) and conceptual ordering: Abramson’s passage mimics Milhiser’s to a high degree.

Abramson is not a rookie reporter. She’s one of the giants of contemporary journalism.

In case the editors at New York revise the web version of the article (it appears in the print version of the February 19 issue of the magazine), here are a screen shot of the relevant section in Abramson’s piece and three screen shots of the relevant sections from Milhiser’s.

Update (1 pm)

I just remembered that Abramson was first made managing editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal, which Bill Keller, who was made editor after Howell Raines was forced to resign over the scandal, said influenced his desire to change the Times culture. Part of that change involved bringing on Abramson as managing editor.

After some googling, I found that while she was managing editor, Abramson had to deal with at least two plagiarism incidents involving reporters at the Times. In the first incident, which seems to have involved less outright copying without attribution than Abramson utilizes in her New York piece, Abramson admitted the accusation of plagiarism that had been leveled against the Times reporter:

Did Barrionuevo commit plagiarism?

“Yes,” says Abramson. “I think when you take material almost word-for-word and don’t credit it, it is.”

In the second incident, she was more circumspect:

It appears that Alexei did not fully understand Times policy of not using wire boilerplate and giving credit when we do make use of such material. As I mentioned to you, other papers do permit unattributed use of such material. He should not have inserted wire material into his Times coverage without attribution.

That said, because the new examples do not involve many words or an original thought, the transgression does not seem to be as serious as the first instance on paco.

I’ll leave it to readers to adjudicate which of these two cases is more relevant to what Abramson did in this New York article. Either way, she seems to have violated the very policies she upheld while she was an editor at the Times. And in a link-laden piece like this, she should, minimally, have credited and linked to Milhiser.

Update (February 20)

As I expected they would do, New York has slightly addressed the problem, claiming it was due to an editing error, while skirting the larger question of what Abramson did.

In Abramson’s original piece, there were two sentences—”He joined” and “And, in one of the most underreported…”—that were lifted almost verbatim from Milhiser’s post. In their fix, New York doesn’t address the first sentence at all but does this with the second sentence:

And, as Think Progress noted, “in one of the most underreported decisions of the last several years, Thomas cast the key fifth vote to hobble the federal prohibition on harassment in the workplace.”*

And if you follow the asterisk, you’ll find this at the bottom of the piece:

*Due to an editing error, the original version failed to attribute this quoted sentence to its author.

So the magazine doesn’t address the almost verbatim lifting in the first sentence or the heavy reliance on Milhiser’s setup and usage and quotations throughout Abramson’s description of the Ball State case. It also claims that the failure to acknowledge Milhiser in the sentence that was so idiosyncratic in its usage that no one could claim it wasn’t lifted from Milhiser, that that failure to attribute was due to an editing error.

Here are the two screenshots of the changes.

The Feminist Arguments against the Metoo Activism at the Golden Globes

Last Sunday, 7th January 2018, was the Golden Globes. This got on the news around the world, not just because of the coverage of which actors and films were given awards, but because the female actors wore black in solidarity with all the women, who had suffered sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation. This culminated in one of the leading actors at the ceremony announcing that Hollywood’s ladies would stand in solidarity with every woman, who had suffered such sexual abuse and assault, and that they would be dedicating a special fund to help poor women sue their abusers.

Coming after the scandals about Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes and others at Fox News, including its long running host, Bill O’Reilly, such an announcement is clearly well meant, and for many women facing the cost of having to drag their abuser, who is probably their boss, through the courts, the prospect of being able to get some money from a charity dedicated to helping them would surely be welcome. But not all women, and not all feminists, saw it quite like that.

Roza Halibi in Counterpunch and the Sane Progressive on YouTube both put up pieces about it, criticising the move. Many women, including the French actress Catherine Deneuve, are critical of the #Metoo movement as they feel it demonises men. All men are now being viewed as sexual predators, real or potential. They also object to the way distasteful and unpleasant forms of sexual contact – like the boss with wandering hands – has been lumped in and conflated with far more serious forms of sexual abuse, like rape and women being told that if they don’t sleep with their boss, they’ll lose their jobs. Groping is unpleasant and humiliating, and it’s quite right that there should be a campaign to stop it. But it’s not at the same level as the other two.

They also found the stance of the individual actresses involved in the speech and this display of solidarity hypocritical. Weinstein’s behaviour was known for years by people within Hollywood, including Meryl Streep. And at the time they kept their mouths firmly shut. Some of this might have been because Weinstein was a powerful man, and no matter how respected and successful they were as ‘A’ list actors, he could have the power to destroy their careers, as he threatened numerous aspiring actresses if they wouldn’t sleep with him. But some of it no doubt was also the attitude of the time, to put up with it regardless.

But there’s also an attitude that the speeches against sexual harassment and exploitation were also a form of faux feminism, by rich, entitled women, who were trying to appropriate the protests by ordinary, middle and lower class women. Critics like the Sane Progressive and Halibi have argued that the successful protests always come from below. They are won by ordinary working people standing up for themselves and demanding further rights and change. They are not achieved by members of the upper classes deciding that they will charitably act as the saviours of the lower orders. The #Metoo activism at the Golden Globes represents very rich, entitled women trying to take control of a protest by their sisters lower down the social scale, and wrest it away from any meaningful challenge to a corrupt system as a whole.

The same critics have also made the point that the #Metoo activism has also acted as a diversion. Sexual abuse is only part of a whole series of problems corporate capitalism is inflicting on American society. This includes mass poverty and starvation, the further denial of rights to low paid workers, Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare and destroy Medicare, the destruction of the environment, and the political paralysis caused by a corrupt party system taking money and its orders from wealthy donors in big business, rather than acting in the interests of ordinary citizens. All of these issues need tackling, but the leadership of the Democrat party has become, under the Clintons and Obama, as thoroughly corporatist as the Republicans, and has no interest in tackling these issues. That would harm the interests of their donors in big business. So they make symbolic liberal gestures. Like Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency last year. Her policies were more neoliberalism, corporate greed, and aggressive militarism. For ordinary Americans she offered nothing but more poverty and exploitation. But she claimed that, because she was female, she was somehow an outsider, and that a victory for her would thus be a victory for women. Even though, as the lowest paid group, women would have suffered the most from a Clinton presidency. If you didn’t vote for Clinton, you were automatically a misogynist. And if you were a woman, and didn’t vote for her, she and her followers denied it was because you had opinions of your own. Rather, you were just doing what your husband or boyfriend told you. So much for Clinton believing in women’s independence and their agency as human beings.

But this experience of a very rich, entitled woman trying to make herself appear liberal when she was anything but, has clearly coloured some left-wing and feminist attitudes in America towards other attempts by the rich to embrace or promote left-wing causes. Clinton’s liberalism was a fraud, and so some people are suspicious that the actresses stressing their commitment to rooting out sexual abuse are less than wholehearted in their determination to ending the general poverty, exploitation and other issues plaguing American society. And just as the corporate Democrats are desperate to take power away from the real radical left, like Bernie Sanders, so these ladies are trying to take power away from ordinary women, determined to solve the problem their own way. Because this challenges their position in society and their political influence as arbiters and spokespeople of the nation’s conscience.

Now I think the #metoo speeches were well meant, regardless of the possible hypocrisy of some of the actresses involved, and hopefully some women will benefit from the money available to sue their abusers. But the Guardian’s Marina Hyde a few years ago wrote a book, Celebrity: How Entertainers Took Over the World And Why We Need an Exit Strategy, pointing out numerous instances where Hollywood celebs decided to take over a cause, only to make the situation worse. There’s a very good case to be made against such Hollywood activism. And this problem may well become more acute, as more celebs decide to promote symbolic issues, while leaving the other problems affecting ordinary people untouched.

Trump Everlasting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/12/2017 - 12:46am in

I’m glad I’m not a journalist. I don’t think I could handle the whiplash of the ever-changing story line, the way a grand historical narrative gets revised, day to day, the way it seems to change, week to week, often on a dime. Or a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

In my Guardian digest this week, I deal with the media’s memory, taxes, the state of the GOP, judges, sexual harassment, and leave you at the end with my assessment of where we are.

Here’s a preview:

Last week, after the victory of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s senatorial election, the media began reporting that the Republican party was facing an epic disaster. Citing insider talk of a “political earthquake” and a “party in turmoil,” the Washington Post anticipated a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2018.

A year that began with dark premonitions of a fascist seizure of power, an autocrat’s total control of the state, seemed ready to end with sunny predictions of the Republican party losing one branch of the federal government to the opposition and a stalled right-wing agenda in Congress.

One week later, after the victory of the Republican tax cut, the media has changed its tune.

Like Trump, George W Bush lost the popular vote in 2000. Unlike Trump, Bush only won the Electoral College because of the US supreme court. Despite that added spice of illegitimacy, despite having smaller majorities in both houses of Congress (razor-thin in the Senate, almost razor-thin in the House), Bush still managed to push through massive tax cuts – and, unlike Trump, got 40 Democrats to vote with him. A full six months sooner than Trump did.

Cutting taxes is in the Republican DNA. Even an idiot can do it.

So that’s how we end 2017: on the one hand, a declining movement of the right, increasingly unpopular with the voters, trying to claim a long-term hold on power through the least democratic branch of government.

On the other hand, a rising movement of women and the left, trying to topple ancient and middle-aged injustices, one nasty man at a time.

You can continue reading here.

The Overlooked, Under-Reported and Ignored Stories of 2017

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/12/2017 - 6:15am in

This time every year, asks reporters, editors and bloggers which key story they feel the mainstream media failed to cover adequately over the last 12 months. See what they had to say. Continue reading

The post The Overlooked, Under-Reported and Ignored Stories of 2017 appeared first on

Various Vermin

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/12/2017 - 2:23am in

Once again, I was unable to find the time to complete my weekly blog last week so this post has TWO WEEKS of cartoons, which my abacus tells me is FOURTEEN!

(For a righteous embiggenation, click the chick in the below pic.)

I’ve been told by scientists that the above cartoon is completely possible as long as the bungee cord is made of something much stronger and more flexible than anything we’ve yet discovered and the alien is friction proof. I chose the setting intentionally because, like Bigfoot, extraterrestrials tend to appear before inebriated country folk more than anyone else.

There’s some new stuff in my store like coffee mugs. Go have a look and get yourself (or that special someone you love or hate) something nice.

Some zoology zealot pointed out to me that cow’s udders only have four nipples, not six. I don’t know if that is correct or not because I have spent very little time underneath cattle.

I’m surprised that a Viking zealot did not point out that real Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. Apparently, that motif was popularized by opera costuming. It is my understanding that opera singers also do not typically have six nipples.

“Germaphobia is a very real and debilitating condition that should not be made fun of. If you or someone in your family was germaphobic perhaps you would not think this was so funny. In the future please refrain from making fun of people in your “comics” just because they are different than you.”  ––a offended “reader”

I am now writing my own hate mail and I can definitely see the attraction. Righteous indignation provides a certain satisfaction that is difficult to find elsewhere.

If you are not familiar with Shriners, they are guys who belong to a secret club sort of organization that has elaborate rituals that are held at places called “temples”. They often wear fezes (no, that is not a misspelling of “feces,” it’s the plural of “fez”) and are known for supporting children’s hospitals, which is a good thing. They also frequently ride in parades and such on tiny cars and motorcycles, presumably to entertain the children they support, but I can’t be completely sure about their motivation.

One could also read this comic as a satire of any retirement community where people who are too old to drive are still doing so. Like most of Florida.

If you know anybody who likes cool art and/or coloring, my most recent book is PERFECT for them. Cheap, too! ($6! And I wish I was kidding.)

All of my sons-in-law were visiting us recently and half of them (Chris) said he’d thought of a cartoon I might like and I really loved it and here it is. If you’re from a place in the world where you’ve never been exposed to American country music, first, give thanks to whatever god you imagine is responsible for this minor good fortune, then become aware that American country music is often about sadness and two very popular reasons for this lamentation are sexual infidelity and the death of a cherished dog.

On a side note, I once heard of a country music song title that amused me: “My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Miss Him”. Perhaps the best friend was his dog. I don’t really know.

In this era of outing people for harassment of and violence against women, I thought it might be good to point out the plight of cartoon characters, many of whom experience far more creative and consistent violence than those of us in the real world.

Yes, I agree with you. Violence against women (or anyone) is a serious issue and should not be the subject of humor. I don’t know what I was thinking.


In this Sunday title panel, I have made my Bizarro Bunny look like Mickey Mouse. I even signed my name like Walt Disney used to. Perhaps I will soon be impossibly wealthy.

As of yet, I am not wealthy, I’m just an artist getting by. A tiny part of how I get by is by selling stuff. Here’s a place that offers some super nice, archival, limited-edition, signed-and-numbered prints of some of my favorite Bizarro cartoons. They also sell some of my original art from Bizarro. Have a look.

It recently occurred to me that training an entire nation to find vermin adorable contributed to Trump’s election. I blame Walt.

It still boggles my mind that Bill O’Reilly got any traction out of Starbucks not putting blatantly religious imagery on their coffee cups a few years back. B.O. also found all kinds of other ways in which he perceived some kind of nationwide conspiracy to undermine Christianity and convinced plenty of people to get all lathered up about it.  I usually find idiocy of this sort to be hilarious but when it occurs on the magnitude that it currently does in the U.S., it’s more frightening than funny. (See “The Handmaid’s Tale” or the way any country that combines government with religion.)

Want to help support the kind of content I supply or just toss me a holiday gift? You can do that by making a one-time donation or a monthly contribution to Rancho Bizarro here. I will immediately become your imaginary best friend!

I adore dogs and think they are close to the most perfect creatures DNA ever coughed up, except for their utter lack of discrimination when choosing what to put into their mouths. My god, they make me want to vomit.

Moments later:

Dummy: Who just stuck their hand up my ass?!

Rocco: You wouldn’t have been able to ask that question if I hadn’t.

If living with a man who wears that yellow getup 24/7 isn’t enough to frighten Curious George, the fact that a known pedophile is about to be elected to the U.S. Senate with the blessings of the president and the Republican Party certainly is. This is what the “party of family values” is up to, folks. Still think it doesn’t matter which party you vote for?

In a country with an admitted molester of women, a Nazi sympathizer, an unmitigated liar and so, so, so much more in the White House, anything is possible. It is my contention that Trump’s not being hit by lightning is evidence either that there is no god, or that the ones that exist are sadistic assholes.

I got several complaints about this cartoon. This one is my favorite:

“I am extremely disappointed and offended by your cartoon printed on 12/08/2017. Considering children read your cartoons which are for the most part entertaining, but this particular one is sadly referencing a subject matter that hits to close to home with our children and adults at any time. Not everyone needs to be reminded of depraved situations on a constraint basis especially when the funnies are read by so many for the pure enjoinment of laughing and being entertaining to them, at least that’s what I’ve always given them credit for, not to make a horrifying statement that children could and would find frightening. This could actually ruin this and many Christmases for many children. Santa Claus molesting elves and rain deer is not funny and this cartoon crossed over even Bizzaro lines!”

My paraphrased reply was something close to this: I worded this the way I did so that younger, less sophisticated children would not know what it means. If a child is educated or sophisticated enough to understand it, they’re also likely old enough to understand it is a cartoon and has no power in the real world. If I thought any child would be upset by it (without an adult’s coaching) I would not have published it.

I refrained from mentioning that I was “extremely disappointed and offended” by her grammar and punctuation skills.


Not long ago, a reader asked me to do a cartoon with a ninja. At first, I ignored him but then I found him clinging to the ceiling of my bedroom wearing black pajamas with only his eyes showing, so I decided to relent. We still haven’t gotten all the pajama glue off of the ceiling. At least, we hope that was pajama glue.

That’s all for now, Jazz Pickles. Have a great week––until next time, be smart, be happy, be nice, and resist fascism and ignorance.