Speaking of self-censorship…

… and the basic moral imperative to call out corruption when you see it, all professors — all free thinkers — should be keeping a close eye on the University of Minnesota’s treatment of Professor Carl Elliott.

That institution spends most of its time, of course, deciding whether the common folk or just the elite can get drunk at its football stadium. But occasionally, around the edges, UM has academic issues.

Elliott, just awarded a Harvard fellowship to study corruption in clinical trials, has criticized the university’s management of an industry-sponsored drug trial. The university’s response has been, first, to refuse to investigate his claims and, second, to attempt to intimidate him.

UM has so far just done some throat-clearing on the intimidation front, but it will eventually start bellowing. University Diaries will follow along as it finds its voice.

An excellent opinion piece by Amanda Gutterman…

… a Columbia University English major, examines the complex psychology of writerly constraint in the face of scandals that demand a strong response. Gutterman wonders why, even having seen Inside Job, and gotten angry about the apparent involvement of Columbia University professors in conflicts of interest and non-disclosure, she took so long to write about it.

[T]he most insidious kind of censorship—the hardest to recognize, the hardest to combat—is self-censorship, the persistent imaginative failure that prevents us from even recognizing what we should be writing about.

In the Internet age, bravery in student journalism is not trailing a military unit on the Iraqi front lines. Rather, it is the willingness to address controversial issues as they surface, not once these points of view have become popular. Our brand of fear—which is frankly selfish—censors our thoughts almost unnoticed. Next time, let’s skip the delayed reaction. I for one hope to do better.

Cool.

Pretty much knew it would happen, but still… How wonderful. The grotesque Karin Calvo-Goller has lost her libel case over a negative book review.

I’m about to send a congratulatory email to Joseph Weiler.

The whole case was sickening. France needs to revisit its libel laws.

Background here. (Note that I was wrong. She didn’t drop the case. She kept at it and will now, one hopes, both pay Weiler’s legal expenses and suffer the derision she deserves.)

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Update: Indeed. In response to my congratulatory email, Professor Weiler sent me an account of the proceedings. The French court speaks:

[Complainant] has abused her right to bring legal proceedings, on the one hand by initiating an action for defamation in relation to words that do not go beyond the limits of academic criticism, an essential element of academic freedom and freedom of expression and, on the other hand, by artificially bringing proceedings through the French criminal justice system.”

Considering the resulting harm suffered by the accused, he will be justly compensated by judgment against the Complainant requiring her to pay to him the sum of €8,000.” [about US$ 11,000]

UD thanks Professor Weiler.

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Sing it.

Aunt Cristina and the Scriptwriters

Argentina looks like an ass.

Intellectuals close to President Cristina Kirchner launched a campaign Tuesday to stop Mario Vargas Llosa from opening the Spanish-speaking world’s largest cultural fair because of his disparaging remarks about Argentine politics.

The article goes on to quote various parodies of the proud mustachio’d type, all drawing themselves up to the full height of indignation over the novelist’s insults to the dignity of Argentina. We don’t need no stinkin’ free speech!

In this article, it looks as though the President has had second thoughts. The relevant sentence is a bit knotty, but I think that’s what it says.

After such harsh words, [one of the mustachio'd] also recognized the request of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made to National Library Director Horacio González to immediately withdraw his petition asking for the Nobel Prize winner not to be invited to inaugurate the fair in order to guarantee there is “freedom of expression” within the country, thus trying to ease up on the current political polarization that society is being dragged to as part of a we-they dichotomy.

“The university should serve as an antidote to…

… the world,” writes George Konrád, in The Melancholy of Rebirth.

Free thought and free speech generally should serve as antidotes to the world, and it’s particularly depressing to see Konrád’s own country, Hungary, screwing up bigtime along these lines lately.  The country’s center-right government has passed a disgusting new press-restriction law.

Miklos Haraszti, former OSCE representative on freedom of the media, denounced an “unprecedented” attack against press freedom aimed at establishing the subordination of the media to the whims of the ruling party and instituting self-censorship among journalists. “It is practically like in Belarus,” he added. “This law is the tip of the iceberg at the ending point of a process whereby the Hungarian government is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle legal balances and constitutional guarantees.”

Protests – online and on the streets (more than 10,000 people showed up at a Budapest rally yesterday) – are taking place.

It’s three for three…

… in UD‘s English department.

Verbal Warfare

Killing becomes a drug, and it is really addictive. [Turn the sound down on the link.] I had a really hard time with this problem when I returned to the United States, because turning this addiction off was impossible… I still feel the addictions running through my blood and throughout my body, but now I know how to keep myself composed and keep order in myself, my mind.

Whatever else you want to say about this writing, produced by an American veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, you have to admit it’s pretty good. Straightforward, direct, honest. The image of the addictions “running” through the writer’s blood is excellent.

The essay in which it appeared earned an A in a college writing course. Indeed, so impressed was the writer’s professor that she encouraged him to publish it in the school newspaper.

That’s when administrators saw it. They’ve barred him from campus until he gets a psychiatric evaluation.

***********************************

Journalists covering the story have had no difficulty finding an idiot to insist that a writer who stresses the control he now has over himself has actually written “a cry for help… [He] clearly wants and needs a psychiatric consultation.”

***********************************

Here’s how the college should have handled this. By all means call the guy in for a chat with the provost or whoever. Don’t immediately hit him up with You’re scary. You need to get your head examined. Just talk to him. Have a campus shrink join you for the chat. Give him a chance to demonstrate that he’s okay – a reflective, damaged person working out his thoughts about his experiences in an essay.

Maybe the chat reveals that he is unhinged. Then the college can in good conscience make him keep his distance. But just because a person has written in an unnerving way about what it means to be a soldier does not mean he should be silenced.

Ready, aim…

FIRE.

This case seems tailored to that organization, which defends free speech rights in universities.

Louie Gohmert, a Texas pol with a hell of a temper, went and got the director of art galleries at Stephen F. Austin State University fired. The director mentioned in a conversation that he thought Gohmert was a fear-monger.

You’re not supposed to lose your job for stating your opinions.

News of interest to Calgarians…

… and all right-thinking people. From UD, girl reporter, at Inside Higher Ed.

On January 4 of this year, UD wrote…

… about her beloved Don DeLillo and other writers gathering to protest the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights advocate and writer.

DeLillo doesn’t hit the protest circuit often, but when he does, he certainly chooses well. Liu Xiaobo just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Before his imprisonment, Liu Xiaobo was a literature professor.

For those interested in the history of artistic suppression…

… yesterday’s New York Times account of Elie Wiesel’s having crushed a play about him through the use of legal threats is compelling.

Wiesel and Bernard Madoff were fellow trustees of Yeshiva University. They occasionally dined together. Wiesel invested lots of his money with Madoff. There’s every reason they should appear in a play together.

But Wiesel doesn’t like appearing in a play with Madoff, and he has, with remarkable vulgarity, gone after its writer, an artist who, as she says in the article, “can’t get sued, there’s no way I could afford it.”

The word for Wiesel’s behavior is disgusting.

After UD leaves Rehoboth Beach, she goes to Upstate New York, where she has a house. Not far from that house is Stageworks/Hudson, where she and Mr UD will go to see the revised version of this play, Imagining Madoff. Unable to deal with Wiesel’s threats, the writer has removed his name from her play’s list of characters. But UD gathers that his spirit, if you will, lives on. We shall see.

Meanwhile, as is so often the case when people act in the way Wiesel has acted, Imagining Madoff is receiving far more publicity than it would have if it had run as originally written.

Quote of the Day

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

General James Mattis

Simon Singh Succeeds.

He has won his court battle. Slowly, England’s libel laws become more sane.

The science writer Simon Singh has won his court of appeal battle for the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel action.

Singh was accused of libel by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an opinion piece he wrote in the Guardian in April 2008.

He suggested there was a lack of evidence for the claims some chiropractors make on treating certain childhood conditions including colic and asthma.

The BCA alleged that Singh had in effect accused its leaders of knowingly supporting bogus treatments.

In May last year, high court judge Mr Justice Eady, in a preliminary ruling in the dispute, held that Singh’s comments were factual assertions rather than expressions of opinion – which meant he could not use the defence of fair comment.

Today, the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, master of the rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley allowed Singh’s appeal, ruling that the high court judge had “erred in his approach”….

Defamation …

… Fabriqué en France.

A French mystery writer is being sued for defamation by the owners of the well-known Parisian fabric store where she set her latest crime novel.

Lalie Walker’s psychological thrillers are often set around Paris, and her latest, Aux Malheurs des Dames, is no exception.

… [T]he book takes place at Marché St. Pierre, a 60-year-old landmark store in the Montmartre district of Paris known for its extensive selection of fabrics and low prices.

… The corporation that owns the store, Village d’Orsel, is suing for two million euros ($2.7 million Cdn), according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.

“No one can have anything to do with or talk about the Marché Saint Pierre without the authorization of the owner and the director,” Robert Gabby, the store’s director…

CBC News

As with Calvo-Goller, so with the British Chiropractors…

… what expensive webs we weave when first we prosecute for libel.

From the transcript of Simon Singh’s appeal in response to the British Chiropractic Association’s libel action against him:

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I want to come back to something I raised before lunch which is still troubling me and it still has nothing to do with the outcome of the case, but here we are. Your clients [the BCA] are very steamed up at what they perceive to be a very serious libel. It has been said about them that they have indulged in happily promoting bogus treatments. Your case is – their case is: “That is absolute nonsense. We don’t. That’s not what we are running our professional lives for.”

It is now two years on, jolly nearly, since the matter that caused all this umbrage was published. The opportunity to put it right was not taken. The end of this litigation will not be for another how long – another twelve months?

MS ROGERS QC: Well that depends on a number of factors.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Yes. So all the opportunities to put this right – to make it clear to the public that these allegations are nonsense – simply have not been taken, and yet it matters. I quite understand that it matters to your client that they should not have to put up with defamatory statements. I am just terribly troubled about the entire artificiality of all this and all of the huge expense. Somebody at the end of this litigation – somebody – is going to pay a vast amount of money. It will either be Dr Singh out of his funds or it will be your clients out of the contributions made by the subscriptions paid by their members. I am just baffled.

MS ROGERS QC: If your Lordship thinks that my clients relish spending years and money and time on this litigation, that is not right.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I do not think anybody is relishing this. No, forgive me. I am not for a moment thinking anybody is relishing it – plainly nobody is relishing it. But, at the end of the day, as to this issue about whether there is any reliable evidence [supporting various claims of chiropractic cure] or not as we speak now, it is either there or it is not. If there is reliable evidence, goodness gracious, why isn’t somebody publishing it?

Precisely the argument made to Calvo-Goller by the editors of the journal she believes libeled her. They offered her prominent space in their journal to comment and set things right. Instead, she sued, and is currently a figure of fun among the scholarly communities of the world.

Things have gone yet worse for the BCA. The trial has attracted enormous publicity to the way they advertise, and indeed to the legitimacy of the health claims they make.

From yesterday’s Guardian:

As the British Chiropractic Association’s battle with Simon Singh continues to work its way through the legal system, chiropractors are counting the financial costs of a major backlash resulting from a libel action that has left the Lord Chief Justice “baffled”. What was originally a dispute between the BCA and one science writer over free speech has become a brutally effective campaign to reform an entire industry.

A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council.

The council, which is responsible for regulating the profession and has 2,400 chiropractors on its books, informs me that it has had to recruit six new members of staff to deal with a fifteenfold increase in complaints against its members – from 40 a year to 600. While it declined to comment directly on the costs inflicted by the reaction to the BCA’s actions, it is clear that a six-figure sum will be involved for the extra staffing costs alone, to which will have to be added the considerable costs of any misconduct hearings.

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