Dean Fails the Professor-Specific Antipathy Test

The wildly controversial prostate-specific antigen test (PSA) continues to be the subject of studies and debates. Does it help prevent prostate cancer, or is its use actually destructive, subjecting people to unnecessary surgeries? Results and opinions vary too widely, at the moment, to conclude anything with certainty.

Yet the expression of opinions about it would seem fundamental to medical school professors involved in the issue, and you’d think a respectable school like the University of California Davis would encourage its faculty to be part of the debate.

Yet Davis, already dealing with one med school fiasco, now has another, because a dean there got so angry at a professor’s published disapproval of PSA that he told him

he would be punished in two ways. First, he would lose his position in the doctoring program [a special training program he’d put together], and second, he would lose the funding support for a Hungarian student exchange program that he organized.

Why so angry?

Well, money’s involved. The doctor decided to write an anti-PSA opinion piece when he realized that a seminar at Davis was “primarily a sales pitch about the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, and that its main message was that men should get tested regularly beginning at age 40.” University seminars aren’t supposed to be homes for hucksters, especially when what they’re selling might hurt people. I mean, of course it happens, as in this case at the University of Toronto; but it’s not supposed to happen. Not to mention that professors have a right to say what they like without deans and university lawyers making threats against them, as they did in this case.

Oh Yale’s just right for Singapore…

They’ve made a school that you’ll adore

But freedom’s on a distant shore

From Singapore.

‘The campus attorney said the letter about defamation was not meant as a threat but just “a statement of fact,” the faculty report said.’

Yeah, we just thought you might be interested, next time you think about publishing an opinion piece the University of California Davis medical school doesn’t like… We just thought you might be interested to know that we can destroy your life…

Finito la Commedia! or: How the United Nations Spends Money

[A group of consultants for the United Nations has] called for the Divine Comedy to be removed from schools and universities

“This is a hard fought and important victory for free speech rights on the Internet,” said Laurence Pulgram, the partner who led the team at Fenwick & West, LLP in San Francisco. “Unless we respond to such efforts to intimidate, we’ll end up with an Internet that is far less fertile for the cultivation and discussion of the important issues that affect us all.”

It’s not quite over for copyright troll Righthaven (its owner will probably be appearing in court soon for a debtor examination), but as the attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation note, EFF’s latest court victory – in which Stevens Media, financial backer of Righthaven, conceded that “posting a short excerpt of a news article in an online forum is not copyright infringement” – constitutes a decisive victory against the outfit that went after, among hundreds of other blogs, University Diaries.

“The marshal can go after personal property or real estate belonging to Righthaven. The order authorizes the marshal to use …

‘reasonable force’ to execute the judgment.”

UD‘s strange legal education continues. Righthaven, the copyright troll that last year sued her, now faces, Bloomberg Business Week reports, the police at the door. They won’t pay any of the many large judgments (more are on the way) assessed against them for their losses in court.

Strange to think that the frighteningly legitimate thing that came bristling up to UD‘s door with a summons last summer turns out to have been what looks more and more like a high-risk, inept conspiracy about to declare bankruptcy. I suppose it’s a measure of UD‘s naivety that this never occurred to her; that she fixed only on the threatening, baffling language of a complaint against her, and not on the possibility that behind the formal machinery and dread-inducing rhetoric lay seven swaggering cocksmen with a can’t miss scheme. Six, seven.

At the moment, Righthaven seems to be down to one guy. His cock must be steamrolled flat.

“Gloating over the misfortunes of other people.”

Christopher Hitchens got a big laugh when, asked what the purpose of life without a belief in God would be, he answered “Gloating over the misfortunes of other people… Crowing over [their] miseries…” UD laughs whenever she watches him say this too…

Yet the astoundingly tanking fortunes of the outfit that last year sued UD has her thinking with some seriousness about schadenfreude. No doubt she’s got her share of it… But as one story after another of the financial desperation of the now universally ridiculed and reviled Righthaven pops up as a Google Alert in her email, she finds herself remarkably deficient in this response. The copyright troll whose threats and legal papers so frightened her two summers ago is this year a virtually bankrupt joke, taking outrageous beatings in every court it’s dragged into by people and organizations who – unlike UD – fought back.

Instead of anything emotional, UD seems to be experiencing that rather calmer it-is-meet-and-right thing that involves witnessing the reversal of wrongdoing.

When UD teaches Intro Amer Lit…

… she often assigns David Mamet’s play (it’s also a film), Glengarry Glen Ross, all about slimy businessmen.

She’s delighted to see attorneys in one of the many Righthaven suits (for UD‘s involvement in this sorry story, go here) turning to literature to encompass the specific unpleasantness of the Righthaven scandal (for details of this filing, go here):

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Ricky Roma says to George Aaronow, “Always tell the truth – It’s the easiest thing to remember.” Had Righthaven followed this simple bit of wisdom, it would not find itself in its current thicket of predicament in Nevada, and it might find its fortune in Colorado to be more promising.

Righthaven’s scheme is based upon “Assignments” of copyrights from news entities to itself. When such assignments are honest and bona fide transfers of rights, they are remarkably simple – the copyright owner simply transfers all title to the copyright to the new owner. Righthaven’s scheme is much more complex, because there is so much dishonesty to obfuscate. In 1992, Glengarry Glen Ross was made into a film with the tagline “Lie. Cheat. Steal. All In A Day’s Work.” Righthaven should have watched the entire film and learned from Ricky Roma; instead it relied upon the tagline and has lied, cheated, and stolen from dozens of hapless defendants in Nevada and in Colorado. That conduct ends in Colorado with this Reply Brief.

More on Righthaven here.

UD’s July Fourth Post

Last summer, at just this time, my freedom to blog ended.

I lay next to my husband in bed one afternoon and said to him:

I’m going to stop. I’m going to shut the whole thing down and not write another word. This firm that has sued me – Righthaven – they could sue me again, for something else I’ve excerpted from a newspaper. Any other firm with the Righthaven business model could also sue me. Righthaven is seeking damages of hundreds of thousands of dollars from us. They’re going to take my domain name. All because I excerpted part of a newspaper article. I named and linked back to the source of that excerpt, the way millions of bloggers do every day. I got no commercial benefit from it, because my blog has no advertising. But a man just came to our door and served me with legal papers that say that if I lose this copyright infringement case they’ve filed against me we will be ruined. I don’t have any choice. I have to shut down University Diaries.

My husband looked at me and said

No you don’t. No you won’t. Do some research. Find out about Righthaven. What they’re doing sounds completely nuts. We’re talking about a total – and seemingly unfounded – threat to your freedom to express yourself. Calm down. Keep a cool head. Call a lawyer who knows something about this.


Now that the Righthaven enterprise is collapsing – now that they’re losing all of their cases (I turned out to be one of hundreds of American bloggers carpet-bombed by Righthaven), now that their legal staff is abandoning them (The Righthaven lawyer who sued me has expressed regrets about having worked for Righthaven. If I were facing the possibility of lawsuits and sanctions because of my association with Righthaven, I’d say the same thing. Yet in our phone chats, this person was thrilled with his job. Quite the eager beaver.), now that numerous judges have said that Righthaven never had standing to sue in the first place, I can look back on this experience and see that it was a lesson, a hard lesson, for UD, in American freedom, and in the rule of law that sustains American freedom.


It was also a lesson in trust. Having decided to settle with Righthaven rather than pay who knows how much and suffer how much protracted misery to defend myself, I could have become cynical about a legal system that can prey on people like me and chill their speech.

Instead, I’ve watched one judge after another express rage against Righthaven for what it’s done. I’ve watched public interest outfits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation take on pro bono cases for Righthaven targets and win them big. I’ve watched legal and free speech groups all over the country respond aggressively and successfully to this threat.


Back to last summer. I talked to a lawyer – a wonderful man who told me exactly how to get Righthaven out of my life right away, which is all I wanted.

Throw money at them. They only want money. They have zero interest in going to court. Tell them you’ll give them this much (He named an amount.) and they’ll take it. Or they’ll ask for a little more…. But are you sure you don’t want to litigate? We’re eager to defend you. We’re eager to shut Righthaven down. You will without question win the case.

What would it entail?

Well, first we’d have to depose you… How much experience have you had of the law?

None. I’m a legal virgin… And I’d like to stay that way. I think I’ll settle.

Okay. Send them an email. Remember to say (He told me exactly how to word it.). And if you have any questions or concerns at all as this moves forward, I want you to call me.

What do I owe you?



A day later I’m at a doctor’s appointment and my cell phone rings and it’s eager beaver. We begin negotiating. I say to my doctor

I know how obnoxious it is for someone to interrupt what’s going on and talk on their cell phone. I’d never think of doing this ordinarily; but I’ve simply got to get through this conversation now.

He nodded and said he’d be back in a few minutes.

And that was it. The rest was signing and faxing and scanning, end of story.


Of course they’d frightened me right down to the ground. Of course I was very angry. But I had the money to make Righthaven go away very fast. Many of its other targets don’t, and it’s been painful to follow their stories.

Like me, most of these people write non-commercial blogs with an interest in – as UD‘s tagline goes – changing things in American political and social life. Many are retirees, veterans, disabled people. For months now, their lives have been nightmarish, filled with fear that they will lose everything they own because they quoted a few lines from a newspaper story.

That’s pretty much over now. Although things are still ugly, and Righthaven, cornered, continues to snarl, it’s gradually being put down. Beset by people fighting back and draining the firm’s resources, and, again, currently facing sanction, Righthaven seems to have stopped filing new cases. Already filed cases are being dismissed en masse.

Yet a lot of damage has been done, and that’s damage that you don’t ever really undo, even if you compensate people.


The upside (UD, a ridiculously obstinate optimist, always looks on the bright side) of this experience, viewed now from the distance of a year and from the knowledge of Righthaven’s likely collapse, is pretty obvious. This Fourth of July, none of it is abstract. None of it is patriotic bromides. I’ve had my run-in with unfreedom, and I’ve watched the institutions of my country take firm action against unfreedom.




Another update.

On the free speech front…

… people are paying attention to today’s Supreme Court ruling on violent video games; but there’s a smaller free speech story, also today, involving the South Carolina Supreme Court, that’s arguably more important.

I’m talking about the ongoing implosion of Righthaven, generally referred to as a copyright troll. (Background here.) As Steve Green reports in Vegas Inc., two groups in South Carolina have now

asked the court to find that Righthaven’s business model is the “unauthorized practice of law” and to “enjoin Righthaven from operating in South Carolina.”


Everyone who blogs has an interest in the fate of Righthaven, which, according to the complaint before the South Carolina court, “subjects [bloggers] to endless litigation over injuries it did not suffer for claims it does not own.”

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.


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.)


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.


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.

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