Students! Demanding weird pronouns! OFFENDED!

I was asked if I listened to this interview with Peter Boghossian.

No! I had not! Thanks for asking!

But, out of morbid curiosity, I did click on the link. I even listened to it for 15 minutes, in sick fascination.

He’s very annoyed that students ask him to address them by their preferred pronouns. How dare they! This is the problem with The Left nowadays, they take offense at everything, and are actively looking for excuses to be offended. It’s ridiculous that we professors are expected to master the impossible, arcane skill of talking to students appropriately.

Boghossian must be incredibly stupid, because I’ve found that it’s really easy — the harder task is to remember all those names, and when I’ve got 50 students in a class, it sometimes takes the entire term before I’ve got them all straight. Pronouns are trivial. If I could address everyone as he, she, they, or “hey, you”, it would be so easy to sail through the semester, never bothering to recognize students as individuals. It’s even easier to adapt to these pronoun requests because most students are gender-conforming and wearing clothing that signals their gender identity, and it’s only a few exceptions that you have to consider…and again, it’s no big deal, no more difficult than recognizing that Student A needs help with statistics, Student B did really well on the last test but is struggling in organic chemistry, Student C is looking for a chance to do summer research. Student D wants to be addressed by “they, them”? No problem.

Boghossian doesn’t get it. He seems to think students are his enemy, and that this is all a leftist tactic to make him suffer. Try a different point of view, guy: maybe your students are looking for respect, and would like you to recognize that they have a history and a context and opinions and needs and desires, too, and would appreciate that being acknowledged. Maybe they’re not looking to be offended, but are already tired of being treated as faceless, interchangeable tuition-paying blobs, who are expected to conform to your expectation that they will readily fit into two and only two boxes.

I had to stop listening after a quarter hour, though, because he started complaining about how these pronoun issues are taking away from his valuable class time, and important issues like establishing his seating chart (???) for the class.

P.S. I’ll mention this because I know it will infuriate self-identified Classical Liberals like Boghossian. One simple tip I got at my conference at Howard Hughes Medical Institute was a suggestion to help foster more inclusion: professors should include their preferred pronouns in their syllabi. I had never thought of that, because of course I am an obvious male figure who would be addressed as “he/him”, and then I realized…yep, that’s my privilege talking, that I’m your standard male-conforming American citizen, and the only “of course” in this situation is that I assume the minority will have to take the effort to explain things to me, while I will benefit from the default assumptions.

So naturally, as a craven leftist, I’m going to follow the recommendation of a major granting authority and take 5 seconds to type in “Preferred pronouns: he/him” into all of my syllabi next term. I know, it’s a disgraceful submission that will snatch away so much time that I could have spent teaching cell biology or evolution, but hey, I’m taking the long view that respecting student identities will actually help them learn. And if I slip up, and a student needs to correct me, I won’t take it as a conspiracy by the Left to attack me, but will thank them for helping me improve my awareness of who they are.

P.P.S. Remember when people got all outraged at the introduction of “Ms.”? It was very important to know whether a woman was a “Miss” or a “Mrs.”, for some reason, but we didn’t have to make any such distinctions within the category of “Mr.”

Another con wrecked by casual sexism

You’d think people would learn: take anti-harassment policies seriously. They aren’t just well-meaning words that you post on your website to make yourself look good.

Odyssey Con, a science-fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin, is suddenly hemorrhaging guests-of-honor who are bailing out because a) a known harasser was working as the guest liaison, which is a bit like putting a pedophile in charge of the ball crawl at the playground, and b) the con administrators seemed to think they just needed to explain things carefully to the guests to make them change their minds, which makes it obvious that they are unclear on the concept.

It sounded to me like an epidemic of mere cluelessness on the part of the con, until I learned who the harasser was. Holy crap. It’s Jim Frenkel. This guy was a major blow-up in 2013: Frenkel was banned from WisCon for harassment. He was fired from his job as editor at Tor Books over these acts. How could you not know Frenkel was bad news, and how could you even consider appointing him to be a liaison with a woman guest?

There are two possibilities here. One is that SF organizers cannot remember anything older than 4 years ago (their childhoods must be great voids of memory, lost to them for all time) and they also don’t know how to use google, or some people at the con are consciously dismissive of harassment concerns and decided that this was the year they’d sneak their good buddy Jim back into the ball crawl, and hoped that all of those SJW pests had 4 year memory limits and were unable to use google.

Neither alternative speaks well of Odyssey Con.

You should also read this response by Brianna Wu.

What stands out to me the most in the whole harmful affair was a single line by Gregory G.H. Rihn, writing about “what would be fair.” He suggested a compromise between Monica and Jim Frenkel, the known serial harasser. In a world where sexual harassers are on one side, and women wanting to be treated with respect are on the other — women can never win. Rihn saw himself as an impartial observer, but he’s part of the problem in a way he can’t understand.

Is the New York Post kind of like the Onion?

I can’t figure it out. I read this article about Dan Rochkind, expert dater, and I swear I was sitting here thinking it had to be some kind of satire.

When it came to dating in New York as a 30-something executive in private equity, Dan Rochkind had no problem snagging the city’s most beautiful women.

“I could have [anyone] I wanted,” says Rochkind, now 40 and an Upper East Sider with a muscular build and a full head of hair. “I met some nice people, but realistically I went for the hottest girl you could find.”

He spent the better part of his 30s going on up to three dates a week, courting 20-something blond models, but eventually realized that dating the prettiest young things had its drawbacks — he found them flighty, selfish and vapid.

“Beautiful women who get a fair amount of attention get full of themselves,” he says. “Eventually, I was dreading getting dinner with them because they couldn’t carry a conversation.”

He’s got a day job pushing money and paper around, and he spends his evenings trying to have sex with younger women, and he’s got the nerve to accuse them of being “flighty, selfish and vapid”? Look in a mirror, guy.

But what had me most baffled about the nature of the article was this photo caption.

Dan Rochkind used to date swimsuit models, but he’s happier now that he’s engaged to a merely beautiful woman, Carly Spindel (right).

Mind…blown. What was the writer trying to say? What does Carly Spindel think of that? Is Dan smirking at that? What’s the difference between swimsuit models and merely beautiful women?

I don’t think I want to learn any more about the NY Post’s universe. It seems flighty, selfish and vapid.

Captain Kirk is not Zapp Brannigan!

In an awesome, long, and rather intense essay, Erin Horáková deconstructs Star Trek to expose Kirk Drift, a phenomenon in which the character in the original stories is shifted in our memory and perception towards a more stereotyped masculinity — and the change says some things about cultural biases. There’s a cartoon version of Kirk (which was also exaggerated in the movies) that was a womanizing, blustering, macho glory-hound which is easy to caricature, but isn’t supported by a close examination of the series. Zapp Brannigan is a version concocted in our imagination.

I found this interpretation illuminating.

I’m also trying to illustrate how different interpretations are held to very different standards of proof. Constructing an elaborate chauvinist narrative is normal and invisible as work, while other interpretive perspectives must, under ridicule, press against this “received truth.” Again and again we see female-dominated media fandoms’ interpretations dismissed as emotional and ideologically motivated. But what is all this vast effort to butch up Kirk but clear evidence of at least equally goal and emotion-driven work on the part of male-dominated sectors of fandom and popular reception? The amount of labour you have to put in to get from “Catspaw” to ‘Kirk scored!’, and from Kirk the character to Kirk the womaniser is considerable. What drives this casual or fannishly dedicated unseeing but male emotional need [7] to attack vulnerability, to uplift and venerate dominating strength, and to project their desires onto texts and from there, life? Male emotion is here, as in most spheres, parsed as neutral, rational, and just: “obvious.” Its emotional content ceases to visibly exist, because male desires are so naturalised as to seem the state of the world.

The heterosexism goggles, which derange content via chauvinist interpretive paradigms, become not just inaccurate but horrifying when we look at episodes like “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” How would you read the scene in “Gamesters” where Kirk, terrified (with some reason) Uhura will be sexually assaulted and that he’ll be able to do nothing to help her, seduces his own captor in an effort to protect Uhura and get his people out of this situation if Kirk were a woman? What about the surveillance, fear of death and fear of getting an enslaved person punished due to his non-compliance in “Bread and Circuses”? Why are we cheerleading a vision of masculinity that cannot even acknowledge vulnerability and trauma in these cases, when if this were a woman we’d see these situations as coercive and violating?

I can’t judge the details well myself — I was an obsessive fan of the show while it was on the air, which rather dates me, and when I could see them in re-runs I was a more casual viewer, and I probably haven’t seen an episode in 20 years, making me a Star Trek heathen, I guess. But what rang true was a different model for Kirk in the essay: he was patterned after Horatio Hornblower. Recalling the stories in that context puts them in a whole new light. What I know of Roddenberry also fits — he wouldn’t make an arrogant sexist the hero of his story.

Despite being an obsessive essay on a fictional character, it’s appropriately grounded.

My point here is not to argue for perfection. I certainly do not claim that Kirk and ST:TOS were flawless harbingers of third wave intersectional thinking, always and forever on point, amen (though I will stand by an argument that they do a lot of good work I’d like to see more of today, both in their context and considered in comparison to contemporary texts). There is no way for anything to be always ahead of the currents of radical thought, nor is perfection even necessarily a state of affairs to be yearned for. Social justice is in some senses a technology that must be discursively developed before it can be accessed. It is also not manifest in some immaculate person or product without sin, or in some final position where we get everything right and it stays that way, forever: it is always an evolving understanding. It is of necessity polyvocal and complicated, personal and political.

Yet there is a colossal insipidity in both patronising “this art product was good for its time” arguments and in Columbus-discovering sexism (or other forms of injustice) in the cultural materials of the past (gosh, what a find). Both can be somewhat valid positions to take, but they are often the lazy products of a false consciousness of our own differently-coded era as universally better, and of history as neatly and linearly progressive. Think not of “the arc of history,” that long single line that, god willing, bends towards justice. The position of a thing like “gender relations in 2017” is nothing like so easily determined: it is comprised of a thousand strings, some of them inching forward, some of them being looped and snarled and even pulled back, and some of them being twisted in unforeseen directions. Only in centuries will we be able to make out, or perhaps to tell ourselves that we see, that “arc.”

Those are good points to keep in mind any time you’re discussing these complicated social interactions.

Anyway, it’s really long and thorough, so set aside a little time to read it. It’s informative, though, and not just about an old TV show, but about contemporary sociocultural analysis.


Those darned humanities professors, teaching about literature and words and history and all that fuzzy stuff.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant.

But that’s ancient history! No one could believe that after the Middle Ages!

It just got transmogrified in the 19th century.

It was believed that hysteria, also known as neurasthenia, could be set off by a plethora of bad habits including reading novels (which caused erotic fantasies), masturbation, and homosexual or bisexual tendencies resulting in any number of symptoms such as seductive behaviors, contractures, functional paralysis, irrationality, and general troublemaking of various kinds. There are pages and pages of medical writings outing hysterics as great liars who willingly deceive. The same old “treatments” were enlisted—genital massage by an approved provider, marriage and intercourse—but some new ones included ovariectomies and cauterization of the clitoris.

Oh, those Victorians! No one believes that kind of crap now.

This wasn’t just any fall semester. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to consider the history of hysteria than September 2016, the week following Hillary Clinton’s collapse from pneumonia at the 9/11 ceremonies, an event that tipped #HillarysHealth into a national obsession. Rudolph Giuliani said that she looked sick and encouraged people to google “Hillary Clinton illness.” Trump focused on her coughing or “hacking” as if the uterus were still making its perambulations up to the throat.

For many months, Hillary had been pathologized as the shrill shrew who was too loud and outspoken, on the one hand, and the weak sick one who didn’t have the strength or stamina to be president on the other. We discussed journalist Gail Collins’ assessment of the various levels of sexism afoot in the campaign. On the topic of Hillary’s health, Collins wrote, “this is nuts, but not necessarily sexist.” We, in the Wandering Uterus, wholeheartedly disagreed. But, back in September, we did not understand how deeply entrenched these sinister mythologies had already become.

But that was 2016! We know so much more now, in 2017!

Why are conservatives so weird?

I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if they were all raised by Harry Harlow’s fake mothers made of chicken wire and cotton, because they sure seem to be lacking in something. This guy at the Federalist, Hans Fiene, has an essay that reads like something from an alien.

The latest numbers on American birth rates are in, and they yield only one reasonable conclusion: All of us need to start having more babies or else the upcoming demographic tsunami will consume our nation, cripple our social programs, and leave us with a future so bleak that our only source of joy will be the moment we’re chosen to receive the sweet, fatal kiss of the Obamacare Death Panels, the Trumpcare Firing Squads, or the OprahCare Hemlock Squadrons.

We do not have a problem of underpopulation — we’re doing just fine, maybe growing too fast for our environment. The “demographic shift” is merely the typical natural change in a population over time. There was an era when there were relatively few Irish in North America, and now there were lots of people of Irish descent. It wasn’t a tsunami, it didn’t cripple us. It’ll be the same with an increase in the proportion of Latin and black families — we’ll be fine. There is a kind of demographic tsunami that would be destructive, like the one that overwhelmed the Indian population of this continent, but there’s no threat of that. Maybe Mr Fiene has a guilty conscience?

Maybe the real problem is his use of the word “us” — it doesn’t seem to have the same inclusive meaning to him that it does to me. He’s using the racist “us”, referring to only people with his skin color.

What is his solution to the “tsunami”? He wants “us”, you know, the white “us”, to have more children than the brown “them”. How does he hope to do that?

Perhaps I’m overstating the danger a bit, but the point remains: Americans need to raise our sagging birth rates. One of the best ways we can do so is by reversing the trend of Americans waiting longer to get married. So, apart from tearing down America’s institutions of higher education, which tend to slow down the recitation of wedding vows, how do we do that? It’s quite simple. We tear down the Friend Zone.

But we Americans don’t have a sagging birth rate…oh, wait, he’s using the racist version of “Americans”, that doesn’t include every American citizen.

I’m relieved that he’s not advocating tearing down universities, but his reasoning is weird. Having children a little later is a fine idea, especially since child-rearing is a difficult and important job that would benefit from a little more emotional and intellectual maturity (trust me, I work with 18-22 year olds all the time, and there’s a huge amount of growth in that span. Because someone is physically capable of getting pregnant at 14 does not necessarily mean they’re mature enough to raise them well…but then, if your vision of parenting is chicken wire and cloth, you may not get that).

Instead, he thinks we need to tear down the Friend Zone. There’s that strange, alien “we” again — now it seems to exclude women. “We” White Men are going to insist that if “You” Women want to have dinner with us, you must also consent to be impregnated.

Every year, countless young men find themselves trapped in the Friend Zone, a prison where women place any man they deem worthy of their time but not their hearts, men they’d love to have dinner with but, for whatever reason, don’t want to kiss goodnight.

Being caught in the Friend Zone is an inarguable drag on fertility rates, as a man who spends several years pledging his heart to a woman who will never have his children is also a man who most likely won’t procreate with anyone else during that time of incarceration. Free him to find a woman who actually wants to marry him, however, and he’ll have several more years to sire children who will laugh, create, sing, fill the world with love and, most importantly, pay into Social Security.

Quite simply, for the sake of our future, the Friend Zone must be destroyed. For the Friend Zone to be destroyed, women must accept the following truths: you don’t have any guy friends and, in fact, you can’t have any guy friends.

I can simplify that rule a lot. Don’t be friends with Hans Fiene, or anyone like Hans. Hans needs to realize, though, that this isn’t a binary situation, where one is either friends with Hans, or is fucking Hans–there is the possibility of accepting neither.

He goes on and on about his fantasy of a world where women either have sex with him or obligingly vanish into the woodwork, never to speak to him again, but I think we get the message. Hans Fiene does not consider women or minorities to be fully human, and not part of his “us”.

Hans is a Lutheran pastor, by the way.

His mother was probably just fine. He just thought she was made of chicken wire.

Now taking odds on who is going down first

Will it be Donald Trump?

A combination of controversy, scandal and low polling numbers have prompted oddsmakers at a U.K. betting house to predict President Donald Trump would likely either be impeached or resign – or both – before the upstart politician’s first term in the White House officially comes to an end in 2020, according to a new report. The odds for an impeachment to happen were given a 4/5 chance of happening as of Friday, according to Inverse, a website that describes itself in part by asking “ What could happen next? ”

Or will it be Bill O’Reilly?

Months after lamenting his status as a “target,” we are learning that O’Reilly was speaking from deep experience. The New York Times reported on Saturday that about $13 million has been dished out over the years — by O’Reilly and his employer — to resolve complaints from women regarding O’Reilly’s antics. The claims shed light on just why O’Reilly and his former boss Ailes fashioned a mutual protection racket on the premises of Fox News: They both needed someone who’d have their back.

Both are “awful, awful” people, both are on the record saying “awful, awful” things, and we’ve known how “awful, awful” they are for decades. So on the one hand they’ve survived their disgraceful reputations for a long time, and in fact have prospered because of their publicly unpleasant personas; on the other, well, we all wish these odious human beings would just go away.

If they do experience a downfall, the one I wish most would get splattered fast is Trump, because his reign is the most acutely disastrous for the country. If I were putting money on it, though, I’d have to guess that O’Reilly will be shown the door first, just because the eviction of Roger Ailes set a precedent.

I would not bet on whether either will suffer the consequences they deserve. You know there’s a soft landing planned for both, with plenty of money and luxury.

John Searle, too?

Now the famous philosopher John Searle stands accused of harassment.

The lawsuit, which lists Searle and the Regents of the University of California as defendants, claims Searle groped Ong in his office after he told her “they were going to be lovers.” He also said he had an “emotional commitment to making her a public intellectual,” the complaint states, and that he was “going to love her for a long time.” Ong turned Searle down and reported him to other UC Berkeley employees, but they did nothing, the complaint states. Instead, Searle cut Ong’s salary and she was eventually fired, according to the complaint, which also claims Searle watched pornography at work and made sexist comments.

He’s one of many: 113 sexual harassment cases have been reported in the UC system in just 3 years. Personally, I find it incredible: I can’t imagine myself even wanting to treat students or colleagues that way, but the evidence is clear…there are a lot of rotten apples in the barrel.

I don’t think California is particularly terrible in this regard, either. It seems to be an issue all over the place. Part of the problem has to be a system that treats some individuals as “superstars”, giving them a bloated sense of entitlement, while simultaneously treating others as peons and dismissing their concerns. It’s everywhere. Hierarchies of privilege always seem to lead to evil.

If you’re somewhere low in one of those hierarchies, I recommend this checklist of warning signs of abusenone of the behaviors listed there are at all appropriate. If you’re higher up in the hierarchy, you should check it too and make sure you’re not doing any of them. They’re behaviors that ought not to be hard to avoid, but it’s surprising how many prominent academics can’t.