Sunday, April 20, 2014

WTF philosophy: facilitated communications edition

Via Daily Nous, we read that Anna Stubblefield, chair of the Rutgers-Newark University philosophy department has been placed on administrative leave in the face of criminal charges in a mess of a case involving a man in his 30's with cerebral palsy whose competence is at issue, the contentious technique of facilitated communication, and allegations of sexual relations. (Story from

During spring 2008, Stubblefield showed her class the film. In the audience was D.J.’s brother, according to the lawsuit the family filed in federal court last year.
Soon after, at the brother’s urging, Stubblefield began meeting with D.J. in her office and at his adult day care center, the lawsuit says.
In October 2010, Stubblefield arranged to have D.J. present his research at an autism conference in Wisconsin, the lawsuit says. D.J.’s mother joined them on the trip, the lawsuit says.
But several months later, in May 2011, the relationship soured when Stubblefield met with D.J.’s mother and brother and, according to the civil lawsuit, admitted that she had sexual relations with D.J.
In August 2011, D.J.’s family brought their allegations to university police officers, who contacted Essex County prosecutors. Stubblefield was indicted on aggravated sexual assault charges in January 2013.

Both sides are expected to appear in court Thursday for a hearing before state Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare. The judge is expected to decide whether more tests need to be done to determine the extent of D.J.’s ability to communicate and comprehend.
Here's Stubblefield's 2011 paper on facilitated communication, in which she argues:

Just like any other form of augmentative communication, FC does not necessarily work for everyone who cannot speak usefully and who has trouble regulating his body movements. And some FC users may require support in addressing various learning challenges in addition to the communication support provided by FC. A premise of this paper, however, is that because FC has been validated as an effective means of communication for some people (see below), it is an important tool for inclusion in the repertoire of speech-language therapists, augmentative communication specialists, and educators, so that people for whom other means of communication have been unsuccessful or are too limited can have the opportunity to try it. A further premise is that support providers do more harm to people who cannot speak and have trouble regulating their body movements by presuming that they are profoundly intellectually impaired and will never be able to communicate effectively than they do by presuming that the people they support are more intellectually competent than their lack of useful speech and difficulty pointing suggests (Donnellan 1984).
Furthermore, FC has been criticized because there are instances in which FC users' words have been misinterpreted or poorly trained or inexperienced facilitators have influenced what is typed. But misinterpretation is possible with all forms of communication, including spoken communication, and poor facilitation is remediable through careful training and supervision. A final premise of this paper is that FC should be judged by the same standards as any other method of communication, not dismissed because sometimes it fails to meet a higher standard.
She continues:
People who are labeled as intellectually impaired experience crushing oppression within our society, rationalized by the "science" of medical, psychological, and educational orthodoxies. Exercising their freedom of expression via FC is the only way that some people experiencing this oppression can contribute to debate about the concept of intellect and about public policy that impacts people labeled as intellectually impaired (the film Wretches and Jabberers is just one recent example of FC users contributing to these debates). As I detail in the next section, much of anti-FC rhetoric systematically undermines the meaningfulness of speech produced via FC and the consideration given to the ideas produced by FC users by presuming, without substantiation, that FC users are incapable of rational expression. Thus, it functions as hate speech that contributes to the ongoing oppression of FC users and of all people labeled as intellectually impaired.
West argues that protection of freedom of expression requires the "minimum consideration requirement": speakers should refrain from engaging in speech acts that systematically prevent the speech of another from being attended to or considered. Too much of anti-FC rhetoric violates this requirement—by calling into question the intellectual competence of FC users, cutting them out of discussions of the meaning and validity of FC, suggesting that others are more competent than them to speak for them, and attacking FC allies and their freedom of expression. In so doing, anti-FC rhetoric functions not as principled scientific debate intended to help humanity in its quest for truth, but rather as hate speech intended to silence dissenters, with the result (whether intended or not) of contributing to the ongoing marginalization and oppression within our society of people labeled as intellectually impaired.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

WTF Colorado: AAUP edition

The University of Colorado AAUP chapter has issued a report bashing the university administration in its recent treatment of the philosophy department, accusing it of violations of academic freedom, shared governance and due process rights of faculty. It was particularly critical of the University's treatment of philosophy department member Dan Kaufman, who was abruptly ousted from class and campus last March for reasons still obscure, but not connected to the issues of sex harassment swirling around the department.

The report shines some light on the complaint against Kaufman, and from the way it lays it out, the University response appears to be weirdly disproportionate.
On the morning of March 4, 2014, two campus police officers awaited philosophy associate professor Dan Kaufman outside his classroom. Kaufman was then escorted by Philosophy Chair Andrew Cowell to Dean Leigh’s office, where four more campus police awaited him. Provost Moore notified Kaufman that he was suspended indefinitely upon threat of arrest if he returned to campus. In front of colleagues and students, Kaufman was then escorted off campus by the police officers. Philosophy faculty were ordered by Cowell to call 911 immediately if they saw Kaufman on campus.xix
Kaufman was not a suspected sexual harasser, but he had notified Cowell of an accommodation that he had been granted by CU under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Kaufman, during a follow-up discussion, Cowell brought up the question of suicide, and Kaufman made a “philosopher’s joke” that alluded to a standard philosophy textbook conundrum: He wouldn’t kill himself; he was sure Cowell wouldn’t kill him, and he wouldn’t kill Cowell, unless Cowell were truly evil, like Adolf Hitler.xx
According to Provost Moore, in a letter that he presented to Kaufman advising him of his suspension while flanked by two police officers in Dean Leigh’s office, with another two police officers standing in the hallway, “Dr. Cowell informed us that he initially considered these words to be simply a poor attempt at a joke, not a direct threat. The Campus, however, finds these remarks profoundly troubling and completely unacceptable, even as a joke.”

Moore’s letter also alludes to complaints about Kaufman’s behavior from several years before (including an outburst at a Denver restaurant). Based on these incidents and allegations, Moore has deemed Kaufman’s conduct “detrimental to the well-being of the university and incompatible to the function of the university as an educational institution.” Regardless, the suspension of a faculty member is considered by the AAUP as punishment second only to dismissal, and, barring extraordinary circumstances, can be enacted only after there has been the opportunity for a defense against charges before a faculty hearing committee. Kaufman claims the first he heard he was under suspicion was that morning.
 The letter to Kaufman advising him of his suspension and banishment from campus was dated February 28—four days earlier, more than enough time to notify him through other means. As with other actions ordered by Leigh and Moore described in this report, the police apprehension of Professor Kaufman created maximum humiliation.
The time delay, if true, coupled with the police escort from class in front of students and colleagues seems to be inexplicable except as a kind of theatre, meant to leave the university audience with a message---but of what? Administrative control?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Flash Boys

I read Michael Lewis' Flash Boys last week, and my thought when finishing was "transaction tax". If each trade was taxed these flash bandits would not be able to game the markets as much as they are right now.

Then I thought: these bandits will just pick up and move. But David Sirota
had the same idea and answered these worries.
But that’s where the aforementioned structural change has created a flaw in the logic. In a financial world where microseconds are now king, all conduits are not created equal and average Internet velocity is no longer enough. That reality potentially reduces some of the industry’s geographic mobility. Why? Because while speculators themselves no longer need to physically be on specific trading room floors, they do need their computers to either be physically near those exchanges’ computers or hooked up to them through special ultra-fast conduits. Additionally, the newly computerized exchanges need ever-more massive data centers and conduits to process the accelerating information flow.
All of that technology requires financial firms to make huge investments in lots of immobile digital infrastructure. That means it may now be prohibitively expensive and/or logistically difficult for those financial firms to simply pick up and move. Indeed, just like petroleum companies cannot realistically threaten to leave oil-rich locales if they don’t like a tax, parts of the financial world are captive to the locales in which they’ve built their digital systems.
This is the silver lining of speed-driven finance. Simply put, the federal, state and local governments that host the financial industry have more leverage because, despite threats, they don’t have to fear the industry leaving.
So: let's levy a transaction tax. It is one small step toward making it harder to game the system and rob investors.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014


File this under: you've got to be kidding.
Some conservative media figures are openly wondering if Hillary Clinton staged an incident during a speech in Las Vegas on Thursday in which a woman in the audience threw a shoe at her. The shoe appeared to miss the rumored 2016 presidential hopeful, who ducked and made light of it, while the reported thrower, Alison Michelle Ernst, was booked by the authorities.
A blog post published Monday at the website of Fox News commentator Bernard Goldberg speculated that Clinton probably "calculated it beforehand," as is "almost always true" with things that happen to her.
"So it would not be stretching logic to suppose that Hillary arranged to have the shoe thrown at her," wrote Arthur Louis at Goldberg's site. "Remembering the Bush incident [when an Iraqi journalist threw two shoes at President George W. Bush], she may have calculated that this would make her seem presidential. This would explain why Ms. Ernst was not pounded to a pulp by Hillary's bodyguards, and why she seems on the verge of getting off scot free. Don’t be too surprised, the next time you visit Phoenix, if you see her sitting at a table in a downtown Hillary for President store front, stuffing and sealing envelopes."
On Monday, Rush Limbaugh entertained the same idea, telling radio listeners he "can totally relate" to those who believe that "everything the Clintons do is staged or choreographed." Asked about it by a listener, he emphasized that he hadn't studied the incident and isn't too concerned about it, but said people have told him Clinton's reaction "wasn't natural."
Kapur dubs them 'shoe truthers', but that would suppose that this discourse was truth apt or meant to be, neither of which is likely. I prefer to think of this conspiracy mongering as a performative act, meant to create and enroll an audience into an alternative universe in which this theory was 'not stretching logic'. 

Mistake floods basements with radioactive water at Fukushima

File this under: shit happens.
Tons of highly radioactive water have flooded basements at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after pumps that should not have been in use were mistakenly turned on.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced April 14 that 200 tons of contaminated water have flooded the basements of buildings on the plant site.
Although TEPCO officials said there were no channels for the contaminated water to leak out of the flooded basements, the Nuclear Regulation Authority ordered the utility to continue to monitor the situation and collect the leakage as soon as possible.
TEPCO officials said the water was highly contaminated because it was used to cool reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The water contains several tens of millions of becquerels per liter of radioactive cesium because it has yet to be purified using a system that removes radioactive materials.
The contaminated water has been collected beneath a group of buildings that house the central waste processing facilities.
Workers noticed something amiss on April 10, as the water levels in buildings that should have been pumping out water were found to be rising.
Workers discovered April 12 that four pumps that should not have been used were in operation. Those pumps are normally used to reverse the flow of water or to send the water to other destinations when problems arise in pumping the water to the original destination.
All the temporary pumps were halted around 5 p.m. on April 13. However, by that time about 200 tons of contaminated water had flooded the basement floors where water should not be accumulating.
But this shit seems to happen a lot to Tepco. Maybe it should consider paying its workers more and exploiting them less.

888 candles

Happy birthday Ibn Rushd (Averroes). 888 candles on today's cake plus a google tribute (only in Spain, alas)

(h/t dailynous)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NSA's heartbleed problem

The Obama administration and the NSA are denying the Bloomberg report that the agency knew about the heartbleed bug and exploited it. This creates a dilemma for the NSA: either it is lying (always possible, even likely) or it is incompetent, (also possible, even probable) Zach Whittaker at ZDnet sums up the situation nicely.
 Either one of two things happened: Bloomberg got screwed over by its sources, or the U.S. government is outright lying and clambering to save face with the already disgruntled public.
Clapper's response instead disclosed a seismic vulnerability in the intelligence agency's own mission, to "protect U.S. national security systems and to produce foreign signals intelligence information."
If Clapper is not lying, he his denial admits incompetence. A likely explanation? The NSA dedicates so much of its time and zillion dollar budget spying on everyone and hoarding the information that it can't find a security hole that was staring it in the face.