Monday, May 28, 2007

"welcome to physics 101: negroes not allowed."

so a good friend over on quench was clever enough to pick up on something really awkward during the whole crimson/quad/racism fiasco. that something was that one of the more offensive posters (who i do have to give some respect to for not posting anonymously) is actually a professor of physics here at harvard. Lubos Motl has posted several comments on the crimson website, including this one:

Dear Lucy,

I agree with you and admire your courage. Many reactions above make it very clear that your courage is highly non-trivial.

Someone said that there was racism because it was assumed that the people couldn't have been students. I think that it is indeed sensible to think that people who behave a little bit like animals could be someone else than Harvard students, after all. While this assumption may occasionally fail, it is still more reasonable than to assume that someone must be a Harvard student just because he or she is black.

If the party were white and the noise were similar, police would arrive, too. The intercultural foundation would complain that it is a proof of apartheid that the white people were not instantly dismissed from Harvard.

Keep on smiling and writing so well,
Lubos Motl

Posted by Lubos Motl | 5/21/2007 3:42:22 PM |

he also posted THIS on his own blog about the incident:

Wow. If someone makes a huge mess in front of the buildings where some of the smartest young people on the planet are supposed to study, it is illegitimate to call police because it is a black people's party and everyone - the whole community of Harvard students - is instantly accused of racism and the director of the "intercultural foundation" is black, too.

Counter's "foundation" is clearly meant to be a tool to intimidate students and other members of the community, politicize all questions, and make sure that a pathetic hypocritical ideology is more important than a tolerable atmosphere during the reading period and other values that used to be associated with the world of Academia.

and on the quench post about him, he left these gems:

Don't worry. I couldn't live with far left-wing pseudointellectual garbage like yourself for more time so I will be leaving.

You know, I have lived in a country where this ideological trash has intimidated people for 45 years. It has transformed the 10th most prosperous country in the world to a country that was nearly outside the really developed world. It has destroyed the economy and people's moral values.

I know how people like you think, how complete power over the society people like you want to have, I know why people like you are so dangerous, and I don't want to live in a society where scum like yourself is intimidating fair people on a daily basis.

Let me say that I think that your mode of thinking is identical to the Gestapo informers. If it were up to you, you would be instantly trying to create personal problems for someone because he or she disagrees with your idiotic ideology.

Informing departments, Gestapo, or PC police at all levels - that's what you like to do, isn't it?

Sorry but I have always considered people like that to be moral trash, I still consider them to be moral trash, and I will always consider such people to be moral trash.

This is not just about your believing an idiotic ideology. It is also about the methods you choose to defend it.


whew. alright, there's a lot there to take in, i know. i mainly just wanted to blog this to get the word out, because i think this is a little bit preposterous. aside from the fact that his comments are wildly offensive, ignorant, racist, etc. etc., his posts are also extremely unprofessional. as a harvard PROFESSOR, it seems like a fairly terrible move to post such strong views on common community forums for a couple of reasons.
1. any black, female, or otherwise minority students in his classes will no doubt feel very unwelcome (more unwelcome than they already do) after reading the things he's written here.
2. as a professor, you are expected to hold yourself to a higher standard of professionality than students. just as dr. counter responded to the article about the foundation in a carefully thought out op-ed, any other professor or administrator at harvard wishing to express his/her opinions about the subject has avenues other than the anonymous comments section of the crimson, and should use them

ok now on to a couple of quick comments about what he actually SAID

so a) i cannot BELIEVE that a harvard professor just claimed that a group of black students he has never met nor interacted with "behaved like animals." like honestly, i just can't even believe it. this goes WELL beyond unprofessional into the "horribly offensive" "criminally racist" "extremely damaging" sort of categories. would you want this man teaching you?!?

b) (if you haven't noticed by now, i'm a fan of lists) little did i know that a "tolerable atmosphere during reading period" was higher on the list of Academia (with a capital A)'s values than intercultural and race relations. well damn. let's just cancel all the social sciences and turn william james into a library for physics majors. why dont we also cut out everyone's voiceboxes so as not to disturb the math. i assume tolerable atmosphere is also more important than human rights, yes?

c) ooooh. a Gestapo reference. how original. now all of a sudden i see that i am so wrong i'm practically a nazi, whereas you are right. oh wait...

d) the whole "i've experienced the oppressive forces of the left because of communism" argument is like, really old and really ridiculous. i'd like to think that intellectuals at one of the most esteemed universities in the world would be able to think critically enough to know that being against racism is not the same thing as being for dictatorship. but um...clearly that would be expecting too much.

ok this post is going on too long. so in conclusion, i am wildly pissed at how much racism has been going on at harvard lately, i find it ridiculous that a harvard professor would think it was appropriate to act in this manner, and i think that regardless of your field, if you accept the position of professor at ANY university, you need to hold yourself to certain standards in terms of how you present yourself to the public. that includes respect for your students and peers and respect for the other disciplines within the university.

ADDENDUM: upon further research, it seems (although i don't know that this is confirmed) that he has "resigned" slash been asked to resign from harvard because of unprofessional attacks on other professor's writing. so that's awkward for him. but gives me a little more faith that harvard DOES in fact hold its faculty to some standards of respect.


icarus said...

i just linked to you on quench.

Travis said...

Well, hypocrisy is usually not so bare: How can you have a problem with Dr. Motl's Gestapo analogy, but not with Dr. Counter's much more public analogy relating Apartheid to HUPD? Aren't each equally ahistorical distortions imputing the character of a murderous regime to a person/group undeserving of that reputation? Is one really so bad as to invite instantaneous dismissal, whereas the other is so right-minded as to encourage defenses of it even when its dubious logic is attacked?

As for 'communism,' does it really need to be pointed out that Prof. Motl is Czech, and that 'communism' is hardly 'old' or 'irrelevant' as a topic of conversation in his home country or, I would suggest, in a university with a global pretense such as ours? Communism, as Dr. Motl undoubtedly remembers it, was full of kangaroo panels that tried people, especially in the academy, for thought crimes. There is no evidence that Dr. Motl has done anything less than a fine job teaching physics and conducting research, and there is no concrete evidence of hostility to studious learners of all background. Were his job threatened by something extraneous to it -- a comment on The Crimson's website, for instance -- I would think the comparison to 'communism' would suddenly not seem very dated at all.

On another note -- I should tell you, Kaya and Brittany, that your disclaimer that you cannot be quoted absent your consent has no binding force. I think a better protection against public embarrassment -- which I assume is your fear -- is contemplating well what you write before you write it, and making sure you want your name(s) associated with your comments.

icarus said...

1. I don't think Kaya ever stated that she supports Dr. Counter's analogy either. Re: the Gestapo analogy,you can refer to Godwin's Law('s_Law).

2. If Mr. Motl is concerned that his comments could threaten his job, then perhaps he should not make them *widely available all over the internet on a number of public forums.* Quoting his own words does not really make anyone the "thought police." Also, if anything were to "threaten his job" (which, by the way, is highly unlikely to happen), it would be the unprofessional personal insults, rather than the content of his political beliefs. We have Harvard faculty from a variety of political backgrounds who seem to be able to express themselves just fine, via appropriate public forums.

3. Lumping Communism in with all non-conservative political beliefs is obviously ridiculous.

4. I'm not even going to go into the "what does concrete evidence of hostility constitute?", but I think it's pretty clear that, as Kaya has stated, a professor who writes blatantly racist posts on student blogs is absolutely creating an image of themself as hostile (and, judging by his comments on Quench, unwilling to engage logically or calmly in debate).

icarus said...

Also, I don't think I should have to point this out, but since Mr. Motl's accusations involved comparing "those people" (by which he means...bloggers? students? people with a variety of political views different than his?) to both Communists AND Nazis in one breath, that um, that are pretty much opposite ideologies, and if I remember correctly, Communists were not exactly welcome under the Nazi regime. Just a thought...

adam said...


kaya said...

hahah thanks, travis, for your thoughts and advice.

a) public embarassment is not at all my fear. but i appreciate you looking out for me. i in general don't say anything i don't believe, and if something accidentally slips out, i'm always willing to apologize. thinking before you write is all well and good, and believe it or not, brittany and i do that. but we're also not afraid of debate and not afraid to change our views as we learn and grow. everything i write is something i'm willing to have associated with my name, because it means that at some point in time, that was a thought that i had. that doesn't mean i will necessarily continue to defend everything i've ever written, that would be ridiculous. i'm rambling at length about this because i've noticed that people (especially at harvard) really enjoy dredging up things you've said in the past as proof that you are wrong in the present, and i find that tactic to be totally immature and ridiculous.

b) yeah, i'm a bit confused about this "hypocrisy" you seem to think you're pointing out. i guess i'll go back and read previous posts, but i'm pretty sure i never claimed that dr. counter's apartheid analogy as "right-minded" or "historically sound." i do think that if you really wanted to examine both analogies, comparing race relations and police tactics in the US to apartheid is much less of a stretch than comparing a liberal blogger to the gestapo, but maybe that's just me.

c)perhaps i didn't make this point clear enough, so thanks for bringing it up - one of my main concerns is that i feel like it's a little ridiculous to set the bar at "teaching physics and conducting research" for a harvard professor. obviously he needs to do both of those things well to teach here, but i thought harvard also had standards of integrity and tolerance. if students are expected to adhere to certain levels of personal conduct, i would think that would apply to faculty as well, and i would hope that faculty regardless of discipline would be held to certain standards in terms of the respect they are expected to show for other members of the harvard community.

Travis said...

It seems to me this blog has defended Counter's analogy by complaining that Sahil and Adam's op-ed was "another case of the type of twisting of words and 'spinning' of ideas in the media that makes me so upset."

Re: Icarus's point about Nazis and communists. Have we not encountered this argument before -- say, in the 9th grade or so? Their ideologies differ, their tactics are similar; the latter is the relevant point of comparison.

If we all held professors accountable for their extracurricular demeanor, one could dig up any number of examples of professors whose prejudice against a particular religion or political ideology has made their classroom behavior suspect. I'd rather live in a world where professors can say pretty much whatever they like outside of class, so long as the classroom itself is a place of learning.

icarus said...

Re: Icarus's point about Nazis and communists. Have we not encountered this argument before -- say, in the 9th grade or so? Their ideologies differ, their tactics are similar; the latter is the relevant point of comparison.

Please see Godwin's Law again.

ie, comparing the "tactics" of a blogger who quotes *publicly available information* to an oppressive regime that kills people is ridiculous and weakens any legitimate point you might have had.

Travis said...

I'm merely testing Motl's analogy, and half-heartedly at that, against Dr. Counter's. They seem cut from the same vine.

Perhaps you can send Dr. Counter a little missive about "Godwin's Law," too?

Brittany said...

Travis- the disclaimer is to avoid being quoted in publications without our knowledge. If we were embarrased of what we were saying.. why would we say it and say where we go to school/basically have people know who we are here? It doesn't block people from ever quoting us, but makes us aware of when our words are being used so that we can see in what context they are being viewed.

How about YOU think before you write? Or at least, think a little more deeply.


Travis said...

Brittany --

Perhaps I'm missing something but if the policy were meant to avoid "being quoted...without our knowledge", why wouldn't it say so plainly and ask people who quote you to inform you that they've done so?

The stated policy requires the asking of "permission" ("n., formal consent: authorization" according to my dictionary).

Not that I really mean to muster a serious retort to your testy "How about YOU think..." -- again, a point reminiscent, a la Icarus's previously, of my long-forgotten 9th grade year -- but does it not seem rather clear that you're the one who could stand to improve her diction?

Anyways, I'd be pleased to *inform* you if anything you write is so asinine as to warrant quotation.

kaya said...

well travis, adam and anyone else who is interested, we'll take it into consideration and change the disclaimer if we feel it's appropriate. but i'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that the precise wording of the disclaimer on our blog is not actually that pressing of a concern to you, so no need to hold your breath. we'll have some new posts up soon and you can find something trivial to latch on to and criticize about those instead. maybe some of my diction will be slightly off. that would certainly prove that my entire argument was wrong...

also, the last two comments on this post are ridiculously hilarious. brittany snapped at travis, and as a retort he told her responses like that are for 9th graders and then ended with one of his own. at least we're all in the same boat, here. i seem to recall that freshman year of high school was a pretty great time.

well, i'm off to homeroom. see y'all later.

Brittany said...

Yeah, I'd have to say that Travis, if you are looking for perfect diction and grammar, and some pretty scintillating punctuation, maybe you should go pick up a book. Clearly the internet is a open source tool that allows everyone to send messages however they see fit- perfect diction or not, it's likely that I'm going to go ahead and speak in the way that is most comfortable and informal because this is my own avenue of expression, not yours.

That being said I think I'm going to go ahead and NOT edit anything that I have said to impress you. After all, you're just some name and text on the internet, and your profile isn't even open to view. You mean absolutely zero to me.

Is that a ninth grade response?
So sorry, I don't care.