Je Suis…

In the week following the Paris shootings in January, French police arrested 54 people in a nationwide crackdown on racist “hate speech,” anti-Semitism and statements defending or threatening terrorism.

Among those detained by the state was French comedian Dieudonné, who allegedly made statements sympathetic to Amedy Coulibaly, said to be responsible for three of the shootings.

Exhibit A: this January 11 Facebook post (since deleted) in which Dieudonné wrote that he felt like “Charlie Coulibaly” – a combination of “Charlie Hebdo” and “Amedy Coulibaly.”

In a separate post he wrote an open letter to France’s PM Manuel Valls, pleading his case:

“Whenever I speak, you do not try to understand what I’m trying to say, you do not want to listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to forbid me. You consider me like Amedy Coulibaly when I am not any different from Charlie.”

Alas, the crime of nameplay is serious – in March, Dieudonné was found guilty by a Paris court of “apologising for terrorism,” for which he received a two-month suspended sentence.

PM Valls clearly didn’t get the message.

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that freedom of speech does not protect “racist and anti-Semitic performances.” Judges rejected an appeal by Dieudonné, who was fined €10,000 in 2009 for giving a platform to a well known Holocaust denier at a show at the Zenith theatre in Paris. 

Dieudonné argued the fine amounted to an infringement of his freedom of speech. Defending himself in court, he said his act was “very funny.” French prosecutors disagreed, ruling that it had “crossed very far over the line of what is acceptable in humour.” 

Well, that clears that up. 

By decree of an enlightened few in Strasbourg, Dieudonné’s taste-free brand of comedy has fallen outside the realm of otherwise free speech, neither “satire nor provocative” but “a demonstration of hate and anti-Semitism.” Today, he faces a two-month prison sentence for comments he made at a show in the Belgian city of Liège in 2012.

Is this what the French mean by “Je Suis Charlie?” Or have we pinned our ideals on just another meaningless slogan?

The David Katz Show

The David Katz Show reached its finale today. Tying up loose ends in a pretty little bow, the Huffington Post took down two articles by Katz, both of which described in glowing terms a book he had written under a pseudonym.

Peter Heimlich has the scoop. Via his blog, The Sidebar

In response to my inquiry [regarding Katz’s failure to disclose a conflict of interest], this morning Huffington Post Standards Editor Victor Brand informed me both columns have been withdrawn from publication.

Now if you click the original link to Dr. Katz’s first column [link removed] you’ll see this:

first column link

Click the original link to his second column [link removed] and you’ll see this:

second column link

Last Saturday, prompted by a query by Heimlich, Amazon took down a similarly worded product review by Katz in which he gave his book five money-making stars.

The curtains may have closed on The David Katz Show…but will there be a spin-off?

The Ban on Everything (cont.)

How do you win the war on drugs? Ban everything.

Overturning centuries of British legal tradition, the Psychoactive Substances Bill – nearing the “report stage” in Parliament – will place a blanket ban on any substance not included on an approved list of exemptions.

MPs are currently tabling amendments on which substances should be exempted from the bill. The window of opportunity closing fast, high-profile gay groups recently met with the Home Office to discuss the possible exemption of the legal high known as “poppers.”

Poppers are a type of alkyl nitrate that when inhaled relaxes the “smooth muscles” of the body. They are especially popular with gay men, for reasons I’ll leave to you to figure out.

Simon Topham, Chief Executive of Millivres Prowler Group (MPG), called on liberal ministers to table their amendments on behalf of the gay community.

Via the Gay Times:

“In my opinion, poppers are not the main or even a major substance use problem in society, and the inclusion of poppers in the bill has been rushed through without proper scientific evidence or debate. We appeal to Labour, SNP and Lib Dem MPs to table their own amendments on behalf of the gay community.”

Topham’s gripe highlights the absurdity of the bill, which would require an encyclopedic list of exemptions to ensure that otherwise legal substances are not unintentionally made illegal.

In its current form, the list of exemptions is far from exhaustive – only alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food and medical products duck prohibition. Let’s not forget the very important addition of homeopathic products and herbal medicines, which the Home Secretary has confirmed will be talked over extensively in Parliament.

The government has permitted the use of sugar pills – how very thoughtful and reassuring. But what of incense and scented candles? What of perfume and air fresheners? What of the aroma of a flower, the scent of a woman? All of which are capable of producing a psychoactive effect,” all of which are not exempted. There are countless more examples.

The choice is yours: you can either lobby the Home Office for an exemption on your drug of choice as Simon Topham has, or you can fight this bastard of a bill to its dying breath.

Hint: opt for the latter.

Living in a Huckster’s Paradise

Yale Daily News staff reporter David Yaffe-Bellany has produced the most detailed account of the David Katz scandal to date. For the uninitiated, I’ll spare the details of a somewhat irrelevant debate between scientists over the merits of the United States Dietary Guidelines.¹

To all intents and purposes, the story begins with this ill-tempered tweet.

Jason Fung David Katz

The tweeter is Dr. Jason Fung, a Toronto-based nephrologist. The ass is David Katz, whose extensive credentials make up more square footage than I’m willing to cover in this post. In short, Katz works as a professor at Yale, moonlighting as Huffington Post columnist. 

The review is for a book titled reVision: Lore of the Corners Trilogy (Book 1), which was supposedly authored by one Samhu Iyyam. The sub-heading on the review reveals the truth.

David Katz Huff Po Update

Poor Professor Katz, blowing his own trumpet to an audience of one. But what a glorious sound! Comparisons with Milton, Yeats, Dickens and Plato aren’t quite good enough. The book resides on a higher plane, where the Bible, the Bill of Rights and the Bhagavad Gita “commingle.” Signing-off (“-fin”), he likens his masterwork to a “truly great wine.” 

As pseudonymous-brag, I give this an A+.

Following Fung’s attention-grabbing tweet, the story was picked up by Peter Heimlich. An independent reporter whose joint research with his wife Karen helped expose the unethical conduct of his famous father, Heimlich has a nose for sniffing out fraud.  

On further investigation, Heimlich uncovered this familiar-sounding synopsis of the Iyyam book by Amazon user “David L. Katz.”

Via Heimlich’s blog, The Sidebar:

David Katz Amazon

The attribution of identical reviews to identical names raises an obvious question, namely: did professor Katz review his own book on Amazon? Awaiting a response to that question from Amazon’s PR team, the hawk-eyed Heimlich nabbed Katz signing-off another book review in his trademark style, where he makes a point of listing his credentials. Oops.

Katz, a one-man content mill churning out articles at the rate of a young L. Ron Hubbard, with whom he shares a gift for puffery, is one of the most oft-quoted sources in the media. Yet his standing as a writer is apparently of so little regard that few seemed to care that he violated basic journalistic standards. 

An artless attempt to redirect the conversation presents the possibility that he might also be immune to the Streisand Effect.

National Nutrition Policy David Katz

Katz states that national nutritional policy is “imperiled by bullies” who criticise his failure to act ethically. By this logic when I call Katz a dangerous huckster I put public health itself in jeopardy. The conceit is that Katz has the power to influence policy on a national level – and yet he lacks the fortitude to overcome a few negative comments. 

As humble-brag, I give this a D.

Though it would be foolish to try to unravel Katz’s tangled logic, let’s momentarily dispense with logic to address the claim that “this is all part of a campaign to undermine the public health for private profit.” Could there really be a cabal of evil scientists out to silence him? 

Back in 2008, Katz gave a speech at the first annual (why not make a habit of it?) symposium on “Integrative Medicine” at Yale University, at which he was quoted as saying that science needed to adopt a “more fluid concept of evidence.”

Via America, Land of the Health Hucksters by David Colquhoun, The Atlantic, 2011:

America, Land of the Health Hucksters David Calquhoun

Katz’s first instinct was to claim Colquhoun had misrepresented his position.

The Guardians of Science David Katz

For if only we had access to his circle of friends, we would understand that Katz cannot be trusted to accurately state his position in a public forum.

In the same article he clarifies his position, restating the much-maligned view that science requires a more fluid concept of evidence.”

The Guardians of Science David Katz 2

Clearly, Colquhoun did not misrepresent Katz’s position. If anything, he was rather generous, clearing sufficient space on his blog to accommodate Katz’s many qualifications, even providing a link to a video where the distinguished professor is allowed to speak at length.

Issues over misrepresentation lie with Katz alone, who seems to have trouble admitting when he is wrong. Even his apology for pseudonymously deceiving readers, requiring him merely to simulate sincerity, is spoiled by his compulsion to self-aggrandise – he can’t help but refer to his own book as “an epic fiction novel.”

As vainglorious-brag, this one deserves a solid B.

Katz portrays himself as the solitary scientist. A lone voice in the wilderness, singlehandedly taking on whom he calls the Guardians of Science. It’s a convenient cover, one that masks a multitude of sins. However, it fails to explain why his critics are largely relegated to the bowels of the blogosphere, while he enjoys a prominent platform on the Huffington Post.² 

Ah, the Huffington Post, that mainstay of quality content. Where self-confessed quacks are free to extol the virtues of complementary and alternative medicine. Where nobody cares that cancer isn’t a toxin. Where books receive glowing reviews from their own authors. As Fred Brown, spokesman for the Society of Professional Journalists, told the Yale Daily News: it ain’t ethical.

As for the unresolved matter of the Amazon book review, Yaffe-Bellany has succeeded in extracting this telling comment from Katz.

Yale Daily News David Katz quote

That he fails to grasp why some might consider his behaviour unethical does not reflect well on his professional standards. 

Is this what passes for intellectual integrity at Yale?

¹Investigative reporter Nina Teicholz, whose writing challenges the science on diet and nutrition, was criticised by Katz in the Huffington Post last year. His focus is an article by Teicholz that featured in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) earlier that year.

In his article, Katz makes several references to the fact that Teicholz had recently written a book on the history of nutrition science, titled The Big Fat Surprise. The implication is that the impetus for Teicholz’s article was to promote her book. This is unfair, as Teicholz does not refer to her book in her article.

Katz also states that, unlike Teicholz, he does not have a book to sell. Teicholz’s response points out that Katz has in fact written no less than seven diet books. 

If you want to make money, you write seven diet books, as David Katz has done, and whom I mention because he has prominently accused me of being motivated only by book sales (Perhaps he is thinking of his own motivations, since Katz charges $3500 an hour, according to his deposition, to consult with companies, including Chobani, for whom he [was] hired to defend the sugar content of its yogurt; Katz is also supported by Hershey’s, Quaker Oats, and JuicePlus, who sell the kind of high-carb products that he promotes in his work).

On November 5, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published an open letter requesting that the BMJ issue a retraction of Teicholz’s article. David Katz was one of many scientists who signed the letter.

²In July 2012, the Huffington Post was ranked #1 on the 15 Most Popular Political Sites list by eBizMBA Rank.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

There were few celebrations this week over the announcement that Katie Hopkins will not face criminal charges for an article she wrote in April comparing migrants to cockroaches.

An October 29 letter from the Metropolitan Police Special Enquiry Team makes it official:

Dear Ms Hopkins,

Allegation of crime – no further action

Further to my previous letters I now write to inform you that the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to charge you with any offences. This is in relation to allegations made following an article written by you published in the Sun Newspaper on Friday the 17th of April 2015 and your radio broadcast on LBC on Sunday the 19th of April 2015. I understand that your solicitor has already informed you of this decision.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Howard Holt – Detective Inspector
Special Enquiry Team

The announcement came mere hours after the news that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dropped charges against Goldsmiths student diversity officer Bahar Mustafa.

Although they’d most likely be loath to admit it, Hopkins and Mustafa are two sides of the same coin. Free once more to offend sensibilities without restriction from the state, those of us who despise what they have to say are saved the trouble of having to defend it.

Bahar Mustafa: Free Again

Bahar Mustafa, the Goldsmiths student diversity officer who was due to appear in court after allegedly tweeting the hashtag #killallwhitemen, has had charges against her dropped.

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) letter obtained by the Guardian states that the decision to discontinue charges was taken because of a lack of evidence.

Mustafa was to appear at Bromley Magistrates court on Thursday charged with sending threatening and grossly offensive messages via Facebook and Twitter.

The Facebook post, in which Mustafa disinvited white men from attending a student union meeting, led to accusations of all manner of -isms when it appeared in April. 

Mustafa’s response leaned heavily on dogmatic assertions that ethnic women are incapable of racism and sexism towards white men. 

“I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender and therefore women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”

The subsequent tweet, deploying a popular hashtag in the name of snark, did not inspire sympathy for the cause.

In an interview with Vice, Mustafa defended the use of the hashtag by feminists as a way of expressing frustration at white men.

“Like when you say #FML, you aren’t literally telling people to fuck your life. It’s an expression of how somebody is feeling, not what they are telling people to do. It isn’t a command. The #KillAllWhiteMen hashtag is something that a lot of people in the feminist community use to express frustration.”

One of the core arguments for Safer Spaces and No Platform policies is that verbal offence is equally damaging to a person’s wellbeing as physical violence. It’s ironic then to find Mustafa downplaying the impact of her words. 

She went on to defend the censorious practice of No Platforming right-wing speakers.

“I think that with no platforming, what we are saying is that when the fascists or the far-right are marching in the streets and trying to build their movement, we should have the right to go there and protest against their presence and defend our streets. It is an action, not something passive. It is deciding democratically as a collective what we want to spend our finite resources on. We have the right to say we don’t want to listen to your bullshit.”

The conflation of verbal offence with physical violence, so that otherwise harmless words and opinions are treated as criminal acts worthy of prosecution, is a disaster for free speech.

Students who use this line of argument to justify the muzzling of right-wing speakers leverage power to authorities to dictate acceptable forms of expression.

Although Mustafa describes the practice of No Platforming as a democratic process, she is essentially endorsing the very measures that were used to prosecute her.

Her rejection of support from Katie Hopkins and Milo Yiannopoulos draws the issue along purely ideological lines.

“Well they are not my allies – I did not ask for their support and I don’t want it. They stand for everything I’m against. I was so embarrassed when Hopkins tweeted in support – I would never accept the support from an attention seeking, classist idiot who thinks immigrants are less than vermin.”

Freedom of speech is not an ideological issue. If you truly care about individual liberty and the rights of the oppressed, you should be willing to defend speech that offends you, whether the speaker is a Bible-thumping white man or patriarchy-smashing woman of colour. 

Student activists like Mustafa seem to believe they are immune to prosecution. They naively assume that British law is sympathetic to their ideals, understands the plight of the oppressed, and is capable of making a distinction between incitement and mere hyperbole. 

But authorities aren’t sold on the rhetoric of oppression because they care about the safety of students; they’re sold on the suppression of dissent because hate speech laws make for easy convictions, the standard for what constitutes offensive speech being entirely subjective.

It’s shameful that Mustafa was prosecuted for tweeting, an inexcusable violation of freedom of speech made worse by the possibility that she has learned nothing from the experience. 

To the crybaby requesting that the CPS review its decision to drop charges: you suck. 

The Ban on Everything

“Look at that, a £100,000 in the pocket of the filth that sells it. A big yellow death bullet in the head of some poor user – or custard gannet as the dealers call them.” – Sir David Amess MP, Chair of the Psychoactive Substances Bill Committee*

Wave goodbye to incense and scented candles, a new bill banning “psychoactive substances” currently inching its way through Parliament could soon make it illegal to produce, supply or trade any substance that, quote, “affects [a] person’s mental functioning or emotional state.”

Sponsored by Theresa May and Lord Bates, the poorly-worded bill comes in response to public upset following a string of deaths linked to so-called “legal highs.” 

The National Health Service (NHS) describes legal highs as “substances that have similar effects to illegal drugs like cocaine or cannabis.” 

Previous attempts to ban the sale of legal highs have proven ineffective, partly because of “loopholes” in the law that allow for the creation of new legal compounds by making small structural changes to an illegal chemical.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill sidesteps this problem by placing a blanket ban on any substance which:

(a) is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, and
(b) is not an exempted substance (see section 3).

The scope of the bill could hardly be broader, prohibiting any substance not included on an approved list of exemptions. If passed, it would become a criminal offence to spray perfume or hang an air freshener.

In a letter to the Home Secretary in August, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) took issue with the government’s broad definition of “psychoactivity,” which fails to differentiate legal highs from items like nutmeg, incense or flowers, all of which are substances with a psychoactive effect.

• The scope of this definition is unnecessarily broad, with the potential for unintended consequences.

• An impossible list of exemptions will be needed. No matter how carefully a list of ‘exemptions’ is drawn, the possibility that relatively harmless substances may be included is ever present.

• A disproportionate weight to the importance of psychoactive ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ materials is given in this definition. These materials are relatively few in number by comparison with the hundreds of NPS entering Europe and the UK. 

• Psychoactivity cannot be definitively proven.  

The government’s slippery grasp of the issue was made apparent during a recent debate in the House of Commons, where ministers were unable to agree on a working definition. 

The Right Honourable Norman Lamb provided the voice of sanity:

“Is it not extraordinary that at this point of our consideration of a Bill there is such concern about the possible implications of a definition? The view of many is that it is impossible to provide a scientifically or legally meaningful definition of a psychoactive substance. The definition is very broad. At least in principle, it could cover thousands of plants, spices, herbal remedies and over-the-counter medicines.”

With rational inquiry all but extinguished, the Psychoactive Substances Bill has been allowed to pass through Parliament unchecked. If nothing else, it provides a winning strategy for the war on drugs: ban everything.

*David Amess made this statement on the “Drugs” episode of the spoof current affairs television programme Brass Eye, in which he was fooled into filming an elaborate warning against the dangers of fictional Eastern European drug “cake.”

He was appointed chair of the Psychoactive Substances Bill Committee in October.

PETA and the Plague

An Oregon teenager who contracted the bubonic plague during a hunting trip has received some unsolicited words of encouragement.

To the young women recovering from bubonic plague,

I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 3 million members and supporters, including thousands across Oregon. Please accept this care package filled with vegan items, which we hope you’ll enjoy when you’re able. We’d also like to send our deepest wishes that you make a speedy, full recovery. Many of us have teenagers in our own families and would absolutely hate for this to happen to any of them, so we’re really rooting for you.

This terrifying ordeal may have a lifelong impact on how you see the world. As you’re striving to overcome this disease, we wonder if you might also consider permanently laying down your weapons and vowing never to harm and kill another living being again.

Hunted animals feel pain and suffer in the same ways that you and I do, and their sisters, brothers, mothers, and friends grieve their loss, much like your family must have feared losing you. As you probably realize, many animals are shot and injured but not killed outright, and many endure prolonged, painful deaths from infection, blood loss, or starvation.

We hope some good will come out of your ordeal and that you’ll decide to choose to enjoy nature in nonviolent ways. Thank you for thinking about this important issue, and again, we wish you all the best during your recovery. 

Very truly yours,
Ingrid Newkirk
President

Before you attack Newkirk’s motives, put yourself in her shoes. If after 35 years of tireless self-promotion, shameless advertising campaigns, unsupported scientific claimsphysical attacks on celebrities and opponents, pets kidnapped from porches, corpses disposed of in dumpsters, PETA is unable to save the soul of one severely ill teenager, what hope is there?