Professor Reports Student to Police for Defending Concealed Carry

Feb 282009

At Central Connecticut State University, student John Wahlberg was reported to the police by his professor Paula Anderson, after he gave a presentation in class on campus violence in which he defended concealed carry.

After Wahlberg raised the point that allowing students with concealed weapons permits to carry on campus might have saved lives in incidents such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, Professor Anderson filed a complaint with the campus police against Wahlberg stating that his presentation was making students feel “scared and uncomfortable”.

The police questioned Wahlberg about his own firearms and where he kept them:

“I was a bit nervous when I walked into the police station,” Wahlberg said, “but I felt a general sense of disbelief once the officer actually began to list the firearms registered in my name. I was never worried however, because as a law-abiding gun owner, I have a thorough understanding of state gun laws as well as unwavering safety practices.”

I guess Professor Anderson doesn’t think that academic freedom extends to students arguing to exercise certain constitutionally-protected rights.

As another student noted:

“If you can’t talk about the Second Amendment, what happened to the First Amendment?” asked Sara Adler, president of the Riflery and Marksmanship club on campus. “After all, a university campus is a place for the free and open exchange of ideas.”

Update: As others have noted here and elsewhere (e.g., Volokh and Instapundit), we may not have the full story. So appropriate caution is warranted before leaping to hasty conclusions.

Worthless Study, Worthless Reporting

Feb 282009

Yesterday, I was annoyed to read a Denver Post article on a new diet study. Here’s the opening of the article:

Two decades after the debate began on which diet is best for weight loss, a conclusion is starting to come into focus. And the winner is not low-carb, not low-fat, not high-protein, but any diet.

That is, any diet that is low in calories and saturated fats and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables — and that an individual can stick with — is a reasonable choice for people who need to lose weight. That’s the conclusion of a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, representing the longest, largest and most rigorous test of several popular diet strategies.

Simply based on my own experience — let alone what I’ve read in Good Calories, Bad Calories and elsewhere — I was skeptical of those conclusions. But mostly, I was irritated that the article didn’t provide even the basic data required to support the opinions of its many quoted experts. It didn’t discuss the methods used, the diets tested, or the results. (Seriously!) It was all assertion without any supporting facts.

So I dug up some actual facts about the study at Scientific American:

The study subjects were divided into four groups, each assigned to a special diet. One group ate a “low-fat, average-protein” diet (20 percent fat, 15 percent protein, 65 percent carbs); a second consumed a “low-fat, high-protein” diet (20 percent fat, 25 percent protein, 55 percent carbs); a third followed a “high-fat, average-protein” diet (40 percent fat, 15 percent protein, 45 percent carbs); and the remaining group ate a “high-fat, high-protein” diet (40 percent fat, 25 percent protein, 35 percent carbs). All four regimens were heart-healthy (low in saturated fat and cholesterol) and included 20 grams (0.7 ounce) of daily dietary fiber. For each study participant, the researchers calculated personalized daily consumption levels ranging from 1,200 to 2,400 calories per day.

Duh! The requirement of low saturated fat is really dumb, and the requirement of low dietary cholesterol is even dumber. But more importantly, not one of those diets is genuinely low-carb, and the high-fat diet isn’t that either. As Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal observes in his debunking:

The lowest carbohydrate intake of all the diets was a whopping (yea, I can do the media hype, too) 35%. Presuming an average 2,500 kcal intake per day, that’s about 220 grams of carbs — not “low carb” by any means. So, this is merely a comparison between various moderate to high carb approaches — approaches that leave insulin high and fat mobilization low.

The highest fat intake is only 40%. A true high fat diet is 60%+ of energy from fat. You can’t go above about 35% from protein, and that’s pushing it (25% is more realistic). Simple: protein remains about the same, and the tradeoff is between carbs and fat. This study was heavily weighted in favor of carbs, particularly when one considers that carbs hammer insulin and fat has little to no effect. High insulin = no fat mobilization.

So, given those defects, what did the study actually find? Here’s what the Scientific American article reports:

“No matter which way you look at it, there were no [statistically significant] differences between any of the groups,” Loria says. At six months, the average total weight loss for all of the groups was approximately 14 pounds (6.5 kilograms); by the end of two years that number had dipped to about nine pounds (four kilograms). “A lot of times in these weight loss studies, people tend to regain,” notes Loria, adding that she will now study strategies that help people keep lost pounds off.

In other words, the recommendation of weight loss via “any diet that is low in calories and saturated fats and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables” cited in the Denver Post article is wholly unjustified. The study didn’t test diets varying along any of those dimensions — e.g. more or less refined grains versus no grains, low in saturated fats versus high in saturated fats, more or less fruits and veggies, etc. So any conclusions about the value of those foods in weight loss are completely unwarranted. More particularly, as Richard observed, the study “proved that all diets with excess carbohydrate are crap and deliver virtually no results for most people.”


Walking Cultural Activism: People of Reason

Feb 272009

Tammy and I thought it would be great to produce a series of T-shirt designs for those occasions when it is appropriate to wear our ideas on our sleeves.  Bonus points if they aren’t just provocative but actually spark some good engagement!

Here is a design that underscores a cardinal value, the primary virtue, our essential nature — highlighting a fundamental contrast with all those who tout being people of faith:

(Just click through to BoltOfReason.Com to check out all the available styles and colors. We of course love suggestions and requests — we’re already working on a lot of fun ideas, and if you are the first to hit us with a new one that we use in a future shirt design, you’ll get one for free!)

Homecoming "Queen"

Feb 272009

The Washington Post ran a story the other day on the controversy over the recent George Mason University homecoming queen contest, the “Ms. Mason” pageant.

A gay student and drag queen performer entered “as a joke,” competing as his drag alter ego “Reann Ballslee.” He competed by wearing “a silver bra and zebra-print pants and . . . lip-syncing to Britney Spears’s ‘Womanizer.’” The other contestants included

a government and politics major from Chesapeake and a Chi Omega sorority member who told the school newspaper she should win because “I have pride in Mason to the point where my towels are green and gold.”

“Reann” won the pageant.

“It was just for fun,” Allen, 22, said over coffee at the Johnson Center, where he was congratulated by classmates with hugs and squeals. “In the larger scheme of things, winning says so much about the university. We’re one of the most diverse campuses in the country, and . . . we celebrate that.”

Apparently, the pageant had been held for five years previously with little engagement by the student body. Few students were interested in an event regarded as “the province of pretty blondes and fraternity boys.” This year, however, with Ryan Allen as a contestant, students were interested.

“I’ve never been into homecoming over here. This is the first time I’ve actually wanted to support someone,” said Melissa Benjjani, 21, from Lebanon. “He deserves to be queen. He’s already a queen for everybody.”

All was not joy in Mudville, however, when Reann won. GMU is in a years-long campaign “to revamp its image from commuter school to distinguished institution of higher learning.” Although GMU’s official statement is that the university is “very comfortable with it,” a sophomore who helps with recruiting thinks

“It’s really annoying,” said Bollinger, who works as an ambassador for the admissions office. “The game was on TV. Everyone was there. All eyes were on us. And we do something like this? It’s just stupid.”

When I read this story I did not know what to think. On the one hand, this is clearly a no-skin-off-my nose situation; who cares who the homecoming queen of George Mason University is? Why should there be any controversy? And besides, we live in a country where people are trying to keep gay men and women from getting married to the person they love, so it’s refreshing to see what looks like very public acceptance of one gay man’s lifestyle.

On the other hand, I felt bad that a benign tradition was being subverted in some sense. Wikipedia describes homecoming as a tradition that is “celebrated” by bringing together alumni and others for banquets, a football game, and a ceremony where two students who have “gone above and beyond the call of duty to contribute to their school” are crowned Homecoming King and Queen. Crowning a man homecoming queen as a “joke” seems to thwart what many people expect and enjoy about homecoming celebrations. When Ryan Allen entered the competition, he did not intend to be judged by the same standards as the other two contestants. That is, he was not trying to show school spirit, or to demonstrate that he was a good student, or even that he was the prettiest contestant. He hoped to win despite those standards; he wanted those standards to be disregarded. Put another way — there may not have been any official rule barring a drag queen from participating in George Mason University’s homecoming pageant, but it does seem that when Ryan Allen entered the pageant, he broke the spirit, if not the letter, of the “law.”

Then I remembered what Ayn Rand said about humor:

Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element–which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous . . . .

I wonder: if Ryan Allen entered the pageant as a “joke,” what did he hope people would laugh at? Is the Ms. Mason homecoming pageant the proper subject of a joke? Is there something evil about it, such that it is good to deny its “metaphysical importance?” So far as I am aware, it was never any part of the GMU homecoming tradition to disparage homosexuals, such that the pageant should be considered evil for contributing to prejudice against gay men. If I’m invited to ridicule the pageant as a result of this, am I contributing to the destruction of something evil, or of a value?

Perhaps in the end, what people will take away from this episode (to the extent anyone notices) is that the-times-they-are-a-changin’ — in a good way. But that will only be in contradiction of Ryan Allen’s original intent, which was to make the pageant the subject of a joke. Which means — to destroy the pageant.

Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is in the eye of the beholder. From where I sit this doesn’t look like a harmless joke. It looks like a spiteful prank.

Philosophical Gourmet Report

Feb 262009

The Philosophical Gourmet Report was just updated for 2009. It’s the ranking of graduate programs in philosophy. I’m delighted to see that University of Colorado at Boulder has risen to #26.

Toward the end of my coursework in 2004/2005, our department was in shambles. About half the faculty had left for greener pastures, and even the chairman was on his way to Oxford. The remaining faculty was worried. We graduate students were in something of a panic. If the department tanked, we faced an unpleasant choice of (1) completing the much-disvalued Ph.D at Boulder, then facing less-than-stellar job prospects or (2) starting over (or nearly so) at a different Ph.D program. Almost all of us decided to stay, based on some reasonable assurances that the department would be rebuilt.

From what I understand, the primary difficulty with rebuilding the department was foot-dragging from the administration. The university uses the salaries of vacant faculty positions for other programs, so they wanted to keep our hiring to a snail’s pace.

Happily, Bob Pasnau took over as chair. By working some kind of medieval magic on the university administration, plus making some very clever hires, he managed to build our department back up to nearly full strength. Then — two years ago, I think — David Boonin took over as chair. He continued to build the department, with excellent results. We’re now quite full, as far as I understand.

Overall, the department is better than it was in 2002 when I entered — not just in terms of its rank, but also in its overall atmosphere.


Note: If you wish to say something unpleasant about my department — and thereby disrespect me and make an ass of yourself — you are most emphatically not welcome to do so in these comments.

Your Nest Egg on the Government Bailout

Feb 262009

Amanda Teresi is an activist for free markets and limited government here in Colorado. She runs Liberty on the Rocks, for example. I met her through the Leadership Program of the Rockies (which I’m really enjoying) — and I think very highly of her. She recently made this very clever and memorable video of “your nest egg on the government bailout”:

I’d love to see more Objectivists being so creative and memorable in their activism — in conjunction with the necessary economic and moral arguments, of course.

Atlas Society Death Watch

Feb 252009

Here’s another milestone in slow death of the floundering pseudo-Objectivist group known most recently as “The Atlas Society”: they’re closing down their bookstore.

Once again, I’m pleased. For nearly 20 years, David Kelley and his followers have distorted Objectivism, hampered its spread, and maligned Ayn Rand and other Objectivists. (Yes, it has been that long: David Kelley’s break with Objectivism occurred in March 1989 with “A Question of Sanction.”) It’s about time that came to an end.

Your Evolution Dollars At Work: Chicken Head Tracking!

Feb 252009

In honor of Darwin’s 200th birthday, here’s a little evolutionary coolness to make you smile — and want to go play with a chicken!

Seriously, this is an awesome set of adaptations; just think of the myriad feedback mechanisms at work! Plus, it made me smile… and now I want to go play with a chicken.

Wednesday Open Thread #37

Feb 252009

Here’s yet another Open Thread for your thoughts:

For anyone in the fiery grip of a random question, comment, joke, or link they’d like to share with NoodleFood readers, I hereby open up the comments on this post to any respectable topic. (Please refrain from posting personal attacks, pornographic material, and commercial solicitations.)

Atlas Selling Like Hotcakes

Feb 242009

Here’s some very good news from the Ayn Rand Center:

Sales of “Atlas Shrugged” Soar in the Face of Economic Crisis

Washington, D.C., February 23, 2009–Sales of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” have almost tripled over the first seven weeks of this year compared with sales for the same period in 2008. This continues a strong trend after bookstore sales reached an all-time annual high in 2008 of about 200,000 copies sold.

“Americans are flocking to buy and read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ because there are uncanny similarities between the plot-line of the book and the events of our day” said Yaron Brook, Executive Director at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. “Americans are rightfully concerned about the economic crisis and government’s increasing intervention and attempts to control the economy. Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered, in ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ a principled and practical solution consistent with American values.”


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