Cambridge university

Changing course at Cambridge and Oxford


People who make an application for a place at a Cambridge or Oxford college may have a reason, a very good reason,  for applying to an Oxford college rather than a Cambridge college. If they have no particular preference, then there's a very good reason why they should apply to Cambridge rather than Oxford: the Cambridge course system is vastly more flexible than the Oxford one.


From the site

'Changing course

'Due to scope and flexibility of our courses, most students stay on the same degree course. However, it's possible to change course after one or two years.

Most changes are within the sciences or within the arts, but students can switch between broad areas as well. Not everything is possible but there’s a surprising degree of flexibility and, as such, a wide range of subject combinations are available.'


By contrast, the Oxford system is inflexible, rigid. It doesn't cater at all adequately for changes of mind, the result, sometimes, of intellectual exploration and adventurousness. Once someone has been accepted at an Oxford College for subject X, such as history, or subjects X and Y, such as archaeology and anthropology, or subjects X, Y and Z, such as philosophy, politics and economics and has begun to study the subjects, then unfortunates who realize that they made a mistake are overwhelmingly likely to be stuck with the subject or subjects until the time when they sit their final examinations, and beyond.


Institutions, and institutional arrangements, should be able to cater for well-founded changes of mind so far as possible. When a marriage institution in a country allowed for no changes of mind, when it made no provision at all for the person who had decided, for very good reasons (and sometimes for bad reasons) that they had married the wrong person, then reform was necessary.


Cambridge courses, unlike Oxford courses, do make provision for changes of mind. Someone who chooses to study theology at Oxford in their impressionable teenage years after 'finding God' but who loses his or her faith after a year of theology at Oxford is stuck with theology. At Cambridge, the Tripos system allows the person to choose another subject, subject to some restriction, a change to English, perhaps, or even to Natural Science.


At Oxford, anyone who chooses to study Chemistry but who 'finds God' during the first year of study is stuck with Chemistry, even if study of New Testament Greek and other topics in the theology curriculum now has much greater appeal.


The tripos system at Cambridge has very substantial advantages. A course unit system would offer even greater flexibility. To mention just one instance, there are students who wouldn't wish to give all their academic time to study of Classics but who would like to study one or more course units in classics - the historiography of Thucydides, perhaps, or Greek tragedy, including the study of Aristotle's 'Poetics' and the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euridides - but not, let's say, to study Livy, Cicero, Caesar, Roman history and other topics which are part of the specialist Classics curriculum.  A classics department would have a great deal to gain if it were able to provide teaching for students such as these, as would be possible in a course unit system.


It's mistaken to think that if someone doesn't study only subject X, or X and Y, then the person is a 'dilettante,' with no hope of experiencing academic thoroughness. The existence of the triple course Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford shows that the Oxford authorities think differently. In fact, excessive specialization is liable to encourage minds who are 'thorough' within the specialization but dilettantes outside it.


In academic work which demands scholarly skills, a very substantial part of the whole, of course, it would be beneficial to consider that scholarly skills are very widely applicable - they have many application-spheres. A wider range of application-spheres does nothing to lessen the scholarly skills which are applied.


In the 'Philosophical Investigations,' section 593, Wittgenstein refers to 'a one-sided diet: one nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example.' ('einseitige Diät: man nährt sein Denken nur mit einer Art von Beispielen.'  He claims that this is 'a main cause of philosophical diseases,' but the remark is more widely applicable. It may well be that theologians, literary scholars and others can be saved from speaking or writing in nonsensical terms if they have studied the concrete realities to be found in social and economic history, for example.






Changing course at Cambridge and Oxford

Cambridge protest and Cambridge English
Dr Owen Holland and the English Faculty
Dr Ian Patterson and 'unparalleled outrage'
Dr Jason Scott-Warren: 'Out! Out! Out!'
Dr Andrew Zurcher, selective libertarian
Dr Priyamvada Gopal's Rules of Etiquette

Cambridge protest and Cambridge Philosophy 
Dr Lorna Finlayson, Philosopher Queen    

Cambridge Christianity 
Selwyn College
Christ's College

Cambridge Feminism

Professor Rae Langton
Professor Sandra Harding
Dr Lauren Wilcox
Dr Rachel Bower and the F word

Cambridge Classics and Mary Beard



Material on Cambridge university, like material on a significant number of other topics on the site, is highly dispersed. This page amongst other things is a guide to material on Cambridge University which can be found on other pages of the site and provides a convenient way of finding it. In some cases, there's an extract on this page of material from another page. This is the newest page on the site. Material here will be revised and extended.


Here, I concentrate my attention on Cambridge mediocrity and Cambridge stupidity rather than Cambridge excellence, but I do discuss some Cambridge advantages, very important advantages. In my page Ethics: theory and practice I discuss the importance of 'outweighing' in ethics and other spheres. I don't claim in the least that Cambridge mediocrity and Cambridge stupidity outweigh Cambridge excellence.

Mediocrity and stupidity at Cambridge University in  past centuries took forms which were very different in many ways from present-day mediocrity and stupidity. Michael Grant's book 'Cambridge' mentions the case of Richard Watson, who, 'on appointment to the Chair of Chemistry (1764), declared he had never read a syllable on the subject, or seen a single chemical experiment; and for the Chair of Divinity, to which he moved seven years later, he was scarcely better qualified.'


'Cambridge excellence' flourishes, at the Cavendish laboratory, the engineering laboratories and many other places, including the Faculty of English but Cambridge excellence  coexists with Cambridge stupidity. Cambridge University is associated with immense scientific achievement, including the achievement of Newton. Cambridge University is also the place where Sandra Harding is a Visiting Professor - at the Centre for Gender Studies - for the Academic Year 2017 - 2018.


Sandra Harding's 'The Science Question in Feminism' is the book that contains the deranged claim that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual' because, she alleges, 'science is a male rape of female nature.'  According to this view, then, the science laboratories at Cambridge are full of 'rapists' busy 'raping' 'female nature.'

It would be an exaggeration to claim that there's something rotten in the state of the English Faculty at Cambridge, but, even if 'parts of it are excellent,' even if the strengths of the Faculty outweigh the faults, or, it may be, far outweigh the faults, some flaws seem  substantial,  impossible to ignore.  


  I don't criticize any undergraduate or graduate students still at Cambridge University. Owen Holland was a postgraduate student at the time of his protest but he went on to become a career development fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and now, he's a teaching fellow at University College, London.

Cambridge protest and Cambridge English

Dr Owen Holland and the Cambridge English Faculty


(1) Owen Holland is the postgraduate student and arbiter, who decided that his views were so important that he had a duty to  protect Cambridge and the wider world from views not nearly so important as his own, such as the views of David Willetts, Minister of a democracy, who had been invited to speak at Cambridge but wasn't allowed to speak -  Owen Holland and his supporters had decided this should be so.

2) Owen Holland is the 'poet' whose grotesque and rambling 'poem' wasn't received with a stern Cambridge warning against incompetent and slovenly use of language. Dr Priyamvada Gopal of the Cambridge English Faculty, for instance, didn't find anything to object to. An exception is Dr Andrew Zurcher of Queens College, who supported the protest, with slight reservations. In the case of the text itself, his reservations weren't slight. He wrote,


'The CDE protest text [the one declaimed by Owen Holland] was a shambles.'  It's to his credit that he calls it a 'text' and not a poem.' This member of the Cambridge English Faculty seems to have overlooked the fact that it was a Cambridge graduate in English Literature, Owen Holland' who was obviously oblivious of the multiple flaws of the text. Its hideous flaws suggest that it's possible to graduate in English literature from Cambridge University with a very striking insensitivity to words, a way with words which is so poor that it raises some troubling questions about the Faculty. Its hideous flaws suggest that it's possible to teach literature in the Faculty of English - to give just one example, Dr Gopal - without recognizing the hideous flaws. Even so, I've no general, far-reaching criticisms to make here of the Faculty or the University.


The extracts  from the 'protest text' and my comments on the 'protest text' will make it completely clear that I agree. It was a shambles. Below, I refer to it as a 'poem,' a text with no serious claims to be considered as poetry. I also refer to it as a 'pose-'poem.' '


Owen Holland studied  at St Catherine's College, Cambridge. He has a Cambridge MA degree in English and a Cambridge PhD, as well as an MA in Critical Theory from Sussex University. Of course, possession of a Cambridge degree in English Literature can't possibly guarantee that the graduate writes poetry which is better than mediocre, but it should guarantee that the graduate avoids elementary mistakes in the use of language.  Obviously, standards at Cambridge aren't  stratospherically high in every respect. A possessor of a Cambridge first degree in English can still produce a text - or a 'poem' - that is 'a shambles.'  An academic at Cambridge University, Dr Gopal for instance, failed to see any problems with 'the poem.'


(3) Owen Holland is - or was - a demonizer of Israel, Owen Holland is the specialist - the specialist misuser of words, such as the word 'apartheid,' the specialist so absorbed in his condemnation of Israel that he seems to have omitted to carry out a responsible survey of the intractable problems of the Middle East and other issues relevant to his condemnation, such as apartheid in South Africa, and there are many of them. Like many another Oxford and Cambridge academic, and many another academic at many other universities, he seems someone with a degree of rigour, or the appearance of rigour, or spurious rigour in his own field (which includes study of William Morris) and a dilettante when he comments on matters outside his field. Academics who have made a deep study of matters such as the complex histories of Middle Eastern countries, military tactics and strategy, the ethical problems raised by military action, and many other fields with a vast and complex literature, don't in general comment on William Morris. If they did, they should make strenuous efforts to know enough about William Morris to comment on him.  People with an interest in specialisms far removed from  harsh and unforgiving fields like military action often see no reason why they shouldn't lay down the law, unequipped, unprepared, inadequate, vulnerable.


I think the university's duty of care to students is an  important consideration in the protest led by Owen Holland at Cambridge. Some forms of protest may entail physical dangers, not applicable to this protest at Cambridge, unlike some other, non-physical dangers. Academics who encourage students to take  unnecessary risks, from a position of safety, have to be questioned. Owen Holland  probably didn't give nearly enough thought to some possible consequences of his protest.


Dr Jason Scott-Warren, fellow of Gonville and Caius College (who should have given thought to some possible consequences for students who took part in the protest, above all some possible consequences for Owen Holland):

'It wasn’t only students who were involved in this ‘protest'; several academics were involved too. I was one of them. I was told in advance ... about what was planned, and when it started I joined in with the chant that drowned Willetts out.'

The YouTube video which records the protest:


'The chant that drowned Willetts out' begins at 11.45 in the video. Who were the other academics who were involved in the protest? Did none of them realize that this was a protest that had got out of hand? The should have realized that long before 'the chant that drowned out Willetts' which began at 11.45. They should have realized that there could well be repercussions for Owen Holland and risks for the  reputation of the University. This was a deranged protest.


A viewing of the full video is likely to be a tedious experience but should be attempted if at all possible for a full appreciation of the deranged protest and the part played by Owen Holland - and not in a subsidiary role. He was the most prominent protester by far and it made perfect sense to impose sanctions on him. The evidence was clear-cut.  It would have been impossible to identify and unjust to impose sanctions on everyone involved. But identifying some at least of the other academics who were involved was feasible, surely.  Dr Jason Scott-Warren admitted that he took part. Sanctions on him and any other academics who can be proved to have taken part would have been justified, I think.  I don't discuss here the price that Owen Holland paid for his mock-heroic protest. I'll simply state that I think the original sanction, suspension from the University for seven terms, was much too harsh, but a strong sanction was essential to deter future disruption of this kind.


This is a very short account of the protest,


'Holland, an English literature student, stood up and shouted out the lines, which were amplified by several other protesters in a human megaphone style.' The extracts from the so-called  poem below are transcribed from the video, except for the opening lines. I haven't been able to find a text version of the rest.


'The Best of Private Eye 1974' has a hilarious piece 'The Unpublishable Diaries of Evelyn Baugh.' It includes Baugh at Oxford - not, in isolation, particularly hilarious:

'He was enchanted by the wit, the elegance, the insouciant sophistication of post-war Oxford. It was the time of the famous 'aesthetes', including the legendary Hon. Sid Beloff, who kept a peacock in his rooms at Christchurch, and once astonished a group of passing rowing men by chanting at them through a megaphone Verlaine's poem "Bonjour matelots".


I don't think that the not-quiet-so-legendary Owen Holland ever kept a peacock in his room at St Catherine's, but his protest at Cambridge was just as ridiculous as the action of the legendary Sid Beloff.


The protest was ridiculous but no laughing matter. His language was stale and stilted. He called a letter an 'epistle,' if he had made a joke - very unlikely - he might well have called it a 'jest.'


I've not been able to find a 'definitive' version of this minipiece or rather micropiece - opposites of a masterpiece, to varying degrees. The extracts below are transcribed from the video. In a few places the sound is unclear to some extent. In written form, the badness of the lines is even more striking, Owen Holland's limitations even more evident: a  severe disadvantage, I would have thought, in a Cambridge-educated man  who now has the job of teaching students of English literature at Jesus College, Oxford.


This is the opening of the long pose-'poem' shouted out by Owen Holland.


The future does not belong to you.
This is an epistle
which is addressed to you.
But it is written
for those who will come after us.
Because we do not respect your right
to occupy the platform.


The 'poem' has yet to reach full stupidity, but already, there's more than the promise of stupidity in abundance.

Consider 'it is written / for those who will come after us.' The 'poet' is actually claiming to have written a 'poem' which has lasting significance, or should have lasting significance! He's writing for generations still to come - or one generation at least.


This grandiose claim can be compared with claims to lasting significance based on the writer's justified pride in work well done, such as Thucydides' claim that his history of the Peloponnesian War is 'a possession for all time'  (κτῆμά τε ἐς αἰεὶ) in section 1:22  The Roman poet Horace (Q. Horatius Flaccus claimed 'I have raised a monument more permanent than bronze' (Exegi monumentum aere perennius), Carmina III, 30. And, of course, the poetry has lasted to this day.


Owen Holland addresses the minister:

... you come with a knife
concealed beneath your cloak


We have already seen
the fixed gaze of the hired assassin.


This is inflated rubbish, rubbish perpetrated by someone with the benefit of a Cambridge University English degree - people not so fortunate, humble builders, for example, are very unlikely to have the knowledge needed to perpetrate this particular form of stupidity. Even so, builders, have their own expertise and skills, setting an example for Owen Holland which he can't match in the field of poetic composition. Here, he's a jerry builder with words, a beginner and a bungler and a bodger. This is emphatically not' 'a possession for all time.'


The poet-poseur, or 'poet'-poseur quickly explains why he detests David Willetts so much, or some of the reasons, and why David Willetts shouldn't be allowed to speak, according to this particular arbiter:


You have professed your commitment
to the religion of choice
but you leave us with no choice.


The protestors had no choice - can he be serious? They had the choice of standing outside the venue before David Willetts was due to speak, handing out leaflets to people who had decided to attend the event. There was no compulsion to wreck the event, to strengthen the growing Cambridge reputation for intolerance.


Another objection, which would only be decisive to people like Owen Holland:


You are a man
who believes in the market
[rather than state control of the market]
and in the power of competition [and not state control]
to drive up quality.
But look to the world around you.
Your gods have failed.


He's probably unaware of the book 'The God that failed: six studies in communism' which includes pieces by Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Stephen Spender and others. Whatever gods failed in the case of  David Willetts, allegedly, they're not to be equated with the vengeful God of communism.


'The highest death tolls that have been documented in communist states occurred in the Soviet Union  under Joseph Stalin,  in the People's Republic of China  under Mao Zedong, and in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. The estimates of the number of non-combatants killed by these three regimes alone range from a low of 21 million to a high of 70 million.'


There follows, after more forgettable verbiage, a laboured comparison which has only one advantage: it injects just a little laboured but unintended humour into the diatribe. Dr Gopal is just one of the Cambridge academics who seem not to have realized that this isn't poetry:


So we are climbing into the driving seat
because your steering is uncomfortable to us
and your destination
is not of our choosing.


So let us begin
by activating the emergency brake.


This is quickly followed by a blatant contradiction. After insisting that 'we are climbing into the driving seat' he now insists


We have no desire
to be put into the driving seat.
There are chairs enough in our libraries.


He seems to overlook the obvious point that chairs have different functions. A chair in a library can provide support but can't perform the functions of a car seat. More on libraries:


Would that there were more libraries,
because these are the only seats of learning
that we would wish to know.


Other 'seats of learning' are ignored. Professorial chairs are ignored. Laboratories and lecture theatres are ignored. It seems that he never bothered to revise these lines, but I can find no evidence that he revised any of the lines in the 'poem.'


Libraries do give rise to some obvious difficulties for Owen Holland. This is a view of the library of Jesus College, or some of it:



The Bodleian Library is much larger, of course - the second largest in the country, and a National deposit library, entitled to request one copy of every book published in the United Kingdom within a year of publication. Owen Holland's views of the spoken word are clear enough - if he disagrees  sufficiently strongly and is able to put a stop to it, then he does put a stop to it, at least he did in this case.   What is his view of the written word, such as the books in libraries? A library such as the Bodleian is very comprehensive. It contains books which give the arguments for and the arguments against, for example the arguments for a particular policy in higher education and the arguments against. Does Owen Holland question this? Would he throw out books which promote conservative policy in higher education, for instance? I take it that he and his supporters wouldn't engage in anything as crude as book burning? The  plaque which marks the place where Nazis burned books in Frankfurt is a harrowing record of the event.


From my page on Bullfighting: arguments against and action against:

I've never at any time attempted to suppress pro-bullfighting views, Anti-bullfighting activists who do try to suppress pro-bullfighting views are very much mistaken - not mistaken about bullfighting,  but very much mistaken in opposing the free flow of ideas.


All attempts to suppress pro-bullfighting books or other printed materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting films or internet materials, to suppress pro-bullfighting talks and lectures, are deeply misguided. In 'the marketplace of ideas,' I regard anti-bullfighting arguments as decisively, overwhelmingly superior to pro-bullfighting arguments. The anti-bullfighting case needs no censorship of pro-bullfighting views.

The principle that there should be a free flow of ideas, information and evidence is a principle under attack. It's essential to defend it. I know of one organization which called upon a bookseller to remove a pro-bullfighting book from sale and was successful. This was a bad mistake on the part of the organization and the bookseller. There are many threats to freedom of expression, threats which may be veiled or violent.  They come from believers in  political correctness, Islamists and others. A bookshop or library should be under no pressure to deny shelf-space to books which criticize political correctness, Islam and bullfighting and books which support political correctness, Islam and bullfighting, and similarly for other issues. Before I could read Alexander Fiske-Harrison's Into the Arena it was necessary for me to buy a copy or borrow a copy from a library. I bought a copy. The idea that I should be expected to criticize Alexander Fiske-Harrison's defence of bullfighting on the basis of a few things I'd heard, without having read the book, is repugnant.


It's overwhelmingly likely that Cambridge University Library will continue to be a very comprehensive repository of print materials which aren't censored but publishing can't possibly be as comprehensive as librarianship. Even so, some of the output of the magnificent and shockingly bad Cambridge University Press goes well beyond mediocrity, some of its biases are blatant: I think that the term 'political correctness' is in need of replacement, but whatever replaces it, Cambridge University Press is likely to treat the questioning of political correctness as 'not suitable' for its list. . It will continue to publish philosophers' debates on the reality of the external world, on solipsism, and of course other epistemological topics, but it isn't very likely to publish academic doubts on this particular reality. Columbia University Press has published a very good book edited by Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral, 'Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent.'


The site examines in detail one of its less successful attempts, The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney. See, for example, Fran Brearton: Bowdlerizing and Breartonizing and Guinn Batten and the drowned sheep. For a discussion of academic over-loading, there's the section Allusions: The Greek Donkey.


The range of human sufferings, the range of human cruelties, the range of human imperfections are ignored in Owen Holland's monomaniac pursuit of David Willetts. Contrary to what Owen Holland may believe, David Willetts isn't one of the worst men who has ever lived and the views of David Willetts on such matters as higher education, choice and the economy aren't amongst the most shocking views ever to have been put forward. If the benefits of a Cambridge education don't include an understanding of such elementary points as these then so much the worse for a Cambridge education, at least in the Faculty of English.


The next line is one of the worst in the entire diatribe. I've used capital letters for emphasis.



Tony Pinkney of Lancaster University wrote,

'Clearly Owen’s spirited protest ... comes from his Morrisian values and Cambridge’s brutal reprisal against him is by the same token an attack on academic work on Morris and utopia.'


'Morrisian values' are conveyed by means of a moronic poem. This is yet another academic who would react very very badly, I think, if one day students at one of his lectures started shouting, 'Pinkney! Pinkney! Pinkney! Out! Out! Out!' Whether 'Morrisian values' inspired their protest or not.


Owen Holland makes a rousing call to arms, not by any stretch of the imagination by poetic means, although there are propagandist Soviet 'poets' who have written lines  just as bad as these:


... we will stand with our teachers
on their picket lines.


More pose-'poetry' follows, not routine at all, much worse than routine. He refers to


Your methodistic framework of excellence
your chummy invitation
to hop on board
and serve the needs of the economy ...


Poetic excellence is completely absent from the line 'Your methodistic framework of excellence. '


If the economy is irrelevant to Dr Owen Holland, if the needs of the economy are completely irrelevant, if he ignores the fact that so many benefits, in health, education and other spheres, are dependent upon economic health, then I only hope that only a small minority of  other graduates from the Faculty share these views.


But he insists that


... we are schooled
in a different kind of pedagogy.


It can be assumed that people who studied in the Cambridge Faculty of English and emerged unscathed, with a BA and possibly a PhD degree know the meaning of a word like 'pedagogy.' It can't be assumed that they have even low-level skills in some of the uses of words.


This prime piece of pretentiousness is followed quite quickly by


We understand that you do not like
to be told that you are wrong
so we also understand
that you do not want us to think
too rigorously
or creatively.


Owen Holland's capacity for rigorous or creative thought is difficult to detect.


The muscularity and vigour available in English are completely missing from the next prissy lines (not forgetting all the other lines.)


It is inappropriate
to lay out to you
the terms of your own wrongness.


Here, and in other places, the protest text makes assumptions about some imperfections of humanity: David Willetts is the villain and the protestors are virtuous, very, very virtuous, Owen Holland included.


Another view of the imperfections of humanity, to be found in Kant's "'Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made,' Isaiah Berlin's loose translation of 'Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert,' from 'Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher,' Absicht, 6. Satz (1784).)


A contrast of great interest, I think, from Friedrich Hölderlin's 'Lebenslauf' (1800):


Herrscht im schiefesten Orkus
Nicht ein Grades, ein Recht noch auch?

Where Orkus ('Orcus') is the  underworld of Roman mythology.


In my translation,


Does there not reign even in most crooked Orcus
a Straightness, a Law too?


This  is a very short reminder of wonderful, concentrated poetry after so much examination of diffuse dross, with dross still to be examined - but I've already made it clear that this dross shouldn't be regarded as poetry, even the modest poetic achievement which Gerard Manley Hopkins called 'Parnassian.'


Owen Holland is making an effort to begin an academic career. He's a 'Career Development Fellow' at Jesus College, Oxford. These Fellows are given help in obtaining their first academic post. Not long before he became a Career Development Fellow, the idea of a career was far from his mind, as the 'poem' makes clear. He asks of David Willetts,


But has it not occurred to you
that the notion of scholarship
far from leading to a profession
may in fact preclude it?


Unless, of course, this was just for show - the young idealist stressing his refusal to conform to worldly ways.

For the time being, Jesus College is stuck with a fellow paid to teach English literature with so little feeling for words that he can perpetrate 'may in fact preclude it' as a line in what has been widely regarded as a poem.


Possessions, like professions, are unimportant to him - or were at the time he denounced David Willetts and attacked other targets with his feeble blunderbuss.


We none of us believe
that any of our possessions are our own.


What - did he read those words after he'd written them to check if they would  make him appear ridiculous when he declaimed them in public? Does he really claim that he owns nothing? If so, there's nothing of his which a thief could steal.


Soon, the easily led were chanting this:


We are both measurably younger
and immeasurably older
than you.

A little later, this incompetent dramatist, or rather this incompetent over-dramatizer gives us this:

You can threaten to shoot at us
with rubber bullets.
You can arrest us.
You can imprison us.

Followed very quickly by this (again, capital letters supplied)


And the supporters repeat it


He takes the trouble to explain why David Willetts can't possibly rape these protestors:

Because we are more resolute
more numerous
and more determined than you.

The fact that the protestors are more numerous than David Willetts is a statement of the obvious, but this gves the clear impression that Owen Holland believes that people who are outnumbered are very likely to be in the wrong.

At last,  he comes to the climax:

The nub of the issue is this:

What can he be referring to? What is the decisive point? He gives the answer immediately:

You do not have confidence in yourself.

And the chanters repeat it.

At 11.45 in the YouTube video, a youth takes over. He could easily have been identified, surely, and perhaps was identified. He should have been sanctioned too. He shouts

Willetts! Willetts! Willetts!

And the response is

Out! Out! Out!

The aggression of the audience is obvious but Owen Holland isn't at all fastidious. He doesn't sit in silence. He can be seen joining in before he turns his back to the camera. Gonville and Caius' Jason Scott-Warren isn't too fastidious either. By his own admission, he shouted with the rest.

George Orwell on elation and heavy drinking in a Paris bistro at half-past one in the morning. ('Down and Out in Paris and London.')

'We perceived that we were not splendid inhabitants of a splendid world, but a crew of underpaid workmen grown squalidly and dismally drunk.'

After the spurious exhilaration of listening to the not-so-potent words of Owen Holland, after the false thrill of shouting out 'Out! Out! Out' the protestors, Owen Holland included, may well have felt after the protest that they weren't, after all, 'splendid inhabitants of a splendid world.'

When it appointed Owen Holland to the post of Career Development Fellow in English Literature, Jesus College blundered, I think - to be more exact, more fair-minded, whoever was responsible for appointing him made a mistake.

Since moving to Jesus, Dr Holland will have been expected to develop, amongst other things, the literary skills, values and insights of undergraudates, although how someone with so abysmal a feeling for poetry can possibly do them much good or any good at all is a mystery. 

Since moving to Jesus, Dr Holland seems to have been keeping a low profile. He's a Career Development Lecturer at Jesus - a temporary lecturer who is being supported as he attempts to get his first university post. He became quite famous for a  time for his part in the noisy protest at Cambridge and the sanctions which followed, but he may have decided that shouting down a visiting speaker at Oxford isn't in his best interests, and that a ban on protesting is what's needed now, a self-imposed ban, not one imposed on him.  If he's successful, if he eventually obtains tenure, he may or may not decide that he can take greater risks. There's an alternative explanation, that he decided that his actions had been frivolous, futile, fatuous ...

From the Website of Jesus College, on the  English course:

'The English course is extremely demanding ... Our students think in original and imaginative ways, and are willing to pursue ideas, themes, and approaches to texts independently.'

And, ' you need to be able to read widely but also in close detail; to understand the sweep of historical change while also being able to meditate on the nuances of a single word.'

Can Owen Holland meditate on the nuances of a single word, such as the word 'epistles' in the poem he declaimed? Why not 'letters' rather than the obsolescent word 'epistles?' (Gerard Manley Hopkins: 'The poetical language of an age should be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike itself, but obsolete one.' (Letter - not 'epistle' - to Robert Bridges, 14 August, 1879.)

Of course, harshness takes very different forms and to very different degrees, but I think that the academic world is a harsh place in many ways. Becoming an academic isn't always difficult but very often it is, and of course there are many, many people who fail to find an academic post. Being an academic involves harshness - academics play a part in failing students, or awarding degrees which are bitterly disappointing to students, who expected a much better degree, possible outcomes whenever they mark examanition scripts. I've absolutely no power, of course, to give Owen Holland his first real academic post, or to refuse him. All I've done is to write and publish some harsh criticisms of him, with arguments and evidence (I'm aware that providing arguments and evidence isn't the fashion in some places.) 

I oppose unrestrained warfare and I oppose unrestrained polemics as well. I removed a profile from this page - not the profile of an academic - when I found that the person I'd written about had serious health issues.


Oxford University gives a comprehensive list of Owen Holland's Journal Articles and Chapters in Books, including these (I've no idea if he's a Marxist or not but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he was.)

  • ‘Morris and Marxist Theory’, in The Ashgate Research Companion to William Morris, ed. Florence Boos (forthcoming)
  • ‘From the Place Vendôme to Trafalgar Square: Imperialism and Counter-hegemony in the 1880s Romance Revival’, Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism, 14 (2016), 98-115

His internet writing isn't listed, of course, but internet materials can be very, very revealing. They certainly are in his case. He's the author of an article published on the site 'Lebanese Campaign for the Boycott of Zionism'

The title of his article is 'Why Boycotting Apartheid Israel Matters.'

To give one example, he writes about 'the attempted suppression of the Goldstone report'  but fails to mention that Goldstone later changed his mind, modified his views. I discuss the matter in detail in my section on Manchester University academics who, like Owen Holland, support boycotts of 'apartheid Israel.' I quote Goldstone on the subject:

'Richard Goldstone published a significant letter in the New York Times, 'Israel and the Apartheid Slander' on the claim that Israel is an 'apartheid state.' (November 1, 2011.) Extracts:

'The Palestinian Authority’s request for full United Nations membership has put hope for any two-state solution under increasing pressure. The need for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians has never been greater. So it is important to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it.
One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.
While “apartheid” can have broader meaning, its use is meant to evoke the situation in pre-1994 South Africa. It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.
'In assessing the accusation that Israel pursues apartheid policies, which are by definition primarily about race or ethnicity, it is important first to distinguish between the situations in Israel, where Arabs are citizens, and in West Bank areas that remain under Israeli control in the absence of a peace agreement.

'In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts ... committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

'The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” ... until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.
Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.'
'Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides. Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence ... '

In his Lebanese article, Owen Holland writes, ''Small wonder ... that the Falls Road Murals in Belfast paint pictures of solidarity with Palestinian suffering.' He provides a link to images of some murals, including one which shows Bobby Sands. This is another Belfast mural showing the hunger striker.

Image result for "bobby sands" "falls road"

This is another, with the names of assorted hunger strikers. The first two in the lists are Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes. The slogan includes this, 'Our rulers will stop at nothing to attain their ends.'

Image result for "francis hughes" wandbild



A page on this site Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions gives my criticisms of Irish nationalism. A section Seamus Heaney and the hunger strikers on another page gives information about these two and other people commemorated in murals on the Falls Road and some other parts of Belfast:

'In 1978, a bomb exploded under the car of William Gordon, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment who was taking his children to primary school. He was killed instantly, as was  his ten year old daughter, Lesley, who was decapitated. His seven year old son Richard was severely injured by the blast.

'The bomb was planted by Francis Hughes. The year before, he had taken part in an attack on a police vehicle in which one man was killed and another wounded. In 1978, Francis Hughes was captured, after a gun battle in which one soldier was killed and another severely wounded. After his capture, his fingerprints were found on a car used during the killing of a 77 year old Protestant woman.

'This is the man, then, who has been described as 'an absolute fanatic,' 'a ruthless killer' who undertook a hunger strike and was the second man to die ...

'The best known of the ten hunger strikers who died is Bobby Sands.

From the site ' ... in October 1972 ... he was arrested and charged with possession, after an arms dump containing four handguns were found in a safe house in which he was staying. Sentenced to three years imprisonment ...

'Within six months he was arrested again. This time he and a nine man team had been assembled. Their target - The Balmoral Furniture Company on the Upper Dunmurry Lane.

' ... The IRA had targeted the store, in the full knowledge of the risk to staff and shoppers ... The only reason that Republicans can cite for the attack was “...the extravagantly-priced furniture it sold…”. The plan was to petrol bomb the premises and then to lay explosive charges to spread the flames.'

'Information about the other hunger strikers who died - their names, organizations (INLA is 'Irish National Liberation Army) and convictions - by 'convictions' I mean, of course, 'reason for imprisonment,' not 'desire to bring about a united Ireland by shooting and bombing.' These men, like Francis Hughes and Bobby Sands, would have been the beneficiaries of Seamus Heaney's translation from Dante if he hadn't changed his mind.

'Raymond McCreesh, IRA. Attempted murder, possession of a rifle, IRA membership
'Patsy O’Hara, INLA. Possession of a hand grenade
'Joe McDonnell, IRA. Possession of a firearm
'Martin Hurson, IRA. Attempted murder, involvement in explosions, IRA membership
'Kevin Lynch, INLA. Stealing shotguns, taking part in a punishment shooting
'Kieran Doherty, IRA. Possession of firearms and explosives, hijacking
'Thomas McElwee, IRA, Manslaughter
'Michael Devine, INLA. Theft and possession of firearms.

'The INLA is less well known than the IRA but was just as ruthless. Dominic McGlinchey, Chief of Staff of the INLA between 1982 - 1984, had operated with Francis Hughes. 'He once boasted to an Irish reporter that he had murdered at least thirty people.' After the bombing of a pub in Ballykelly, which 'killed seventeen people, eleven of them soldiers and four of them young women ... McGlinchey became the most wanted man in Ireland.' (Jack Holland, 'Hope against History: The Ulster Conflict.')

Dr Ian Patterson and 'unparalleled outrage'

Dr Patterson, of Queens College, was the supervisor of Owen Holland.

From his LRB [London Review of Books] blog, 15 March, 2012:

' ... a sense of outrage and disbelief unparalleled in my experience spread through the university today ...


What was the massive human suffering or the massive injustice which occasioned this massive response, this unprecedented wave of outrage and disbelief in the Cambridge academic community, allegedly? Perhaps mass beheadings after extreme torture? He continues:


‘as it became known that the court had imposed a sentence of seven terms rustication ... [that is, suspension from the University, on the PhD student Owen Holland].


Does he really want the wider world to take this extraordinary, misguided display of outrage as an extraordinary display of Cambridge humanitarianism, of Cambridge values and Cambridge priorities?

Ian Patterson's blog article includes this:



'Milton and Dryden were both rusticated from Cambridge, it’s true, for quarrelling with college authorities, and Swinburne from Oxford for speaking in support of an attempt to assassinate Napoleon III, but I don’t think anyone has previously been punished in this way for reading a poem.'


To put this ludicrous display of anger in perspective, Hashem Shabaani, like Ian Patterson a poet and teacher - but there the resemblances end - was punished with a very different kind of suspension - hanging.  He was arrested in February 2011 with four other Iranian Arabs 'apparently in connection with their cultural activities, such as organizing events in the Arabic language, conferences, educational courses, art classes, and poetry recital gatherings' according to Amnesty International, sentenced to death in July 2012 for 'waging war against Allah, sowing corruption on earth, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security,("waging war on God"), as well as "sowing corruption on earth, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and acting against national security and hanged at an undisclosed prison in January 2014.

Owen Holland appealed against the suspension. 'The Cambridge Student' on the outcome: 'generosity.'

' ... the Septemviri [the University's Appeal Court] were at pains to point out the 'one-off' nature of their generosity: "We have therefore decided, but in this case only, to follow a merciful course."



'The Septemviri therefore reduced Holland's sentence from seven term's 'rustication' (or suspension) to one term on 22 June. This still means however that Holland, currently studying for a PhD in English at St Catharine's College, will be unable to use the University's premises and facilities, and will no longer officially be deemed a student of Cambridge University, for the duration of Michaelmas Term 2012, returning to the University at the start of 2013.

There's more on the reasons for the original sanction:


"brought his current misfortune on himself"


'The majority of the Chairman's report sets out in detail how the Septemviri upheld the original verdict of 'guilty' on the charge that Holland "had intentionally or recklessly impeded freedom of speech within the precincts of the University".

The charge relates to an incident on 22 November last year, when Universities Minister David Willetts was prevented from starting a lecture on "The Idea of the University" in Lady Mitchell Hall on the Sidgwick Site by around 30 students from activist group Cambridge Defend Education (CDE). As Willetts arrived at the lectern, the protesters began chanting a 25-minute poetic letter, or 'epistle', entitled "Go home, David", via call and response led by Owen Holland. After the chant finished, a group of around 20 protesters proceeded to occupy the stage. Upon this, Willetts left without giving his lecture, and the event was cancelled. The protest was followed by a week-long occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by CDE activists.'


On another page of 'The Cambridge Student:'

'CUSU President Gerard Tully, said in a statement: "David Willetts is the architect of higher education policy which is actively damaging to the quality of education that Cambridge (and other universities) offer and creates an unfair financial barrier to students from the broadest backgrounds aspiring to University. It is entirely right that students and academics protest these policies, as over 100 did today before Mr Willetts' talk. Tonight students had the opportunity and choice to hear and question Mr Willetts, in the 800-year old tradition of academic enquiry and freedom of speech that Cambridge has pioneered. Students have now been denied that opportunity, and CUSU cannot support this.

'Freedom of expression is one of the founding principles of University education - no matter how objectionable the views being espoused are. Students believe in this principle and so does CUSU, so we cannot support any protest that violates it - which the disruption of David Willetts' talk tonight clearly did." '


This is a strong, a very welcome expression of support for the principle of academic freedom - even if the '800-year old tradition of academic enquiry and freedom of speech that Cambridge has pioneered' is a travesty of historical fact.



Jason Scott-Warren: 'Out! Out! Out!'


From the introduction to these profiles of academics, 'Some of the profiles of  academics give information about denial of free expression with a direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, others are concerned with denial of free expression with no direct connection with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In all these cases, the academic has pro-Palestinian-anti-Israel views.' Dr Jason Scott-Warren is a prolific pro-Palestinian-anti-Israel statement signer.



Paul Sagar wrote an article for Liberal conspiracy, 'The student 'protest' at Cambridge last night was deluded.'

Dr Jason Scott-Warren wrote to correct him in the Comments section:

'It wasn’t only students who were involved in this ‘protest'; several academics were involved too. I was one of them. I was told in advance (during the protest which began at 4.30) about what was planned, and when it started I joined in with the chant that drowned Willetts out.'

Paul Sagar wrote:

'Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand. But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual  [Owen Holland] began shouting.

'His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.


'Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. The tension in the room was dramatic. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant ...


'When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willets, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. The event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend.


'I left the hall angry, disgusted and embarrassed. And I write as somebody who took part in the Cambridge Occupation last December, and has attended several recent protests against the Government’s cuts ...


'Firstly, it ... irritated all of those in the room who were not privy to CDE’s  unilateral decision. [CDE: Cambridge Defend Education] The result was the wasting of their time and making them feel marginalised, and in many cases also very angry. It’s hardly a good strategy for winning friends.


'Secondly, it allowed Willetts to leave Cambridge being able to claim that he’d tried to engage openly, but that irrational, unreasonable, selfish students had prevented any constructive dialogue. Anybody who thinks that this ‘action’ was a victory against Willetts is living in cloud cuckoo land.

There’s a considerable irony here too. One of CDE’s stated complaints about Willetts and his Government is that it is so sure of its own convictions they ride rough-shod over the opinions, concerns, rights and needs of others. And yet that is exactly what CDE did tonight.


'It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority.' 


In his comment, Dr Scott-Warren urges those people who are critical of the form the protest took (he's obviously not in the least critical) to be 'attacking the real enemy: a government with no democratic mandate for change destroying its public education system.'


His ignorance of the democratic system is obvious. The electorate have democratically elected a government. The electorate hasn't democratically voted for all the policies of the government which have been proposed or implemented after they were elected.

He's wrong, of course, to think that the electorate in general opposes the government's policies in higher education. There's widespread public indifference to higher education and the government's policies and actions which affect higher education.


I don't share this indifference in the least. I think that higher education -  not just teaching and research in science, technology, medicine and other subjects with obvious practical importance but teaching and scholarship in the humanities and other subjects without obvious practical importance - has massive importance. I think that academics, whose skills and knowledge are so often at a very, very high level, deserve to be paid more, perhaps much more.


There are many people who are hostile to universities. They may think, for example, that students are lazy layabouts. If Dr Scott-Warren doesn't realize this, he should mingle more with ordinary people. He might well be surprised, and shocked. He took part in a protest which would confirm  the contempt of so many ordinary people. It would confirm them in their view that universities aren't worth bothering about, or that people in universities are stupid, or that universities are hostile to British society.


This comment from 'cjcj' on the same page of 'Liberal Conspiracy' reflects the reaction most ordinary people would have to Dr Jason Scott-Warren, or a reaction far more likely than 'obviously a principled and justifiable protest.


'Jesus f*cking Christ, an academic (and from my own college too I discover after a quick google!) chooses to drown out a visiting speaker.

Perhaps I should pop into one of your lectures, Jason, and drown you out.'


Anyone who thinks that impoverished university graduates amount to a scandalous problem and have a very strong claim on public sympathies may like to take into account this view, presented by James Kirkup in the 'Daily Telegraph' (15 May, 2014):


'One person in five who receives university education becomes a millionaire, according to official figures.

 'Twenty per cent of all adults who hold at least one university degree — more than two million people — now have wealth totalling at least £1 million, data from the Office for National Statistics show.


'Almost a tenth of all British adults now own assets — property, pensions, savings and physical objects — worth £1 million or more.

 'The total number of millionaires in Britain has risen by 50 per cent in four years despite the recent financial crisis. The figures showed a stark gap in wealth between people with different levels of education. Only three per cent of people with no formal educational qualifications have assets worth more than £1 million.

 'The gap in wealth as it relates to education has widened over time. In 2006-07, some 16 per cent of graduates were asset millionaires, compared with two per cent of people without formal qualifications.



'David Willetts, the universities minister told The Telegraph that the figures were “more evidence of why going to university is a very good deal”.


'Nhe higher wealth of people with degrees justifies Coalition policies to charge higher tuition fees and push more school-leavers to go to university, he added.


' ''It shows why it’s fair to ask graduates to pay back the cost of their higher education, and why increasing the number of people who go to university will spread wealth and opportunity.' '


Dr Andrew Zurcher, selective libertarian

Dr Andrew Zurcher of Queens College, Cambridge, is an outspoken defender of free speech. If someone is invited to address a meeting but protestors disagree with the speaker, then outdated notions of free speech would defend the speaker's right to speak, not the protestors right to shout the speaker down. Not so! At least, for Dr Zurcher and many other Cambridge academics. The free speech of the censors is what counts. Obviously, the cause must be a virtuous one. If the speaker is an elected MP and a minister of a democracy, then this is no defence.


Andrew Zurcher is a committed defender  not just of freedom of speech, in this special sense, but freedom of action, such as occupation of buildings for as long as it takes - until demands are met, or unless 'repressive' action puts a stop to it.

I'm not sure if he would agree with disruption of his lectures (by such means as chanting a poem) or occupation of his own living quarters. There are limits to his tolerance.



He was one of  sixty Cambridge University academics who 'have spoken out in dismay at the university's handling of a peaceful protest in which more than one hundred students occupied the Law Faculty,' in the version of reality put out by  Cambridge Gaza Solidarity.  The occupation, which lasted a mere six days, before being terminated by the university authorities, was intended to show solidarity with the people of Gaza. The students made 'six main demands' (the number of lesser demands isn't given, whether small or large). One of the main demands was for  disinvestment from the arms trade.

In their letter (February 6, 2009) the academics write

'We ... strongly agree that an educational institution should not be involved with or benefit from the arms trade which has brought so much suffering around the world, and therefore support students' calls for disinvestment from this industry.'

And if every liberal democracy decided to have nothing to do with the arms trade, then every liberal democracy would go under. ISIS would no longer be bombed from the air and the guns would fall silent, the guns of liberal democracies' unarmed forces (formerly, armed forces), that is. ISIS could  invade this country in perfect safety, and could carry out beheading of kuffars, including the deluded people who signed the letter.


The consequences of principled objections to the arms trade before the Second World War are obvious, if not to these academics: a successful invasion of this country, followed by mass executions, genocide (genuine genocide, that is , not the genocide which it's claimed the Israelis carry out), forced labour and the ending of free speech.

These people also add some relatively inoffensive waffle.

'As teachers, we strive to foster in our students an interrogative and transformative attitude towards the world' whilst maintaining, in many or most cases, perhaps, an unquestioning belief in the dogma of Palestinian righteousness. This was one proclamation which didn't include even a token reference to Israel's right to defend itself.

Instead of indulging their self-indulgence, like the sixty academics, the University authorities gave a more valuable lesson to the students, in the form of a reality check: the limits to self-indulgence. (This will be a valuable lesson if any of these students are tempted to try similar tactics when they enter employment: occupation of the employer's premises won't be met with gratitude for their enlightenment.) 'Over the course of the six-day sit-in, the University threatened matriculation sanctions and legal action. It also endeavoured to prevent any food being brought into the building for the occupiers.'

If one of the main demands had been for the University to impose an academic boycott against Israel, and a hundred protestors had occupied a Medical Faculty Building and a hundred more Science Laboratories and a hundred more Geography buildings, until the university became gridlocked, if  a hundred radical Islamists had descended on the Law Faculty, occupied a different part of the building and demanded implementation of Sharia law, if hundreds and hundreds of other protesters had decided to occupy University buildings for other causes and made their demands, then even these academics might just have realized that this couldn't possibly go on. 


Andrew Zurcher outlines his particular interests:

'I work on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, with a particular focus on the works of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and William Shakespeare. My research to date has emphasised early modern legal history, Elizabethan colonial and military activity in Ireland, textual studies (including palaeography and manuscript studies), the sixteenth-century reception of Academic and Pyrrhonist epistemology, early modern secretarial practice, and the theory and practice of allegory in the sixteenth century.'

Most of his work is remote from the military and ethical dimensions of the Israel-Gaza conflict. His publication 'English Handwriting 1500-1700: An Online Course, written with Raphael Lyne and Gavin Alexander, wouldn't provide many transferable skills, but his study of military activity in Ireland might have given him some useful insights. It seems not to have done so.

This is from his book 'Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene": A Reading Guide'

Chapter 1. Mapping and making

' ... he was never far from the brutal and repressive violence of Elizabeth's military campaigns in Ireland. He was present at Lord Grey's victory at Smerwick in the autumn of 1580, when at least 600 Spanish and Papal troops surrendered and were summarily massacred. He later accompanied Lord Grey on similarly brutal campaigns in Wicklow and Wexford and he must have seen - and perhaps done - terrible things durig the war that slowly engulfed Ireland after the revolt of the Earl of Tyrone in 1594 ... '


Notice that although it seems very likely that he considers Israel beyond the pale, he has a very much more flexible attitude to Edmund Spenser. Edmund Spencer's involvement in 'brutal campaigns' doesn't count against him, or not decisively.


My page Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions gives a harsh estimate of the position of Ireland at different periods of its history. At these times, it's virtually certain that if Ireland had not been under British influence, or rather, British occupation, it would have been occupied by another powerful state, and more brutal state than the British. See in particular the section on the period of the Second World War.


The harsh fact is that Israel provides protection for the Palestinian territories. Israel would do everything possible to prevent the Palestinian territories being occupied by Isis or another radical islamist organization worse than Hamas.


Dr Zurcher is featured in the article 'Cambridge's most eccentric professors,' published in 'The Tab,' a tabloid magazine produced by students at the University. I don't in the least gloat at the portrayal of Dr Zurcher in the article. I don't find the article interesting in the least, except for the brief quotation of Dr Zurcher's poetry. This, I think has obvious strengths.  'The Tab' on the other hand is tedious, I find, lightweight but leaden, another instance of the mediocrity which can coexist with achievement at Cambridge.


The Cambridge Gaza Solidarity page which gives the text of their letter also gives a list of links to other occupations. Highly recommended: the list of occupations. Reading the list of occupations will be more than enough for everyone but the most devoted occupiers, who will be certain that this kind of occupation is virtuous whilst Israel's (alleged) occupation is evil.

So, on to another cause, the 'Cambridge Defend Education' activists, which involved yet another occupation, this time the occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall. This is supplementary material, as the issue had nothing to do with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. There are obvious linkages, however, with the disruption of Shimon Peres' talk by Abdel Takriti.


This is one source of information on the protest.

'The Cambridge Defend Education campaign group was formed in October 2010 in opposition to the dramatic cuts to the government’s education budget and the raising of tuition fees to £9000.

'Dr Andrew Zurcher, in an open letter in support of CDE, published on their website, claimed that any threat to the core values of the university posed by the protesters when they interrupted Willetts’ speech was offset by the fact that the very act of inviting him to give the speech was, in the light of his recent political decisions, an insult to the moral standing of the university in itself. He challenged Goldhill: “You have said that CDE has mistakenly attacked the core values of the university. Perhaps you have undermined them, by inviting a politician to whitewash his ideologically driven rape of the university sector, in a speech that would rhetorically re-describe it as consensual sex.”

'Dr Simon Goldhill, of the Faculty of Classics, had publicly spoken out against the government’s new education policy; even joining a group of 681 academics who sent an open letter of protest against it to the national press last year. But when Willetts’ speech was interrupted, he reacted with an angry statement on the faculty website, claiming that the protesters had denied Willetts himself the very freedom of speech they claimed to be trying to protect.'


He wrote,

'There are two reasons why I was disappointed with the form of the protest. I say the form of the protest because, like Naomi Wolf who spoke in Cambridge two weeks ago, I believe that protest is a democratic necessity, and like most who work in the University I have been appalled by the nature of the proposed government reforms of education. I would have been surprised if there had been no expression of the anger many feel. But I was equally annoyed by the way these few students elected to behave.

'The first reason is that we lost an extraordinary opportunity. Mr Willetts agreed to do something very few politicians ever do: to face his critics for an hour of questions without any preconditions. We had some of his most articulate critics in the audience. This exceptional opportunity to change public opinion, whatever Mr Willetts’ response, was lost.

The second reason is that the protest, in the name of protecting the values of the university, destroyed the values of the university. You cannot defend the university as a place of rational debate, as the home of the free and critical exchange of ideas, by preventing people from listening to a talk they wish to hear, by refusing to listen to views you disagree with, and by shouting down any opposition ...


'The history of the twentieth century reveals again and again the disastrous consequences of this sort of behaviour. It starts with anger, often, as in this case, justified anger, but when it moves through absolute certainty, to violently excluding other voices, then the political consequences become lethal. I stood for a good while with the protesters earlier outside Lady Mitchell Hall, and heard speaker after speaker extol the opportunity for anyone to speak, to hear the marginal voices, and many passionate defences of educational principles with which I agree – and then sadly watched the violent destruction of such ideals in the protest’s strident, totalitarian yelling.’

I agree with Simon Goldhill. For the record, I've an immense respect for the achievements of this country in scholarship and in scientific and technological research and dismayed by the under-valuing of academics. I think they should be paid much more, even if a  minority wouldn't deserve to be paid more. 



The Oxbridge Essay site gives this information:

'Willetts was prevented from speaking at all, as several students around the hall began chanting a 25-minute poem beginning "David Willetts, the future does not belong to you/This is an epistle that is addressed to you". [Surely the word is 'doggerel,' not 'poem.'] The chanting was done using the so-called "people's microphone" method, whereby Owen Holland read out each line, which was then repeated back by all the other protesters. Willetts had been due to give a speech on "The Idea of the University", but left the hall during the course of the 'epistle'. The protest divided opinion among Cambridge students, many of whom, including CUSU President Gerard Tully, claimed that it had violated David Willetts' right to freedom of speech.'

The people who signed the letter in support of the occupation of the Law Faculty building may or may not have supported the disruption of the speech.

Film of the protest:

See also



Dr Priyamvada Gopal's Rules of Etiquette

Dr Gopal, commenting on me in an email I received from her:

'What a sad sack you are ! Get a life, kid.'

More on the background to this below:


Etiquette, entry in Collins English Dictionary: '1. The customs or rules governing behaviour regarded as correct or acceptable in social or official life.' In this case, 'correct or acceptable' behaviour in the case of visiting speakers at universities and 'correct or acceptable' treatment of people who belong to the 'lower orders,' such as myself.

Very, very unwisely, Dr Priyamvada Gopal  has made  completely clear her view of what was  'correct or acceptable' when David Willetts came to speak at Cambridge University and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to speak at Columbia University. David Willetts was Minister of State for Universities and Science from 2010 to 2014. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was President of Iran from 2005 to 2013.


The protest that gave David Willetts no chance to speak is described in the section above on Owen Holland and the  English Faculty.


The YouTube video which records the protest:


She was completely in agreement with the protest, including the chant beginning at 11.45.


What about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? In the image above, a woman is shown about to be stoned to death in Iran. Whilst he was President, about 6 people were stoned to death. For example, in 2009, two people were stoned to death in Mashhad  for adultery.  The 2008 Islamic Penal Code specifies the size of the stones to be used - the stones are not to be so large that they will kill quickly.

In 2005, Mohser Amir-Aslani was arrested for 'insulting the prophet Jonah' and for making changes in religion. He was executed in 2014.

Iran has been a prolific executioner of homosexual/gay people. Any kind of sexual activity between two partners other than in a heterosexual marriage is illegal. According to Amnesty International, about 5000 men and women have been executed for same-sex activity since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Female homosexuality is treated more leniently than male homosexuality, but this is Iranian Islamist leniency, not leniency as we know it. Lesbian acts (mosahegheh) between people who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting can be punished by 50 lashes. If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence applies on the fourth occasion.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seems to have overlooked the many people executed in Iran for same-sex relations when he claimed,

"'In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country ... In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have this.'


Below, at a demonstration in Paris against the death penalty in Iran. The poster includes an image of preparations to stone a woman to death, almost certainly for adultery. The Iranian regulations specify that the stones must not be so large that they cause death quickly.


On the Holocaust (statement of September, 2009.):

'They [the Western powers] launched the myth of the Holocaust. They lied, they put on a show and then they support the Jews."

Wikipedia is obviously a source of information which is vastly less important than the sources of information available to Cambridge academics - or is it? Not always. This is an invaluable Wikipedia article  on the 'International Conference to review the global vision of the Holocaust in Tehran.'

The Iranian President's comment on the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

'Some segments within the American government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime.'

 And, on a lighter note, in December 2005, he banned Western music from state-run TV stations. In July 2010, he issued a statement on the wearing of ties:

'The supreme guide [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] himself has said in a fatwa that the wearing of ties or bow ties is not permitted.'

What does Dr Gopal's rule book have to say about the proper way to receive such a guest speaker?  Very, very unwisely, she put it in writing. Lee Bollinger had referred to the President as a 'petty and cruel dictator.' Dr Gopal referred to this as 'demeaning.' She couldn't possibly agree with this breach of decorum. She wrote,

'There is no excuse for inviting an elected leader to talk at your university only to undermine him as lacking in "intellectual courage" before he has had a chance to speak.

I emailed some members of the English faculty, including Dr Gopal, to draw their attention to this material on Iran. After some time, she sent me this email. It was obvious she didn't like what I'd written, not one bit. Instead of defending her view of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and giving her reasons why David Willetts should be treated much more harshly, instead of opposing my arguments and evidence by giving arguments and evidence of her own, she chose the easier way:

'I just thought you'd like to know that every time you send one of these emails it causes huge ripples of merriment. What a sad sack you are ! Get a life, kid.


 I would have thought that 'Get a life' is a kids' phrase. Someone with a PhD, a fellowship at Churchill College Cambridge and a post in the Faculty of English at Cambridge can do much better than that. If they can't, then so much the worse for the Faculty of English.

I sent her this reply:

Dear Dr Gopal,

I'm dismayed by your recent email:

'I just thought you'd like to know that every time you send one of these emails it causes huge ripples of merriment. What a sad sack you are ! Get a life, kid.'

Most of all, this part, 'What a sad sack you are!Get a life, kid.'

I know there are many demands on your time, but I ask you to retract this part of your email. I don't think you can possibly justify it. If you're not willing to retract it, then I ask that you give me permission to quote it.

You may wonder, why don't I just go ahead and quote it? Why do I need to ask? For this reason, that I've a policy on quoting emails sent to me, and this is it:

'Emails sent to me won't be released into the public domain, including publication on this site, unless I have the permission of the sender. Anyone who emails me can criticize me as much as they want and the matter will remain private.'

You can do one of these things:

Email me to tell me that I shouldn't quote the email. In that case I won't quote it. It will remain private.

Email me to tell me that I can quote it. If so, then I'll quote it.

Or do nothing. If I don't hear from you in the next few days, I'll assume that you don't particularly mind if I do mention it.

Best Wishes,

Paul Hurt

She chose the third option. I haven't heard any more from her, so I'm quoting her email now.

She urges me to 'get a life, kid.' I don't have to painstakingly give evidence to the contrary and then ask her to reconsider.

Dr Gopal seems to do a great deal of lecturing, apart from lecturing her students in lecture theatres. If she's ever inclined to lecture non-university people again, and particularly people in an older age group, she'd do well to avoid phrases like 'What a sad sack you are! Get a life, kid.' Otherwise, she may get a reputation for patronising and demeaning language, and even a reputation as a First Class (not a 2: 1) Arsehole. I realize that according to one influential view, very common in universities, only white males like me can use 'patronising' and 'demeaning' language - so much the worse for ideology.



I don't know nearly enough about Dr Gopal to make sweeping, wide-ranging criticisms. She didn't know nearly enough about me to make the moronic comment 'Get a life, kid,' but went ahead anyway - and was so clueless that she allowed the moronic comment to be put into the public domain. All she had to do was email me to say that she didn't want this comment of hers to be published. It would have taken next to no time.


Dr Gopal may well be a delightful person with many strengths. All I do here is point out some weaknesses which accompany whatever strengths she may have.

I'm surprised that Dr Gopal and other people in the Cambridge English Faculty found such 'merriment' in my emails. In almost all cases, these people have received only one email. They were factual. I simply drew their attention to the material on this page. I did, though, take the trouble to find out more, sometimes much more, about the person I was emailing, and changed the wording of the emails accordingly.


This is an extract from Dr Gopal's 'Selected Publications' on the Faculty of English Website,


  • "Of Capitalism and Critique: 'Af-Pak Fiction in the Wake of 9/11" in Alex Tickell(ed) South-Asian Fiction in English: Contemporary Transformations. Palgrave MacMillan, 2016, pp 21-36.

  • "Redressing anti-imperial amnesia" in Race and Class, January–March 2016 vol. 57 no. 3, pp.18-30.

  • "The Limits of Hybridity: Language and Innovation in Anglophone Postcolonial Poetry" in The Routledge Companion to Experimental Literature, 
    Routledge, 2012
  • The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration, Oxford University Press (2009)
  • "The 'Moral Empire': Africa, Globalisation and the Politics of Conscience", New Formations: a Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics, ed. Priyamvada Gopal and Neil Lazarus 59, 2006, 81-97
  • Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence, Routledge, 2005, 173
  • "Reading Subaltern History", Cambridge Companion to Postcolonial Literary Studies, Ed. Neil Lazarus, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 139-161
  •  "Amitav Ghosh", World Writers in English, Ed. Jay Parini, New York: Gale, 2004
  • "Sex, Space and Modernity in the Work of Rashid Jahan, 'Angareywali'", Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonialism, Cambridge University Press, 2002, 150-66
  • "Frantz Fanon, Feminisim and the Question of Relativism", New Formations 47 (Summer 2002), 2002, 38-43
  • "'Curious Ironies: Matter and Meaning in Bhabani Bhattacharya's Novel of the 1943 Bengal Famine", ARIEL: A Review of International English Literatures 32:3, July 01, 2001, 61-88
  •  'Nationalist thought and the Postcolonial world', Review, Textual Practice Spring 2001, 2001, 173-79


Cambridge protest and Cambridge Philosophy

Dr Lorna Finlayson, Philosopher Queen


The majestic dining hall of King's College, Cambridge, where Dr Lorna Finlayson, a Cambridge philosopher, has often dined and often spoken, perhaps on the subject of the oppression or disadvantage. She's now moved to Essex University.

 I think of Lorna Finlayson as a Philosopher Queen,  in the authoritarian tradition  to be found in Plato, criticized by Karl Popper in 'The Open Society and its Enemies.' I think that Lorna Finlayson is very much an enemy of the Open Society. The union of political power and philosophy would be anything but safe in her hands and in those of people like her.  She puts people in their place, or tries to.



In the Republic, Plato describes a utopia and argues that this utopia will never come into existence until kings philosophize or philosophers become kings. Political power and philosophy ( δύναμίς τε πολιτικὴ καὶ φιλοσοφία) must be in the same hands. (Book Five, 473 d.)

Lorna Finlayson's book 'Introduction to Feminism' is published by Cambridge University Press. I intend to provide a review of the book. Cambridge University Press doesn't appear to have published any books which give arguments against feminism. Perhaps the people at Cambridge University Press are unaware that there are arguments against feminism or refuse to examine them!  Perhaps standards of intellectual honesty at Cambridge University Press aren't uniformly excellent after all?  Perhaps Cambridge University's standards aren't uniformly excellent and beyond criticism?


Perhaps the standards of Cambridge University Press aren't uniformly high and beyond criticism.

See my discussion of two ludicrous contributions to The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney written by  Guinn Batten and Fran Brearton. Guinn Batten is a member of the department of 'Gender and Sexuality Studies' at Washington University in St Louis. Fran Brearton contributed an article 'Heaney and the Feminine' to the Cambridge Companion.

Fran Brearton: Bowdlerizing and Breartonizing

Guinn Batten and the drowned sheep

I write in my review, 'Amongst the  associations of the Cambridge name - better not to refer to the Cambridge 'brand' - are associations to do with excellence. 'The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney' is hardly ever excellent. Instead,  the good, the not-so-bad, the bad and the shockingly bad.'


From the synopsis provided for Lorna Finlayson's Cambridge 'Introduction to Feminism.'

'As well as providing a clear and critical introduction to the theory, this refreshing overview focuses on the practice of feminism with coverage of actions and activism, bringing the subject to life for newcomers as well as offering fresh perspectives for advanced students.'

For the time being, I don't discuss her advanced views on feminism for advanced students of feminism but I do discuss her advanced criticism of free speech for advanced students of 'actions and activism' who would like to put a stop to excessive free speech. I also discuss her views on Israel, Iran, the Palestinians and Islamism, a section which includes severe challenges to her views.

On free speech, she has written,

'Not that people don’t in general talk enough about freedom of speech – it would be better if they talked about it a bit less.  But if people are going to talk about it, they may as well do it properly.'

In 'LF on free speech' she writes,


' ... this is one very valuable outcome of forcing David Willetts off the platform: ' ... an act of destroying certain possibilities' (the possibility of the government minister David Willetts speaking and the possibility that people who came to attend a talk given by David Willetts could actually listen to a talk by David Willetts)  'is always at the same time an act of creating further ones. One valuable thing that came out of the whole episode, to my mind, was that the idea of ‘freedom of speech’ got hauled out of its hiding place ... '  

After the disruption of David Willetts' speech, there were now new opportunities, not so much for 'uninformed' people to discuss free speech, but opportunities to listen to people who do it 'properly,' such as Dr Finlayson. If radical Islamists prevent a talk by a non-believer from taking place then this too is creating new possibilities. If 'advanced transgender advocates' prevent a talk by someone they see as less advanced from taking place, such as a feminist whose view of transgender people isn't the same as theirs, if they force feminists 'off the platform,' then this too would be viewed as creating new possibilities, although it's obviously not creating new possibilities for the person who is prevented from speaking.

Transgender activists who prevent feminists such as  Julie Bindel and Julie Burchill  from speaking are badly mistaken but the defence of free speech should go well beyond a single issue. Feminists who object to the denial of free speech to some feminists but see nothing wrong with the denial of free speech to anti-feminists are badly mistaken too.

Dr Finlayson, philosopher, writes that 'in the immediate aftermath of the Willetts action, there was plenty of predictable, well-rehearsed, lazy, ‘free speech’- themed noise-making.'

In the the immediate aftermath of the Willetts action, there were plenty of predictable, well-rehearsed, lazy,  noise-making attempted justifications of shouting down a minister of a democracy, such as 'LF on free speech.'

She says of the invitation to David Willetts to speak, 'we regarded the event itself as an improper procedure.' She declares that it's improper so it must be improper. The dogmatic assumption, the unquestioned assumption of absolute rightness is completely obvious.  In 2013 she contributed to an event in Cambridge on various aspects of free speech. Her talk had the title, 'Free Speech as Liberal Fiction.'

This is Paul Sagar's view of the protest which Lorna Finlayson took part in and which she defends:

'Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand. But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual  [Owen Holland] began shouting.

'His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.


'Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. The tension in the room was dramatic. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant ...


'When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willetts, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. The event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend.

I don't examine here the issue of free speech at the University of Essex. The page

does give a verdict, one which may or may not give a simplified view: 'The University of Essex and the University of Essex Students' Union collectively create a hostile environment for free speech.' A collective conclusion may well hide complexities, such as individuals who have many, many reservations about the policies of the 'collective,' individuals who are opposed to the policies of the 'collective.' I restrict myself here and discuss only Lorna Finlayson's hostility to free speech. I don't have anything like detailed knowledge of the Philosophy department of Essex University but from what I know, it's a very interesting department. The initiative to do with assessment, for example, is remarkable.

From 'The Guardian,' 15 February, 2015:


'We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals.'

'The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month ... is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.


'Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer ... The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

'You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.'

Followed by a large number of signatories.

The letter is a good one, but subject to {restriction}. A wider range of examples would have been far better. Free expression is a necessity for anti-feminists as well as feminists.

Dr Finlayson doesn't seem to support in the least the 'basic principles of democratic political exchange' and supports some attempts at intimidation. Does Lorna Finlayson, philosopher,  support the denial of free speech to feminists such as Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel? If she supports their right to speak freely at University events and other events, transphobic activists might well accuse her of minimizing the plight of transphobic people, according to their interpretation. She's supported no-platforming in the case of the minister David Willetts but doesn't support no-platforming in the case of Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel, critics of some aspects of transphobia activism? If so, activists might well conclude, 'What an insult to transphobic people!'


Lorna Finlayson certainly has philosophical abilities, evident in such an article as 'Kripke, names, and the necessary a priori' but in general, her world is far more dubious and disturbing than the world of  many Christians.


If the past is a foreign country, where they do things differently, the world of military actions, terrorism, fanaticism, intense loathing, fear and suspicion may well be a foreign country for anyone who writes about it from a perspective of safety in a world of reasoned discussion, such as discussion of Saul Kripke. (Fluency in French is of no help when the border has been crossed and what is needed now is fluency in Flemish.)

Lorna Finlayson  on the logician Kripke (followed immediately by Lorna Finlayson on the comedian Russell Brand):

'This is the structure of Kripke’s

(1) It is not conceivable that not-(H=P)7
(2) It is necessary that (H=P) [from (1)]
(3) It is knowable only a posteriori that (H=P)

Therefore, ‘H=P’ expresses a necessary truth knowable only a posteriori.

Premiss (1) seems correct. Kripke has given a convincing alternative explanation of the intuition that we can conceive of not-(H=P). But there is a tension between (1) and (3). Normally, if not-p is not conceivable, we can know a priori that p. For example, we cannot conceive of a married bachelor, and so we know a priori that all bachelors are not married. Yet Kripke seems to be suggesting that the whole of ancient Babylonian society failed to realise a truth of which the negation is inconceivable.'

In an article for the 'London Review of Books,' 'Brand v. Rawls,' Lorna Finlayson defends the comedian Russell Brand

She writes,

The inclusion of Russell Brand on
 Prospect’s annual list  of ‘world thinkers’ has been met with predictable outrage and ridicule. The Guardian said that his ‘presence looks designed to be provocative’. Reviewing Brand’s book Revolution for Prospect a few months ago, Robin McGhee attacked ‘Brand’s political stupidity’. At the same time, the Telegraph said that ‘Russell Brand’s politics are staggeringly stupid.’ The Spectator called him ‘an adolescent extremist whose hatred of politics is matched by his ignorance’. In the Observer, Nick Cohen once derided Brand’s ‘slack-jawed inability to answer simple questions’. Nathasha Lennard in Vice said she didn’t ‘think Brand is totally idiotic. But, to be clear, he is an idiot.’ Lorna Finlayson may not claim that Russell Brand is a political thinker on quite the same level as John Rawls, the author of 'A Theory of Justice,' or Plato, the author of 'The Republic,' or Aristotle, the author of 'Politics,' but she does seem to claim that he's a deep thinker.

Dr Paul Sagar of King's College, Cambridge, wrote a very interesting, very robust and very accomplished reply, published on the same page, which includes this (I don't claim, of course, that Paul Sagar necessarily agrees with my criticisms of Lorna Finlayson and of feminism):

'My colleague Dr. Finlayson’s blog piece cannot, I am afraid, pass without some comment. Partly this is because much of what she argues is dubious, or flatly false. Partly it is because others of us working in the field of political philosophy at the University of Cambridge would like to preserve our collective reputation as people who can, at the very least, do the basics. This makes for less oratorically spectacular grandstanding than Finlayson achieves. But there are principles worth standing up for, even if they make one unfashionable, perhaps even boring.

'I will pass over the question of whether Russell Brand is an idiot (although previous actions may lead us to believe that more than his Essex accent informs such conclusions*), and move straight to Rawls. Finlayson writes, “In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls argued that a just society is one in which things are as equal as possible without making everyone worse off”. This is an error so glaring one would not permit even a first year undergraduate to make it. Rawls’s claim is actually that “social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are…to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged” (A Theory of Justice, p. 83). There difference between what Finlayson says Rawls says, and what Rawls actually says, is enormous.'

The record of philosophy at Cambridge, past and present, is a record of very great achievement, including the contributions of Wittgenstein and G E Moore but so many others.



'Should fascists and/or racists be given a platform?' This is naive in the extreme. Now, 'racism' and 'fascism,' 'racist' and 'fascist' are used as all-purpose condemnation words, a facile way of establishing instant moral superiority, supposedly, with many, many meanings and many, many applications, spurious and otherwise.

Along with a large number of other people, including many from Iran, a country she obviously thinks is vastly superior to Israel, Dr Lorna Finlayson (at the time at King's College, Cambridge) signed a statement put out by 'Back the Boycott,' philosophers and political theorists for a boycott of Israel,' which called for the standard 'boycott, divestment and sanctions.'


So, Dr Lorna Finlayson (Signatory No. 11) condemns Israel,   'philosophers and political theorists' in Iran condemn Israel, 'philosophers and political theorists' in many other countries condemn Israel, and take the trouble to sign a statement.  Sometimes it can seem that the whole world condemns Israel. Fortunately, this is not so. There are still many, many people with other concerns and other priorities, including the people who organized the Paris demonstration against the use of the death penalty in Iran, difficult though it may be for many thinkers to comprehend this alarming event. What? A demonstration not aimed at Israel? The Palestinians not at the very centre of the moral universe? The universe not Palestino-centric? Heresy [Secular style] It's certain that there will be many statements condemning Israel in the future, demanding no more than the typing of a name and a few clicks of the mouse, giving further opportunities for Palestino-centric people, further opportunities  for the display of effortless moral superiority.


The statement made a comment on critics who are 'singling Israel out’.

'As many have persuasively argued over the last few weeks, it is Israel that singles itself out:  through its claims to moral impeccability, its celebrated status as a democracy, through its receipt of massive support from the US and other nations, and through its continual abuse of the legacy of the holocaust in order to deflect criticism and to discredit the Palestinian struggle.'

What? Its 'celebrated status as a democracy' is supposed to count against it? 'Abuse of the legacy of the holocaust' is beneath contempt.

The signers have an affiliation with man Iranian universities: Imam Sadiq university, which 'bridges the gap between the Islamic seminary and traditional university' according to Wikipedia, and which includes courses in criminal law and . Islamic jurisprudence, and the universities of Khajeh, Nasir al-din tusi,  Motahari, Shiraz, Semnan, Allaame tabaatabaae, Tarbiat Modares, Razi, Alzahra, Yazd, Monaghegh ardabili, Zanjan, Kharazmi, Mashahd and Tabriz.


Al-Quds is a Palestinian University. Brandeis University suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University on November 18, 2013, for reasons to do with a demonstration there:

'The Nov. 5 demonstration on the Al-Quds campus involved demonstrators wearing black military gear, armed with fake automatic weapons, and who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute. The demonstration took place in the main square of the Al-Quds campus, which was surrounded by banners depicting images of “martyred” suicide bombers.'

The President of Al-Quds university did condemn the demonstration, after the routine  sentiment with which his statement began, 'The university is often subjected to vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists ... '


'Iran is the most prolific executioner in the world now, after China, executing political prisoners, homosexuals, dissidents, people found guilty of 'enmity against God,' and a 16 year old schoolgirl, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, on charges of adultery and 'crimes against chastity.' She was hanged in public.

'It's Israel which is described by the prominent anti-Israeli campaigner and disrupter Deborah Fink as 'The Satanic state.' It's likely that her attitude to Iran is much less critical.

The former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who blamed the "Zionist regime" of Israel for starting both the First and Second World Wars), speaking to university students in the US, said that Iran is 'the only nation' that 'can offer a new model for life to the world.'


'Haji Rezai was the prosecutor, judge and witness in the trial of Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh. He also tortured Atefeh, and he was the hangman. He placed the noose around her neck before she was hoisted on a crane. He was insistent that the verdict and sentence complied with the laws of Islam. No charges have been brought against him. The Supreme Court of Iran gave an order that Atefeh should be freed, although the Court was already aware that she had been executed.


'Previously, she had been arrested three times by the Moral Police and convicted of having sex with unmarried men. For each offence, she was imprisoned and given 100 lashes - the punishment for single women. The punishment for married women is still technically stoning to death - stones which are not too large are specified, as large stones would cause death too quickly. Stoning to death is unlikely to be carried out in Iran now - which counts as progress. Even so, at least six people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006.


'When she appeared in court for having sex with a taxi driver, she removed her hijab at one point. This was regarded as severe contempt of court. No lawyer was provided. She appealed against her death sentence but no lawyer was provided for the appeal.'


Cambridge Christianity

Selwyn College



Above, Selwyn College, including the imposing chapel




Above, the main gate of Selwyn College, with quotation, in Greek, from St Paul's Epistle, 1 Corinthians 16:13.



Above, Selwyn College Chapel, interior. Photo by David Iliff.  License: CC-BY-SA 3.0


Some of the material in this section, the material concerned with Ian McFarland, a Fellow of Selwyn College Cambridge and the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, comes in the section 'For God so loved the world ...' in my page on Christian religion. It gives much fuller information and discussion, including material on King's College chapel.


There's a profile of Dr Lauren Wilcox, also a Fellow of Selwyn College, in the section 'Cambridge feminism' on this page. My page on feminism - the emphasis is upon radical feminist ideology - is a very extensive one.


The material on these Selwyn fellows is very critical, but I also include a fairly favourable account of the Selwyn College Chaplain. On the evidence I've seen, the Master of Selwyn, Roger Mosey, is non-doctrinaire and he has wide interests. The interest in the wider world to be found at Cambridge can often be unnecessarily selective and ideologically charged, it seems to me, but not in the case of this Master.


At the end of this section I include an extract from the introduction to my page on Christian religion. I make clear my view that the threats posed by Christianity are often exaggerated - non-religious ideologies are a far greater threat to mind and body.


There's a remarkably revealing interview with Professor McFarland, the Regius Professor of Divinity, which was published in the 'Church Times.'


It includes this:


'I was the oldest of three, in a comfortable childhood in a standard US nuclear family.'

'During term, pretty much all my time is devoted to teaching and administration.


'One reason Cambridge was attractive to me is that terms are short and vacations relatively generous, and, during vacations, I can devote myself pretty much full-time to research.'

'Original sin teaches that all human beings are equal in their captivity to sin.'

'On original sin I’m pretty Augustinian.'

'The confession that Jesus is the saviour of us all means we all need saving — we’re all caught up in the dynamics of sin.'


'For me, the experience of God comes when I hear the Word preached and receive the sacrament. That’s God addressing me — if I have the wit to listen.'


Professor McFarland has many advantages, it seems: a comfortable, sheltered life, now including very generous vacations (not 'relatively' generous vacations, surely), and, I'm sure, giving him far more free time during term than he claims. I don't think it can possibly be true that 'During term, pretty much all my time is devoted to teaching and administration.' And one more advantage: the assurance of salvation. The people I mention in various places on my page on Christian religion and on other pages on this site, the slaves, the child labourers, the miners, and others, led lives which were different in every way, dominated by dangerous, back-breaking work and without the assurance of salvation, except for a few. Unbaptized babies and infants too young to work went to hell as a consequence of original sin, according to St Augustine. An extended study of the theology of St Augustine would make it clear that his statement, 'On original sin I'm pretty Augustinian' has very, very disturbing implications.


'Original sin teaches that all human beings are equal in their captivity to sin.' Professor McFarland, do you really believe that the people who rescued Jews at immense personal risk, the people who fought to liberate the death camps, the people who fought to end the Nazi nightmare, are 'equal in their captivity to sin' with Himmler and other architects of the Final Solution, with Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz and other implementers of the Final Solution?


'We all need saving — we’re all caught up in the dynamics of sin.'


Has Professor McFarland considered some of the implications of this claim?

'We all need saving,' according to Professor McFarland, but only some will be saved. In my page on Christian religion I discuss the salvation of slaves, the salvation of mine workers, including child mine workers, and other groups. Cambridge undergraduates, graduates, academic staff and other staff are obviously in need of salvation too, according to Professor McFarland.


The perspective which views people in this way is hideously distorted. Does he really believe that applicants to Selwyn College should be viewed first and foremost as candidates for salvation (or damnation)? It could be said that Selwyn's reputation for intellectual integrity - and reputation for intellectual common sense - is compromised by allowing these hopelessly bad views on sin, original sin, salvation and damnation to go unchallenged. But it would be unfair to single out Selwyn for criticism. Christianity is a pervasive presence in the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Its influence may be very restricted now but it's still greater there than in most other places.


The fellows of Selwyn College pursue research interests in fields as varied as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, palaeobiology, computational fluid dynamics, digital fabrication, compressible gas flow and topology, whilst one fellow, Professor McFarland, pursues a research interest in original sin. He's the author of the book 'In Adam's Fall: A Meditation on the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin,' and not from a skeptical perspective, one which finds the doctrine unable to explain the imperfections of our world. 


Ludwig Wittgenstein's 'Philosophical Investigations' (which begins with an extended quotation from Augustine, 'Confessions,' I.8, to introduce the discussion of issues in the philosophy of language) contains this claim,


'[philosophy] leaves everything as it is.'


All the advances and nuances of Professor McFarland in his quest to understand sin, including original sin, leave so much of  deadly doctrinal content intact.


This could be called incongruous, grotesque, deeply depressing and many other things. Given the hideous implications of the doctrine - which include the ignoring of a person's contributions to magnificent areas of human achievement in science, engineering, music, historical study, literary study and many more, since salvation and damnation have nothing to do with such things, since the sin of the sinful contributor to science, engineering and the rest is far more important -  I think a much harsher word is called for.


Why anyone should be expected to waste years studying theology at Cambridge University under the guidance of such people as the Regius Professor of Casuistry is a mystery. Why Selwyn College appointed Professor McFarland as a Fellow of the College is a mystery.


Some of his Augustinian views are reflected in mainstream Christianity. The verse

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.' John 3: 16 (World English Bible)


has the most dismal implications. Slaves, miners, undergraduates, Professors of Chemical Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry or History who don't believe in God the Son don't have 'everlasting life' but 'perish.'


 Belief in these inhuman doctrines obviously isn't confined to one person at this one college - Cambridge has many other examples. The residual religiosity of the place, the hospitality of Cambridge University to such people, the indifference to these inhuman doctrines, is very striking. 


It's time for Cambridge colleges, and Oxford colleges to begin a retreat from Christianity. The fact that so many of them have Christian foundations shouldn't deter them. Selwyn College was founded in memory of George Augustus Selwyn, the first bishop of New Zealand. Attendance at the college chapel was compulsory until 1935.


Contemporary Cambridge, like contemporary Oxford, still has a deferential attitude to the Church of England all too often. This is the power of the past, expressed in material form as well as historical influences, traditions and ways of thinking.


From the Website of the Diocese of Ely - note the term by ancient tradition



'The Bishop of Ely, by ancient tradition, is the Visitor of three Cambridge Colleges: Jesus, Peterhouse and St John's. He takes a keen interest in both the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University. He is also the Chair of the Council at Westcott House, one of the Anglican theological colleges within the Cambridge Federation.'


From the same page:


'His understanding of church doctrine and liturgical practice were formed principally within the Anglican catholic tradition, but this has been enriched by the positive experience of other traditions throughout his ministry, such as the charismatic movement. As a child, he attended a Methodist Sunday School. He is firmly committed to being a bishop for the whole Church, regardless of tradition.'


'The whole Church' includes the Conservative evangelicals (many of them belonging to Church Society) who believe that


' ...  all people are under the judgement of God and his righteous anger burns against them.  Unless a person is reconciled to God they are under His condemnation and His just judgement against them is that they will be separated from Him forever in Hell. (Romans 1 v18, 2 v16, Revelation 20 v15)


 'Jesus will come back and the world will end, there will then be a final judgement where those who have not accepted Jesus will be cast into hell with Satan and his angels. Christians will receive new bodies and live in eternal bliss in the presence of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. (Hebrews 9 v27, Revelation 20 v11, 1 Corinthians 15 v51)


'The biblical way of salvation has often been attacked over the centuries, however it is stated clearly in the 39 Articles of the Church of England:


Article 6: Of the sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation.


Article 1: Faith in the Holy Trinity

Article 9: Of Original or Birth-sin

Article 2: The Word, or Son of God, who became truly man

Article 4: The resurrection of Christ

Article 11: Of the Justification of Man


Perhaps the Bishop, the Right Reverend Stephen Conway, could comment on some implications of these doctrines, such as the fact that all the students, fellows and other staff at these and other Cambridge colleges who never accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour are unredeemed, lost.


I doubt if his 'broad church' view is endorsed by very many evangelicals, who are more likely to view his Anglo-Catholic views, and the views of Church of England 'liberals' as  heretical, to use the established term with such a horrific history.


The Greek motto over the main gate of Selwyn College is easy to overlook, not so the dominant Chapel. So many of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges have Roman Catholic and Anglican origins. Selwyn College has Church of England origins but has outgrown them. Selwyn College, like the other Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, has freed itself from Church of England dogma and doctrine.


Most of the Colleges have chaplains, ministering to the 'spiritual needs' of a few hundred students and staff. This provision is grossly excessive. Chaplains will have their ways of keeping busy, or giving the appearance of keeping busy, but one of the most common justifications for their role can't be accepted - the claim that they are there not just to minister to Anglicans but to minister to people with other religious beliefs and to provide pastoral care for people with no religious beliefs. People at a College who belong to another Christian denomination - Methodists, Congregationalists and the rest - have their reasons for not being Anglicans and there's no reason why an Anglican Chaplain should be ministering to them. There's even less reason to suppose that an Anglican can meet the pastoral needs of non-believers.


The Chaplain of Selwyn College, Hugh Shilson-Thomas, conveys, to me, on the evidence available, a fairly favourable impression, but I don't have any evidence about his ability to provide pastoral care for the wider community of Selwyn. No matter what he may be achieving at Selwyn, in his own estimation, he could be achieving far more, I think, in a place which makes greater demands on him.


The page 'Hugh Shilson-Thomas installed as Junior Proctor at Cambridge University.'


The photograph shows him 'processing' back to Selwyn College in his costume, following a long Cambridge tradition. This particular tradition doesn't irritate me in the least. It isn't  in the least harmful. The post is a useful one. Junior Proctors are particularly concerned with University clubs and societies.


Some other Cambridge traditions are pointless or harmful to a greater or lesser extent. There was no point at all in the Cambridge practice, which continued for so long, of naming the subject 'Philosophy' 'Moral Sciences.' It didn't help an applicant for a job to have to explain what a degree in moral sciences was all about, and may have harmed their chances. The tradition of obliging and showing deference to the Church of England harms the reputation of the university for free and independent thought - or can cause harm once people become aware of it.


Pastoral care involves an awareness of dilemmas and difficulties which are very wide-ranging. Problems to do with an addiction are more likely than not to be well beyond the experience of a chaplain. The background of many chaplains, or most chaplains, doesn't equip them in the least to understand these problems or to offer help. Their background is predominantly scholarly.


The difficulties of giving advice, whether the matter is relatively minor or not in the least minor. Recommended to Cambridge college chaplains who are trying to promote their pastoral skills, their willingness to help all members of the College, including non-believers:


This is the French philosopher Sartre, writing in 1946, on a dilemma and the difficulties of coming to a decision, the difficulties of thinking about a dilemma and some ways of thinking about a dilemma, Christian and non-Christian. I've divided the passage into shorter paragraphs.


'... I will refer to the case of a pupil of mine, who sought me out in the following circumstances. His father was quarrelling with his mother and was also inclined to be a “collaborator”; his elder brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940 and this young man, with a sentiment somewhat primitive but generous, burned to avenge him.


'His mother was living alone with him, deeply afflicted by the semi-treason of his father and by the death of her eldest son, and her one consolation was in this young man. But he, at this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying near his mother and helping her to live.


'He fully realised that this woman lived only for him and that his disappearance – or perhaps his death – would plunge her into despair. He also realised that, concretely and in fact, every action he performed on his mother’s behalf would be sure of effect in the sense of aiding her to live, whereas anything he did in order to go and fight would be an ambiguous action which might vanish like water into sand and serve no purpose. For instance, to set out for England he would have to wait indefinitely in a Spanish camp on the way through Spain; or, on arriving in England or in Algiers he might be put into an office to fill up forms.


'Consequently, he found himself confronted by two very different modes of action; the one concrete, immediate, but directed towards only one individual; and the other an action addressed to an end infinitely greater, a national collectivity, but for that very reason ambiguous – and it might be frustrated on the way.


'At the same time, he was hesitating between two kinds of morality; on the one side the morality of sympathy, of personal devotion and, on the other side, a morality of wider scope but of more debatable validity. He had to choose between those two. What could help him to choose? Could the Christian doctrine?


'No. Christian doctrine says: Act with charity, love your neighbour, deny yourself for others, choose the way which is hardest, and so forth. But which is the harder road? To whom does one owe the more brotherly love, the patriot or the mother? Which is the more useful aim, the general one of fighting in and for the whole community, or the precise aim of helping one particular person to live? Who can give an answer to that a priori? No one. Nor is it given in any ethical scripture.


'The Kantian ethic says, Never regard another as a means, but always as an end. Very well; if I remain with my mother, I shall be regarding her as the end and not as a means: but by the same token I am in danger of treating as means those who are fighting on my behalf; and the converse is also true, that if I go to the aid of the combatants I shall be treating them as the end at the risk of treating my mother as a means. If values are uncertain, if they are still too abstract to determine the particular, concrete case under consideration, nothing remains but to trust in our instincts.


'That is what this young man tried to do; and when I saw him he said, “In the end, it is feeling that counts; the direction in which it is really pushing me is the one I ought to choose. If I feel that I love my mother enough to sacrifice everything else for her – my will to be avenged, all my longings for action and adventure then I stay with her. If, on the contrary, I feel that my love for her is not enough, I go.”


'But how does one estimate the strength of a feeling? The value of his feeling for his mother was determined precisely by the fact that he was standing by her. I may say that I love a certain friend enough to sacrifice such or such a sum of money for him, but I cannot prove that unless I have done it. I may say, “I love my mother enough to remain with her,” if actually I have remained with her. I can only estimate the strength of this affection if I have performed an action by which it is defined and ratified. But if I then appeal to this affection to justify my action, I find myself drawn into a vicious circle.'


Christ's College

Christ's College claims to be a 'vibrant community.' Its not so vibrant Chaplain Michael Dormandy has published a secondary school Latin textbook and a critical edition, with translation and commentary, of a letter, the Epistola Fundamentalis  by the seventeenth century Roman Catholic priest, Bartholomaeus Holzhauser. He has also been working on 'scribal habits in the Greek majuscule pandects.'


Bartholomaeus Holzhauser is, of course, the celebrated interpreter of the Book of the Apocolypse. According to his interpretation, the 7 stars and the 7 candlesticks which were 'seen' by St John signify 7 periods in Church history. To these periods correspond the 7 churches of Asia Minor, the 7 days of creation, according to Genesis, the 7 ages before Christ and the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit.





Above, the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity Building. The wings could be interpreted as a reaching out to people, the centre as drawing people into the building. This building is a very successful piece of contemporary architecture, I think, but successful architecture never guarantees the success of the human activities which take place within the building.


Extract from the introduction to my page on Christian religion:

There are still old-fashioned atheists who regard Christianity as the most harmful  force in the world today. In the twentieth century, fascism and Stalinism and other forms of communism completely eclipsed Christianity as a threat to body and mind.

In the past, Christianity has often threatened mind and body. In the section on
Pete Wilcox, the Bishop of Sheffield, I discuss some of the people burned at the stake - by the Church of England and by Calvin at Geneva - for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity and other failures of belief. The Christian churches have become less hideous.

Hume, writing in the 'Treatise concerning Human Understanding: 'Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.'

A partial updating of Hume's view: the errors in religion may be  dangerous but the most dangerous errors now come from non-religious ideologies. In the past, the most dangerous errors have been Nazism and Communism, and of communist ideologies,  particularly Stalinist communism.  The other-worldly aspects of religion, the stress upon ritual or correct thinking or a holy book, and all the other varied characteristics of religions, have lessened their capacity for causing harm. The cruelties of Christianity, such as the Inquisition and the cruelties sometimes carried out by Islamists, such as amputation of limbs and stoning to death, have never been on the same scale as the savagery of Nazism and Stalinism, or the atrocities committed by such regimes as those of Pol Pot in Cambodia.

There are still old-fashioned atheists who overlook the many, many impressive Christians and followers of other religions. Their assumption that non-religious people must always be superior to religious people could be called childish, but I use the word 'unformed.'

In the twenty-first century, Christianity is negligible as a threat to mind and body whilst the dangers of  Islamism have become obvious, to anyone with any sense, and  {adjustment} is needed to recognize these changing realities. But it isn't enough to recognize the chief threats, there has to be quantification of the threats. Even radical, terror-supporting Islamism is obviously far less of a threat to body than Nazism in the past. Its outrages are horrific but generally localized. No Islamic state or terrorist organization has perpetrated a fraction of the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany, again, despite the horrific atrocities they have inflicted, in  part because  radical Islamism generally seems to be incompatible with highly developed economies, social organizations and scientific and technological expertise.  When an Islamic state is an exception to this - Iran is the prime example now  - then the potential threat to the body is very great. If ISIS did have the power and the resources, then its atrocities would equal those of Nazi Germany.

On this page, I criticize not just the religious but some of their opponents, such as some humanists (supporters of groups such as the British Humanist Association.) To see through some illusions and forms of stupidity is no guarantee that someone will not be subject to other  illusions and forms of stupidity.  Illusion and stupidity aren't evaded too easily. A humanist who can see through the arguments intended to show that the gospel records are largely reliable, that Jesus rose again, that prayer works and is worthwhile (although not, nowadays, that praying for good weather works and is worthwhile), may well be in the grip of delusions more harmful  than any of these.

In various places in this site, I argue against pacifism. A Christian who believes that Jesus rose again may well recognize the harsh realities that make pacifism unworkable and disastrous in some circumstances, may have delusions about prayer but recognize that to defeat Nazi Germany or the Taliban requires practical action. The humanist who airily dismisses the need for action by force of arms in some circumstances is suffering from a more severe form of delusion. The believer's common sense and good sense may be left unaffected by theological illusion but all too often they are badly affected.


Cambridge feminism


Above, a page from Newton's Principia Mathematica. Newton's work was described by Sandra Harding, Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies for the Academic Year 2017 - 2018, as a 'rape manual.'


Professor Rae Langton


Professor Langton is a Fellow of Newnham College, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University and a WOWSER.


WOW stands for 'Women of the World.'


'Man of the world

ALSO woman of the world

Someone who has a lot of experience of life and can deal with most situations

(Definition from the Cambridge Dictionary.)


 Professor Langton took part in the 2015 and 2016 WOW festivals so I refer to her as a 'WOWSER' here. WOWSER has a meaning  she may not find completely to her liking. She has Australian as well as British citizenship and Collins English Dictionary gives this for 'Wowser:'  'Austral. slang 1. A fanatically puritanical person.' Feminists - fanatical? puritanical? This would irritate the people who took part in the fun-filled feminist festival which is WOW, I think. But I don't use WOWSER in this sense. I use it to mean 'Woman of the World' who supports events like the Cambridge Woman of the World festival - but not a woman of the world who 'has a lot of experience of life and can deal with most situations.'


These women of the world aren't like that.


At the 2015 WOW Festival Rae Langton chaired a panel calling for an end to all violence against women: 'Enough! Ending Violence Against Women.'


The programme explains: 'Gender-based violence in its many forms seems to have become an almost accepted backdrop to society. This session will challenge this 'normalisation' and put the case that to live in a world where women are not attacked or hurt in their daily lives - physically, sexually or virtually is possible.'


Does she think that it's possible to end all violence against women, physical, sexual and virtual? If she does, she's disastrously misguided. Can we expect to see a world where Islamist suicide bombers spare the women and only target the men, or people high on drugs murder only men and never women? Is this an achievable objective?


If Rae Langton doesn't agree with those WOWSERS who think that the utopian, impossible deluded, deranged dream of a world without those harms is perfectly possible, after so many centuries, after so many millennia of violence, cruelty and hurt, then she should put on record her disagreement and the extent of her disagreement. She should make it clear to other WOWSERS, other Cambridge 'Women of the World' that she doesn't share the views of some of them, that she can't possibly endorse them.


She chaired this panel. What did she say at the time? Could she make clear what she said at the time? I've no record of the outcome. It may be that the WOWSERS saw sense and rejected the programme's claim, but why did Rae Langton, a Professor of Philosophy agree to chair the panel at all?

By 'hurt in their daily lives' the programme refers, of course, to a wide range of experiences, no doubt including 'everyday sexism,' which also covers a wide range, including all sorts of slights and irritations and annoyances - to be defined and interpreted by the feminist philosopher-queens, of course. Is it a feasible objective to put an end to these as well? What does Rae Langton think?


How is this miraculous transformation to be achieved? How is the influence of the Cambridge WOWSERS and people who think like them to reach every city, town, village and settlement in the land and modify the words and actions of so many people - and and billions of people in other lands, of course. If it's a realistic and not a deluded objective in this country then it's a no less realistic objective in other countries, including Islamic countries. If the lives of women in this country can be transformed - and this would be the most radical transformation in the whole of recorded history - then surely the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, for instance, can also be transformed. What does Rae Langton think?

This is the Magic Wand school of thought. It may  flourish at Cambridge, or pass without comment, but it's contradicted by reality, falsified by reality.


I've been an activist in very varied fields, including human rights. For about twenty years, I was an active member of an Amnesty International group, for example. For most of that time I was the death penalty co-ordinator for the group but I worked on almost the full spectrum of Amnesty International cases. The experience left me with an overwhelming sense of the difficulties and disappointments which accompany the successes of human rights campaigning, the enormous amount of work needed to improve human rights, to help, it may be, just one person - without any guarantee that the improvement will be long lasting.


If it's a perfectly feasible objective to bring into being a world in which men never attack or hurt women - physically, sexually or virtually - could WOWSERS please explain, could Rae Langton please explain, why it's not a perfectly feasible objective to bring into being at the same time a world in which women never attack or hurt other women - physically, sexually or virtually. Could WOWSERS explain, could Rae Langton please explain, why it's not a perfectly feasible objective to bring into being a world in which women never attack or hurt men - physically, sexually or virtually?

Are the WOWSERS thinking of - or rather imagining - a partial utopia? To give only a single instance, Lavinia Woodward, an Oxford student, stabbed her boyfriend whilst drunk - and was spared imprisonment. WOWSERS imagine a world in which men no longer stab women, drunk or sober, presumably, high on drugs or without the influence of drugs  (and never use 'sexist' language, whether drunk or sober, high on drugs or without the influence of drugs, presumably.) Will WOWSERS prevent the harmful actions of women as well as those actions of men?


Or do they think of women as weak, impossible to control?

Another event: the Eighth Cambridge Festival of Ideas. I couldn't possibly do justice to the wealth of ideas on offer.  Not so much wealth- the festival is very, very selective about the ideas on offer. Don't expect to find any criticism of feminism or Islamism, for example.


One of the events was concerned with 'The politics of pornography, objectification of women and censorship.' As I didn't attend, I can't say if any of the speeches or discussions had any trace of puritanism or any trace of fanaticism. One of the WOWSERS taking part in this event was Professor Rae Langton. On the question of censorship, I do hope that, as a good philosopher, she pleaded for the right of anti-feminists to have their voices heard as well as feminists, that she pleaded with feminists not to make any attempt to censor the views of anti-feminists.


And there was this event:


I don't know if the mention of Male Perspectives bothered anyone who took part in the feminism-filled-Festival, such as Professor Langton. I don't know if anyone who attended brought up some difficulties, to give just one example, Sura 4:34 of the Quran. I know that Tommy Evans has been spending a great deal of time studying the Quran. He will have read and perhaps intensively studied this Sura.

It's interpreted by many, many people as sanctioning the beating of wives. The man who appears in this video certainly seems to think so:


An article in the New York Times has this:


'The hotly debated verse states that a rebellious woman should first be admonished, then abandoned in bed and ultimately "beaten" - the most common translation for the Arabic word "daraba" - unless her behaviour improves.'

But many people at Cambridge, including, perhaps, Rae Langton, may well think it's bad manners to mention such things.


From the Website of Newnham College, Cambridge:

'I have been Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, and Fellow of Newnham, since September 2013. I chose to join Newnham because of its people, its commitment to women’s education, and its inspiring history. I’m delighted to be in this latest chapter of a story that includes the heroic figures of Henry Sidgwick, Virginia Woolf, and so many more.'


It may be that Professor Langton hasn't given nearly enough attention to the feminism of Virginia Woolf. Here, I put the case against:


Like so many feminists and proto-feminists, Virginia Woolf's attitude to women not of her class, not at her level of accomplishment, not at her level of sensitivity, supposedly, was completely insensitive.


From an article in 'The Guardian,'


'In 1938, an unemployed weaver from Huddersfield called Agnes Smith wrote to Virginia Woolf in angry response to her book Three Guineas. She was scathing about the portrayal of the working class, writing that 'to hear some people talk you would think that ... a kitchen maid [was born] of a union between the cooking stove and the kitchen sink'.


'This is the rebuke that none of Woolf's servants puts in writing; unlike the author, who scribbled furiously in private as well as in print, their voices are harder to reconstruct. A writer who attempted to put the hidden folds of consciousness on to paper none the less regarded her servants as functions relating to herself. Their clamorous demands and demurrals she found largely baffling and frustrating, and the resulting friction generated screeds of writing, much of so crazily personal a nature that they prompted Alison Light to explore this fraught psychic territory in a scintillating meeting of biography, social history and literary criticism.


'Until at least the Second World War, British society ran on servants. Most British women, as Light explains, would either have been in service or employed servants. She approaches this subject through perhaps the most minutely examined psyche of British modernism. Although Woolf devoted hours to probing her own consciousness, those of her servants remained hazy to her: it's somehow symptomatic that Woolf always misspelled her cook's first name as 'Nelly', rather than the actual Nellie. Even though they were subject to terrible mental and emotional distress, Woolf dismissed her servants' fury or misery as hysterics, as if sensitivity only kicked in on a certain rung of the class structure.'


From the page


' ... without all the domestic care and hard work that servants provided there would have been no art, no writing, no "Bloomsbury".


'Independence was the great goal of Woolf's generation of feminists - economic, psychological, emotional. Woolf's sympathies led her to champion the needs of women whose lives had long been obscured from history ... Yet her polemical, political writing about women sits uneasily alongside her obnoxious comments on Nellie and the spasms of disgust that disfigure her responses to working women in the flesh.'


But again, we come back to the importance of technology. From 'The Horror of Dirt: Virginia Woolf and her Servants,'


'Technological advances that Americans were quick to adopt–water heaters, vacuum cleaners and other time-saving devices–crept very slowly into British homes. One of the fascinations of Light’s book is its scrub-by-scour account of a servant’s typical day–the beating of rugs and curtains, the emptying of chamber pots, the carrying of buckets of boiling water up many flights of stairs so that the employers could have warmish baths that servants did without, and a great deal more, from dawn until late at night. The kitchen was typically in the basement, which meant cooking with very little light, often with no running hot water, on a temperamental range that needed frequent fueling and stoking.'


Without technological advances, almost entirely the work of men, as a matter of strict fact, contemporary feminists would have hardly any leisure to write their condemnations of patriarchy. Technological advances, such as the railway, had already benefitted Virginia Woolf and her class to a massive extent. Virginia Woolf had no need to live in a shelter made of branches and wash in a stream because of technological advance. For Virginia Woolf's works to be printed, the printing press first had to be invented. As a matter of strict fact, the original printing press and the development of the printing press were the work of men.


I don't claim that Rae Langton is insensitive, only that her sensitivity is subject to very severe {restriction}, like the highly developed sensitivity of Virginia Woolf. The sensitivity of George Orwell is of a different kind, a different order. George Orwell, writing in 'The Road to Wigan Pier:'


'This was March, but the weather had been horribly cold and everywhere there were mounds of blackened snow. As we moved slowly through the outskirts of the town we passed row after row of little grey slum houses running at right angles to the embankment. At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her - her sacking apron, her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold. She looked up as the train passed, and I was almost near enough to catch her eye. She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen. It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that 'it isn't the same for them as it would be for us,' and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her - understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.'

More on the WOW factor:


The Twitter page of  WOW Cambridge (Women of the World Festival, Cambridge)

is referred to as twit-WOW here.

WOW Cambridge, which appears on some official Cambridge University pages, including this one

is referred to as official-WOW.


There are semi-scholarly and even scholarly pages on this site, but this page isn't one of them. I hope that feminist academics will be prepared to overlook the lack of scholarly citations here (such as the year, month and day of twit-WOW quotations.)


Some Food for Thought from WOW-twit.

'There's no one better at being you than you, you are your own creativity'


This is Junk-Food-Thought, but not the kind of junk food which does contain protein and vitamins and other very useful nutrients.


FreddyHarrel (Frédérique Harrel) endorsed it. She was obviously prepared to overlook its deficiencies. She describes herself on Twit-WOW as a 'Top UK Blogger/Stylist/Confidence Consultant/Digital Strategist' who provides 'Confidence & Style Workshops for women.'

 Nothing so commonplace, but useful, as 'Top UK roofing contractor' who provides 'repairs for your roof when the rain's coming in.'  (Contractors who amongst other things work outdoors in the Winter with bankruptcy likely or inevitable if they don't work outdoors in the Winter.)


For Freddy, it seems, work has to be fulfilling. Work which isn't particularly fulfilling for the worker, work which isn't in the least fulfilling for the worker, work which is difficult, dirty and dangerous - even if the work is needed to produce materials essential to the well-being of feminists or to take away the sewage of feminists, for that matter - work which is essential for the whole of society, seems not to meet her approval. The work of Care Home Assistants, who aren't able to skip work on a Thursday, who aren't in the least willing to abandon the people they're looking after on a Thursday - is work which seems to be just as much beyond her comprehension. 


Let's hang this Thursday! We're talking being fulfilled at work with @StylistMagazine ...


Parents can be concerned about their own lack of fulfilment and try to increase their fulfilment, but the dangers of paying too much attention to FreddyHarrel or Stylist Magazine - or any attention to them - should be obvious.


This is Paul, a male feminist, writing for twit-WOW:


"Pessimism is passive, optimism is active", says Jude – we've all got to make changes we want to see happen.

The threats to the steel industry in this country (it's not likely that these threats have preoccupied too many feminists) are immense. Have the steel workers and their supporters 'got to make changes they want to see happen?' If they are pessimistic, are they in danger of forgetting that 'pessimism is passive?' Or is it more difficult than that, far more difficult than that? The extreme difficulties and dangers in Syria. Do humanitarians, and the people they want to help, simply have to ensure that they make the changes they want to see happen? If they are pessimistic, are they in danger of forgetting that 'optimism is active?' Or is it more difficult than that, far more difficult than that?


By the way, who is this 'Jude?' Could it be Jude Kelly, of the South Bank Centre in London? The woman who founded WOW? I haven't though, been able to confirm that she did actually say or write, 'Pessimism is passive, optimism is active.'


Official-WOW is different in tone but, like twitter-WOW is complacent and evasive. Like twitter-WOW, it treats feminism as established truth, beyond the petty sphere of argument and evidence. Their mind is on other things, such as recruitment of  'WOWsers,' who according to the Cambridge University site will have have the privilege of 'Managing WOW Cambridge's social media presence' and 'Escorting VIP's to events.' Not only that, but 'All WOWsers gain a certificate of participation from the University of Cambridge.'


Sorry to be pedantic, but on the page which outlines the benefits of being a WOWser,


there's this, without a question mark:

'What is WOW'


For this question, I do supply a question mark,

'Is Cambridge University an unimportant place for  mediocrities as well as a 'centre of excellence?'


The page 'Sessions'


includes this,


'Make way! Women in politics.'


'2015 saw the launch of the Women’s Equality Party and new momentum to ensure women have a voice within politics and social change. A discussion of changing times, chaired by journalist and Principal of Lucy Cavendish College Jackie Ashley and featuring Halla Gunnarsdottir from the Women’s Equality Party, Frances Scott of the 50:50 Campaign, Priscilla Mensah, President of the Cambridge Student’s Union and Dr Helen Pankhurst.'


The Women's Equality Party put forward a candidate for the May 2018 local elections in the Ward where I live. These were the results:


Liberal Democrats  594
Bannan, Jack The Yorkshire Party  183
Butler, Ann Women’s Equality Party  162
Fender, Matthew The Conservative Party Candidate  418
Gibson, Neale Labour and Co-operative Party  2316
Little, Bernard James Green Party  1593
Wainwright, Victoria Judith Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition


Completely missing, any acknowledgment that women in politics will again and again have irreconcilable differences - women in UKIP, women in the Labour Party who support Jeremy Corbyn, women in the Labour Party who oppose Jeremy Corbyn, Israeli women and Palestinian women, women who admire Margaret Thatcher and women who loathe Margaret Thatcher ... and that the Women's Equality Party has to have, but doesn't have, policies and expertise in all the areas which are essential for the survival and success of a democracy, not forgetting expertise in defence of this country against terrorists and other aggressors (aggressors which have many, many women supporters, by the way.)

The section 'To infinity and beyond' (a title with many philosophical difficulties, of course) includes this:

Are feminism and gender equality changing the universe? A lively panel assesses the difference activism, science, representation and comedy can make. With radical feminist Dr Finn Mackay ...


Finn Mackay's site is grotesque, listing  achievement after achievement, or her view of achievement, in a list which isn't endless but seems it, appearance after appearance at some event or other: the appearance is the achievement, it seems.

She'd claim, perhaps - or probably - that she's deeply oppressed, but she can't possibly claim that life has been completely unfair to her. She's a Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England. This is her profile on the University site:


The 2016 sessions included some teaching on how to 'punch and kick like a woman!'


Professor Sandra Harding


Professor Harding was a Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies for the Academic Year 2017 - 2018.


Sandra Harding's 'The Science Question in Feminism' is the book that contains the deranged claim that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a 'rape manual' because, she alleges, 'science is a male rape of female nature.'


She regrets now this particular claim - her regret may or may not be sincere - but her view of science is still deeply disturbing. Cornell University Press, publishers of  'The Science Question in Feminism,' includes this in its current promotional material,


She regrets now this particular claim - her regret may or may not be sincere - but her view of science is still deeply disturbing. Cornell University Press, publishers of  'The Science Question in Feminism,' includes this in its current promotional material, 'science ...  steeped in Western, masculine, bourgeois endeavors ... ' Quantum mechanics, then, is 'steeped in Western, masculine, bourgeois endeavors.' Sandra Harding, of course, has a very comfortable 'bourgeois' income. The aircraft used by Sandra Harding to get to get to places in England, such as the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies, do, as a matter of strict fact, make use of innumerable scientific discoveries, mainly, as a matter of strict fact, the work of men. This page discusses many, many other benefits of 'masculine, bourgeois endeavors,' such as the provision of safe drinking water, the treatment of sewage - with benefits to the control of infectious disease which are incalculable - and contraception: the ending of the Malthusian nightmare of very high birth rates and very high death rates.

Sandra Harding obviously decided that the pollution from jet travel - which of course has a great impact on arctic ice -  was unimportant when compared with the benefits of  spreading the feminist message in the Arctic. In 2012, she visited the Arctic Centre and the University of Lapland to give lectures on topics such as 'methodologies and postcolonial and feminist science.' Such is the determination of a feminist missionary, eager to spread The Word about such things as 'methodologies and postcolonial and feminist science' to all corners of the world. A feminist missionary has preached the Postcolonial word in the Arctic then, although not yet in the Antarctic and the Amazon region, so far as I know. For the time being, getting to the Arctic, the Antarctic, the Amazon and Cambridge, England from California makes use of enormously complex and enormously sophisticated technology based upon enormously complex and sophisticated science, the product of gendered, colonized thinking, according to so many feminists.

Dr Lauren Wilcox


Dr Wilcox is a Fellow of Selwyn College and the Deputy Director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies. The director of the Centre is Jude Browne.  I can't write very much more about Lauren Wilcox because I still have to study her book 'Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations,' with particular reference to 'Explosive Bodies: Suicide Bombing as an Embodied Practice and the Politics of Abjection,' published by the prestigious (or Very Prestigious) 'Oxford Studies in Gender and International Relations.'


 By the standards of modern terrorism, the Provisional IRA were ruthless terrorists but not the most ruthless.  They gave warning to civilians of bomb blasts, but sometimes, simple incompetence led to  unexpected problems - and people died and were horribly injured.

From my page Ireland and Northern Ireland: distortions and illusions:

I lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, when the Troubles were at their worst. My visits to Belfast left an indelible impression but I was based in one of the safest areas of Northern Ireland. Even so, a few days before I left the Province for England, I heard a massive explosion in Coleraine which killed six pensioners and injured 44 people, including schoolchildren.

Above, the effects of the car bomb planted by the Provisional IRA in Coleraine, County Londonderry.


From the Wikipedia entry on the bombing:


'Several of the wounded were maimed and left crippled for life. The bomb left a deep crater in the road and the wine shop was engulfed in flames; it also caused considerable damage to vehicles and other buildings in the vicinity. Railway Road was a scene of carnage and devastation with the mangled wreckage of the Ford Cortina resting in the middle of the street, the bodies of the dead and injured lying in pools of blood amongst the fallen masonry and roof slates, and shards of glass from blown-out windows blanketing the ground. Rescue workers who arrived at the scene spoke of "utter confusion" with many people "wandering around in a state of severe shock". Five minutes later, the second bomb went off in the forecourt of Stuart's Garage in Hanover Place. Although this explosion caused no injuries, it added to the panic and confusion yielded by the first bomb.


'In the immediate aftermath of the blast, there had been several seconds of "deathly silence" before "all hell broke loose", with hysterical people rushing from the scene and others going to tend the wounded who were screaming in agony.'


See also my poem Sailing from Belfast, at the time of the Troubles.


The IRA terror, for all its horrors, was never unrestrained. That is, it was subject to {restriction}. The IRA never carried out suicide bombings I'm eager to find what Dr Wilcox has to say about the subject - or has to theorize about the subject. Although I'm well read in the literature of the subject - including Popper's works on theory - I'm not in the least convinced that in the case of suicide bombing, theorizing can take the place of thinking in terms of human values, practicalities, realism which takes account of hopes that the harshness of reality can be made less harsh.


Some gender theorists seem to take a very earnest view of the 'theory' that is gender theory, regarding it as akin to scientific theory or as truly scientific, and offering the best, or only, way to solving many practical problems. They are pathologists who examine the diseases caused by 'sexism' and can cure the diseases.


An abstract of the book: 


'The bodies produced by the violent practice of suicide bombing are a source of horror and disgust. They are, in feminist psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva's concept, abject: that which defies borders and is expelled to create the self. As ‘abject bodies’, suicide bombers' bodies frustrate attempts at calculation and rational control of security risks, and, in their mutilated flesh, expose as unstable the idea of the body as a whole with clearly defined boundaries between inside and outside. Female suicide bombers, whose bodies are already considered ‘abject’, produce a politics of the body that exceeds narratives of victimhood, and whose very monstrosity symbolically threatens the foundations of the nation-state. Attempts at constructing subjects out of the mutilated bodily remains of victims and perpetrators of suicide bombings are key practices in the production of the state and gendered subjects. The practice of suicide bombing and efforts to recover and resignify bodies reveals how power molds and constitutes the border of the body and state simultaneously. The explosive body of the suicide bomber thus has destabilizing effects beyond the motivations of its perpetrators and exposes the political work necessary to maintain the illusion of secure, bounded bodies and states.'


A preliminary view: the author gives, in stilted language, a view of suicide bombing which is deadly - deadly to the reputation of the writer, that is - crystalline in superficial appearance, crude, vague, mushy and confused in reality. What are efforts to 'recover' and 'resignify' bodies? The border of the body and the border of a state are so different in kind that 'molding' (or 'moulding') and constituting the border of the body and the state simultaneously is without meaning - this comment from someone whose site has linkage as a central organizing principle (but also contrast.) The distinction is made between male and female suicide bombers (only the female suicide bombers have bodies which are 'abject,' presumably because the female suicide bombers, unlike the male suicide bombers, are 'oppressed.') The abstract is ideological rubbish which has no linkage with the world of innocent people caught up in the deluded violence of fanatics. At first sight, this is yet more writing which calls into question the  Cambridge reputation for excellence.


Dr Rachel Bower and the F word


Dr Bower isn't currently at Cambridge. 


From her Website, 'Rachel has a PhD in English  from the University of Cambridge, and reviews regularly for journals and magazines including Stand and Wasafiri. Rachel is also the founder of Verse Matters, a feminist arts collective in Sheffield.' 'Rachel founded Verse Matters, an intersectional feminist arts collective, in June 2015. Verse Matters runs regular arts events in Sheffield, creating a supportive space for people share poetry, music, dance and stories.' (a 'to' is missing here, obviously.) 'Rachel is a poet, academic and editor. She is a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.'


'The F Word' is a well known feminist Website. Rachel Bower is a feminist but 'The F word here is 'fantastic,' not 'feminism' or 'feminist.'


This is Dr Bower in full flow:


'Verse Matters is back tonight (Thurs 7 April) for another FANTASTIC night of poetry, music and solidarity at the Moor Theatre Delicatessen ...   

'There will be FANTASTIC performances ... It’s going to be fab!'

Businesses who want to sell things don't usually have any concern for the health of language. They've not in the least bothered if the language they use is stale:

 'Win a FANTASTIC prize in our FANTASTIC prize draw!'

Again and again, Rachel Bower's use of language is just as mechanical and unthinking - the evidence is overwhelming. Poets, at least poets like Rachel Bower, can be abysmally bad users of language. The Website of 'Stand magazine' gives the information that she 'contributed six times between 2016 and 2017' - and the information that 'Stand' 'is now edited from the School of English at the University of Leeds.'

Much, much higher standards can be found in unlikely places. Rachel Bower lives in Sheffield.  If she ever reads the football results in our local newspaper, 'The Star,' she'll know that the language of the writers is far from tired or debased. A report on a Sheffield Wednesday match, for instance, will never include phrases such as 'FANTASTIC match! FANTASTIC goals!' Instead, language which so often is varied and interesting. Even people without much interest in football can find interest in these reports. In football,  harsh realities intrude. Most football clubs can't possibly satisfy the hopes of their supporters for any length of time. It would be excessive to talk about 'the dark night of the soul,' but football supporters are never likely to be spared disappointment for long. In the world of feminist poetry, it seems, there's relentless uplift. Everything is 'fantastic,'

Rachel Bower seems to live in a fantasy world where 'fantastic' achievement is the norm - provided that the 'achievers' are ideologically sound, of course. She seems to believe that because she calls something wonderful, amazing - FANTASTIC - then it must be wonderful, amazing, FANTASTIC.

Dr Bower's world isn't completely fantastic - for these feminists, men are the problem, men are the difficulty, men blight this carefree fantasy world  - which would be anything but  carefree without the massive achievements of men.  in bringing safe drinking water to feminists, to mention just one achievement. Feminists who find life hideous in the world of patriarchy would find life infinitely more hideous in a world of unsafe drinking water and untreated sewage, a world of rampant disease and premature death. The illusions of feminists are sustained by massive engineering achievements which have solved problems which are infinitely more serious than the problems which preoccupy them.

So, some extracts from Rachel Bower's pages.

Review: Poetic Collaboration in Iraq and Palestine

June 7, 2016

This is the proof of a review that was recently published in the FANTASTIC  poetry magazine, Stand 14.2 (2016) in Leeds ...


Poetry & A Pint’ and ‘Lyrical’

April 13, 2016

  I have guest slots at two FANTASTIC poetry nights this week ...


Poetry, Music, Stories & Seeds!

April 7, 2016

Verse Matters is back tonight (Thurs 7 April) for another FANTASTIC night of poetry, music and solidarity at the Moor Theatre Delicatessen ...   

There will be FANTASTIC performances ... It’s going to be fab!


Verse Matters: International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016

We had a wonderful first night at the Moor Theatre Deli to celebrate International Women’s Day 2016 as part of SheFest Sheffield. Amy Kinsman (Poet) performed a FANTASTIC set of poems ...


Verse Matters on Sheffield Poetry TV

February 17, 2016

I was recently a guest presenter on Sheffield Poetry TV for a special episode on Verse Matters. The Verse Matters episode is now available to watch online ( Check it out for FANTASTIC poems from Louise Clines ...


From Mugen to the Moor Theatre Deli

February 17, 2016

We had a brilliant last night at the FANTASTIC Mugen Tea House on Scotland St on Thursday 4 February ...

Education, Rights and Migration


February 10, 2016

There are lots of FANTASTIC events happening at Universities across the North of England which connect local and international issues.  

I’m excited to announce that we’re moving Verse Matters to the FANTASTIC Moor Theatre Delicatessen in March. We’re super happy about the move ...

We are, of course, very sad to leave Sarah Haigh at the Mugen Tea House who has been AMAZING! Please come along and say thanks to her next week at Verse Matters – February at the Tea House on Thursday 4 February. More details about the next event, which includes FANTASTIC performances from Sai Murray (Tangled Roots Poet), Hannah Chutzpah (Performance Poet) and Arian Sadr (Musician) plus loads of brilliant open mic performers can be found on the Verse Matters Facebook event page.


“Put all weapons down”

January 14, 2016

It was another full house at Verse Matters in January, with 90 people squeezing into the Mugen Tea House for a night of solidarity and FANTASTIC performances. 


SolidarityStarDust 2016

January 7, 2016

Verse Matters is back this Thursday (7 Jan) with another FANTASTIC line up! Sprinkle the start of 2016 with some solidarity star dust! Don’t let January finances stop you – it’s pay what you can on the door. There’s FANTASTIC comedy and poetry from Chella Quint, brilliant poetry from the wonderful Gav Roberts and exciting music…


Soul Seed

December 4, 2015

My poem,”Soul Seed” featured on Pankhearst’s FRESH site yesterday. Pankhearst is a FANTASTIC collective of independent writers ...


Poetry and Sufi Soul

November 11, 2015

It’s the last Verse Matters of 2015 tomorrow! Join us at the Mugen Tea House (Scotland Street) for FANTASTIC poetry from Kate Garrett and Gina Elbow ... 


Freeing verse. And saxophones…

October 27, 2015

There was a FANTASTIC mix of words and music at Verse Matters in October. 


Verse Matters – September

September 15, 2015

Verse Matters was back in September with a fantastic line-up. Everyone loved the featured artists:


Verse Matters – September

September 7, 2015

After another FANTASTIC night in August, Verse Matters is back on Thursday 10 September with more talented artists. There’ll be FANTASTIC poetry from the formidable Toria Garbutt (A Firm of Poets), 


Verse Matters – September

September 7, 2015

After another FANTASTIC night in August, Verse Matters is back on Thursday 10 September with more talented artists. There’ll be fantastic poetry from the formidable Toria Garbutt (A Firm of Poets), 


You have reached your destination!

July 14, 2015

The launch of Verse Matters was wonderful. Helen Mort kicked the evening off by reading a few of her FANTASTIC new poems, 


Once I caught a fish alive…

June 25, 2015

There’s some FANTASTIC spoken word and poetry events going on in Sheffield at the moment


A busy old weekend in Yorkshire

June 7, 2015

It’s a busy weekend in Yorkshire for poetry. Big ROMP kicked us off on Friday night in Rotherham with the usual warm welcome and FANTASTIC poetry. 


South Yorkshire Poetry Festival, 22-24th May

May 22, 2015

There are some FANTASTIC events on this weekend in South Yorkshire. 


Verse Matters: A Feminist Arts Event

May 21, 2015

We’re getting closer to going live with Verse Matters: a new feminist arts event that I am setting up in Sheffield. We’re teaming up with a FANTASTIC new cafe at The Hide on Scotland Street ..


Cambridge Classics and Mary Beard



Above, the ancient Greek theatre at Epidauros
Acknowledgements: cdine's photostream



Above, the Roman arena at Nîmes in France, now used to stage bullfights.
Acknowledgements: mikeandanna's photostream


My page Seamus Heaney: translations and versions  includes translation from Latin, Horace, Carmina 1:34, and Classical Greek, lines from Sophocles' 'Philoctetes,' with fairly extensive discussion of my translation and Seamus Heaney's versions.


My page Bullfighting: arguments against and action against,  the section Bullfighting as an art form. Bullfighting and tragedy which discusses my claim, in connection with the theatre at Epidauros and the arena at Nîmes, that 'These two places represent  vastly different aspects of civilization, at vastly different levels of achievement.' The section includes a  discussion of μέγεθος in the often cited passage from Aristotle's 'Poetics,' (Bekker 1449b.20):


ἔστιν οὖν τραγῳδία μίμησις πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ 
τελείας μέγεθος ἐχούσης, ἡδυσμένῳ λόγῳ χωρὶςἑκάστῳ 
τῶν εἰδῶν ἐν τοῖς μορίοις, δρώντων καὶ οὐ δι᾽ ἀπαγγελίας, 
δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβουπεραίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων 
παθημάτων κάθαρσιν.

'Tragedy is an imitation of an admirable action, which has completeness and magnitude, in language which has been made a source of pleasure, each of its species separated in different parts; performed by actors, not through narrative, and giving through pity and fear the purification of these emotions.'


Mary Beard, the Cambridge classicist, has disgraced herself with her comments on gladiators. She has distorted the realities of wounding and killing and tried to transform them into something acceptable. From her television programme, 'Meet the Romans,' where she examines the helmet of a gladiator. ' ... in my mind,' she says, gladiator fighting was closer to 'the sort of charade of wrestling than the real-life combat of boxing.' In fact, gladiator fighting was vastly more brutal and bloody than any boxing match. And, '... more and more often, it was a spectacle, it was theatre.'  I comment on the spectacle, but the atrocious cruelty of the spectacle can't possibly be in doubt. And what of the executions, carried out in a variety of barbaric ways, which were a regular part of the spectacle? The executions of these victims, the 'noxii,' would be even harder for Professor Beard to assimilate.