Saturday, April 12, 2008

Military-Leisure-Golf-Industrial Complex

I've been linking to a fair number of articles recently, so I've been intending to put a little more "work" and a little less "link" into my entries. But I couldn't pass this one up:

Back in 1975, Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisconsin) decried the fact that the Department of Defense spent nearly $14 million each year to maintain and operate 300 military-run golf courses scattered across the globe. In 1996, the weekly television series America's Defense Monitor noted that "Pentagon elites and high government officials [were still] tee-ing off at taxpayer expense" at some "234 golf courses maintained by the U.S. armed forces worldwide." In the intervening twenty-one years, despite a modest decrease in the number of military golf courses, not much had changed. The military was still out on the links. Today, the military claims to operate a mere 172 golf courses worldwide, suggesting that over thirty years after Proxmire's criticisms, a modicum of reform has taken place. Don't believe it.

In actuality, the military has cooked the books. For example, the Department of Defense reported that the U.S. Air Force operates 68 courses. A closer examination indicates that the DoD counts the 3 separate golf courses, a total of fifty-four holes, at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., as 1 course. The same is true for the navy, which claims 37 courses (including facilities in Guam, Italy, and Spain) but counts, for example, its Admiral Baker Golf Course in San Diego, which boasts 2 eighteen-hole courses, as a single unit. Similarly, while the DoD claims that the army operates 56 golf facilities, it appears that this translates into no fewer than 68 actual courses, stretching from the U.S. to Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

Moreover, some military golf facilities are mysteriously missing from all lists. In 2005, according to the Pentagon, the U.S. military operated courses on twenty-five bases overseas.

A closer look, however, indicates that the military apparently forgot about some of its golf courses -- especially those in unsavory or unmentionable locales. Take the unlisted eighteen-hole golf course -- where hot-pink balls are used so as not to lose them in the barren terrain -- at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Also absent is the army's Tournament Players Club, a golf course built, in 2003, by army personnel in Mosul, Iraq. Another forgotten course can be found in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, at Kwajalein, a little-discussed island filled with missile and rocket launchers and radar equipment that serves as the home of the U.S. Army's Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. Similarly unlisted is a nine-hole golf course located on the shadowy island of Diego Garcia, a British Indian Ocean Territory occupied by the U.S. military and long suspected as the site of one of the CIA's post-9/11 secret "ghost" prisons. But even courses not operating on secret sites, in war zones, or near prisons and possible torture centers have been conveniently lost. For example, while the Pentagon lists the navy's Admiral Nimitz Golf Course in Barrigada, Guam, in its inventory of overseas courses, it seems to have skipped Andersen Air Force Base's eighteen-hole Palm Tree Golf Course, also on the island. And you'd think the Pentagon would be proud of the USAF's island links; after all, it was the runner-up, in 2002, for the title of "Guam's Most Beautiful Golf Course."

None of this is surprising. It's just a constant surprise to see the multivariate forms of empire.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ludlow Massacre | Columbia Free Trade Agreement

The timely and informed David Sirota:

As progressives, we sometimes feel a bit uneasy about making declarative statements about the values people express in their actions. We hesitate, for instance, to call things "evil," not wanting to be like George "Wiith Us, or Against Us" Bush. That's understandable - absolutism can lead to bad places. However, sometimes when confronted with the blatant, undeniable truth, we have to call things out for what they are. That's what I did in my newspaper column today - the first of a two-column series on the anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre. In this column, I discuss the problem with blood money being used to buy off the Democratic Party.
We are watching our government attempt to ratify the murderous legacy of Ludlow on the world stage through its proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement. That pact, opposed by Colombian labor, human rights and religious leaders (among others), would reward the murderous Colombian government - a government that has effectively condoned mass murders of union organizers; a government that allows union persecution to continue; a government whose president himself has been caught on videotape commiserating with death squad leaders.

The worst part is the behavior of Democratic Party - the supposed party of the voiceless. Bush and his corporate pals have long ago stopped pretending they represent anything other than Big Money - no matter how much death and destruction that Big Money sows. But Democrats were just elected in 2006 pledging to fight for fair, humane trade policies. But now with Colombian blood money flowing to a powerful cadre of Clintonites, congressional Democrats moved yesterday to delay the Colombian trade deal for the explicit purposes of making sure it ultimately passes.

This is a very important point that has gone almost completely unreported by the media - even as Democrats go on record making statement after statement explicitly saying they are delaying the deal in order to pass it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's move yesterday to delay the deal is being billed as some sort of great victory. And while sure, it's great that the pact didn't actually pass yesterday, Pelosi herself has said she made the move to prevent the bill from being voted down.

The New York Times barely mentioned that "Ms. Pelosi and other Democrats said their intent was not to kill the agreement," adding that "under the right conditions, a sufficient number of them could probably be found to join with Republicans in approving the pact with Colombia." Pelosi herself said she delayed the Colombia deal because "If brought to the floor immediately, it would lose." Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) - who never met a corporate lobbyist he didn't try to shakedown - told Roll Call the delay "is actually going to save [the pact] instead of kill it" because it would have been defeated on the floor otherwise.

I don't have time to comment on this, but CFTA is yet one more opportunity where Democrats can show how they are different and articulate their vision of justice and freedom. Clearly this is not the priority of our leaders.

**Pictures courtesy:

Yoo are so beautiful!

According to the Dean Edley in Boalt Hall...

The Torture Memos and Academic Freedom

Christopher Edley, Jr.
The Honorable William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Chair and Dean
UC Berkeley School of Law

While serving in the Department of Justice, Professor John Yoo wrote memoranda that officials used as the legal basis for policies concerning detention and interrogation techniques in our efforts to combat terrorism. Both the subject and his reasoning are controversial, leading the New York Times (editorial, April 4), the National Lawyers’ Guild, and hundreds of individuals from around the world to criticize or at least question Professor Yoo’s continuing employment at UC Berkeley Law School. As dean, but speaking only for myself, I offer the following explanation, although with no expectation that it will be completely satisfying to anyone.

Professor Yoo began teaching at Berkeley Law in 1993, received tenure in 1999, and then took a leave of absence to work in the Bush Administration. He returned in 2004, and remains a very successful teacher and prolific (though often controversial) scholar. Because this is a public university, he enjoys not only security of employment and academic freedom, but also First Amendment and Due Process rights.

It seems we do need regular reminders: These protections, while not absolute, are nearly so because they are essential to the excellence of American universities and the progress of ideas. Indeed, in Berkeley’s classrooms and courtyards our community argues about the legal and moral issues with the intensity and discipline these crucial issues deserve. Those who prefer to avoid these arguments—be they left or right or lazy—will not find Berkeley or any other truly great law school a wholly congenial place to study. For that we make no apology.

Does what Professor Yoo wrote while not at the University somehow place him beyond the pale of academic freedom today? Had this been merely some professor vigorously expounding controversial and even extreme views, we would be in a familiar drama with the usual stakes. Had that professor been on leave marching with Nazis in Skokie or advising communists during the McCarthy era, reasonable people would probably find that an easier case still. Here, additional things are obviously in play. Gravely so.

My sense is that the vast majority of legal academics with a view of the matter disagree with substantial portions of Professor Yoo’s analyses, including a great many of his colleagues at Berkeley. If, however, this strong consensus were enough to fire or sanction someone, then academic freedom would be meaningless.

There are important questions about the content of the Yoo memoranda, about tortured definitions of "torture," about how he and his colleagues conceived their role as lawyers, and about whether and when the Commander in Chief is subject to domestic statutes and international law. We press our students to grapple with these matters, and in the legal literature Professor Yoo and his critics do battle. One can oppose and even condemn an idea, but I do not believe that in a university we can fearfully refuse to look at it. That would not be the best way to educate, nor a promising way to seek deeper understanding in a world of continual, strange revolutions.

There is more, however. Having worked in the White House under two presidents, I am exceptionally sensitive to the complex, ineffable boundary between policymaking and law-declaring. I know that Professor Yoo continues to believe his legal reasoning was sound, but I do not know whether he believes that the Department of Defense and CIA made political or moral mistakes in the way they exercised the discretion his memoranda purported to find available to them within the law. As critical as I am of his analyses, no argument about what he did or didn't facilitate, or about his special obligations as an attorney, makes his conduct morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank and place. Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders.

What troubles me substantively with the analyses in the memoranda is that they reduce the Rule of Law to the Reign of Politics. I believe there is much more to the separation of powers than the promise of ultimate remedies like the ballot box and impeachment, even in the case of a Commander in Chief during war. And I believe that the revolution in sensibilities after 9/11 demands greater, not reduced, vigilance for constitutional rights and safeguards. What of the argument made by so many critics that Professor Yoo was so wrong on these sensitive issues that it amounted to an ethical breach? It is true, I believe, that government lawyers have a larger, higher client than their political supervisors; there are circumstances when a fair reading of the law must—perhaps as an ethical matter?—provide a bulwark to political and bureaucratic discretion. And it shouldn't require a private plaintiff and a Supreme Court ruling to make it so. Few professions require an oath at entry, but law does. Oaths must mean something.

Assuming one believes as I do that Professor Yoo offered bad ideas and even worse advice during his government service, that judgment alone would not warrant dismissal or even a potentially chilling inquiry. As a legal matter, the test here is the relevant excerpt from the "General University Policy Regarding Academic Appointees," adopted for the 10-campus University of California by both the system-wide Academic Senate and the Board of Regents:

Types of unacceptable conduct: … Commission of a criminal act which has led to conviction in a court of law and which clearly demonstrates unfitness to continue as a member of the faculty. [Academic Personnel Manual sec. 015]

This very restrictive standard is binding on me as dean, but I will put aside that shield and state my independent and personal view of the matter. I believe the crucial questions in view of our university mission are these: Was there clear professional misconduct—that is, some breach of the professional ethics applicable to a government attorney—material to Professor Yoo’s academic position? Did the writing of the memoranda, and his related conduct, violate a criminal or comparable statute?

Absent very substantial evidence on these questions, no university worthy of distinction should even contemplate dismissing a faculty member. That standard has not been met.

April 10, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

So much for the information age?

The Chronicle has an article up (that I rather like but have some major problems with) about a professor's discussion regarding rendition. It's called "So Much for the Information Age."

I teach a seminar called "Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge." I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word "rendition."

Not one hand went up.

This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon.

I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

I nodded charitably, then attempted to define the word in its more public context. I described specific accounts of U.S. abductions of foreign citizens, of the likely treatment accorded such prisoners when placed in the hands of countries like Syria and Egypt, of the months and years of detention. I spoke of the lack of formal charges, of some prisoners' eventual release and how their subsequent lawsuits against the U.S. government were stymied in the name of national security and secrecy.

The students were visibly disturbed. They expressed astonishment, then revulsion. They asked how such practices could go on.

I told them to look around the room at one another's faces; they were seated next to the answer. I suggested that they were, in part, the reason that rendition, waterboarding, Guantánamo detention, warrantless searches and intercepts, and a host of other such practices have not been more roundly discredited. I admit it was harsh.


Still, it is hard to reconcile the students' lack of knowledge with the notion that they are a part of the celebrated information age, creatures of the Internet who arguably have at their disposal more information than all the preceding generations combined. Despite their BlackBerrys, cellphones, and Wi-Fi, they are, in their own way, as isolated as the remote tribes of New Guinea. They disprove the notion that technology fosters engagement, that connectivity and community are synonymous. I despair to think that this is the generation brought up under the banner of "No Child Left Behind." What I see is the specter of an entire generation left behind and left out.

It is not easy to explain how we got into this sad state, or to separate symptoms from causes. Newspaper readership is in steep decline. My students simply do not read newspapers, online or otherwise, and many grew up in households that did not subscribe to a paper. Those who tune in to television "news" are subjected to a barrage of opinions from talking heads like CNN's demagogic Lou Dobbs and MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Fox's Bill O'Reilly and his dizzying "No Spin Zone." In today's journalistic world, opinion trumps fact (the former being cheaper to produce), and rank partisanship and virulent culture wars make the middle ground uninhabitable. Small wonder, then, that my students shrink from it.

Then, too, there is the explosion of citizen journalism. An army of average Joes, equipped with cellphones, laptops, and video cameras, has commandeered our news media. The mantra of "We want to hear from you!" is all the rage, from CNN to NPR; but, although invigorating and democratizing, it has failed to supplant the provision of essential facts, generating more heat than light. Many of my students can report on the latest travails of celebrities or the sexual follies of politicos, and can be forgiven for thinking that such matters dominate the news — they do. Even those students whose home pages open onto news sites have tailored them to parochial interests — sports, entertainment, weather — that are a pale substitute for the scope and sweep of a good front page or the PBS NewsHour With Jim Lehrer (which many students seem ready to pickle in formaldehyde).

I sympathize with professor Gup. As one of the teachers of the Introduction to Global Studies course here at Whittier, I have felt first hand this frustration with students' apparent ignorance of current events, and all too often their apathy. That said, I cannot completely agree. First of all, students today actually seem quite engaged in issues regarding the environment, they are far more anti-war than most students I can remember in the early 80's (or, said another way, they can see first hand some of lies and contradictions of our government), and students sense on some level that things are really changing, for better and/or worse, in the wake of globalization. (Note to self: There are people who study this. I should find out who and see if students are more engaged or less. Maybe those researchers even have a blog!)

Prof Gup's premise seems quite problematic to me as well. He is assuming that reading newspapers and watching CNN is the portal to being informed. I'm not so sure. The last century during which major newspapers and television channels dominated local markets did NOT lead our citizenry to become better citizens. Participation in our system of government was declining and a whole political party (Republicans) sought office for 40 years on the basis that government was in general a bad thing, that they should, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, "starve the beast." (Except for the military, of course). Political blogging and the internet have become a viable and informative way to engage in the political process, and that power is being courted by the big players--key evidence that, in spite of his "uninformed" students, something is afoot.

His premise also assumes that these major news factories are really informing the public. The record here is mixed too. Are people who watch Fox News more or less informed than someone who does not? Some interesting studies have shown that viewers of ol' Rupert's news outlet are somewhat likely to be ill-informed rather than well-informed. And CNN? What do Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs inspire in their viewers other than fear and loathing? I'm sorry, Dr. Gup, you're letting these news outlets off far too easily and you are not considering the ground-breaking work done by Talking Points Memo or Media Matters (and any other number of groups). Do I need to bring up Judith Miller or the Washington Times (Go Moonies!!!)?

The information age will never be a panacea for the problems of our world until we accept that the media that we do have do not really represent us. Millionaire "reporters" and pundits by definition and constitution will not serve the public's interest well because they are simply too far removed from those concerns. The electoral process, as imperfect as it is, is still less forgiving than the clubby major newspapers and networks. I mean, the average income of the fictive families on television during the 50's was about 35K (adjusted for inflation). The average family in sitcoms now earns approximately 200k per year. I say this just for comparison's sake. Our media has become more elitist and less engaged with the public all while pandering more. I think that our mainstream media--those who bear the biggest responsibility for informing the public over the public airwaves and with their publicly chartered corporations--are much more to blame for the state of things than any other single thing. If we are going to begin casting blame, let's start with news corporations that have been thinking a lot more about their shareholders than about their public responsibilities. Indeed, we have decades of interesting data, so let's look there and let blogging reach its second decade before we start casting stones about technology.

But I will agree with Prof. Gup on this:

The noted American scholar Robert M. Hutchins said, decades ago: "The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens." He warned that "the death of a democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment." I fear he was right.

So do I. It's just that I fear that this apathy will come to us via our media outlets determined to tell us everything about Britney Spears and nothing (or something on A22) about that little thing called rendition.

Firefox: Like Going To College

Downloading Firefox is like going to college according to Seth:

(h/t proactivebusybody)

A quick glimpse at just about any profession shows you that the vast majority of people who succeed professionally also went to college.

This could be because college teaches you a lot.

Or it could be because the kind of person that puts the effort into getting into and completing college is also the kind of person who succeeds at other things.

Firefox is similar.

Example: 25% of the visitors we track at Squidoo use Firefox, which is not surprising. But 50% of the people who actually build pages on the site are Firefox users. Twice as many.

This is true of bloggers, of Twitter users, of Flickr users... everywhere you look, if someone is using Firefox, they're way more likely to be using other power tools online. The reasoning: In order to use Firefox, you need to be confident enough to download and use a browser that wasn't the default when you first turned on your computer.

That's an empowering thing to do. It isolates you as a different kind of web user.

If I ran Firefox, I'd be hard at work promoting extensions and power tools (I love the search add-ons) and all manner of online interactions. Think of all the things colleges do to amplify the original choice of their students and to increase their impact as alumni.

And if I ran your site, I'd treat Firefox visitors as a totally different group of people than everyone else. They're a self-selected group of clickers and sneezers and power users.

In the lingo of Nancy Reagan, Firefox is a gateway drug.

I'm not sure about all the correllations brought up here, but I will say that Firefox, along with Linux, has been the gateway to the most recent open-source revolutions. Sure, one can point to other things, but Firefox in particular has replaced IE and done so paradigmatically.

Expelled: The Lies!!!

Scientific American now has a whole series dedicated to the misrepresentations and pandering of Expelled.

No one could have been more surprised than I when the producers called, unbidden, offering Scientific American's editors a private screening. Given that our magazine's positions on evolution and intelligent design (ID) creationism reflect those of the scientific mainstream (that is, evolution: good science; ID: not science), you have to wonder why they would bother. It's not as though anything in Expelled would have been likely to change our views. And they can't have been looking for a critique of the science in the movie, because there isn't much to speak of.

Rather, it seems a safe bet that the producers hope a whipping from us would be useful for publicity: further proof that any mention of ID outrages the close-minded establishment. (Picture Ben Stein as Jack Nicholson, shouting, "You can't handle the truth!") Knowing this, we could simply ignore the movie—which might also suit their purposes, come to think of it.

Unfortunately, Expelled is a movie not quite harmless enough to be ignored. Shrugging off most of the film's attacks—all recycled from previous pro-ID works—would be easy, but its heavy-handed linkage of modern biology to the Holocaust demands a response for the sake of simple human decency.

Expelled wears its ambitions to be a creationist Fahrenheit 911 openly, in that it apes many of Michael Moore's comic tricks: emphasizing the narrator's hapless everyman qualities by showing him meandering his way to interviews; riposting interviewees' words with ironic old footage and so on. Director Nathan Frankowski is reasonably adept at the techniques, although he is not half the filmmaker Michael Moore is (and yes, I do mean in both senses of the phrase).

The film begins with the triumphant entry of financial columnist, media figure and former Nixon White House speechwriter Ben Stein to a filled college lecture hall. (If this review were styled after the movie, I'd be intercutting clips of Nixon flashing a victory sign with Stein's scenes from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and his eyedrop commercials, but you get the idea.) Stein explains that he is speaking out because he has "lately noticed a dire trend" that threatens the state of our nation: the ascendance of godless, materialist, evolutionary science and an unwillingness among academics to consider more theistic alternatives. A montage of short clips then shows Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other scientists scorning religion or ID without context. "Freedom is the essence of America!" Stein insists, and he frets that scientists who like their empiricism with a dash of deus ex machina are oppressed. He and Expelled charge that scientists, in their rejection of religious explanations, have become as intolerant as Nazis. Or maybe Stalinists—the film clips were ambiguous on that point.

(The newsreel footage from the old Soviet days kept confusing me. Stein does know that the Stalinists rejected the theory of evolution as a biological rendition of capitalism, doesn't he? And that they replaced it with their own ideologically driven, disastrous theory of Lysenkoism? Does Stein think that moviegoers won't know this?)

That last paragraph is my favorite! Isn't it funny how every authoritarian political movement wants to change history and science for political expediency (think: GB)?

There's plenty more.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Economics 101: Le Monde Diplomatique

Brought to you by the folks at Le Monde diplomatique:

In theory, the United States is all for free trade and is the leading advocate of the system. But, faced with a recession and a colossal trade deficit, it is reconsidering, as everyone knew it would. The US military contract for 79 refuelling tankers, co-produced by European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) at a cost of $35bn, is no exception. US national interests are well protected. This “European” aircraft will be equipped with General Electric engines, produced in partnership with the US company Northrop Grumman and assembled in Alabama. More than half the added value will be generated in the US. Much of the equipment on offer from the main competitor, Boeing – less readily available, with a more limited refuelling capability and range – would not have been produced in the US.

Editorials in newspapers and the business press assure us that it is wrong to take strong measures to protect national companies and their employees. But history shows that most developed countries owe their prominent positions to trade barriers. Britain, France, Korea, Japan and Prussia did not acquire their industrial power by obeying David Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage. And in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the US had the highest growth rate in the world, its customs tariffs were around 50% (44% in 1913). President Ronald Reagan inveighed against protectionism but set limits on imports of cars, steel, sugar and textiles. His administration increased duties on cars with big engines (by a factor of 11) and on motorcycles, to rescue Harley-Davidson. And it pressured Japan to revalue its currency, just as President George Bush is asking China to do now (1).

The monetary policy pursued by the Federal Reserve with the tacit approval of the White House, although not openly protectionist, has obvious implications for trade. A weak dollar is good for exports and will reduce the impact of the current recession in the US. The European Union is almost alone in calmly allowing central bank policy on interest rates – high interest rates – to threaten major industries established with considerable injections of public money. Groups like EADS are relocating their activities to the dollar zone to escape the dire effects of revaluing the euro (2).

The deal with the Pentagon also has political and strategic implications. What price did Europe have to pay for the honour of refuelling US aircraft with equipment co-produced in the US because the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates down? When it was announced that the contract had been awarded to EADS, Democratic congressman John Murtha complained that the Europeans were not pulling their weight in Afghanistan. By coincidence, President Nicolas Sarkozy is about to send 1,000 more French troops there. Celebrating his new diplomatic entente with Washington, Sarkozy said: “It would have been unthinkable for EADS to win the contract for refuelling tankers in the previous climate of tension between France and the US” (3). Enough said. The Pentagon decision is a superlative lesson in free trade.

Expelled: The Stupidity!!!

As you may know, a new movie is out about the "flaws" of evolution. It's called Expelled and Ben Stein is in it. It is such a good movie that BIOLA University, that paragon of truth-seeking, gave ol' Ben a prize:

In light of Stein’s contribution to the pursuit of liberty and truth, particularly as it relates to the field of Intelligent Design, he is being honored with the 2008 Johnson Award. The award ceremony will feature premiere clips from the forthcoming movie, the personal appearance of scientists who were expelled from their jobs because they are sympathetic to Intelligent Design, and will include a brief address by Stein.

Clearly there is a lot of money floating around to promote "truth." But let's forget all the dubious "science" of the Intelligent Design movement. Let's look at Ben's decision to be in this film for what is isn't (a search for the truth) and for what it is: a lucrative venture that allows him (and those like him) to further the rightwing movement by portraying the Right as a "reasonable" everyman under attack by an elitist Left.

As D. Niewert recently posted on Jonah Golberg (columnist for the LA Times), the right, as a rule, is more bigoted than the left and much less willing to consider other points of view. What must be understood, though, is that the Right, almost by definition, portrays itself as constantly under attack and as the defender of "truth" and "values." Ironically, ideas themselves are never in combat for their actual truth or value, so we must understand that the battle is not about truth per se, but about the righteousness of those who defend it. Take a look at what Niewert's argument:
Still, it's hard to top the claptrap that Goldberg propagated in his most recent L.A. Times column:
I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there's the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing random motorists that "hate is not a family value." But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.

It might be helpful to come to grips with the concept in question here: Bigotry is usually defined as "stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own," and a bigot as "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices." Bigotry, as we have known it historically, is not based on rationality or reason -- as the scientific belief in evolution is -- but founded instead on prejudice, inbred beliefs, and supernatural reactionarism.

And what we also know about bigotry historically is that it has largely been a characteristic of the right, particularly the cultural conservatives who enforced the segregation and oppression of nonwhites for much of the 20th century.
You can see in Golberg's and Steins' argumentation two clear elements: the Left are the "elite," they are "smug" and "intolerant" of "our community." They portray this as a battle between people, not ideas. Moreover, they paint themselves as under attack: look we're being eaten up by that giant fish!

Somehow I just can't feel sorry for two relatively rich people who get important space in major newspapers. How are they in the minority? Remember: they are not, they just like to say they are.

So next time a member of some group (Republicans, Christians, Environmentalists, whatever) tells you that they deserve a hearing just because they consider themselves an oppressed minority, ask yourself a few questions: is group x truly oppressed? is group x really seeking dialogue, or are they looking for a platform? is group x interested in the truth and open, or are they more interested in being a victim? Of course, there are many shades of grey here, which is why the NYT regularly and stupidly inserts references to ID movement ideas into its articles out of a false idea of journalistic fairness. Just remember this: you can respectfully decline to listen to unscientific insanity. It's not bias, it's logic.

Goodbye to Yoo?

B. Delong links to this paragraph re John Yoo's basic (lack of) ability to understand the law:

With this many academics talking about this stuff, if there were enough directly applicable precedents to be 'controlling' here, someone would know the story offhand. I could be wrong, but I'd bet a fair amount that the decision of how to apply the faculty code of conduct is up to Boalt Hall, reasoning from first principles, not from precedent.

And at that point, I have a very easy time saying it's the equivalent of scholarly misconduct. Legal work isn't exactly scholarship, but it has its own ethical obligations. And writing a memo like that [of March 14, 2003] (everyone's harping on Youngstown, but that's something whose absence takes the memo out of the realm of possible good-faith argument) is unethical -- if those arguments were made to a court, they would be an unethical attempt to deceive the court into believing there was no contrary precedent. That failure to meet the standards of practice required by the legal profession appears to me to be close enough to a failure to abide by the standards of the scholarly profession that it can be treated as an equivalent level of scholarly misconduct.

Note that I'm not arguing that he's such a bad man that he should be fired, but that the memo establishes that he is such a bad (either implausibly incompetent or much more likely ethical-standards-violating) lawyer that he should be fired as a professor of law....

I think it's a pretty easy case to make... [O]n some level the reason you can fire a professor for scholarly misconduct is to make it clear that if you, e.g., falsify data, you may not teach -- people learning to be scholars shouldn't learn that such falsification is compatible with scholarship. Writing legal arguments that ignore (not find some way to distinguish, but flatly ignore) controlling precedent is very much the same sort of misconduct, and the argument that people learning to be lawyers must be protected from coming to believe that it's an acceptable part of lawyering is closely parallel...

I don't know where I stand on this. Academic freedom should be absolute--even to make a mistake. However, it would seem that one's ability to do one's job and interpret basic facts is not so much about academic freedom as it is fulfilling the prerequisite duties of one's job--a very different case indeed.

I doubt that anyone will follow through with this. (I wonder: is this cosmic payback for Ward Churchill?) If censure or something does come down the pipe for Yoo, left-oriented law professors should watch their backs. The Right is much, much more ruthless.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Racisme, SOS.

A bloody pigs head, swastikas, a dead (Muslim) soldier. A sad day.
On a trouvé la tête ensanglantée d’un porc sur une tombe. Et sur la stèle de pierre blanche, recouvrant le nom du soldat Younès Ben Mohamed et l’inscription «mort pour la France le 16 janvier 1916», le mot «HALAL» (sic). Quand les journalistes, les anciens combattants et les représentants musulmans sont arrivés sur les lieux, il restait une tache de sang de l’animal sur la stèle. Une croix gammée, pas loin. Entre autres, un profanateur a inscrit une injure à l’islam, qu’il a traduite en chti sur les stèles suivantes.

If you're wondering what chti is, it's the local dialect in Picardy. Read about it on wikipedia.

Monday, April 07, 2008

David Zirin

Every few days I wonder which David Zirin article I should link to. Here's his latest on the new stadium for the Washington Nationals:

While Boswell and Fisher were given prime column real estate to gush [about the Nationals in the Washington Post], columnist Sally Jenkins didn't even get a corner of comics page. It's understandable why Jenkins, the 2002 AP sports columnist of the year, didn't get to play. Four years ago, she refused to gush: "While you're celebrating the deal to bring baseball back to Washington, understand just what it is you're getting: a large publicly financed stadium and potential sinkhole to house a team that's not very good, both of which may cost you more than you bargained for and be of questionable benefit to anybody except the wealthy owners and players. But tell that to baseball romantics, or the mayor and his people, and they act like you just called their baby ugly. It's lovely to have baseball in Washington again. But the deal that brings the Montreal Expos to Washington is an ugly baby."

Jenkins words have come to pass. But this isn't just an "ugly baby", it's Rosemary's baby. It's $611 million of tax payer money in a city that has become a ground zero of economic segregation and gentrification. $611 million over majority opposition of taxpayers and even the city council. $611 million in a city set to close down a staggering twenty-four public schools.

That's $611 million, a mere five months after a mayor commissioned study found that the District's poverty rate was the highest it had been in a decade and African-American unemployment was 51 percent. That's $611 million, in a city where the libraries shut down early and the Metro rusts over. That's a living, throbbing, reminder that the vote-deprived District of Columbia doesn't even rest on the pretense of democracy. This isn't just taxation without representation. It's a monument of avarice that will clear the working poor out of the Southeast corner of the city as surely as if they just dispensed with the baseball and used a bulldozer. This is sports as ethnic and economic cleansing, as Hurricane Katrina, as Shock Doctrine, as Green Zone. Fittingly, Fisher wrote, President George W. Bush came out to throw the first pitch. Fittingly, he was roundly booed. He stood tall on the mound nonetheless, proudly oblivious, taking center stage yet again in what can only be described as occupied territory. (Source)

Indeed. Who else is going to remind us of this? Something tells me all those really "tough" guys on ESPN will forget to mention the booing, the real price tag, the oppression and the repression in our dilapidated capital. It baffles me how the owners could suck some 600 million out of a city that has nothing but problems. Actually, it doesn't baffle me, it just continues to shock me in spite of my repeated exposure to the crimes of the elite.

No, there was nothing organic or natural about this return of baseball, a sport increasingly reliant on fans that are white and immigrant labor that is not. Baseball, a miror image of our politics and racial divides.

A blogger to encourage

I was browsing the internets the other day and stumbled upon a student's blog. (I was searching for something I had written. Mirror, mirror on the blogs...)

Check it out

I've distracted myself in this two-thirds sleepy, dark room with "news" of the Speedo LZR Racer controversy, American and Delta's decrepit plane technology, Basra Shiite scariness, whatever Private Investment in Public Equity solicitation is, and another Laker "technical difficulty" loss. I really don't see the point in straying from the Lakers blog whenever Jon Abrams feels it necessary to test his wit this early on a Thursday. Phil Jackson diatribes after losses are always refreshing after losing so lamely to freaking Charlotte Bobcats.

The Home section actually reminded me that I live in LA, where credit it given solely to those of whom are overpopulating the bumps and beaches of Malibu. ie The Arnoldi's.

Friends of Gehry's, aluminum fiends, who employ lonely succulents to serve as backyard sculpture, rather than subliminally emphasizing why xeriscaping is key in such flambable lands. People who are speaking of their artistry too loudly in this economy, rather than letting the three pages of photography do the talking.
You've probably already noticed some good writing and sly insights. Go Tyler.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Home at last

I spent a lot of the day in the car. Had a great conversation along the way.

As you've probably noticed looking at my "conference blogging" posts, I felt really energized by the topics and the people. There's a lot of ideas I hope to explore in the coming weeks and I'll try to review them here as I go, "thinking out loud" right here on blogger. I'll save that for later in the week. For now, just a few last words...

As the conference ended, protests were cranking up out in Union Square against China. I snapped a few pictures (which I'll keep small here to protect folks), of course, and I won't pass up the chance to comment.

First of all, I salute all the members of the Chinese and Tibetan community for coming out to show their protest. Given the serious consequences their appearance might have for loved ones back home, their actions are more than just righteous, they are courageous.

I don't have time to dwell on this right now--grading and preparation are calling--but the moment yesterday in Union Square got me thinking about Margaret Thatcher and the Olympics. As I was reminded by a BBC reporter last Monday or Tuesday, Margaret Thatcher's opinion was that athletes could boycott games if they like, but Business should not.* That is a typically chilling statement by the former British PM, the same one who said that "There is no such thing as society," that "There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first" (Source).

Spreading the idea that the individual acts out of mere selfishness has long been a part of the project of folks like Thatcher, Reagan, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and their ilk. Yet here we see folks risking their lives for others, for places where they no longer have a home. Right here (on the internet) we see a commons maintained and thriving thanks to a spirit of community. Yes, individualism, entrepreneurship, profit are part of almost all our identities, but so are community, belonging and selflessness. What's more: these folks are protesting some of the neoliberal policy put into action by Deng Xiao Ping concurrent with Thatcher and Reagan (See David Harvey). Just one look at China and it is readily apparent that a free market does not need political freedom to operate. Of course, Chileans know this first hand, and, I suppose, so do many folks right here in the U.S.

Ok, I'm too tired and too busy to blog more or to be more succint. I just wanted to share that.

*I may be thinking of her views on South Africa. Sorry for my tired brain.