June 29, 2005

One Nation Under (a Christian) God

In light of today's construction update, I'm going to post something that's been on my mind for awhile. Even though I've been in NY City many times since 9/11, last week was the first instance I visited Ground Zero since the attacks. I'm working close to the courts downtown and my office is basically a block away. While delivering some papers, I decided to walk back a little out of the way and pass by the site. Maybe I've just missed the boat and this is common knowledge, but there's a giant metal cross left in the rubble made out of construction I-beams.

When I saw it, frankly I was shocked. I couldn't believe that such a blatant Christian symbol was left in the aftermath of September 11th. A quick perusal of the list of victims of the attack makes it clear that many Jewish (and probably Muslim and Hindu) people died that day. I thought the crucifix sent the really unfair message that people of only one faith suffered that day. Talk about discrimination against people of faith.

Furthermore, I think the maintenance of this symbol in such a controversial place also imparts that America does regard the attacks of September 11th as a clash of civilizations. Whether or not you believe the theories of Bush and his Defense Department cronies, leaving a crucifix at Ground Zero basically says "it's the Christians versus the terrorists," which is ridiculous because I'm sure there at least some non-Christian Americans who buy into the clash of civilization theory.

I just want to close this with a quote from Justice O'Conner taken from a NYT article:

Justice O'Connor said the country had worked well, when compared with nations gripped by religious violence, by keeping religion "a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat." She added: "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

I do realize that the WTC is private property and the government isn't responsible for this affront, but I still think this example epitomizes the publicity of religion, particularly Christianity, that is having seriously harmful consequences on the fabric of contemporary American society. Religion used to be a private affair that would unite people in quiet worship. Today, it's become a political tool which is only polarizing the country more by the day.

Dartmouth's reputation

We once predicted that Dartmouth would be known as the "laughing stock of academia" after vociferous conservatives Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki were elected to the Board of Trustees in May.

So take the following for what it's worth: in light of the trustee election and the recent lift of the moratorium on new Greek houses, Inside Higher Ed yesterday published an article called "Dartmouth Shifts -- to the Right?"

Good or bad press? You decide.

June 28, 2005

Village Voice strike?

Damn gay-loving commie propagandists. Rumor on Gawker has it the Village Voice might be going on strike to protest benefit cuts proposed by their management. Just when I get to New York.

June 27, 2005

Obligatory Supreme Court Post--Someone had to do it

With the slew of cases decided by the Supreme Court today, a lot of blogging has been devoted to commentary about those decisions and the possibility that some of our beloved justices will be hanging up their robes relatively soon.

Not wanting LGB to be left out, I'll add a critique of Malchow's post about O'Connor, in which he frets about the possibility that, in the interest of maintaining minority representation on SCOTUS, when Sandra D. retires, it will seem necessary to fill that slot with another woman, or at least a "non-white, non-male replacement," a prospect Malchow could do without.

Jingoistic Joe says:
There is no room for "representation" of 400 million people in a nine-person body. Let's find some sharp people, forget about sex and non-whiteness, and call it a day.

I, of course, disagree.

I disagree that some notion of minority representation on the Supreme Court is unimportant. The reason why we have nine justices instead of one person whom we deem to be supremely knowledgeable in the law is to achieve a certain amount of balance. Granted, when the Supreme Court was instituted, balance meant that not all the justices should be lawyers from plantations in Virginia who part their hair on the left. Now, however, it does--and should--mean finding eminently qualified jurists who come at the law from different perspectives, perspectives that come from a much broader range of life experiences. One way to achieve this balance is by appointing justices that are minorities.

While I believe that an unqualified candidate should never be given an appointment simply by virtue of minority status, there are more than enough highly qualified minority jurists in the nation that it wouldn't be a miscarriage of justice in the slightest to narrow the pool.

June 26, 2005

Holy fucking shit!

Link from Verbose Coma.

If we stop proliferating the "values voter" meme, it will go the way of the dino!

Daily Kos take note! Only the exclamation point can properly express the urgency of our political moment.

Hagel fears Iraq might become another Vietnam

A reader of ours commented last month,
nothing about Vietnam remotely resembles Iraq. Not the people, the terrain, the tactics, the world situation and particularly not the results. To tuck your tail and run after losing 56,000 lives does not compare to freeing two countries from tyranny despite the loss of 1,600 so far.
Chuck Hagel, Republican senator from Nebraska and twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, disagrees. Jake Thompson of the Omaha World-Herald reports,
Sen. Chuck Hagel addresses more than 200 Nebraska American Legion members in Grand Island on Saturday.

It took 20 minutes, but it boiled down to this:

The Bush team sent in too few troops to fight the war leading to today's chaos and rising deaths of Americans and Iraqis. Terrorists are "pouring in" to Iraq.

Basic living standards are worse than a year ago in Iraq. Civil war is perilously close to erupting there. Allies aren't helping much. The American public is losing its trust in President Bush's handling of the conflict.

And Hagel's deep fear is that it will all plunge into another Vietnam debacle, prompting Congress to force another abrupt pullout as it did in 1975.

"What we don't want to happen is for this to end up another Vietnam," Hagel told the legionnaires, "because the consequences would be catastrophic."

It would be far worse than Vietnam, says Hagel, a twice-wounded veteran of that conflict, which killed 58,000 Americans.

Rex multum loquitur

“Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own." – Jonathan Swift

"King of the Hill" is a great show. I've always enjoyed watching it as a satire of good ole' heartland America. But, not that surprisingly, a lot of other people—those comprising heartland America and other reddish counties, not to mention friends of mine from back in Tennessee—watch it and relate to the embattled conservatism of Hank and his buddies, perhaps seeing the influx of liberal multicuralism into the fictional town of Arlen as the real target of the show's humor. Believe it or not, such ambiguity existed well before the Age of Irony, being a common characteristic of good, subtle satire.

An article in today's New York Times Magazine, "'King of the Hill' Democrats," describes, a little belatedly, some of the cultural import of this TV show, telling how North Carolina's two-term Democratic governor actually consults it regularly for political guidance. According to the article:
The composition of the audience for ''King of the Hill'' is telling. You might expect that a spoof of a small-town propane salesman and his beer-drinking buddies would attract mostly urban intellectuals, with their highly developed sense of irony. In fact, as Governor Easley long ago realized, the show's primary viewer looks a lot like Hank Hill. According to Nielsen Media Research, the largest group of ''King of the Hill'' viewers is made up of men between the ages of 18 and 49, and almost a quarter of those men own pickup trucks.
The article's worth reading, doing better than your average attempt by the NY Times to comprehend the mythical beast of the red-state Other. Howard Dean might do well to take note.

Protect America & Download Porn, at the Same Time!

Paranoid high school grads and inquisitive adults alike finally have a place where they can prepare for the dangerous world of tomorrow. University of Connecticut will be offering a Master's Degree program in Homeland Security starting this fall. The 20 month program (15 of which are online) is sure to give students an in-depth understanding of this complicated emerging field, or at the very least enough ammo to go a couple rounds with Ann Coulter on FOX News.

June 25, 2005

About time

Apparently the United States has finally admitted to torturing inmates at Guantanamo, though the document including the admission has not been made public yet. Story at Forbes.com.

June 24, 2005

State of the Union, world: troubling

Edit: Link fixed

The New York Review of Books has a long, must-read article on how U.S. foreign policy under Bush is failing us and the world, called "The New World Order."

I know what you might be thinking: what could the effete intellectuals at the NY Review of Books, a source we have actually never used on this blog, possibly know about the War on Terror? Well, the article is actually a review of several publications, including books by David Rieff, a reporter who once believed U.S. responsibility in international affairs boiled down to a choice between "imperalism and barbarism" for the world but who now sees the Iraq war as a disaster, and by Andrew J. Bacevich, West Point grad, Vietnam vet, and conservative Catholic who directs the study of international relations at Boston University. The author of the review is Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at NYU.

Supported by Rieff and Bacevich, Judt accurately paints a picture of America under the Bush adminstration as a military state dangerously bordering on imperalism. He also describes the state of the U.N. and the desparate need for international cooperation instead of U.S. unilateralism.

The article is sizeable at 18 pages but all the better for its historical and textual detail, including informative footnotes as per NYRB standard.

Anyone who, say, supports John Bolton or votes Republican I especially encourage to read it, for it should really give you pause.

Bring me Karl Rove's head on a platter!

Here's a story that anyone interested in politics should be following. Karl Rove spoke at a Conservative Party fundraiser in Midtown Manhattan Wednesday night. He had such respectful things to say about the response of liberals to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding to our attackers."

Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer (both Democrats from New York) called on Rove to apologize or resign and demanded a condemnation from New York's Republican Governor George Pataki. Pataki did not (he called Senator Clinton a hypocrite), but Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg (keen, no doubt, on retaining his current lead in the polls) stated the following: "We owe it to those we lost to keep partisan politics out of the discussion and keep alive the united spirit that came out of 9/11."

New York's Democratic City Council Speaker Gifford Miller plans to introduce a resolution calling for Rove's resignation. Although I'm going to tentatively rate the chances that President George W. Bush responds favorably to said resolution fairly low, it's quite heartening to see Democrats playing hard ball. My only hope is that the cons continue to criticize us for being too passive, so that Dems finally realize that we cannot continue to respond to bile with respectful disagreement. We'll need to go further, but calling for Rove's head is a good start.

Image from bakedziti.


Ariel, our economist in training, is a pretty big fan of the hit book Freakonomics. I read half of the book one day and I appreciated it as quirky, fascinating, powerful microeconomics done well. That said, I had similar qualms with it as I have with a great deal of more classically-oriented economics: the axioms about human nature on which it's based. That basically all human beings are the same, that they share some innate rationality, that we as agents use this mystical rationality to optimize our happiness, and that, to some extent, we're all made happy by similar things. I understand that this kind of economics leaves room for differing individual conceptions of happiness, so that people will take different paths towards optimizing their well-being, but in the worldview of someone like Steven Levitt the difference is more a variegation than a real variety, with all human beings essentially pursuing certain well-defined, and highly normative, types of happiness.

For me, the problem is a pretty serious epistemological one about the nature and domain of economics as a discipline. It occupies shifty ground as a science whose subject is human behavior. Although it shares with psychology an empirical method, it's more like mathematics in its underpinnings because it starts with such well-defined axioms and definitions about human behavior, namely all that facile assignation of "agency" and "rationality" to human beings, on which all its empirical explanations rest. Or so it seems to me, who cannot at all claim to know much economics but who am interested in the philosophies of mathematics, of science, etc. I'd be curious to know about any really serious treatments of the philosophy of economics which might address what I'm talking about.

I understand that not all economics works on such narrow premises, and that a lot of really great and innovative work has expanded economists' concepts of costs, benefits, and rationality. But I was also dismayed when I asked Ariel whether she knew of any economics studying decidedly non-capitalist economies such as many of the old Native American ones and those of smaller, isolated, tribal or communal societies, where ideas of agency, costs, and benefits were or are often alien. She said no she had not studied any such work and did not know of any.

How would economics describe these equally functional economies? It is certainly possible that the concepts of costs, benefits, and incentives--concepts proven to have great explanatory power--would rise to the challenge, be adapted and revised, and make sense of these systems without a massive overhaul of all economics. I would like to hear about some work in economics challenging itself to describe systems both existent and potential of social arrangements different from the capitalist one we know so well. It might be enlightening for everyone, and might even help us improve on our own capitalist society.

But getting back to Freakonomics, I offer you a provocative critique of the book on grounds similar to mine. The magazine is called N+1, the author one Meghan Falvey, and the article "Weakonomics." If you haven't read the book the article's still worth reading. Here's an excerpt from the conclusion, which suggests some immediate political consequences to this whole debate:
In this the Freakonomist is only a symptom of a pervasive metaphorical creep that has been underway for some time now. The trend toward understanding human beings as maximizers of gain and avoiders of loss has a longer history than Freakonomics'’ eight-week residency on the Times'’ bestseller list. Indeed, it is difficult to think otherwise of ourselves these days. How naturally we grasp ourselves as rational navigators of various markets: markets for friends and lovers, for career advancement, for our weekend leisure time, our political commitments. We budget and invest our time, our effort, our sympathies and pleasures. It's true that this perspective is substantially inflected with that other popular theory of self, Freudianism. But since the explosion of market exchange, seeing ourselves and others as market players has become irresistibly, sensibly alluring.

+ + +

Why does this matter? Metaphors abound. But this metaphor matters because it underpins political transformations making them seem either more palatable; or, when it runs unopposed, natural and inevitable. Our description of the rational self supports the real-world conditions under which some futures seem more attainable than others. It coaxes us into wholehearted, personally felt participation with capitalist regulation.

Levitt's calculating individual is the ideal subject of contemporary neoliberal economic reform, in particular the expansion of the market into all possible areas of life. Blair's "“stakeholder society"” and Bush's "“ownership society"” are based in just such a fictitious understanding of the individual as Levitt offers. Bush and Blair naturally take their slogans from shareholder prospectuses. Their programs involve predictable amendments to federal pension plans and tax codes. And both initiatives hail an entrepreneurial subject who is willing to negotiate various markets in the course of providing for their needs and wants. If Bush promises to make it easier for you to own a home, then what does it matter if you or anyone else has a right to shelter?

June 23, 2005

Screw the public, screw the children

Doesn't this capture nicely the Republican platform? It's been coming for a while now, but the cons' effort to destroy public broadcasting is coming to a head. The House of Representatives is considering a measure today that would cut funding for public broadcasting in half. A heartwarming detail from The Los Angeles Times:

The measure before the House today would strip more than $200 million, including money for Ready to Learn, an initiative that helps finance children's shows such as "Reading Rainbow."

And here's a New York Times article on the matter.

You can sign a petition to save public broadcasting here at MoveOn.org. They started with a goal of 500,000 signatures and are now past 1 million. This really is important. NPR and PBS are full of excellent, educational information and entertainment, which, by virtue of being public in a free society--not beholden to private, corporate interests--represent some of the last remaining independent broadcasting.

June 21, 2005

Dogs are the best content

Funny competition

So I know George has submitted an entry to The New Yorker's new weekly cartoon Caption Contest. As an avid reader of the magazine for over five years now, I have been curious to know just how many people have been participating and how the feature has been working out for The New Yorker.

Well, the answer is more than 50,000 people since April, or between 7,000 and 12,000 each week.

I for one think the feature is great, and I am continually amazed at how clever some of the winning captions are.

The article from Newsday is actually pretty interesting for a few other tidbits about the contest process, such as how the editor in charge has developed a computer program to sift through entries and how the submissions are often in sync with the cartoonists' original caption:

In the May 9 issue, "First, you must gain their trust," was a finalist for a cartoon depicting a lab researcher wearing a mouse suit while taking notes on a group of caged mice. Cartoonist Mike Twohy's caption was, "First, you must earn their trust." Close enough.

Genetic politics

From The New York Times:

a team of political scientists is arguing that people's gut-level reaction to issues like the death penalty, taxes and abortion is strongly influenced by genetic inheritance. The new research builds on a series of studies that indicate that people's general approach to social issues - more conservative or more progressive - is influenced by genes.

If cons hate science so much, maybe we liberals should be focusing our efforts on genetic engineering. Who said communism was antithetical to human nature?

June 19, 2005

The Plot Against America

After reading the cover story of this week's NY Times Magazine, strangely enough I thought of the story told by Christopher Nolan in the recent release Batman Begins.

The article seeks to investigate the underpinnings of the anti-gay marriage movement, particularly on the state level. Author Russell Shorto leads us to the obvious conclusion that the real problem that social conservatives have with gay-marriage isn't the issue in itself, but rather the recognition of homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle. Shorto interviewed several religious conservative activists for the piece. Taken together, the movement against gay-marriage has to do with the irrational fear among these people that gay-marriage will destroy society as we know it and sink into a pseudo-Sodom and Gomorah.

I couldn't help but see the parallels between the gay-marriage activists and the League of Shadow in Batman Begins apparently. Both have the insidious intention of destroying society. The League releases a panic inducing toxin into the air of Gotham City in order to induce chaos. The gay-marriage activists haven't even needed toxins to inject panic into American politics. And praise the Lord and Jesus, we have the Christian Conservatives (Batman) to save us from this surreptitious plot to destroy America.

Maybe I'm just crazy, but I don't see how gay-marriage in any way has this effect. The conservatives point to studies of Nordic society after their institution of gay-marriage, which show that in the 10 years following its passage out-of-wedlock births significantly increased. However, they also acknowledge the fact that these trends were already in place before gay-marriage making this sort of reasoning extremely suspect. Laura Clark, an activist which the piece centers on, believes that gay-marriage will lead to polyamory (polygamous marriage between bisexual people). However, this situation is nowhere close to developing to the Nordic countries in which gay-marriage has been around for 10 years.

Gay marriage is a personal relationship between two people. What people chose to do in their private lives are up to them. Social conservatives just use the social disorder argument in order to cover their love of interfering in other people's lives. The arguments made by these busy-body Christian conservatives are ridiculous smoke-screens for an intrinsic hatred and ignorance of homosexuality. The conservative activists in the piece frequently acknowledge the belief (largely discredited by the psychological community) that homosexuality is a choice that can be eradicated by reading the Bible and loving Jesus.

Look at this ridiculous argument made by one activist in the piece:

''The homosexual community would have us believe that marriage is simply about loving one another,'' said Rick Bowers of Defend Maryland Marriage. ''I say it's about two human beings who are wired completely differently, one with estrogen and one with testosterone, living together in love but with the purpose of procreation. It's a lot deeper than love. So I can't see how someone could look on a same-sex marriage as marriage at all.''

Apparently, marriage isn't about love. It's about the more profound hormonal difference between two people and propagation of the species.

June 15, 2005

Shut Gitmo

Lets do a thought exercise, because its 3am, and thats what I want to do.

Lets say, you're John the terrorist Doe, and you're sittin in the Sunni triangle right now, just doing the usual, jihading it up. You know, being the fundamentalist equivalent of a sweet and ragey dude, taking potshots at our soldiers, carbombing aid workers, whatever.
You hear that, if captured, you're going to Guantanamo or some equivalent facility. Now, if capture by the infidels means torture, desecration of cultural shit, you know, that whole bag, I guess it'll do one of two things.
1) Not change anything, because in your batshit head, the Americans couldn't be more evil.
2) In your batshit head, you've (possibly rightly) decided that the American government is more evil than previously assumed, and rather than face torture, you're gonna try a little harder to kill some 18-year-old American soldier.

The stories and reports coming out of Guantanamo and other detention centers just adds fuel to the fire that drives an ever growing army of insurgents. The practices at these places, namely the torture, force our allies and potential allies to lose yet more respect for us, and accomplish nothing useful in terms of the War on Terror. At the very least, the DoD, for the sake of the under-equipped soldiers they care so much about, should make its ethically reprehensible actions less high-profile. But really, we should take the moral high ground (actually, its the ground every other first-world nation is on), and abide by the Geneva Conventions.
Can any of you cons offer a cogent argument, that you honestly believe in, not for the sake of being contrary to liberals or international institutions, of how doing so would weaken us in the War on Terror?
And, if any of you actually pony up to the challenge, can you convincingly assert that this is the most important way for America to strengthen its assault on Islamic terrorists? That better military intelligence, better equipped and more numerous deployments....that none of these things are as significant as the right to indefinitely detain low-level fighters?

Come on. If the spokesmen/tools of your party are going to get up on national TV and deny that any of this is occuring, at least you Heritage Center clones who write these policies (or will in the future) can at least explain the underlying rationale.

June 13, 2005

Another commencement speech

Ah, graduation. What to say? So much to say. Graduation. Yes, graduation. No, wait, yes. Ah yes. Right...

I will say I thought the ceremonies today were on the whole very nice. I enjoyed Tom Brokaw's commencement address well enough. It touched on several of the challenges, personal to global, every one of as graduates will face, and it probably didn't offend anyone too much, which has a kind of merit in itself.

But what would this blog be if we didn't offer an alternative commencement speech with a little more... piquancy? So I give you this speech delivered by historian and activist Howard Zinn to Spelman College. It's pretty radical, and it might piss you off, but maybe it can say a valuable thing or two that Mr. Brokaw was not quite at liberty to. And congrats to the Class of 2005.

Against Discouragement

By Howard Zinn
[In 1963, historian Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. This year, he was invited back to give the commencement address. Here is the text of that speech, given on May 15, 2005.]

I am deeply honored to be invited back to Spelman after forty-two years. I would like to thank the faculty and trustees who voted to invite me, and especially your president, Dr. Beverly Tatum. And it is a special privilege to be here with Diahann Carroll and Virginia Davis Floyd.

But this is your day -- the students graduating today. It's a happy day for you and your families. I know you have your own hopes for the future, so it may be a little presumptuous for me to tell you what hopes I have for you, but they are exactly the same ones that I have for my grandchildren.

My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war -- still another war, war after war -- and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings. There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without health care, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war. There are a billion people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who need clean water and medicine to deal with malaria and tuberculosis and AIDS, but our government, which has thousands of nuclear weapons, is experimenting with even more deadly nuclear weapons. Yes, it is easy to be discouraged by all that.

But let me tell you why, in spite of what I have just described, you must not be discouraged.

I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do -- enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That's when democracy came alive.

I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam -- bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers -- it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.

The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Remember Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Illych." A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.

My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.

Recently I saw a photo on the front page of the New York Times which I cannot get out of my mind. It showed ordinary Americans sitting on chairs on the southern border of Arizona, facing Mexico. They were holding guns and they were looking for Mexicans who might be trying to cross the border into the United States. This was horrifying to me -- the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into two hundred artificially created entities we call "nations" and are ready to kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary, so fierce it leads to murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking, cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on, have been useful to those in power, deadly for those out of power.

Here in the United States, we are brought up to believe that our nation is different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral; that we expand into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy. But if you know some history you know that's not true. If you know some history, you know we massacred Indians on this continent, invaded Mexico, sent armies into Cuba, and the Philippines. We killed huge numbers of people, and we did not bring them democracy or liberty. We did not go into Vietnam to bring democracy; we did not invade Panama to stop the drug trade; we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq to stop terrorism. Our aims were the aims of all the other empires of world history -- more profit for corporations, more power for politicians.

The poets and artists among us seem to have a clearer understanding of the disease of nationalism. Perhaps the black poets especially are less enthralled with the virtues of American "liberty" and "democracy," their people having enjoyed so little of it. The great African-American poet Langston Hughes addressed his country as follows:

You really haven't been a virgin for so long.
It's ludicrous to keep up the pretext…

You've slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms,
And you've taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows…

Being one of the world's big vampires,
Why don't you come on out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France,
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power.

I am a veteran of the Second World War. That was considered a "good war," but I have come to the conclusion that war solves no fundamental problems and only leads to more wars. War poisons the minds of soldiers, leads them to kill and torture, and poisons the soul of the nation.

My hope is that your generation will demand that your children be brought up in a world without war. If we want a world in which the people of all countries are brothers and sisters, if the children all over the world are considered as our children, then war -- in which children are always the greatest casualties -- cannot be accepted as a way of solving problems.

I was on the faculty of Spelman College for seven years, from 1956 to 1963. It was a heartwarming time, because the friends we made in those years have remained our friends all these years. My wife Roslyn and I and our two children lived on campus. Sometimes when we went into town, white people would ask: How is it to be living in the black community? It was hard to explain. But we knew this -- that in downtown Atlanta, we felt as if we were in alien territory, and when we came back to the Spelman campus, we felt that we were at home.

Those years at Spelman were the most exciting of my life, the most educational certainly. I learned more from my students than they learned from me. Those were the years of the great movement in the South against racial segregation, and I became involved in that in Atlanta, in Albany, Georgia, in Selma, Alabama, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Greenwood and Itta Bena and Jackson. I learned something about democracy: that it does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice. I learned about race. I learned something that any intelligent person realizes at a certain point -- that race is a manufactured thing, an artificial thing, and while race does matter (as Cornel West has written), it only matters because certain people want it to matter, just as nationalism is something artificial. I learned that what really matters is that all of us -- of whatever so-called race and so-called nationality -- are human beings and should cherish one another.

I was lucky to be at Spelman at a time when I could watch a marvelous transformation in my students, who were so polite, so quiet, and then suddenly they were leaving the campus and going into town, and sitting in, and being arrested, and then coming out of jail full of fire and rebellion. You can read all about that in Harry Lefever's book Undaunted by the Fight. One day Marian Wright (now Marian Wright Edelman), who was my student at Spelman, and was one of the first arrested in the Atlanta sit-ins, came to our house on campus to show us a petition she was about to put on the bulletin board of her dormitory. The heading on the petition epitomized the transformation taking place at Spelman College. Marian had written on top of the petition: "Young Ladies Who Can Picket, Please Sign Below."

My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way that our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. There are wonderful people, black and white, who are models. I don't mean African- Americans like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, who have become servants of the rich and powerful. I mean W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Marian Wright Edelman, and James Baldwin and Josephine Baker and good white folk, too, who defied the Establishment to work for peace and justice.

Another of my students at Spelman, Alice Walker, who, like Marian, has remained our friend all these years, came from a tenant farmer's family in Eatonton, Georgia, and became a famous writer. In one of her first published poems, she wrote:

It is true--
I've always loved
the daring
Like the black young
Who tried
to crash
All barriers
at once,
wanted to
At a white
beach (in Alabama)

I am not suggesting you go that far, but you can help to break down barriers, of race certainly, but also of nationalism; that you do what you can -- you don't have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.

That marvelous African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wouldn't do what white people wanted her to do, who wouldn't do what black people wanted her to do, who insisted on being herself, said that her mother advised her: Leap for the sun -- you may not reach it, but at least you will get off the ground.

By being here today, you are already standing on your toes, ready to leap. My hope for you is a good life.

June 12, 2005

Mother, Should I Trust The G8?

Damn you lucky Britons!

Pink Floyd will be reuniting for their first concert since 1981 at a July 2nd charity show in London. The band will be performing along with acts such as Coldplay, Elton John, Paul McCartney in order to raise money to aid struggling African nations. It's unclear whether or not they'll be touring at all after the charity concert, although I got the impression from the article that this is a one-shot deal. Guitarist David Gilmour remarked:

"Like most people I want to do everything I can to persuade the G8 leaders to make huge commitments to the relief of poverty and increased aid to the third world. It's crazy that America gives such a paltry percentage of its GNP to the starving nations. Any squabbles Roger and the band have had in the past are so petty in this context, and if re-forming for this concert will help focus attention then it's got to be worthwhile."

This decision comes on the heels of a historic debt-forgiveness by G8 leaders a couple days ago. The deal forgives approximately 40 billion dollars of debt, 10-15 billion short of what Britian's Tony Blair, and apparently Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, had wanted.

June 11, 2005

Monkey Prostitute!

The New York Times Magazine has a new Freakonomics column, and this time, it's about monkeys learning the rules of monetary exchange.

Honestly, this is one of the greatest things I've ever read. (But then again, as I've admitted before, I'm not that well read.) There is a pretty compelling blend of cute monkey imagery with behavioral economics analysis.

Some choice excerpts:
On the test subjects: "'You can feed them marshmallows all day, they'll throw up and then come back for more.'"
On altruism: "The selfish jerk, meanwhile, was punished even worse. . .'They'd throw their feces at the wall, walk into the corner and sit on their hands, kind of sulk.'"

But can the data be generalized to humans?
"The data generated by the capuchin monkeys, Chen says, 'make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.'"

Bush Administration's Opinion of Public Reaches New Low

In the wake of the recent scandal, the chief of staff to President Bush's Council on Environmental Quality Phillip A. Cooney has turned in his white-out and red pen. It was revealed two days ago that Mr. Cooney was responsible foralteringg government climate reports in order to diminish research on the correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino remarked that his resignation had nothing to do with the recent controversy; "He had accumulated many weeks of leave and had decided to resign and take the summer off to spend the time with his family."

I realize that the Republicans think Americans are idiots. After all, they have managed to convince voters for the last 5 years that they're "fiscal conservatives" who are against big government while running a bigger and bigger budgdeficiteit every year. Enough is enough though. Give Americans some credit. Why would they even try to claim that Mr. Cooney's resignation wasn't a direct effect of the scandal? The story was on the front page of the NY Times and widely reported on news networks. When you combine this with their decision to acknowledge Koran abuses and Bush's recent hinting that Gitmo might be closed, either the Bush Administration is getting lazier or they just don't care anymore now that he's reelected. Come on guys, at least come up with a liberal media bias or Democratic conspiracy against people of faith slant.

June 10, 2005

Michael Jackson abducted Natalee Holloway!

I made the mistake of venturing into the painful world that is broadcast news - CNN, MSNBC, (fox), and whatever else occupies channels 28-34 here in central Jersey.
Michael Jackson may have raped a baby, he may not have. At this point, with the jury 6 days into deliberations, I think it would be fair for the media to back their coverage off a bit, maybe to a meager 21 hours per day.
Natalee Holloway, the 18 year old Alabama honors student who got abducted at an Aruba nightclub more than 10 days ago, is the other reason I want to kill my TV. The coverage is mind-boggling. Like intense media focus in the US is going to convince some predatory skeezebag in the Carribean to come forward and admit his guilt. The only thing slightly redeeming about this coverage is that the main suspect's last name is 'Van der Sloot,' but even that loses its quirky charm after hour 3.
In the meantime, this is what you've missed out on:
1. A tropical storm is going to hit Florida
2. A surfer in Jersey got bitten by a Great White (okay, I know that's not major, but its cool)
3. US fatalities in Iraq is about to hit 1700
4. Citigroup added $2billion to the pot of Enron settlement payouts.
5. Nationalized health care was seriously challenged in Quebecois court.
6. Bolivia may collapse into civil war
7. The US and Britain made a huge step towards 3rd world debt relief.
8. The closing of Guantanamo is becoming inevitable
9. President Bush's approval ratings have shot into the shitter
10. The Senate has confirmed 3 ridiculous human beings as appelate judges, and will likely send Bolton to the UN

Fuck it. Just read Rudepundit next time you feel an urge to reach for the remote. If you want entertainment instead of news, at least you'll have a chance at learning something.

Addendum to my response to a Core Curriculum

Since I've been home, I've done some more thinking about The Review's championing of a Core Curriculum as a sort of panacaea for Dartmouth's educational woes (which pretty much amount to being bad at the 1870 version of Trivial Pursuit). Here are a few more points I have thought of:

1. The Review presents the Western Canon as a source of universal values, but the scope of their critique is limited to the local--the Dartmouth campus. This seems rather discontinuous to me. Here's why:
If the Western Canon is truly a universalizable value, then some print and some time should have been spent writing about the place of the Canon outside of Dartmouth, at least as an ancillary argument for the Canon's importance. If the Canon is the best society has to offer, as the Review claims, there is an obligation implicit in making it the focus of their latest issue to put it in a larger societal context.

Questions like "Should the Canon be taught at night schools?" "Should it be taught at public universities?" "How about tech schools?" "How about non-Western universities?" do not have to be answered, but they merit a consideration, even in The Review's Dartmouth-centric scope. Since that consideration is absent, I assume it must be irrelevant to The Review's staff and Dr. Platt, in which case I have to wonder, if they truly believe that the Western Canon is the best education a person can have, why is it irrelevant to those not at a school like Dartmouth? In my humble opinion, it is simply pedagogical elitism--not education adapted to the needs of disparate communities, but education adapted to privilege--that drives the Reviewers.

2. In regards to the attack on the English Department's abandonment of the Writing Program, well, I agree fully that the greatest emphasis should be placed on making the Writing Program excellent and effective. I have to ask, though, why should there be a concern that English/Writing 5 is being outsourced to faculty other than those of the English department? Shouldn't we ask why the Review believes a computer science prof teaching at Dartmouth is incompetent as a teacher of grammar and effective composition? I tend to assume that if a person has been hired to teach at Dartmouth, s/he's a)pretty damn smart and b)except in special cases, has a considerable command of the English language and effective argumentation. Obviously there are professors that are better at this than others, and it is my hope that there is a preponderance of that type of professor in the English Dept. than in any other, but to cast outsourcing as a certain sign of the apocalypse as far as instruction goes is complaining for its own sake and shows a(n unwarranted) lack of trust in the capabilities of the Dartmouth professorate (not to mention a disturbing lack of real thought by the author).

I believe what is needed is not making the Writing Program the English Dept.'s exclusive province, but rather that a more stringent and universal list of educational objectives, specific grading guidelines, and common methods be drawn up. (Note: this is not a recommendation of a certain common body of texts to be used in the classes, but of a certain methodology and teleology that would be held in common among all classes.)

Also, one final thing: If we should be concerned that compsci or physics profs can't teach how to draft an effective paper, doesn't that say something about the writing programs of their college years? Maybe not much has changed.

3. The idea that you can only develop the skills of literary analysis or attain knowledge of the human condition based on the classics or those books that address "the Great Issues" is bogus. Some of the most illuminating conversations I have had at Dartmouth (or elsewhere) have sprouted from extraordinarily mundane, dull topics. I feel that one can say just as much about film technique after watching The Rock as one can after seeing a film by Ernst Lubitsch. I can use and sharpen my analytic skills on poor arguments like those of The Review just as easily and just as efficaciously as I can when tackling Hegel. I can have as deep a conversation about the human experience while talking about The Game's lyrics as I can while talking about Brahms. It's not about the subject, it's about the process.

Thanks for reading.

June 9, 2005

How Long Does It Take a Dartmouth Review Staffer To Descend into Self-Parody on the Paper's Weblog?

Not long at all.

This weekend is graduating seniors' last opportunity to purchase authentic Dartmouth Indians merchandise on campus. The full lineup of Indian wares—including the new Indian polo shirts...

Indian polo shirts?
Honestly though, I could've sworn this was a fartlog post.

June 8, 2005


Via Kos, news story from Reuters:
World military spending rose for a sixth year running in 2004, growing by 5 percent to $1.04 trillion on the back of "massive" U.S. budgetary allocations for its war on terror, a leading research institute said on Tuesday.

But world military expenditure was still 6 percent below all-time highs recorded in 1987-88 toward the end of the Cold War, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its annual yearbook.

With expenditure of $455 billion, the United States accounted for almost half the global figure, more than the combined total of the 32 next most powerful nations, said SIPRI, which is widely recognized for the reliability of its data.
America really is, above all, a polemocracy, isn't it?

EDIT: That means war state.

Abstract argument of the day

In favor of homogenizing cultural identity, Joe Malchow reacts to a comment made on Eschaton:
Duncan Black:
I can't help but wonder if Asian-Americans will ever stop being considered to be "foreign" by a large chunk of our country. It's a very insidious manifestation of racism which is far more damaging than is often acknowledged.
Perhaps the name 'Asian-American' is what sends the foreigner signal. I don't consider any of my friends whose parents are Chinese to be foreign. But if they referred to themselves as Asian-Amercians, the hairy eyeball is coming [sic] out. I suspect pretty much everyone- with the exception of the obsessively politically correct- already has that bit of common sense.

Some people, Atrios will be surprised to learn, actually desire to be, simply, 'American.'

I don't at all desire to be, simply, 'American.' Incidentally, my mother is a first-generation immigrant, though she did not to come to the U.S. under the kinds of circumstances most immigrants do. And I'm not considered a foreigner.

The Stone Starts Rolling

Last week the ACIR approved a resolution by a vote of 9 in favor, 0 against, and 1 abstention. The resolution can be obtained from Dartmouth's Office of Public Affairs.
The report section of the resolution consists of a statement explaining the situation in Darfur, a review of the ACIR's mission and right to reccomend divestment, a review of two previous instances in which Dartmouth has divested and policy and precedent established at that time, and a summary of the Darfur Action Group's petition and efforts.

During the final deliberations, myself, Kelsey Noonan '08, and Anne Bellows '06 were present as representatives of DAG, and Professor Nelson Kasfir was in attendance as an expert on Sudan.

The resolution has four parts (paraphrased below):
1. The ACIR acknowledges and shares the concerns of the student body and DAG regarding mass murder in Khartoum, which has been labeled genocide by Congress, and condemns these activities.
2. ACIR recommends Dartmouth take steps as a shareholder to influence corporations in Sudan to pressure the government to discontinue genocide and take action to support the victims.
3. ACIR recommends that Dartmouth neither acquire nor retain ownership in publicly traded companies that are directly complicit in genocidal activities in Darfur, or whose involvment in Sudan directly and substantially supports the ability to conduct those activities.
4. ACIR will work with DAG and others to prepare a factual report for the Board of Trustees, including specific recommendations regarding intiatives to be taken as stockholders and divestiture of companies from the College portfolio.

This is a great step for Dartmouth, as one of the first colleges to have made this decision. Stanford's Advisory Panel on Investor Responsibility has reached a similar conclusion in the past week, and Harvard is considering further action. There are campaigns at Swarthmore, Williams, and many other peer institutions. Divestment bills have been passed in NJ, IL, and VT, and there are pending efforts in a dozen other states. Divestment is becoming more widespread.
As divestment campaigns build, more and more institutions will take action, raising the level of public awareness and political pressure on the US government, the UN, and even Khartoum, to bring about the military and humanitarian intervention that could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The ACIR decision will go to the Board of Trustees in September, when the Board's Investment Committee will meet. On the basis of the 1988 Trustees Policy "Concerning the Use of the College's Endowmen to Express Institutional Positions on Political and Social Issues," which state that "maximization of return... should not be the sole criterion for the management of Dartmouth's capital resources," the DAG expects the ACIR's reccomendations to be put in effect.

Divestment progress

Update from the Darfur Action Group on the Advsory Committee on Investor Reponsibility:
Date: 08 Jun 2005 14:20:07 EDT
From: Darfur Action Group
Subject: divestment victories!!
To: (Recipient list suppressed)

In the crush of finals, you may or may not have heard of two real victories for our group and the divest Sudan movement.

The Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility has voted to recommend that Dartmouth neither acquire nor retain investments in companies complicit with the violence in Sudan. Their decision is in large part due to the efforts to everyone who signed the petitions, went to the ACIR forum, and especially the members of the divestment committee who did all the research that the ACIR decision was ultimately based on.

Second, the Vermont State Senate voted unanimously in favor of a divestment resolution, written by the always brilliant and generally powerful Becca Heller.

Thought you'd like to hear the good news. Love,

the Darfur Action Group

Way to go, Becca.

She's Baaaaack

And you thought she had retreated back into the cave from whence she came. To the ire of Democrats everywhere, Katherine Harris has announced that she will be competing for Senator Nelson's seat in Florida elections next year. Notorious for being the chairwoman of Bush's 2000 Florida campaign and certifying his election victory in an infamous conflict of interest, Democrats have deemed Harris a "polarizing figure." Is it just me or is that a compliment in today's political climate? Hopefully, Ana Gasteyer can make a few guest appearances next season on SNL for an election almost guaranteed to be media circus.

June 7, 2005

So you're saying there's a chance...

Aspiring writer? Why get published when you can get exhibited? Check out Unpublished Underground, "the first art gallery in New York City to feature writing as its primary showcase and the only gallery in NYC that provides invaluable exposure to the unpublished writer":


The window is closing

The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science...The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.
-- Frank Luntz, Republican strategist, in a 2002 memorandum to GOP congressional candidates

The science academies of the world's leading nations are urging their governments to take prompt action to combat possible climate change.
They have agreed that all countries could and should take cost-effective action to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
The statement will be made on Wednesday by the academies of the G8 nations, including the UK's Royal Society, the US National Academy, China and Brazil.
They will make their voices heard ahead of July's G8 meeting in Scotland.
--BBC News, 6/7/05

June 4, 2005

The Christ, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

To the joy of CS Lewis fans everywhere a movie based on the beloved first book of his Chronicles of Narnia will be released to theaters December 9th this year. I just saw a trailer on E! this morning and it looks unbelievable. Definitely check it out if you enjoy the fantasy genre because this version of the Narnia series (it's not the 1st adaptation) looks even better than LOTR in my opinion.

I remember reading an article a while back about what the director was going to do about the Christian overtones in the book. Many readers have drawn the connection between Jesus Christ and Aslan. Also, the White Witch is often seen as a representation of Satan, or at the very least the danger of submitting to sinful temptation. I really don't really have a problem with its incorporation into a wide-release movie. When I read the books as a kid, I didn't even notice the Christian themes. I was just mesmerized by an amazing group of stories. I don't see a pressing need to whitewash them from the movie. Obviously, I wasn't proseytized (Jew for life!) by the book. I think the Christianity, as it was presented in the book, is subtle enough not to offend any reasonable person, yet also sends a good message to children (the seven books are often cited as allegories of the deadly sins) without being preachy. I couldn't really find a reliable to source to confirm the ultimate decision of the director, but I believe he kept the Christian themes, making sure that they were relegated to the background.

My only fear, and I think it's a well justified one, is the movie will further galvanize the Christian Coalition like The Passion did. I have this image in my head of Tom DeLay getting up on his soap box and comparing Nancy Pelosi to the White Witch. I suppose it would just be giving in to these crackpots, but it would really piss me of if people tried to pervert this beautiful children's story by trying to make it into something political.

June 3, 2005

Getting Rid of Your Crap

Don't throw anything out, at least not at Dartmouth. There are far too many good places to give your stuff to, including the Iraqi Kids Project, which has drop boxes in nearly every cluster and near Topside. They'll take just about anything.


It has just come to light to me, thanks to a comment made on Dartlog, that The Dartmouth Review mistranslated Quod erat demonstrandum as "It has been proven" in the "Western Culture" quiz in its latest issue. The actual translation is "That which was to be proven." (The commenter on Dartlog almost gets it right with "Which was to be proven.") Thus I submit that perhaps 67.8% of the campus knows Western Culture better than the Review staff does.

Petty irony: good only when they started the pettiness.

We need history, but not the way a spoiled loafer in the garden of knowledge needs it--Nietzsche

This is part II of my response to the Review's demand for a core curriculum. I apologize for its length, but I think the topic needs a thorough response.

My second point follows closely upon the first. As culture has expanded, our breadth of knowledge has expanded. It is not all that difficult to read all the Greek and Roman classics; there is, for most intents and purposes, a limited number of them. That is simply not true of scientific fields or even the fields of the humanities. Classics as well has expanded beyond simply reading and translating the old authors. There are no limits to the pursuit of knowledge, even at the undergraduate level these days. This was not as true in the 19th Century or even the early 20th. Why do we not have polymaths like Leibniz, Pascal, or (more recently) Bertrand Russell or Alfred North Whitehead? Because there is a great deal more to learn to become an expert, or even very well-read, in any single area of study. A core curriculum that does justice to the sum of human knowledge was a reasonable practice 100 years ago; it is not now. This brings me to my third point.

College is the time, even at a liberal college, when American students begin to specialize in one or two areas of study. We do because we must; we must get a job, and as such, we need an area of expertise to market. Or we try to form ourselves as good thinkers and try to market ourselves as such, but we still need to demonstrate our capacity to think, and the most effective way to do so is to apply our analytic skills to a rather specific area of human knowledge.

In addition, we as a country are no longer alone in producing quality graduates, especially in the fields of science and engineering. We as a country need good engineers and scientists, and we need them in greater quantities than ever before. College is a limited amount of time. If those students are studying Rousseau instead of Solid Mechanics, I don’t think that’s going to help out too many people down the road.

I now find myself in a quandary: I (personally) think everyone who should know who Rousseau is and know the basics of his Social Contract, but I also think that Engineering students should be as well prepared as possible when they leave even a lib arts school. This quandary shows where the Review’s argument utterly falls apart.

This lack of cultural literacy is not simply a collegiate eyesore. It’s endemic in our society. This is not simply the fault of the English Department (though honestly I think the English 5/Freshman Seminar program could use a huge overhaul). It’s a societal problem. And therefore it should not have to be addressed in college. I would like to ask all those prep school kids out there, what the fuck were you doing away at boarding school? Taking Kaplan courses to get here? That’s about what I thought.

The Review, as is its wont, simply cannot expand its vision beyond the Connecticut River or look past Jim Wright’s administration to larger society. It plays its one note of “Resign, Jim Wright” in various octaves, but this time played totally off-key.

The quote the Review keeps hammering on is (predictably) from that ham actor Ronald Reagan (who probably could not tell Foucault from Play-Doh). “The goal of an education is to form the Citizen. And the Citizen is a person who, if need be, can re-found his civilization.” I’ll let the implicit misogyny slide, but this I will not: A Citizen is not a person in a vacuum—de novo, ex nihilo, etc. A Citizen is a part of a community. The burden of founding and re-founding a civilization should not be on a group of people who can tell you why Kant liked steeples so much. It should be on the community as a whole. If that means the huddled, ignorant masses yearning to breathe free, well, it should. We are stronger not because we know who Giambattista Vico was or what he wrote, but because we do not make distinctions of that sort—between those who know and those who don’t. It is by thinking in and through the community and not through Aristotle (actually, Aristotle believed in this very thing to an extent) that we achieve more, not by burying our heads in the sands of time, but by always moving forward, always progressing as individuals in a community.

There is certainly a place and time for Dante to be studied, to be loved, to be read, and to be used. But it is not everywhere, and it is not all the time.

The Nietzsche quip I quoted above sums this up fairly well. We cannot be loafers in the garden of knowledge. A core curriculum may yield insights into (a rather specific ) culture and it may even lead to some very relevant observations of our current world. But it is not the only means thereunto, and we cannot simply fall back on it when we feel the stress and flux of life. To do so is lazy, cowardly, and regressive.

ROTC at Dartmouth

The results of a recent SA poll on the ROTC are in. There were 686 respondents.

96.4% know that we have an Army ROTC program. 79.2% support having this program, 16% do not.
The campus is split on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with 48.1% saying its unfair, and 45.6% fair.
When asked if seeing people in camouflage makes them uneasy, 24% said yes, 75% no.
Half the campus has a positive impression of ROTC, and nearly 40% is neutral.
Here's the important ones: 69% of Dartmouth students believe the administration should do more to help students who chose to participate in ROTC, and 40% would consider joining the ROTC if Dartmouth offered a full four-year scholarship.

Previous administrations tried to axe the ROTC program, which is why its in its current state. Dartmouth, unlike our peer institutions, does not provide ROTC students full scholarships, and has I think only 8 cadets. Harvard has 40, Princeton 60.

The Vietnam-era logic of expelling ROTC from campuses was in the same vein as anti-draft and anti-recruitment protests. The war was bad, the military was bad, and so ROTC was bad. Furthermore, people claimed that the presence of ROTC inhibited free exchange of ideas. Current logic centers on Don't Ask Don't Tell, and opposition to legislation that says the DOD shouldn't grant money to anti-ROTC institutions.

I don't support the Iraq war, or Don't Ask Don't Tell. But expelling the ROTC is idiotic, and there is lot to be gained for the college and society if elite institutions support ROTC programs. They don't in any way stifle debate at this campus, nor do I see how they would. If a student chooses to join the army, that's his choice. If Dartmouth can play a role in putting intelligent, liberal, open-minded people in the army, then there is good reason to support the program. If a student chooses Duke or Georgetown over Dartmouth because their ROTC programs provide full scholarships, then we have missed out on a unique human being. The Wright administration has chosen to ignore the ROTC entirely, hence the program dwindling to where it is.

Dartmouth should give ROTC students full scholarships, and, if a Dartmouth applicant is as qualified as the rest of admitted students, I believe ROTC students should be given a slight advantage. Dartmouth will attract more low-income students, more students with a unique perspective on policy issues, and as a current Dartmouth ROTC cadet says, unjust military policies "will never change unless intrepid and valiant soldiers enter the Army and make the Army change it. Yelling from the sidelines never did much good."

Affirmative Action and Representation

Malchow posts over in his dartblog a quote from the Chronicle of Higher Ed (which I need to read more often)about the gains minorities have made in putting the representation of those minorities on some sort of par with the makeup of society-at-large.

Joe takes this opportunity to ask, "It seems that 'representation' is in parity with population. Is affirmative action still needed?"

Yeah, dumbass. College isn't the Supreme Court--you're not admitted for life. Every year we do this thing called admitting a new class. In each new class, in order to achieve 'parity' in representation (if that's really even the goal, which I would question), the same or approximately the same efforts will be needed every year to maintain that sort of representation.

I'll write and post the promised second part of my response to the Review sometime tonight. For now, let me reiterate one thing to make clear my intent:

My argument is not against liberal education—against its value, against its beauty, even against its utility. My argument is against looking at a collegiate-based core curriculum as a panacea, as a solution without bounds, and against looking at it as a pure reflection of our (American) cultural heritage.

Spelling Ain't Grammar

Here's a post for all the grammarians that seem to haunt our blog. Winner of the National Spelling Bee Anurag Kashyap commented on his victory today saying "I was really nervous because I worked really hard on that and I wanted to do good," during a Good Morning America appearance today. Come on kid, you're one of the brightest students in our country and you make one of the most elementary grammar mistakes in the book. I'll admit that it's petty to beat up on an 8th grader, but I feel like someone who can correctly spell "sphygmomanometer" and "appoggiatura" should be able to follow basic grammar rules.

June 2, 2005

Review advocates more dead white male authors; liberals not surprised

{Hey, this is my first post. It's a little bit long--and this is just the first part.}

Just like many of the criticisms in Thomas Monahan’s editorial in the newest issue of the Review, I agree with many points the articles on the state of Dartmouth’s cultural literacy, but I abhor the spirit in which those points are framed and utterly disagree with the underlying philosophy.

Monahan’s editorial proves once again why the Daily Dartmouth sucks balls, is totally unprofessional, and is run by a bunch of power-hungry ego-trippers. (Actually, that’s not entirely true—I like many people who work on the D, but only one has any editorial responsibility.) But Monahan does not make his point in an adult, responsible manner but rather slaps himself on the back for being a great reporter so hard that he spits out personal attacks that I thought were beneath the dignity of even the Review’s editorial policy. Monahan’s underlying point is not that the D is incredibly partial and run by irresponsible jerks, but that Monahan thinks that he is a great reporter and was personally wrong. The issue Monahan stresses is not journalistic integrity; it’s personal pride.

In a similar vein, I sympathize wholeheartedly with the Review’s complaint that students cannot pass a quiz on Western culture that did not have a single difficult question. It bothers me to no end when in an English class, the professor has to explain what Plato’s Cave was or how Freud organized the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind or what iambic pentameter is. I am personally a huge fan of studying the classics of Western literature; I nearly went to St. John’s College (the home of the Great Books program). Believe me when I say that I would be the first to sign up for Dr. Platt’s Proposed Curriculum.

However, that is a personal preference and I would not venture to impose my interest in Plutarch on an Engineering major or even on a WGST major. But when I say I am a fan of the Western Classics I understand and acknowledge exactly what that means—the study of the literature produced by dead white males. To me, that is simply a descriptive evaluation, not an argument against their value or their interest.

I would not venture to impose my interest in dead white males on an Engineering major simply because I know how little reading Racine or Machiavelli will help her build a bridge in fifteen years.

Before I go any farther, let me still the tremblings in the hearts of any con reading this: I am not, repeat not, an advocate of specialized education. I believe a Physics major should be able to tell a Rembrandt from a Renoir as easily as an art history major. I also believe an Art History major should not have to hesitate before reciting the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. I believe that our culture should encourage individuals who are well-educated in a variety of fields. This is precisely why I am at a liberal arts college.

But those words “our culture” raise the first of my three points about why the idea of an extensive core curriculum is problematic.

There is no longer any “our culture” that can be defined or reflected by a course that starts with the Hebrew Scriptures and ends with Heidegger, as Dr. Platt’s does. That is because our culture is no longer composed of rich white males with enough money and connections to receive a liberal arts degree without worrying about what happens after college. It is not composed of dapper, knickerbockered, straw-hatted dilettantes with a croquet mallet in one hand and a copy of Aristotle’s Politics in the other. Plato, Aristotle, and even Jesus Christ may be the foundation of American society, but how many of us live any longer at the foundation? The time for Aristotle as a requirement is over, as is the time when knowing three of the twelve apostles would be a marker of intelligence rather than simply religious affiliation. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but international mergers are no longer predicated on whether both sides know who the hell founded Rome. Our culture has expanded, and the attempt to define it as consisting of only dead European males (with a token Arab or two) is an attempt to deny that expansion. Such behavior is the intellectual and pedagogic equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand.

I'll write about my other two points later. I have finals and shit to do.

A little police brutality

...for your pleasure:

Woman getting shot by Taser, from PalmBeachPost.com

June 1, 2005

Books! Baaaddd

I guess this is somewhat old news, but "Human Events Online," which proclaims itself to be The National Conservative Weekly, has published a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The list was compiled by 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders.
The books? It includes Keynes, Kinsey, Marx (twice!), Mao, Hitler, and other seminal favorites.
The Scholars? An executive of Regnery Publishing (the firm headed by Bob Novak's son, that Bob Novak shamelessly promotes without ever admitting the connection), Phyllis Schlafly, some Hoover Institute person, and no-name college professors.

The thing about the list is that the logic behind it is absurd. They aren't advocating banning these books, they just talk about the supposed effects of these books. Marx's manifesto is number one because "
The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice," and they even manage to toss in something about Engels being Marx's wealthy patron, as if that's relevant.
Apparently Kinsey himself created the sexual revolution.
Besides ridiculous exaggerations about the perspectives and arguments of these authors, what they really mean to condemn are the movements and beliefs associated with these authors.
For example, Mein Kampf. Yes, a horrible book by a horrible man. Was it actually harmful? No. Nobody read the damn thing until a while after Hitler came to power, even they admit this. They criticize Dewey for encouraging secularism and the teaching of "thinking skills" in education. They pick Comte, the founder of Sociology, because apparently 'positivism' is one of the worse crises to befall mankind in the past 200 years. The explanation for The Feminine Mystique is flat out incoherent.

What's even funnier is the list of honorable mentions: Darwin (twice!), Nader, BF Skinner, Rachel Carson, and even John Stuart Mill. They don't justify the honorable mentions unfortunately. I'd really love to see how Rachel Carson fucked up this past century. I mean, for the love of god, at the very least, you can acknowledge she helped save the Bald Eagle.

Anyway, I really need a subscription to this site, for two reasons. One, if I want material to lampoon conservative ideologues, this is pretty much a never-ending fountain of hilarity.
Second, this front page article:

Human Events FreedomFest 2005; Go Dartmouth; and More

Tangent: I'm awake feebly attempting to write a paper due in a few hours, and Billy Idol was on Conan. I think his cameo in The Wedding Singer was his chance to bow out. I mean, relative to watching him croon with an acoustic guitar, or attempt White Wedding, it would've been more graceful if he had stopped after the Adam Sandler flick.


Joe Malchow reports: "Posting will be light over the next few days, as final exams are nearing." Oh my God! Where will I go for misleading and poorly written drivel?

[This post was a tribute to Joe Malchow. For this reason, I wrote it in the Joe Malchow style: as short as possible, just a link and a few words of snide and mean-spirited spin.]