... is Tom Cruise, like Mel Gibson, decending down the path from entertaining actor to complete lunatic?
Michael Bérubé (International Professor of Danger!) has updated his blogroll. At first, I thought I had been bumped, but no, it turns out I'm among the Fabulous!
Actually, I'm in very good company there, and pleased to be both a comrade and unclassifiable. That's me, unclassifiable Scott, the comrade. Maybe some of Michael's dangerousness will rub off on me.
Light blogging these days as I try to finish up a few big projects. However, I'll take the time to draw your attention to a side note in the conversation about whether George Bush is, or is not, the "worst President ever."
The question is: Is Bush worse than Reagan. The consensus (with which I think I agree) is emerging that, while Reagan was bad, Bush is at least marginally worse. The chief advantage of Reagan over Bush was that Reagan, at cruical points in his presidencey, was able to change his mind. Bush is incapable of doing so. The side-note is related to how this works itself out in foreign policy:
As a side note, I think it's worth noting that there's a vast ocean of revisionism that conservatives indulge in when they claim that the denouement of Soviet power, as it came to pass in the 1980s, was somehow part of the plan in their push for anti-Soviet confrontation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Not at all.
The US military build-ups played a role, yes. But the vision of 1970s neo-conservatives was altogether more grim and pessimistic than the retrospective view. The plan was not to force the Soviet machine into overdrive and watch it peacefully breakdown. The issue was, as neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz put it as late as 1980, whether we could avoid the "finlandization of America, the political and economic subordination of the United States to superior Soviet power."
What did happen was the last thing they imagined. Thus, Reagan's shift was a very big one.
The argument then shifts back to Bush:
President Bush represents something different from the normal sloshing back and forth between liberalism and conservatism. He's a radical. He's set on a destructive course, laced with corruption and fed by extremism. And he mistakenly believes that stubborness and ignorance constitute a virtue he calls 'leadership'.
I don't think there's much question that President Bush is the most conservative president in modern American history. But the issue is not his conservatism; it's his radicalism and destructiveness, his willingness to drive the ship of state right out of the water and into the ditch. 'Worst ever' covers a lot of ground. But I think there's a good argument to be made that he is.
Not much I find here to disagree with. Not much at all.
The great pitfalls of online universities like Kaplan are illustrated in this article from today's Chronicle of Higher Education:
More than 50 faculty members at Kaplan University are attempting to create a union to counter what they describe as intimidation from administrators and pressure to inflate students' grades. If the effort succeeds, the union would apparently be the first at an online institution.
Kaplan University, which enrolls over 50,000 students nationwide, is a highly successful, for-profit online institution owned by the Washington Post Company. But in interviews this week, six current and former professors from two of the university's departments alleged that administrators often discouraged faculty members from failing students or giving them D's, even for poor performance. And if a student is caught cheating or plagiarizing, even on multiple occasions, the professors said they were often told simply to let the student redo the assignment.
The professors also said Kaplan relied too heavily on evaluation surveys that students fill out at the end of the courses. The faculty members alleged that if an adjunct professor got an average score below 4 on the surveys' 1-to-5 scale, the professor was not invited to teach again. The professors said that because grades were inflated in the first place, students who received bad grades were likely to give their professors poor reviews on the surveys.
In effect, the professors said, Kaplan professors who give bad grades risk getting fired.
The professors said their concerns about academic quality cut to the heart of the debate over whether online education is any good. "The problem with online education is, we're admissions driven and revenue driven, not academically driven," one professor said. "There's tremendous pressure to inflate the grades."
Grade inflation is a national problem, even for professors who are conscientious about grading, and even for professors who have the support of their institutions. I can't imagine it could be any easier at a place like Kaplan.
Yes, you read that right -- Hasidic Reggae. I think I must be behid the curve on Matisyahu, but if you haven't checked him out, I strongly encourage it. It's some of the best religiously themed music of, well, of my lifetime at any rate.
My colleague Dave Wellman turned me on to his video for "King Without a Crown" and I was instantly hooked. It's description of the human state of longing for the divine was profound -- rooted in his hassidic Jewish mysticism, but also speaking to a universal human condition. I turned right around and used it in my Comparative Religious Ethics class to talk about Jewish spirituality and hassidic mysticism.
Well, it turns out that Matisyahu has a new album out, entitled Youth. I first heard about it from Whispers in the Loggia, and then saw it on Sunday at Borders. I turned right around and downloaded it on iTunes and, once more, I'm hooked. I recommend checking his stuff out for yourself.
UPDATE: For a vigorous dissent from my enthusiasm, see this article from today's Slate. As to the specific charges of minstrelry, I honestly don't feel well-informed enough on the history to be able to comment. However, I'll grant that Matisyahu's lyrics are occasionally silly. But show me pop music lyrics that aren't.
David Horowitz is on the road flogging his new "book" (and the U. S. professoriate in the process). P. Z. Meyers had the dubious honor of hearing him speak recently. Some favorite exerpts of his review:
As an interesting opening gambit, Horowitz began his talk by slandering St. John's University, and every other university in the country. The professors are totalitarians who bully their students; they are unprofessional; they suppress opposing viewpoints; university departments are devoted to attacking America; you can't get a good education here. He accused universities of requiring students to hear leftist speakers, but silencing conservative voices.
He was curiously oblivious to the fact that David Horowitz was standing on a stage at the university in a well-attended and well-publicized event, expressing some extremely conservative views. And in a nice bit of irony, it was revealed in the question period that the professor of an evening peace studies class had let the students out early, specifically so they could attend the event. You'd think you'd notice when you are the counterexample to your own blanket accusation, but no, Horowitz is completely unaware. The whole evening was like that: Horowitz would say something appallingly stupid, and just trundle obtusely on.
Now, really, Horowitz is not such a demanding guy. He said he'd be content if universities just got their professors to agree not to do political recruiting in their classrooms. That's all he wants. That's why, apparently, his argument about the evils of the professorate consisted of pointing out that they mostly vote Democratic; that they post liberal political cartoons on their doors; that they publish articles which he finds offensive; that they express opinions he dislikes at speaking engagements; and that they never, ever allow conservative points of view to be expressed on campus.
I swear, he was trying to kill me with irony. I should have called the cops and had him arrested for attempted murder when he announced that because liberals have contempt for the other side, they're going to lose.
Meanwhile, Michael Bérubé, deep in the throes of self-doubt about whether to attend a Horowitz event himself (don't do it Michael! Life is too short!), points out this review of the "book" that Horowitz has "written." Favorite bit:
I began with the quote from the Declaration of Independence, a text I love, because I think it represents how many Americans--myself included--approach the world. (Note: in its context, I agree entirely with the truths the Declaration holds as self-evident.) We resist unfamiliar ideas because we already hold other truths as self-evident. Thus we have intelligent design supporters, flat-earthers, and Fox News. But as any academic knows, we can't hold any truth as self-evident in our pursuits as scholars. We must interrogate even our most basic assumptions--not to overturn them, but to make certain we've established them on solid ground.
Horowitz fails to do any such thing. His assumptions of what equals truth serve as unquestioned foundations of the book. That's why he rarely acknowledges counter arguments, and when he does, he establishes them on such shallow ground that any reader could knock them down. The main unquestioned assumption is Horowitz's conception of the university. Of academics who were activists in the 1960s, he writes, "As tenured radicals, they were determined to do away with the concept of the ivory tower and scorned the contemplative life that liberal arts colleges like Hamilton created" (ix-x). Horowitz assumes that the image of the "ivory tower" represents high praise. In fact, the "ivory tower" signifies for most the academic who is so imprisoned within his own abstractions, he cannot interact normally with the outside world.
And, in what I think is the central point to this whole discussion:
And before I'd finish, I'd like to ask, is Horowitz, for all the weaknesses of his argument, right about leftists in universities? Based on my experience, absolutely not. While the majority of humanities professors are "liberal," Democrats, or leftist, the majority I've met in my work at three very different universities are passively liberal--they express frustration with Republicans in general, but they keep that frustration out of their classrooms. But I can't say whether or not "leftist" bias (and we have to use that term as broadly as possible to keep up with Horowitz) is really that widespread in classrooms because I'm not naive or arrogant enough to assume that my own experience is that answer.
Given his level of intellectual integrity, I expect David Horowitz to be offered the presidency of Harvard any day.
Unlike some on the progressive end of the political spectrum, I believe that there's a real moral debate surrounding the issue of abortion. Although I'm in the end pro-choice, I am so with a strong sense of moral ambiguity. Therefore, I don't have much patience with arguments that members of the pro-life movement simply want to "make your uterus state property."
Nevertheless, for the life of me I can't understand why it has never occurred to so many folks in the anti-abortion movement to think about what the penalty should be for a woman who receives an abortion, if it is ever outlawed! (See, for example, this video clip and this post by Atrios).* The problem is that, for many (though by no means all) anti-abortion activists, the entire debate takes place on an affective, rather than an intellectual or rational level. They simply haven't thought the issue through. (Let me note for the record, that this is often the case for pro-choice folks too, but it strikes me that "leave me alone!" is a more defensible default position than "make it a crime!").
There are many ambiguities to the issue of abortion, and it is those ambiguities more than anything else that lead me to a pro-choice position. With all of the irresolvable contradictions and conundrums surrounding what abortion is (murder/not murder?), how it should be regulated (a little/a lot/not at all?), and what should be done about it (crime/not crime?) and who should be punished (no one/doctors/recipients?), the best pragmatic moral course of action in light of the complete lack of consensus is one that leaves the decision up to the woman and her doctor and whatever moral apparatus they bring to the decision.
This is a position rooted in an appreciation for ambiguity over sanguinity. Would that more public policy was made on the basis of the statement "I just don't know." It would lead to fewer examples of moral incoherence, such as those demonstrated in the examples cited above.
*Apparently the video clip is down. It had been mirrored on this site, but they took it down on request. Maybe it will be back up later.
Since the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday abdicated its responsibility to act as a co-equal branch of government with the executive, it's time again to consider the results of having an admitted felon as President.
Under ordinary circumstances, of course, such an eventuality would have led to an investigation of some sort (and of course, if the crime involved had been lying about oral sex, impeachment!). However, in the brave new world of complete Republican control of every branch of government, this only happens when Democrats are the target. Therefore, instead of investigating and/or impeaching the President, Senator Mike DeWine has proposed legislation that would make the crime legal!
According to DeWine, the bill would allow surveillance of international calls that involve a suspected terrorist but would require a program review every 45 days.
At that time, the administration would have three options: apply for a warrant, if there is enough information to justify one; stop the surveillance; or explain to Congress why it is in the national security interest to continue the surveillance and why officials cannot apply to the FISA court for a warrant.
According to NPR this morning, the proposed legislation would require the administration to seek a warrant only when there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing (i.e., when you have to use it in a court later on). Absent such evidence, however, no warrant is required.
Please ponder that for a moment. I'll wait........
Yes, that's right. You've got it: This means that if you're innocent, the government can spy on you, potentially in perpetuity, with no warrant and no notice. Only the guilty get the protection of the constitution under this law. If you commit no crime, the government has no obligation to honor your privacy or liberty. On the other hand, if you're a terrorist suspect, the government must seek a warrant to spy on you.
The moral, legal, and political incoherence of this proposed legislation is utterly mind-boggling! The implciation is that the government can launch a wholesale domestic spying program that sweeps up in its net every man, woman, child, dog and cat in the United States, listen in on all of their conversations, and needs only to seek a warrant if they want to take you to court.
Of course, given that the Senate refuses to investigate, and the executive refuses to cooperate, for all we know that could be what we're dealing with already.
Let's remind ourselves once again what the state of the law was before the President decided that he was a law unto himself. Prior to the beginning of this program, if you were suspected of involvement with a terrorist plot, and law enforcement believed that it needed to tap your commications right now in order to get crucial information (can't wait for a warrant!), it was allowed to do so for up to 72 hours before seeking a warrant. The administration's "need to act with haste" argument has been bogus from the beginning. Now, they seek to codify that disingenuousness in a law that undermines two hundred years of traditional American liberty. It completely vacates the Fourth Amendment, and permits unlimited spying on people on the basis of absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing!
I ask: Wasn't it simpler and more just when we needed a warrant to spy on anybody, and you needed to provide evidence to get a warrant? As things stand now, the right of every American to simply be left alone by its government is in grave danger, and there is no branch of government willing to stand up to the untrammelled power grab of the Bush administration.
Im. Peach. Him!
John Armstrong writes an endorsement of Reinhold Niebuhr (good!) in the context of an endorsement of David Brooks (bad!). I've got a lot of quibbles with what he writes, but the passage I'd like to comment on is this:
A good dose of Niebuhr would, surprisingly to many, correct much of the present cultural silliness that passes for sound reasoning when it comes to the question of how man relates to God in public society. Both liberals and conservatives would profit from Niebuhr's engagement with these issues, which came during and after World War II. His work may be more important now than it was when he wrote it but few seem to care anymore. I am glad Brooks put him back on our map this week. I hope we will discuss Niebuhr's work with fresh interest in the coming years. His attempt to do serious public ethics would be a great help to us in this confusing and amoral time.
I certainly can't argue with the idea that reading Niebuhr is good for the spiritual and intellectual health of both liberals and conservatives, although my own Niebuhrian inclinations make me suspicious of too much reliance on one thinker as the source of wisdom. Nevertheless, I've written endorsements of Niebuhr's contemporary relevance several times (Here, here, and here, for example). Plus, as the secretary of the Niebuhr Society, I've got an incentive to draw ever more attention to Niebuhr's influence.
However, I'm actually impressed that more and more the name of Niebuhr is found to be on the minds of contemporary religious and political thinkers. Consider the Speaking of Faith story that I've cited before, as well as Arthur Schlesinger's recent article in the New York Times. On the whole, it seems like Niebuhr's influence is waxing, not waning. That, along with the renewed interested in Deitrich Bonhoefffer, is a hopeful sign for religious ethics in the next decade. I would simply council John to have hope in Reinnie's continuing influence, and to promote his thought as widely as he can. That's what I'm shooting for!
Apparently the fine folks over at the Rovian Conspiracy have noticed my humble little blog here, as a result of my post on "imposing Christianity." To recap: Missouri, where I spent many happy hours when I lived in Quincy, IL, is considering a resolution to make Christianity the "official majority religion." The Rovians have been so kind as to locate the actual text of the resolution, so that we may quote it in full:
House Concurrent Resolution No. 13
93RD GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation; and
Whereas, as citizens of this great nation, we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator and give thanks for the many gifts provided by Him; and
Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object; and
Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers; and
Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind:
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-third General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, that we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America.
NB. The boldface is from the Rovian edition of the resolution, for reasons that will become apparent. Let us parse this resolution paragraph by paragraphy, shall we?
"Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation..."
This is said often enough in public discourse that it probably bears a much longer discussion than I can reasonably give it, and I would note that the answers are more complex than either side on this issue is usually likely to admit. Nevertheless, if "our forefathers" is understood in the traditional sense of "the guys who founded the country," then it's hard to make a case that as a group the "recogized a Christian God." Although there were some fervent Christians in the bunch, by far the greatest intellectual heft was weilded by folks who were deists -- Franklin and Washington, and especially Jefferson notable among them. (NB., I will note that St Wendeler at Rovian Conspiracy objects to this "whereas" as well).
"Whereas, as citizens of this great nation, we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator and give thanks for the many gifts provided by Him..."
Fully agreed here. As a citizen of this great nation, I also wish to exercise my constitutional right to acknowledge my creator, and since I'm in the majority, I get to do that with no questions asked. I guess it kind of sucks to be in the minority of you live in Missouri though!
It's said so often, once again, that I hesitate to repeat it, but it apparently gets forgotten as often as it gets said -- the purpose of the bill of rights is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority! A majoritarianism that seeks to lord it over those religions with less power on the basis of numbers seeks to vacate the very purpose of the Bill of Rights. If you happen to be in the majority, that's great. But it's a bad time to be in the minority. Moving on:
"Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object..."
I have to admit, I find this passage just a tad weird. We want to grant the majority the right to express their beliefs, but show respect for those who object. Object to what? To the majority expressing their religious beliefs? Who objects to that? Even atheists don't object to believers expressing their religious beliefs. They object to being forced to participate in the expression of those beliefs by such practices as the imposition of school prayer. When the kids in the high school gather 'round the flagpole every day, that's not a problem. When the principle makes the whole school gather 'round the flagpole though, that's a big problem. And furthermore, how exactly is it showing "respect" to these folks by simply running roughshod over their position?
For the life of me I don't get why this is controversial or hard to understand: If the kids themselves want to pray, as long as its undisruptive, they can do so. Out loud even! It's when the school teachers and administrators start getting in on the act that it takes on the air of coercion and is justifiably objectionable. Continuing:
"Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers..."
Yes, I'd like to do this too. And at the forefront of that wisdom was a separation of Church and State, reiterated and reconfirmed in many, many ways over the last two centuries. As long as we're continuing their wisdom, may we please continue that piece of wisdom as well?
"Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind..."
And now here is where we start getting into really hot water. Since when are legislators empowered to make theological declarations? When I vote for a legislator, I'm not voting for a high priest! "As elected officials" they are simply not authorized to "recognize" that a Greater Power exists. They're not qualified to make such a recognition. As private citizens they may believe it. As members of their church they may affirm it. As singers in the choir they may proclaim it. But as legislators, they have absolutely no business imposing it. It's out of their jurisdiction.
I return to the phrase I've used before, that of "reasonable pluralism." The idea of reasonable pluralism (not a term original to me, by the way), is that a civil society creates space wherein a diversity of points of view can be entertained and argued for. When legislatures start imposing particular belief systems (even through as dubious a process as a "resolution"), they remove from the sphere of reasonable pluralism the ability to entertain or argue for certain ideas. They add the power of the state to a partiular interpretation and thus delegitimize alternative interpretations. There may be circumstances where this is necessary, but my inner libertarian thinks they ought to be few and far between. What allows for reasonable pluralism to thrive is the sense that a variety of viewpoints are legitimate on their own terms and thus subject to the possibility of vigorous debate and discussion. And may the better ideas prevail.
"...we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America." (boldface in the original)
Ok, let's address an oddity in the Rovian Conspiracy post first of all: St. Wendeler writes:
Note that KMOV said that the resolution says that only Christianity received "justified recognition." No where in the resolution do the words "justified recognition" appear. If they are quoting someone or some source other than the resolution, they should reference the source.
Again, boldface type in the original. So, in the spirit of discourse and cooperation, allow me to cite the source of the phrase "justified recognition" (just in case you missed it the first time):
"...we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America."
So, the source of the phrase "justified recognition" is in fact, contrary to St. Wendeler's contention, the resolution itself. However, I will grant that it's slightly ambiguous what the phrase means here. It seems to be saying that voluntary prayer and religious displays are themselves justified recognition of Christianity's positive role, rather than that the state grants "justified recognition" to Christianity. Insofar as my earlier post misinterpreted that phrase, it deserves correction. There is a difference between a legislature granting something "justified recognition" and a legislature affirming that non-legislative actions are acts of "justified recognition."
However, before St. Wendeler congratulates himself too much on the catch (such as it is, since he apparently overlooked the phrase entirely!), I want to express scepticism about the distinction I just drew, based on the text of the resolution.
After all, if the claim here is that voluntary prayer and religious displays are "justified recognition" of Christianity's contribution, then on its face the resolution is delegitimating non-Christian voluntary prayer and religious displays. It affirms only the right of Christians to express their "justified recognition" of their faith's contribution to the nation. And in light of the "whereas" portion of the resolution, it seems pretty clear that the "majority" spoken of here is not simply the majority that believe in some higher power versus none, but a recognition of the particular and explicit higher power that is affirmed by Christianity! This further contributes to the impression that "justified recognition" is affirmed only for Christian expressions of faith, and emphatically not for non-Christian expressions.
So, whatever the original context of "justified recognition" might have been, its effect is to offer the legislature's endorsement of Christianity as having "justified recognition." In the end, the result is the same.
Considering that St. Wendeler went so far as to lable me a "nutter" for expressing concern about this, it does seem that he ought to address the points I make here. Although in parting I'll note two things on which I agree with him: First, this is a resolution, and not a law (and frankly, I'd be surprised if it passed), and so it doesn't carry a whole lot of legal weight. Second, Atrios really does have far too many open threads. Content, man! Give us content!