Friday, March 04, 2005

Fewer Monuments, More Acts of Graciousness

As one of those weird people, all eight of us, who is both leftist and Christian, I suppose I should say something about the latest installment in the Leave No Ten Commandments Monument Behind series, this one concerning a monument in Texas whose constitutional presence is being debated in front of the Supremes this week.

For all of my heathen readers, I will offer my two reasons as to why some Christians get particularly charged about this issue:

1) Some Christians, particularly of the more extreme variety, feel threatened by secular society; Being able to see the Commandments stationed publicly somewhere makes them feel better.

2) Some Christians, particularly of the more extreme variety, are unhappy with the fact that in America, individuals are pretty much free to engage in whatever behavior they like as long as it doesn't directly harm someone else (one person's sexual licentiousness is another person's freedom and liberty). These Christians see the posting of the Ten Commandments as a means of trying to reverse the direction of social norms in this area first through symbolism, and later, if needed, through the political process. If the Ten Commandments can be seen as a basis for society's laws, than behavior Christians don't like can be outlawed and punished.

View #1 is basically self-focused in that it's concern is with the individual Christian's security and self-identity. It lacks any true evangelical focus and is concerned only with the Christian's own feelings of self worth.

View #2 is basically self-focused as well in that it seeks to use religion as a tool for making other people conform to the Christian's stated ideals. Again, its intention is not evangelical in the truest sense of the term, but in this sense is punitive in emphasis.

In his book, What's So Amazing About Grace, Christian author Philip Yancey wonders why prostitutes, tax collectors (ancient Israel's equivalent of traitors and swindlers), and other so-called "sinners" of the day were attracted to Jesus, but today, most of society's outcasts are not attracted by us Christians (and to Jesus through us). Instead, the church has become middle class and exclusive, jealous of its image and protective of its institutions. Yancey concludes that the Christian church of today lacks the same grace that Jesus displaced towards others, and therefore, has not been the Light of the world that Jesus intended.

In their book, How To Talk About Jesus Without Freaking Out, authors Karen and Jim Covell and Victorya Rogers add that today, "there is entirely too much God talk and not nearly enough God activity" in the work of Christian evangelism.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples that it was not those who said "Lord, Lord" that would enter the kingdom, but those who Did the will of His Father in Heaven.

Let there be more grace and Godly activity among us Christians, and fewer demands for monuments and symbols.

Thursday, March 03, 2005


I'm reading Chalmer Johnson's book, Blowback, which was published shortly before the events of 9-11.

Johnson's argument is that America's (mostly covert or at least unreported) military presence and activities around the world are laying the groundwork for retaliation, particularly through acts of terrorism, which are tools used against powers otherwise believed to be invulnerable.

As I said, this book appeared BEFORE the 9-11 holy day, and as such, his arguments were widely dismissed by the Foreign Affairs crowd. His arguments have since received slightly more attention.

Johnson is a specialist in Asian affairs, so the book concentrates mostly on America's post-WWII interventions in Japan (Okinawa), Indonesia, and the Koreas. There are about 100,000 U.S. troops in East Asia, about half of which are in Japan (and more than half of those in Japan are on Okinawa, an island south of the mainland). Most appalling about the book's reports are America's treatment of the residents on Okinawa and our continued arms sales to Japan, Indonesia, and countries throughout Latin America that are justified by our military establishment as necessary to "modernize" the militaries of these countries and provide "stability" in these regions. Needless to say, Johnson questions the validity of these arguments and of the necessity for America's policy of military imperalism. Johnson also throws water on the actions of the various military dictatorships the U.S. has supported in South Korea, including the 1948 genocide of some 30,000 South Koreans from one of the neighboring islands, south of the peninsula. In addition to our military outposts and arm sales around the globe, the U.S. also countenances the widescale provision of "military advice" and training to various regimes, through both public and private entitities (some of the latter of which have received some attention in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and the conduct at Abu Graib prison).

I'll give more of a summation when I'm done reading the book, but it suffices to say that one of the great tragedies of the post 9-11 era has been the failure to scrutinize our foreign policies as possible causes of those events. Since 9-11 we've had two wars, one department of homeland security established, one reorganization of national intelligence, but no serious attention to or coverage of our military and foreign policies. And far from favoring Democrats, Johnson implicates them, too, for their contributions to our imperial policies and unwillingness to challenge the military establishment.

I'm tempted to blame the media for this failure to consider seriously our contributions to the 9-11 blowback, and I do think they deserve their share of the blame.

But I think our political leadership is more at fault for their failure to raise these issues with the public. Yes, the media's stupid and overly fixated on the Scott Petersons of the world. But the media is a money enterprise and naturally, they are going to do business based on that notion. Serious research and news reporting has costs, both financial and political, for corporate media chieftains.

The political leadership (yes, Democratic Party leaders, this means you) are the ones that have the most knowledge of our nation's military and foreign policies, and they've not chosen to bring them into the debate (because that has costs, too, I'm afraid). We made a big whoop to do over the 9-11 commission and whether Bush would or wouldn't testify, but that is really besides the point. If the commission and members of congress had no real intention of making a broad based investigation of the terrorist attacks and the policies that at least partly brought them into being, than most of the hooplah over Bush and Rice's testimonies were little more than partisan grandstanding. While our intelligence failures and border patrols have come in for questioning, half century long military tactics have not.

This our leaders have failed to do. So instead of introducing bills calling for more troops, Senator Reid, how about a serious call for examining our nation's foreign policies? While media attention may be hard to control, there's no doubt that questioning our nation's policies will draw a response. Just ask Ward Churchill.

Dude, Where's My Truth? Dispatches from the Academic Bill of Rights III

Point 4 of the ABOR makes this remarkable claim:

Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate.

What? The uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas?

Sounds like relativism to me. Isn't the whole conservative vision based on the idea of absolute truth in everything? RenewAmerica seems to think so. And this conservative says that "right and wrong" are not open for debate. If that's so, than the whole academic exercise and the freedom to express oneself in debate on the basis of study, observation or human experience is useless. Come to think of it, if "right and wrong" are not up for discussion, then there's little basis for the Bill of Rights and the freedom of expression it protects either.

Now we might be tempted to give the "right" some leeway on this. Maybe they only mean "moral" issues are absolute. But what is or isn't "moral" in nature? Just about everything under the humanities and social sciences umbrella has some moral implications. Even issues like the events of 9-11 and the war on Iraq have moral implications that would seem to require investigation. But Horowitz and his gang say there's only one truth about the so-called "war on terror"--theirs. So how does Horowitz and the (Orwellian named) Students for Academic Freedom prepose that we handle this apparent conundrum? What is it about the humanities and social sciences that Horowitz thinks is uncertain and unsettled? If truth is already known or absolute (about Iraq or anything else), than why are we bothering with the university, and what does it matter whether or not a curricula's reading list is diverse or not?

So does Hororwitz just want a seat at the table of academic discourse for conservatives, where uncertain and unsettled matters of the humanities and social sciences are freely debated, or do he and his posse just want their views trumpeted, and no search for truth actually conducted?

Interestlingly, Horowitz seems willing to let the "left" have a say in things and even stated his opposition to those calling for the resignation or firing of outspoken University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. Most other conservatives have decided that the absolute truth is on their side in this matter and that Churchill and those like him should be banished from the academy and society. But is Horowitz really as open to opposing views as he suggests?

Return with me tomorrow and we'll examine the "truth" about ABOR's claim to want a "civil exchange of ideas".

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

CNN Spotlight

There was a time, many many years ago, when CNN was a real news station. Or maybe I was under the delusion that CNN was a real news station.

But in the aftermath of the shocking and aweful war campaign coverage, I stopped watching cable TV news.

Maybe because I'd forgotten what it was like, I tuned into CNN's Lou Dobbs last night in the course of my channel surfing. I only stayed around for about 86 seconds, the time it took Dobbs and his cohost (Kitty Partridge or something) to present the latest "outrage" from Canada.

Turns out that Canada has decided it doesn't want to be a part of the US's "missile defense system". No reason was given, but the helpful headline to the piece from CNN identified Canada as "freeriding" on the back of the US's starwars escapade. You see, if somehow, someway, there was to be a nuclear missile launched at Canada by someone, for some reason, then the US would intervene and shoot the thing down anyway, regardless of whether Canada was a partner with the US on the missile defense deal or not. The segment also told me that Canada spends like only 1% of its budget or GDP or whatever on defense. Then there was some light hearted snarkery between Dobbs and Patridge about why Sec of State Ofgeorge canceled her trip to Canada (was it because of Canada's decision, or was it because of a scheduling conflict??--inquiring minds want to know).

That was pretty much the segment.

Nothing about what the US was demanding in return, no discussion of what the nature of the partnership was to be, no mention of the missile defense system's failures, no mention of the money spent on the thing, no discussion of the likelihood of such a threat making the missile defense boondoggle necessary. Nothing. I realized I was getting dumber just by watching so I switched the channel.

But hey, thanks CNN. That was just terrific. Great work, guys. I bet you'll catch Fox news in the ratings anytime now.

Academic Bill of Rights, II

Point 6 of the ABOR stipulates that the university must support and promote "intellectual pluralism".*

Pluralism? Pluralism!?!?!? (Playoffs?! Playoffs!!!?!)

As every card carrying conservative knows, pluralism sucks. Pluralism blows. Pluralism bites the big one.

So what of this sudden interest on the part of conservatives for pluralism? Have they changed their minds about the need for divergent materials, information and views and the need and benefits of the tolerance of opposing values and cultures? Or is this call for more pluralism in academia simply a self-serving position by conservatives designed to win by legislative fiat and social suppression what conservatives have lost on the battlefield of the academic free market?

But some of you are saying, hey Bulworth, you're distorting the issue. Conservatives distinguish between intellectual, academic pluralism, where differences in social and scientific inquiry have yielded multiple interpretations of various phenomena on the one hand, and cultural, moral and religious pluralism (which presumably are bad) on the other hand, since they deny the idea of absolute truth as preached by conservatives.

I'm glad you raised this point. What of the nature of truth? Is it something we search for or that can be determined on the basis of agreed upon methods? Or is it something that just is, and which cannot be questioned (as is the case with religious doctrine, or as is the assumption by conservatives that "America is Great and Always Right")? Or is there some middle ground? Are there types of, or multiple forms of, truth?

Tune in tomorrow, when Bulworth will continue his dissecting of the ABOR regarding its treatment of truth.

* Interestingly, the version of ABOR introduced by the Ohio state legislature does not use the word 'pluralism' in its version of the bill, although it does make references to 'diversity' and the need for 'neutrality' in the use of guest speakers on college campuses. The version of the ABOR I cited yesterday was from the ABOR sponsor's website and is, I take it, supposed to be the official version.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Academic Bill of Rights, I

Since this has been discussed here and there on the web I thought I would provide a full copy of it verbatim here (remember, this is supposedly a conservative response to an academy they fear disagrees with them too much):

1. All faculty shall be hired, fired, promoted and granted tenure on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise and, in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts, with a view toward fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives. No faculty shall be hired or fired or denied promotion or tenure on the basis of his or her political or religious beliefs.

2. No faculty member will be excluded from tenure, search and hiring committees on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

3. Students will be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects and disciplines they study, not on the basis of their political or religious beliefs. 4. Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge in these areas by providing students with dissenting sources and viewpoints where appropriate. While teachers are and should be free to pursue their own findings and perspectives in presenting their views, they should consider and make their students aware of other viewpoints. Academic disciplines should welcome a diversity of approaches to unsettled questions.

5. Exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints on the subjects examined in their courses is a major responsibility of faculty. Faculty will not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.

6. Selection of speakers, allocation of funds for speakers programs and other student activities will observe the principles of academic freedom and promote intellectual pluralism.

7. An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated.

8. Knowledge advances when individual scholars are left free to reach their own conclusions about which methods, facts, and theories have been validated by research. Academic institutions and professional societies formed to advance knowledge within an area of research, maintain the integrity of the research process, and organize the professional lives of related researchers serve as indispensable venues within which scholars circulate research findings and debate their interpretation. To perform these functions adequately, academic institutions and professional societies should maintain a posture of organizational neutrality with respect to the substantive disagreements that divide researchers on questions within, or outside, their fields of inquiry.

Tomorrow, I'll be back to help deconstruct this document's demands in light of its obvious contradictions with conservative thought control expressed elsewhere in different forums by conservatives for different purposes.

I Support The War but Not The Troops

I hereby dedicate this post to that Onion article whenever you need it.

Is It Just Me?

Or did anyone else notice that the most recent bombing in Iraq that killed 120+ people didn't generate much more than a yawn from the media? Are we that used to the violence and the deaths now that this seems like minor stuff?

Both the WashPost and the NYT gave it front page coverage but relegated it to a rather small corner above the fold, and the WashPost had as its splashy picture a scene from Lebanon. USAToday had a larger font headline that was spread over the width of the front page, but the television coverage last night was pretty minimal.

I love this

those out of touch, liberal academics in the high fallutin ivory towers...

The survey says...

Thanks to the PoorMan for the link.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Senator Santorum Discovers Democracy

From MyDD:

Mr. Santorum complained that he was dogged all week by opponents of the White House plan who dominated news coverage. Mr. Santorum, who is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate leadership and chairman of the subcommittee on Social Security, was heckled by college students - the very audience the Bush administration was counting on - and peppered with questions from retirees.

"Clearly the other side is better organized," Mr. Santorum said. "They got people to all these events. They had seniors lined up to ask questions, they had staff people running up passing them notes."

Damn, democracy's a &^%$#, ain't it?

Ready to Deal

From The Leftcoaster:

"An article in The Washington Post on Sunday suggested that the Republicans were ready to deal on Social Security..."

Ready to Deal. Ready to Deal?

There's a hugely hilarious analogy that's begging to be written about the proposterousness of this statement.*

But I'm worried a future report might read something like this,

"After months of town hall meetings at which Republican members have been chastized by a skeptical public on Social Security reform, and poll after poll has shown weak support for any changes to the program, Republican members of Congress today announced the elements of a compromise plan with moderate Democrats that would permit individuals to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into personal savings account, as President Bush outlined in his state of the union message last February. The plan would also reduce the growth of benefits for new retirees by changing the indexing of the benefit formula from wages to prices, a provision also preferred by the president. The plan is projected to make Social Security solvent into the next century.

Asked about this remarkable turn of events, House and Senate Democrats were apopolectic. 'We just felt we had to give some ground, be willing to compromise to save Social Security. All in all, we're pleased we were able to stave off demands by some more extreme members of Congress to gut the program completely.' Responding to suggestions that Democrats did not gain much from the compromise, given the public mood, Democratic leaders said today that 'we were all aware of what these outside groups (USA Next, Club for Growth) and the talk show circuit can do to our reputations, so we thought it best to do what we could to get a bill passed and not be thought of as being obstructionists.'

Democratic leaders also said today that despite the overhaul of Social Security promised by the bill, that they would continue to fight President Bush and Congressional Republicans on matters important to working Americans and to stand up for the interests of the poor."

I mean, can you just see this?

*I'm thinking of that scene from My Cousin Vinny where the stuttering defense attorney is questioning the witness about what he saw, and then remembering that the witness wore glasses, asks him if he had his glasses on when he saw the youths coming out of the store, and when told he didn't, suddenly smirks until the witness tells him that the glasses are reading glasses. The stuttering defense lawyer responds emphatically, "I have no more questions for this witness." He returns to the defense table and leans back and says, "wooooo, he was a tough one." I'm picturing Congressional Democrats like that stuttering lawyer. The Republicans fall flat on their faces with the town hall meetings and public opinion polls and Democrats still act as if there's something they need to do to bargain with Republicans and thus save them from being humiliated, and allowing a Social Security reform bill to pass anyway.

Let's hope not.

Grass in the Roots

All the talk about how Democrats need to go back to the grassroots to resurrect the party, and how we need to compete in every state, at every level of political office, be it the local water management district, library board, school board, or county council, has reminded me of a favorite topic of mine, a thesis point, if you will.

My thesis point is that a return to the grassroots is important for reasons beyond the mere building of the party's infrastructure and farm team. It is necessary to demonstrate that Democrats can make government work (again).

Democrats suffer from a Yes, But What Have You Done For Me Lately? problem. If you remember from a recent post of mine, I bragged about liberalism's accomplishments in the last century as a reason why the party shouldn't be embarrassed about its liberal roots. Although I still hold to this, I also have to point out that the party's last period of remarkable contributions was 40 years ago.

One of the "downsides" to the party's success at the national level with civil rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, higher education assistance, and so on, was that it took it's focus off of the state and local arenas of political action, believing, rightly in many cases, that federal action was preferable to state and local action because the latter was restricted by a lack of resources or political will to address problems, or both.

But the result of this has been stagnation at the national level as liberalism has seemingly run out of ideas, its candidates and platforms derided for being out of touch, and its past a target of Republicans calling for change. Another result of the national strategy was that the party suffered a drought in its state and local farm team, as Republicans gained in strength in state legislatures, and so fewer Democratic officeholders were ready to make the leap to Congress and beyond.

With fewer state and local officeholders, and few recent national accomplishments, its little wonder that many members of the party's elite have become defensive about the whole progressive agenda and at times frequently battle with Republicans for the contention of who is the true conservative. This is a significant tragedy of both political and policy proportions.

One of the benefits of returning to the grassroots to contest seats for every office is the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and to get involved in making government work again, to actually solve problems and make things better at the local level to the extent possible.

As I hinted above, we know that many problems, such as poor schools, poverty, crime, and the lack of adequate health care are in part the product of broader, national and global structural conditions, but at the same time, Democrats need to recognize the opportunities for creating effective change and improvement in our communities where possible.

The result of this will be not only a party that has a longer list of candidates ready to run for higher offices, but also a stronger party with new and proven ideas for making government work and improving people's lives.

In future posts, I will attempt to add more meat to this idea.