Friday, August 31, 2007

Jack Bauer: Eco-Warrior. Friend of Garofalo. Federal Agent.

TNR: "How Liberal Can '24' Get? Flower Bauer by Daniel Chun
'24''s upcoming seventh season appears to mark a different direction for the conservative-leaning action drama. First, producers cast a female president. Then they struck a plan to make the show's production more environmentally friendly, leading to a 'carbon-neutral' season finale. And last week, they cast Janeane Garofalo as federal agent Janis Gold. We got our hands on some scripts from the next season, and it looks a new era for the show. A sneak peek:
EPISODE 1: 12:00 AM - 1:00 AM Int. CTU - day JACK BAUER talks to JANIS GOLD.
JANIS GOLD Our source tells us that the terrorists' plan is blow up Broward Dam. This would create mass flooding, cut power to the entire state, and destroy the habitat of the tidewater goby.
JACK BAUER Dammit! Without that goby, what will our local heron population eat?
JANIS GOLD Try not to think about that.
JACK BAUER I can't help it! Every link in the food chain matters! Jack punches his hand through a wall.
JACK BAUER (CONT'D) Chloe, get me a schematic of the dam's facilities.
CHLOE O'BRIAN I'm on it. Let me power up my". Let me power up my computer.

Chloe mounts an exercise bike connected to a power generator into which her computer is plugged. She pedals furiously. Her computer slowly boots up.

We don't have much time, Chloe! Pedal harder!

Chloe pedals harder.

(to Jack, proudly) Did you know that just ten minutes of pedaling powers her computer for an hour?

Not to mention burns calories and improves my heart health.

Jack nods, impressed and a little inspired. ...

Why Do So Many Americans Dislike Academe? Evan Goldstein
Why Do So Many Americans Dislike Academe? The prospect of promotion to the status of full professor has Timothy Burke in a reflective mood. In particular, he has been thinking about why he has maintained his blog, Easily Distracted, for the past five years. Burke, who teaches at Swarthmore, describes his blogging as an effort to better understand how the society at large relates to academe. 'I blog because I want to understand how we’re seen, to hone my own ability to enter a wider public conversation, and to think about what it is that scholars and educators need to do to reform their own practices,' Burke writes. 'I want to understand where we are at fault, where public critics of academia may be mistaken or malicious in their views, and where we’re entangled in some much more complex social matrix that isn’t easily encompassed by debates within the public sphere.' Burke argues that 'all that is valuable and productive about higher now very much at stake politically in a way that it has not been in Western society since the mid-19th century.' In a very lengthy post, which is worth the effort of reading in full, Burke explores why Americans are so dismissive or hostile to academic institutions and academic professionals.

Idaho Governor Faces Speculation on Senate Seat

New York Times:
BOISE, Idaho — If Senator Larry E. Craig yields to calls for his resignation amid allegations that he solicited sex in an airport bathroom, his successor would be chosen by a fellow Republican who once entered a tight-jeans contest — and won.

Gov. C. L. Otter, known as Butch, was lieutenant governor when he won the “Mr. Tight Jeans” contest at the Rockin’ Rodeo bar here in the state capital in July 1992. A few days later he was arrested, and eventually convicted, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Now, after having gone on to serve three terms in the House of Representatives before being elected governor last year, Mr. Otter knows better than most what voters in this deeply conservative state will tolerate when it comes to the private behavior of public officials. “As a public servant who has made mistakes in my private life, I am mindful that you don’t really know who your friends are, until you stumble,” he told reporters here this week.

Where do they come up with these people?

Robert D. Novak: Small Shoes at Justice
Robert D. Novak
I first met Gonzales in 2001 when, along with other conservative journalists, I went to the White House for a background briefing by presidential counsel Gonzales on the new president's judicial nominations. I was stunned by the incoherence of the briefer. When I checked with several Republican senators, I received the same verdict. Their judgment was that Gonzales was not qualified to hold a senior governmental position.
Gonzales's handling of the crisis over the firing of U.S. attorneys set new standards for incompetence. In the midst of the furor, he agreed to address the National Press Club on May 15 (insisting on breakfast instead of the usual lunch). It was by chance the 44th anniversary of this column, and I concluded that in all those years I had never seen anything like it.

Novak, the legendary journalistic "prince of darkness", is pretty much a jerk (and a hack, and a partisan flack)in my (long time) estimation. His judgment and sense of public duty are pretty well summed up by a simple juxtaposition: he chose to out Valerie Plame as a CIA analyst to punish Joe Wilson for (and deter others from) challenging the phony Bush-Cheney case for war, while withholding this (apparently widely shared) recognition of Gonzales' incompetence, until it could do no good. Thanks a lot, Bob.

Maybe W will award him a Medal of Freedom for his mis-spent career.

Southern Illinois President Faces Allegations He Plagiarized His Dissertation

The president of Southern Illinois University, Glenn Poshard, is being forced to defend his 1984 dissertation against accusations that it contains numerous examples of plagiarism and improper citation. The student newspaper at the university's Carbondale campus, the Daily Egyptian, did a detailed examination of his dissertation and presented its findings to Mr. Poshard this week. He told the newspaper that he was very busy when the dissertation was completed. 'This is not an excuse, and I would never offer it up as an excuse, but at that point in my life, I had a family,' he was quoted as saying. 'I worked two jobs. I was running for the Illinois State Senate. I was trying to get my dissertation finished.' Mr. Poshard received his Ph.D. in education from Southern Illinois at Carbondale. Through a spokesman, Mr. Poshard declined an interview request from The Chronicle, but the spokesman said Mr. Poshard would respond to the allegations after he had had a chance to review them. The allegations are the latest in a series of accusations of plagiarism against top officials at Southern Illinois. Last year Mr. Poshard asked the chancellor of the university's Carbondale campus, Walter V. Wendler, to step down after revelations that portions of a strategic plan Mr. Wendler put together came from an earlier strategic plan he helped write for Texas A&M University at College Station (The Chronicle, November 9, 2006).

Mr. Wendler's copying was brought to light by a group of professors and students close to Chris Dussold, an assistant professor of finance at Southern Illinois at Edwardsville who was fired in 2004 for copying his two-page teaching statement (The Chronicle, February 10, 2006). After his dismissal, Mr. Dussold and a group of supporters set out to uncover examples of plagiarism at the university in order to prove that he had been treated unfairly. Mr. Dussold has filed a lawsuit against the university for wrongful termination. ...

There are several examples in the dissertation of what might be called classic plagiarism: Passages are lifted verbatim, or near verbatim, with no citation given. In one instance, a 68-word passage from another source is used without quotation marks or citation. The two passages are identical except for a single word change: Mr. Poshard has substituted "a" for "another."

In another example, an 80-word section, also lacking quotation marks or citation, is taken from another source with only a few minor changes -- such as switching a verb from "has been" to "was."

In addition, there are numerous examples in which Mr. Poshard appears to disregard the accepted rules of crediting someone else's work. While he may cite a particular source, he often fails to place quotation marks around passages he uses verbatim. For instance, Mr. Poshard writes that "It has become almost axiomatic to say that the welfare of the world rests significantly with the utilization of the potential of the gifted youth to solve social, economic, ecological, political, and human problems."

He cites the source but does not indicate that the passage is copied nearly word for word. There are so many examples of such practices that the dissertation seems as if it has been cut-and-pasted from other sources. Mr. Poshard told the student newspaper that no one on his dissertation committee told him that he had to use quotation marks.

U. of Dubuque Settles With Professor Who Sued Over Ban on Public Criticism By Andrew Mytelka
The University of Dubuque has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a former professor’s unfair-termination lawsuit that raised the question of whether the university was seeking to stifle criticism, according to the Telegraph Herald, a local newspaper. The professor, Paul F. Jeffries, won tenure in philosophy and religion in 2005 and was subsequently offered a special chair in which he would teach ethics and speak about ethical topics as part of a newly endowed “character initiative.” He balked, however, at contract provisions that said his salary would stay the same and that said he would have to pay it back if he ever made “any disparaging, denigrating, or otherwise critical statements” about the university to reporters. Shortly after he complained, the university said he would be removed from his new post and sent back to the philosophy and religion department, without tenure. He refused to accept the demotion, left the university, and filed suit. His lawyer told The Chronicle in 2006 that the contract provision on criticism, even though a requirement of all faculty members at Dubuque, contradicted the purpose of the character initiative. Under the settlement, approved by a judge on Tuesday, the university will pay Mr. Jeffries $50,000 but admit to no breach of contract.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mitt Romney shivs his pal Larry Craig

Slate Magazine: By John Dickerson
...We don't have to guess about what Goldwater would do. During the 1964 presidential campaign, he faced almost precisely the same issue. In October, the Goldwater campaign learned that Walter Jenkins, LBJ's closest aide, had been arrested on a 'morals charge' in the YMCA bathroom. According to J. William Middendorf's account of that campaign, A Glorious Disaster, Goldwater's aides wanted to use the scandal against Johnson, who was well ahead in the polls. Jenkins was not only a security risk—open to blackmail— but long before he was arrested, there were allegations he'd used his influence with then-Vice President Johnson to get an Air Force general who had been busted on a morals charge reinstated. The Goldwater aides even tried out slogans: 'Either way with LBJ.'
Goldwater insisted that they make no use of it. The story never came up during the campaign. This may say more about Goldwater's personal decency than it does about his governing philosophy. Jenkins had served in Goldwater's Air Force Reserve Unit, and as Goldwater later wrote, 'It was a sad time for Jenkins' wife and children, and I was not about to add to their private sorrow. Winning isn't everything. Some things, like loyalty to friends or lasting principle, are more important.' Mitt, you're no Barry Goldwater.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Everybody (On Campus) Digs Barack Obama

On Faith: Georgetown Blog:
The results of my scientific poll of scholars of religion and theology at various universities (n = 14) have now been tabulated. The question asked was: “With which current presidential aspirant would you most like to sit down and discuss issues pertaining to faith—Church/State issues, Gnostic Gospels, Schleiermacher, anything?” Save one stray vote for former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, every professor I spoke to expressed a preference for the same candidate. If, like me, you believe that the titles of classic Jazz albums are repositories of timeless wisdom and wit, then my campus findings may be summarized by the title of Bill Evans' 1958 masterpiece: “Everybody digs Barack Obama.” Incontrovertible proof of the Academy’s liberal bias, this adulation for the Senator from Illinois? Perhaps. Yet he does possess qualities that make him uniquely attractive to people with advanced degrees in religious studies and other subjects. Obama can sound awfully professorial, as opposed to wonkish, when discussing issues pertaining to faith. The decade he spent as a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago has clearly left its mark. When reading or listening to him analyze questions of public policy and religion many scholars undoubtedly experience the pleasure of recognition. They may even conclude--somewhat narcissistically-- that “Senator Obama is one of us!”

All presidential candidates must weave what I call “a narrative of faith.” Here again, Obama offers something out of the ordinary. The generic storyline of a Protestant aspirant for High Office goes something like this. Candidate X was once an OK Christian. Then a traumatic episode occurred which solidified his or her faith, resulting in deepened spiritual awareness. Candidate X emerged from these travails a better, stronger Christian--a “hard champion” of godly virtue (Here, using the title of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ 1985 album).

Mr. Obama’s narrative is rather different. As a child, he was schooled in both Catholic and Muslim institutions. Too, there is reason to believe that prior to his later-life baptism he was under-churched or non-churched and may even have flirted with a casual sort of non-belief. All of these experiences tincture his thinking on religion with more sophistication and edge than any other candidate in the race.

Last, as regards religious imaging, God Talk, and so forth, Senator Obama is a very original and cunning operator. Much in the way that he manages to constantly criticize the Democratic Party all the while portraying himself as the embodiment of a Democrat, Obama can lampoon the faith and values game while playing it with extraordinary skill. His quip about the “politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps (off rhythm) to the gospel choir” is a classic zinger. It is a mustard-filled paint-ball aimed at John Kerry that then ricochets directly into one of Hillary Clinton’s preferred photo-ops.

Of course, the types of politicians who mesmerize the theology professors are rarely the ones who sway the American electorate. Opposition Research teams may also dig Barack Obama, as we shall soon see.

Posted by Jacques Berlinerblau on August 27, 2007 9:44 AM

Blessings and Curses

AJWS Commentary:
Within the narrative of blessings and curses in Parshat Ki Tavo, God sets out clear expectations for how we should behave, making it clear that this is not a covenant of faith, but one of deeds. Contemporary Jewish philosopher David Hartman contends that the blessings and curses are not literally inflicted upon humans in response to their observance or nonobservance of commandments. Hartman argues, instead, that our Torah enumerates these curses and blessings in order to emphasize the grave importance of acting with holiness and thereby actualizing God's presence in our midst. The blessings and curses are provided as a symbolic reminder of our covenantal obligations, reinforcing our commitment to a covenant rooted in action.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also invokes our covenant with God when he asserts that the blessings and curses are meant to impart a sense of our partnership with the divine as we struggle to cope with good and evil. Simply observing the Torah's written laws is not enough to continually bring sanctity into our lives. The Torah not only narrowly stipulates that certain acts are prohibited, but also broadly demands that we accept our responsibility to realize a sustainable and just society. Heschel understands the significance of our deeds both as signs of our covenantal relationship and as active agents of change in our surroundings:

It is in the deeds that human beings become aware of what life really is, of their power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin; of their ability to derive joy and bestow it upon others...The deed is the test, the trial, and the risk. What we perform may seem slight, but the aftermath is immense."

Understood this way, mitzvot ben adam l'chavero - those commandments that guide human relationships - really actualize our covenant with God. The majority of the mitzvot detailed in this parshah focus on supporting just and compassionate relationships with other human beings - in effect, offering guidelines for the creation of just communities. Prohibitions against subverting the rights of the stranger, secretly harming a neighbor, and accepting bribes support the universal human rights we seek to uphold in our social justice work. The Torah champions human integrity and dignity, and our literary tradition further elevates this with the assertion that the highest form of tzedakah is to help someone become self-sufficient.

JTS Weekly Torah Commentary

-R. Marc Wolf - JTS Weekly Torah Commentary:
The sixteenth-century Italian commentator Moshe Hefetz writes on this verse in his commentary on Ki Tavo, 'You witnessed all those great wonders but only appreciated their full significance just now, at this time, after they had receded from view, as if you had to this point lacked sight and hearing' (Milekhet Mahshevet, Warsaw Ed., 315). Hefetz is observing that the people of Israel did not understand the miracles because they needed distance from them. It was their time in the desert, wandering, gaining perspective, and experience and growing as a people that allowed them to appreciate the full significance of the miracles. ...

The true significance of the Exodus was not in the signs and wonders, but in the time it took for the people to become Israelites. Their experience in the desert served as the vehicle for transformation from a wandering mass to a People ready to live as a Nation in the Land of Israel. Moses' statement, then, cannot be viewed as a critique, but as a compliment. B'nai Israel had made it through the desert and had matured into the people with "the mind to understand, the eyes to see and the ears to hear."

With Judaism, we are continually in and out of "the woods." This month of Elul leading up to the High Holidays is time in "the woods." Elul has traditionally been the month for introspection, a month to take our individual heshbon ha'nefesh (accounting of our soul) and examine our relationship with God. It is a period to develop as individuals to emerge like b'nai Israel from the desert with the mind, ears, and eyes we need to approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

On Legal Education

As we prepare to embark on the new academic year, I have repositioned for more convenient access the following series of entries on legal education originally posted on March 27 and 28, 2007. Comments are welcome.

Toward a kindler, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school: Epigram

It has been observed that my proposal (posted in four parts, below) is long, dense, and convoluted (and has too many parenthetical inserts (which make it hard (and very irritating) to read)).
Got it.

Could I possibly try to distill my message to something people might actually read?
Sure. Here goes (standing on one foot):

Our graduates should have the courage to take on established power, and the skills enabling them to do so effectively.

The rest is commentary.
Now go and study.

With apologies to the Jewish first-century sage, Hillel, asked by a Gentile to summarize the whole Torah while standing on one foot. (On my reading of the sources, it is somewhat obscure whether it was Hillel or his interlocutor who was standing on one foot, and whether the inquiry was sincere or sarcastic. Maybe an especially well-informed and/or industrious reader can help. You may sit down while doing your research.)

I. Toward a kinder, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school--Introduction (rev'd 3/27/07)

March 20 Aardvark* proposal by Alan J. Weisbard

What sort of learning environment do we, faculty and students together, wish to create here at UW Law School?

As a member of the British House of Lords, Baroness Whitaker, recently stated (quoting Mark Twain in summarizing the attitude of many of her colleagues toward proposed reforms): “I’m all for progress; it’s change I can’t stand.”

Most discussions of educational policy are incremental to a fault. Motivated by our current circumstances, I would like to propose a more far reaching and radical discussion, taking us to the roots of our enterprise together.

My proposal is predicated on a particular view of that enterprise. We, the faculty of the law school, are training our students to function as legal professionals. Given the roles that lawyers have played historically in our society, and seem likely to continue to play for the foreseeable future, we are also training our students to function as public citizens. You, our students, will enjoy the opportunities and bear the burdens associated with civic and political, as well as professional, leadership and influence.

Lawyers and public citizens require courage, commitment and fortitude as well as technical competence. As lawyers, many of us tend particularly to our distinctive garden: the formulation and enforcement of legal rules of conduct. Here at Wisconsin, we also study and pursue the law in action. Both are necessary and important. But there is more: the cultivation, development and pursuit of lives of virtue and service to others.

From my perspective, we don’t do nearly enough to inculcate, reinforce or value these virtues as law teachers or as a law school. What we do in this domain, we probably do best through our clinical programs. More is required of us, not least in modelling for our students lives of integrity, courage, and service.

There has been much twaddle in American academia of adopting a “marketplace” model of the educational process. According to this model, students are consumers, seeking a credential to advance their careers; faculty are providers of a service. (Entertainment value is a bonus.) At its far extreme, we as students and teachers become mutually complicit in seeking to effectuate this bargain at least personal cost or bother. To exaggerate somewhat for effect, information flows from the professor’s lecture notes, through the student’s laptop, to the student’s blue book, with as little lasting or transformational impact on the student’s brain cells as is necessary to the credentialing purpose of the transaction. Then we go about the real business of our lives, outside the classroom, and we congratulate one another on a job well done.

This is not what I sought as a student. It is not why I, or most of my colleagues, became a teacher.

The times require us to articulate a better model of our mutual enterprise.

II.Toward a kinder, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school --Proposal (rev'd)

What follow are some preliminary thoughts in that direction, a proposed model of a more collegial and mutually respectful educational process for our law school. The model demands more from all of us, teachers and students alike. I suspect that few will agree with all of its implications and entailments. Much help will be needed from students and fellow faculty members to think it through and, perhaps, to test it in practice, on an experimental basis. Perhaps it will be of interest to legal educators and law students elsewhere, but my primary focus is on UW.

The model rests on the conception that faculty are senior colleagues, and students are junior colleagues (and responsible adults), engaged in the shared enterprise of training future professionals. The model presumes respect, of one another and of the importance of the joint enterprise. It also presumes responsibilities as well as rights, again going in both directions.

Most fundamentally, we as students and teachers share a responsibility to and for the collective educational project. We all learn from one another, in ways conducive to life-long learning, the cultivation of professional skills, and service to our clients and our communities.

In this model, we value diversity, in substantial part, because of its tremendous liberating potential to expand the range of perspectives and life experiences from which we can all learn, as well as for the opportunity to learn to work effectively with others who differ, in all kinds of ways, from ourselves and our own experiences of the world (and of the self). We also promote diversity to enhance the likelihood of extending the reach of affordable and high quality legal assistance to all elements of the community, particularly to those currently not adequately served by the existing legal profession.

The world, and the social and professional realities we inhabit, are not simple ones. Conflicts are rife, and our society has gone a long way in approving the single-minded pursuit of individual gain, while downplaying elements of community, solidarity, and a fair-minded regard for the needs of others.

Some of this is inescapable in the human condition, and it has found its place within our halls. Law school is a competitive place (perhaps less intensely so at Wisconsin that at some other institutions). “The system” is set up (here as virtually everywhere else) so that some advance their own prospects at the expense of others, creating resentment, disillusionment, and intellectual and emotional withdrawal by all too many of our students. This is perhaps most obvious in our system of examinations, recommended and quasi-mandatory curves, and grades. (Recent grading reform may help some, but I would argue not enough, on this score.) It is powerfully and sadly reflected in widespread negative student attitudes toward fellow students who speak in class with “too much” frequency, seriousness, preparation, or engagement.

These issues also bear a disheartening relationship to the supposed traditional model of the faculty-student “Socratic” exchange, as portrayed in One L or The Paper Chase, in which sadistic professors, abusing their superior authority, knowledge, and experience, demean and humiliate students who cannot live up to impossible standards.

I experienced some (but relatively little) of this behavior in my own education. To be candid, I thought at the time, and now even more so in retrospect, that a measure of experience learning to survive attack and to respond quickly and effectively to intellectual intimidation was probably good for my development as a lawyer (and to my masculine identity; I suspect there may well be an important gendered aspect of this, worthy of discussion in its own right). From discussions with (particularly male?) faculty colleagues of a certain age, I suspect that others also look back on such experiences with a peculiar mix of nostalgia, pain, and gratitude.

Times and practices have changed since those years, mostly for the better. I do not emulate this model in my own teaching, and have not seen much of it in my colleagues’ teaching here at Wisconsin. I do understand that some students may perceive their experience here as a (perhaps somewhat muted) form of my hyperbolic description. We need to talk more openly about this.

The nature of our surrounding environment also affects our reality in a second, and at least equally important sense. If we are to respond effectively as lawyers and public citizens to a world that is complex and rife with conflict, we must seek to understand it, both through the production of knowledge (our research mission) and through the fearless examination of sometimes uncomfortable and emotionally-frought realities of life around us. We must learn to engage with competing perspectives and arguments, many of which we (in perhaps differing ways) will also find distasteful, or even offensive.

As lawyers and as legal educators, we are committed to the proposition that the best response to “bad” positions is through better development and use of complex evidence and through better arguments. Better arguments, by and large, are developed through careful and critical scrutiny of what makes the competing arguments tick, both in their internal logic and in the ways they depend on what we perceive to be incorrect beliefs and only partial truths.

The skills of an effective lawyer vitally depend on this capacity for critical examination. The process by which this capacity is cultivated (and made memorable to our students) is intrinsically an edgy and sometimes risky one. Even when done with the utmost skill and sensitivity, and with dedication to the objective of a more just society (as I think is characteristically the case here at Wisconsin), it will sometimes miscarry. Offense may be given, and feelings may be hurt. It comes with the territory.

To abandon the territory is to be derelict in our responsibility to train students properly to be professionals and public citizens. The trick is to find a way to turn that offense, and those hurt feelings, back into the classroom, to advance our collective learning (certainly including the learning of the teacher).

The great “teachable moments” often come in such circumstances. One of the tragedies of recent weeks is that we have not--at least thus far--adequately taken advantage of the potential teaching moment created by the compounded miscommunications and misunderstandings that have brought such pain to our community. The March 20 Forum was a useful start. But there are further discussions and hard work to come, if we are to make the most of this moment of opportunity. Let us not allow this precious occasion for collective reflection, engagement, and constructive change be lost in our understandable shared desire to put recent difficulties behind us.

Please, engage.

III. Toward a kinder, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school --Concluding Reflections (rev'd)

Now to step back for a moment. I believe in academic freedom, defined in fairly expansive terms. The academic community must fight, often against powerful external actors, to protect freedom of thought and freedom of speech, even when those freedoms are exercised in ways we find distasteful, offensive or just plain wrong. (And we are free – indeed, obligated – to speak out against the substance of “wrong” ideas, without compromising the principle of academic freedom.) Professors should not risk their employment when they explore controversial ideas, even, and perhaps especially, when those ideas are unpopular, perhaps even hateful. (I put to the side deliberate personal insults and clearly discriminatory practices in the classroom, which should be neither tolerated nor protected.) That sets what I would consider the inimal or enforceable standard for faculty conduct. But it does not end the discussion.

There should also, I believe, be a more aspirational standard or set of communal norms at play, reflecting our widely shared commitment to the kind of open, respectful and sensitive learning environment that we seek to create. In such an environment, all members of a diverse community can feel fully at home and able to flourish.

Those who violate these norms in the exercise of legitimate academic freedom should risk not their employment, but their good names and reputations among colleagues, students, and the community. The lines here are not easy to draw, and differing recollections may make confident judgment difficult in evaluating some instances. Recognizing that others will differ on this point, I would argue that when students are offended by an arguably proper and good faith exercise of our teaching function, the first recourse should normally (unless this is demonstrably futile) come in the classroom, where engaged discussion can contribute to our shared learning. Where conflicts persist, we as an academic community must treat our offended students with compassion and support, but must also stand ready to rally to protect the good name of our colleagues when we are convinced, after due inquiry, that they are acting in good faith in the honest pursuit of our calling as law teachers.

Filling in the content of these aspirational communal norms, and learning how better to pursue them in the classroom, is one of the challenges we face in attempting to move beyond the expression of fine sentiments toward concrete transformational actions that will make our law school a more active, collaborative and mutually respectful place for learning together. I do not think it will be easy. I do believe we will dramatically improve our chances of getting close to this target in a law school community more like the one I have tried to sketch out here.

I would be delighted to receive constructive comments on the ideas expressed herein. Please submit your comments directly on the blog. Thank you.

IV. Toward a kinder, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school--A beginning agenda of topics for further discussion (rev'd)

Please find below my own list of topics intended to create an agenda for further discussion and debate as we move this process forward in future meetings. Others are welcome and encouraged to add to them.


>How do we achieve fuller, shared recognition that students are responsible adults training to be legal professionals? How do we determine the mutual expectations that should follow from this recognition?

> Should we establish an honor code governing student behavior, to be developed and administered, in whole or in substantial part, by students?

>Can we substantially enhance opportunities (in addition to existing clinical opportunities) for collaborative work, both among students and in combined groups of students and faculty? Can we find ways to surmount obstacles posed by existing patterns of individual grading?

>Can we provide more frequent and timely opportunities for students to receive meaningful and constructive feedback on the quality of their work, both at the end of term and while courses are still underway and improvement is possible?

>Can we find more effective and timely opportunities for students to provide meaningful and constructive feedback to faculty on the quality of their teaching, both at the end of term and while courses are still underway and improvement is possible?

>Can we enhance opportunities for students who find difficulty in speaking in class to find ways of sharing their views and perspectives with teacher and classmates through more effective use of technology (such as email lists and class e-discussion boards)? How can we more effectively help students to improve their public speaking abilities and self-confidence in speaking before groups?

>Can we provide regular opportunities for students, as individuals or in groups, to share distinctive aspects of their backgrounds and perspectives through presentations to a substantial law school audience? Such presentations, which might come from first generation professional/college students, students from rural and small town upbringings, foreign-born students, and students from working class families, as well as members of different racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender, and sexual-orientation groups, would allow all of us to reap more fully the benefits of our diverse community.

>Can we reconsider the appropriate use of laptops in the educational process? Considerations here might vary, depending on class size, the amount of lecture vs. more interactive forms of learning, the objectives and teaching style of the professor, the nature of the material being taught, and other factors. One area of concern is the amount of non-class-related web browsing, emailing and instant messaging, and other behaviors distracting to others as well as the student engaging in the activity. A second potential concern is the need for future lawyers to train their memories and learn not to rely unduly on notes. Perhaps most important is the need for full student presence, engagement and participation in class discussion, which should not be viewed as a distraction from the compilation of a complete stenographic record of the proceedings.

> Can we reconsider the impact of our grading system (noting recent reforms) on placing undue emphasis on small (and often not meaningful) distinctions across the broad middle of the class, resulting in unnecessary stress and competition and adversely affecting potentially innovative modes of teaching and evaluating student work?

I would be delighted to receive constructive additions to the topics listed above. Please post comments directly on the AGENDA-10: DISCUSSION BOARD (posted March 28 am)on this blog. Thank you.

Discussion Board Project for UW Law

I am establishing individual discussion boards for each of the topics on my agenda for change. (See background on my March 27 series of postings, "Toward a kindler, gentler (and more intellectually rigorous) law school (revised since the March 20 Forum). Please post comments directly on the relevant discussion board. Discussion board 10 is currently reserved for suggestions for additional topics--I will establish additional discussion boards for new suggested topics as circumstances warrant.

Suggestions and comments on my analysis and proposal can be made directly on the relevant March 27 entries.

Comments will be moderated, but with a relatively light hand, to facilitate a respectful, civil and relatively orderly discussion.

Agenda-1: Discussion Board-Students Are Responsible Adults

How do we achieve fuller, shared recognition that students are responsible adults training to be legal professionals? How do we determine the mutual expectations that should follow from this recognition?

Agenda-2: Discussion Board-Student Honor Code

> Should we establish an honor code governing student behavior, to be developed and administered, in whole or in substantial part, by students?

Agenda-3: Discussion Board-Collaborative Work

>Can we substantially enhance opportunities (in addition to existing clinical opportunities) for collaborative work, both among students and in combined groups of students and faculty? Can we find ways to surmount obstacles posed by existing patterns of individual grading?

Agenda-4: Discussion Board-Feedback on Student Work

>Can we provide more frequent and timely opportunities for students to receive meaningful and constructive feedback on the quality of their work, both at the end of term and while courses are still underway and improvement is possible?

Agenda-5: Discussion Board-Feedback on Teaching

>Can we find more effective and timely opportunities for students to provide meaningful and constructive feedback to faculty on the quality of their teaching, both at the end of term and while courses are still underway and improvement is possible?

Agenda-6: Discussion Board-Public Speaking

>Can we enhance opportunities for students who find difficulty in speaking in class to find ways of sharing their views and perspectives with teacher and classmates through more effective use of technology (such as email lists and class e-discussion boards)? How can we more effectively help students to improve their public speaking abilities and self-confidence in speaking before groups?

Agenda-7: Discussion Board-Learning from Our Diversity

>Can we provide regular opportunities for students, as individuals or in groups, to share distinctive aspects of their backgrounds and perspectives through presentations to a substantial law school audience? Such presentations, which might come from first generation professional/college students, students from rural and small town upbringings, foreign-born students, and students from working class families, as well as members of different racial, ethnic, linguistic, gender, and sexual-orientation groups, would allow all of us to reap more fully the benefits of our diverse community.

Agenda-8: Discussion Board-Laptops/Presence

>Can we reconsider the appropriate use of laptops in the educational process? Considerations here might vary, depending on class size, the amount of lecture vs. more interactive forms of learning, the objectives and teaching style of the professor, the nature of the material being taught, and other factors. One area of concern is the amount of non-class-related web browsing, emailing and instant messaging, and other behaviors distracting to others as well as the student engaging in the activity. A second potential concern is the need for future lawyers to train their memories and learn not to rely unduly on notes. Perhaps most important is the need for full student presence, engagement and participation in class discussion, which should not be viewed as a distraction from the compilation of a complete stenographic record of the proceedings.

Agenda-9: Discussion Board-Grading System

> Can we reconsider the impact of our grading system (noting recent reforms) on placing undue emphasis on small (and often not meaningful) distinctions across the broad middle of the class, resulting in unnecessary stress and competition and adversely affecting potentially innovative modes of teaching and evaluating student work?

Agenda-10: Discussion Board--Additional Topics

Please use this discussion board for suggestions of additional topics for discussion.

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's elemental.

Tom Lehrer's "The Elements". A Flash animation by Mike Stanfill, Private Hand

Embattled Attorney General Resigns

New York Times:
"The official who disclosed the resignation in advance today said that the turmoil over Mr. Gonzales had made it difficult for him to continue as attorney general. “The unfair treatment that he’s been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department,” the official said. ...

On Saturday night Mr. Gonzales was contacted by his press spokesman to ask how the department should respond to inquiries from reporters about rumors of his resignation, and he told the spokesman to deny the reports.

Good to the very last drop...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hebrew Charter School Spurs Dispute in Florida

New York Times: By ABBY GOODNOUGH Published: August 24, 2007
HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Aug. 23 — The new public school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard stands out despite its plain gray facade. Called the Ben Gamla Charter School, it is run by an Orthodox rabbi, serves kosher lunches and concentrates on teaching Hebrew.

About 400 students started classes at Ben Gamla this week amid caustic debate over whether a public school can teach Hebrew without touching Judaism and the unconstitutional side of the church-state divide. The conflict intensified Wednesday, when the Broward County School Board ordered Ben Gamla to suspend Hebrew lessons because its curriculum — the third proposed by the school — referred to a Web site that mentioned religion.

Opponents say that it is impossible to teach Hebrew — and aspects of Jewish culture — outside a religious context, and that Ben Gamla, billed as the nation’s first Hebrew-English charter school, violates one of its paramount legal and political boundaries. But supporters say the school is no different from hundreds of others around the country with dual-language programs, whose popularity has soared in ethnically diverse states like Florida.

“It’s not a religious school,” said Peter Deutsch, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida who started Ben Gamla and hopes to replicate it in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. “South Florida is one of the largest Hebrew-speaking communities in the world outside Israel, so there are lots of really good reasons to try to create a program like this here.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Scientists Induce Out-of-Body Sensation

Using virtual reality goggles, a camera and a stick, scientists have induced out-of-body experiences — the sensation of drifting outside of one’s own body — - in healthy people, according to experiments being published in the journal Science. Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image Tej Tadi A reprensentation of one of the scenarios scientists used to study out-of-body experiences. When people gaze at an illusory image of themselves through the goggles and are prodded in just the right way with the stick, they feel as if they have left their bodies. The research reveals that “the sense of having a body, of being in a bodily self,” is actually constructed from multiple sensory streams..."

Usually these sensory streams, which include vision, touch, balance and the sense of where one’s body is positioned in space, work together seamlessly, Prof. Botvinick said. But when the information coming from the sensory sources does not match up, when they are thrown out of synchrony, the sense of being embodied as a whole comes apart.

The brain, which abhors ambiguity, then forces a decision that can, as the new experiments show, involve the sense of being in a different body.

The research provides a physical explanation for phenomena usually ascribed to other-worldly influences...

Legal Questions Remain for Freed Scholar in Iran

TEHRAN, Aug. 22 — Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-American scholar freed on bail after three months in prison, is waiting for Iranian judicial officials to inform her whether the travel ban against her will be lifted and a new passport issued to allow her to return to the United States, her husband and her lawyer said Wednesday.

Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies - New York Times

New York Times: By MARGALIT FOX
Grace Paley, the celebrated writer and social activist whose acclaimed short stories explored in precise, pungent and tragicomic style the struggles of ordinary women muddling through everyday lives, died Wednesday at her home in Thetford Hill, Vt. She was 84 and lived most of her life in Manhattan before moving to Vermont in 1988....

Ms. Paley was among the earliest American writers to explore the lives of women — mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers — in all their dailyness. She focused especially on single mothers, whose days were an exquisite mix of sexual yearning and pulverizing fatigue. In a sense, her work was about what happened to the women that Roth and Bellow and Malamud’s men had loved and left behind.

To read Ms. Paley’s fiction is to be awash in the shouts and murmurs of secular Yiddishkeit, with its wild onrushing joy and twilight melancholy. For her, cadence and character went hand in hand: her stories are marked by their minute attention to language, with its tonal rise and fall, its hairpin rhetorical reversals and its capacity for delicious hyperbolic understatement. Her stories, many of which are written in the first person and seem to start in mid-conversation, beg be read aloud. ...

A self-described “somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist,” Ms. Paley was a lifelong advocate of liberal social causes. During Vietnam, she was jailed several times for antiwar protests; in later years, she lobbied for women’s rights, against nuclear proliferation and, most recently, against the war in Iraq. For decades, she was a familiar presence on lower Sixth Avenue, near her Greenwich Village home, smiling broadly, gum cracking, leaflets in hand.

Italy’s American Baggage

In the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, it seemed immediately clear to many in Europe and the United States that their arrest in 1920 — initially for possession of weapons and subversive pamphlets, then on a charge of double murder committed during a robbery in Massachusetts — the three trials that followed, and their subsequent death sentences were intended to make an example of them. And this regardless of the utter lack of evidence against them and in spite of defense testimony by a participant in the robbery who said he’d never seen the two Italians. The perception was that Sacco, a shoemaker, and Vanzetti, a fishmonger, were the victims of a wave of repression sweeping Woodrow Wilson’s America. In Italy, committees and organizations condemning the sentence sprouted up as soon as it was announced. By the time the sentence was carried out in 1927, Fascism had been in power in Italy for nearly five years and was brutally consolidating its dictatorship, persecuting and imprisoning anyone hostile to the regime — including anarchists, naturally. And yet when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, the biggest Italian daily, Milan’s Corriere della Sera, did not hesitate to give the story a six-column headline. Standing out glaringly among the subheads was the assertion: “They were innocent."

One can, perhaps, distinguish between a miscarriage of justice and the issue of ultimate innocence.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sacco and Vanzetti :It was 80 years ago today...

Nicola Sacco (April 22, 1891 – August 23, 1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (June 11, 1888 – August 23, 1927) were two Italian-born American anarchists, who were arrested, tried, and executed via electrocution in Massachusetts for the charge of murder and theft. There is much controversy regarding their guilt, stirred in part by Upton Sinclair's 1928 novel Boston. Critics of the trial have accused the prosecution and trial judge of allowing anti-Italian, anti-immigrant, and anti-anarchist sentiment to influence the jury's verdict. ...

While the prosecution staunchly defended the verdict, the defense, led by radical attorney Fred Moore, dug up many reasons for doubt. Three key prosecution witnesses admitted they had been coerced into identifying Sacco at the scene of the crime. But when confronted by DA Katzmann, each changed their stories again, denying any coercion. In 1924, controversy continued when it was discovered that someone had switched the barrel of Sacco's gun. Three weeks of private hearings followed but the mystery was never solved. Other appeals focused on the jury foreman and a prosecution ballistics expert. In 1923, the defense filed an affidavit from a friend of the jury foreman who swore that prior to the trial, the man had said of Sacco and Vanzetti, "Damn them, they ought to hang them anyway!" That same year, a state police captain retracted his trial testimony linking Sacco's gun to the fatal bullet. Captain William Proctor claimed that he never meant to imply the connection and that he had repeatedly told DA Katzmann there was no such connection but that the prosecution had crafted its trial questioning to hide this opinion.

Adding to the growing conviction that Sacco and Vanzetti deserved a new trial was the conduct of trial judge Webster Thayer. During the trial, many had noted how Thayer seemed to loathe defense attorney Fred Moore. Thayer frequently denied Moore's motions, lecturing the California-based lawyer on how law was conducted in Massachusetts. On at least two occasions out of court, Thayer burst into tirade. Once he told astonished reporters that "No long-haired anarchist from California can run this court!" According to onlookers later who swore out affidavits, Thayer also lectured members of his exclusive clubs, calling Sacco and Vanzetti "Bolsheviki!" and saying he would "get them good and proper." Following the verdict, Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who had covered the trial, wrote a scathing protest to the Massachusetts attorney general condemning Thayer's blatant bias. Then in 1924, after denying all five motions for a new trial, Thayer confronted a Massachusetts lawyer at his alma mater, Dartmouth. “Did you see what I did with those anarchistic bastards the other day?" the judge said. "I guess that will hold them for a while! Let them go to the Supreme Court now and see what they can get out of them!” The outburst remained a secret until 1927 when its release heightened the suspicion that Sacco and Vanzetti had not received a fair trial. ...

FDA Approves Seconds

The Onion :

WASHINGTON, DC—In a surprising reversal of its longtime single-helping policy, the Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of seconds Tuesday, claiming that an additional plateful of food with every meal can greatly reduce the risk of hunger as well as provide an excellent source of deliciousness. ... Addressing what it calls a 'growing epidemic of cravings and hankerings,' the federal agency recommended redesigning food labels to prominently display extra-serving sizes and pledged to better educate consumers on how to make informed additional-portion choices at home and in restaurants....

"We've found that eating seconds is essential for keeping up the country's strength."

"Besides, with people starving in other parts of the world, it would be an absolute shame to let our nice food supply all go to waste," the commissioner added. ...

"Seconds may not be suitable for everyone," von Eschenbach said. "Especially those who suffer from heart disease, those at risk for diabetes, people trying to lose weight, and women."

The FDA also recommended moderation in consuming seconds. Researchers in the seconds field have noted occasional side effects, such as hardly being able to get up from the table, pants-loosening, drowsiness, and the feeling that one "might explode" if one eats just one more bite.

This probably hurts me more than it hurts most of you.

The lingering danger to children from lead

Slate MagazineBy Darshak Sanghavi

Mattel's recent recall of more than 1 million toys coated with lead paint has left parents feeling that their children's health was risked by poor safety procedures. So far, it's unknown whether the toys have harmed anyone. But as parents rush to doctors' offices to test their toddlers, many are bound to discover their children possess sm
all amounts of lead...

Unfortunately, recent medical evidence shows even trace amount of lead—at amounts now considered acceptable by the CDC—can damage a child's IQ. Why regulators refuse to believe the data continues a decades-old exercise in willful ignorance. And it's children who are still paying the price.

Doctors have known for more than a century that children could develop seizures and comas from severe lead toxicity, and that surviving victims were frequently brain-damaged. The question has become—and remains—how much lead is too much? Though federal authorities refuse to admit it, it's increasingly clear that no safe threshold for lead exists, and even the tiniest amount can hurt children's developing brains. ...

Initially, the Centers for Disease Control thought kids' brains could tolerate up to 60 mcg/dl of lead because no seizures occurred at that level. But in 1979, Dr. Herbert Needleman reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that lead levels considered safe by the CDC—though far lower than needed to produce seizures and coma—correlated with lower IQs in children. Later, his group reported that lead-poisoned children were more likely to drop out of school and have reading disabilities.

But lead controls were slow in coming, due to powerful industry resistance. ...

Serious damage happens at levels now considered safe for millions of American kids. The data should have galvanized public-health authorities to pursue zero-tolerance lead policies, which would mean nationwide de-leading of unsafe homes. After all, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2001 that medicines can't recover lost IQ points from lead poisoning. Once gone, they're gone forever.

Yet no de-leading program happened. Instead, opponents of comprehensive lead removal blatantly politicized the latest science and hatched an economic justification for inaction. ...

Meanwhile, though the Mattel toys have been recalled, little has been done about the wider threat to kids from lead paint. Removing leaded paint (mostly from housing built before the 1970s) can cost tens of thousands of dollars per dwelling, for a total tally of $58 billion nationwide, according to a 2000 EPA report. But progress halted over a pointless debate over the dollar value of a child's IQ points. In 2000, the EPA estimated that national de-leading would ultimately cost taxpayers about $8,000 per saved IQ point. Conservative economists like Randall Lutter of the American Enterprise Institute argued this was not worth the cost. Using a bizarre analysis—based on estimates of how much parents were willing to pay out-of-pocket for drugs to remove lead—Lutter valued a child's intelligence at only $1,100 per IQ point. Arguing for looser lead standards, Lutter concluded that authorities should "reconsider the need for environmental standards that protect children more than their parents think is appropriate." Since 2000, no progress on lowering allowable lead limits has occurred, and in early 2007, Lutter was appointed to lead policy adviser at the FDA.

There has been a lively debate on law and economics as applied to the China Lead Doll Syndrome among my law school faculty colleagues. Maybe someone will want to comment on Randall Lutter's calculations cited above on the tradeoff between $ and IQ points. I wonder what wealthy parents are willing to invest to improve their little darlings' SAT scores when the children are applying for admission to elite colleges?

Monday, August 20, 2007

White House Acts to Limit Health Plan for Children

New York Times: By ROBERT PEAR

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families. Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage. After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met. Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said: “We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children"...

In his budget request in February, President Bush proposed strict limits on family income for the child health program. But in voting this month to renew the program for five years, neither house of Congress accepted that proposal for the program, whose legal authority for the child health program expires on Sept. 30. The policy in the Bush administration’s letter would continue indefinitely, although Democrats in Congress could try to pass legislation overriding it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The War as We Saw It

New York Times:
What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense. A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families. As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias...

...[W]hile creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave. ...

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side. ...

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run. ...

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

This account, by a group of active duty soldiers, is far more compelling than the think tank deception published by the Times several weeks back. These guys get past the rhetorical fog and carefully manipulated show and tell to some hard realities: we really have no idea of the ultimate loyalties of the Iraqi soldiers and police we are training and arming; our soldiers are mostly place-holders, merely delaying (at great cost in lives and treasure) the ultimate confrontation among uncompromising factions with dubious loyalty to any shared conception on an "Iraq". This is, virtually by definition, a losing game, and one in which our ultimate influence will be limited. As the authors recognize, "it will happen on Iraqi terms," not on ours. How many lives are we prepared to sacrifice simply to delay the ultimate reckoning, and for what?

The Founders Had an Idea for Handling Alberto Gonzales

New York Times: By Adam Cohen
The founders did not want impeachment to be undertaken so casually that, in James Madison’s words, the president and other officers effectively served at the “pleasure of the Senate.” But they also did not want to limit it to a few specific offenses. The phrase “other high crimes and misdemeanors” was intended to give Congress leeway. Impeachment was one of the important checks and balances the founders built into the Constitution. At state ratification conventions, it was promoted as a tool for Congress to rein in any officeholder who “dares to abuse the power vested in him by the people.” Impeachment of Mr. Gonzales would fit comfortably into the founders’ framework. ...

If the House began an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Gonzales would most likely resign rather than risk the unpleasantness of the hearings, and the ignominy of being removed. Congress should think of it as a constitutional tap on the shoulder, to let the attorney general know that the time has truly come for him to go. If Mr. Gonzales did resign, this Congress would most likely be more gracious than the one in 1876, which ignored Mr. Belknap’s hurried resignation and impeached him anyway.

I'm not so sure about the prediction, but with Rove on the way out, maybe W is ready to clear the deck of his present set of personnel headaches. After all, he has a wedding to plan now.

Rich Pickings: Kicking Rove...

New York Times: By Frank Rich

...the Republican reaction to Mr. Rove's departure is more revealing than the cries from his longtime critics. No G.O.P. presidential candidates paid tribute to Mr. Rove, and, except in the die-hard Bush bastions of Murdochland present (The Weekly Standard, Fox News) and future (The Journal), the conservative commentariat was often surprisingly harsh. It is this condemnation of Rove from his own ideological camp — not the Democrats' familiar litany about his corruption, polarizing partisanship, dirty tricks, etc. — that the White House and Mr. Rove wanted to bury in the August dog days. What the Rove critics on the right recognize is that it may be even more difficult for their political party to dig out of his wreckage than it will be for America....

Every poll and demographic accounting finds the Republican Party on the losing side of history, both politically and culturally. Not even a miraculous armistice in Iraq or vintage Democratic incompetence may be able to ride to the rescue. ... Such is the political legacy for a party to which Mr. Rove sold Mr. Bush as "a new kind of Republican," an exemplar of "compassionate conservatism" and the avatar of a permanent Republican majority. ...That sales pitch, as we long ago learned, was all about packaging, not substance. ...

"The face of the Republican Party in Iowa is the face of a losing party, full of hatred toward immigrants, lust for government subsidies, and the demand that any Republican seeking the office of the presidency acknowledge that he's little more than Jesus Christ's running mate."

That face, at once contemptuous and greedy and self-righteous, is Karl Rove's face. Unless someone in his party rolls out a revolutionary new product, it is indelible enough to serve as the Republican brand for a generation.

The Politics of God II

New York Times: By Mark Lilla

The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. ...

Today, a few voices are calling for just this kind of renewal of Islamic political theology. Some, like Khaled Abou El Fadl, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, challenge the authority of today’s puritans, who make categorical judgments based on a literal reading of scattered Koranic verses. In Abou El Fadl’s view, traditional Islamic law can still be applied to present-day situations because it brings a subtle interpretation of the whole text to bear on particular problems in varied circumstances. Others, like the Swiss-born cleric and professor Tariq Ramadan, are public figures whose writings show Western Muslims that their political theology, properly interpreted, offers guidance for living with confidence in their faith and gaining acceptance in what he calls an alien “abode.” To read their works is to be reminded what a risky venture renewal is. It can invite believers to participate more fully and wisely in the political present, as the Protestant Reformation eventually did; it can also foster dreams of returning to a more primitive faith, through violence if necessary, as happened in the Wars of Religion.

Perhaps for this reason, Abou El Fadl and especially Ramadan have become objects of intense and sometimes harsh scrutiny by Western intellectuals. We prefer speaking with the Islamic liberalizers because they share our language: they accept the intellectual presuppositions of the Great Separation and simply want maximum room given for religious and cultural expression. They do not practice political theology. But the prospects of enduring political change through renewal are probably much greater than through liberalization. By speaking from within the community of the faithful, renovators give believers compelling theological reasons for accepting new ways as authentic reinterpretations of the faith. Figures like Abou El Fadl and Ramadan speak a strange tongue, even when promoting changes we find worthy; their reasons are not our reasons. But if we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation — and we cannot — we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence. The best should not be the enemy of the good. ...

We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. ...

The Politics of God I

New York Times:

So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing historically inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment. In Europe, the political ambiguities of one religion, Christianity, happened to set off a political crisis that might have been avoided but wasn’t, triggering the Wars of Religion; the resulting carnage made European thinkers more receptive to Hobbes’s heretical ideas about religious psychology and the political implications he drew from them; and over time those political ideas were liberalized. Even then, it was only after the Second World War that the principles of modern liberal democracy became fully rooted in continental Europe.

As for the American experience, it is utterly exceptional: there is no other fully developed industrial society with a population so committed to its faiths (and such exotic ones), while being equally committed to the Great Separation. Our political rhetoric, which owes much to the Protestant sectarians of the 17th century, vibrates with messianic energy, and it is only thanks to a strong constitutional structure and various lucky breaks that political theology has never seriously challenged the basic legitimacy of our institutions. Americans have potentially explosive religious differences over abortion, prayer in schools, censorship, euthanasia, biological research and countless other issues, yet they generally settle them within the bounds of the Constitution. It’s a miracle.

Seeing Is Believing

New York Times: By Thomas Friedman

“My fellow Americans, ask yourselves this: What will convey to you, in your gut — without anyone interpreting it — that the surge is working and worth sustaining?” My answer: If I saw something with my own eyes that I hadn’t seen before — Iraq’s Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders stepping forward, declaring their willingness to work out their differences by a set deadline and publicly asking us to stay until they do. That’s the only thing worth giving more time to develop.

But it may just be too late. Had the surge happened in 2003, when it should have, it might have prevented the kindling of all of Iraq’s sectarian passions. But now that those fires have been set, trying to unify Iraq feels like doing carpentry on a burning house.

I’ve been thinking about Iraq’s multi-religious soccer team, which just won the Asian Cup. The team was assembled from Iraqis who play for other pro teams outside Iraq. In fact, it was reported that the Iraqi soccer team hadn’t played a home game in 17 years because of violence or U.N. sanctions. In short, it’s a real team with a virtual country. That’s what I fear the surge is trying to protect: a unified Iraq that exists only in the imagination and on foreign soccer fields.

Friday, August 17, 2007

He's back

I was away for about a week at the National Havurah Committee Summer Institute in New Hampshire, studying the Dead Sea Scrolls with a Catholic scholar from the Vatican, changing patterns of and approaches to Jewish mysticism and kabbalah with a longtime friend probably not best described as a Reform rabbi, and teaching a series of workshops on the Conservative responsa and proposed takannot on gay and lesbian issues--as well as filling my near-depleted spiritual tank to overflowing. Imbibing wisdom--and comradeship-- proved easier in the absence of a computer.

I'll be returning to teaching this fall, and coping with a number of other demands on my time and energies. I suspect my blogging will take a big hit, perhaps to re-emerge in a somewhat different form or format, probably with fewer entries and reduced effort to keep up with so many different topics of interest. We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I've just posted a number of items that attracted my attention over the past week or so.

Dear Cindy: Please Don't Run

The Nation Blog: By Katha Pollitt

On July 25, Cindy Sheehan announced that since Nancy Pelosi failed to move to impeach Bush and Cheney by Sheehan's deadline two days earlier, she will run as an independent for Pelosi's seat in Congress. I have a lot of respect for Sheehan, but I hope she'll reconsider.

First of all, should impeachment really be a litmus test? Sure, it would be emotionally satisfying to haul the president before the Senate--look how much fun the Republicans had with Clinton. I understand why some of my Nation colleagues are so keen on it. But it's not going to happen--the numbers in Congress and Senate aren't there , and I don't care how many people sign petitions and call their congressperson, that is not going to change. ...But to insist that they work themselves into a lather for what is essentially a symbolic gesture with no chance of success? I don't see the point of that.

Second, Sheehan's run is futile. There's a place for outsider candidates, even longshots. ... Nancy Pelosi has been a cautious -- too cautious -- leader, and if a lefter candidate could take her seat, fine. But let me go out on a limb here: Sheehan has no chance of defeating her ... Thus, instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the left, it will show them how weak it is.

Third, and most important, Sheehan already has a crucial role in our politics: as an activist. More than any other single person, she changed the discourse about the war. She put a middle American face on the antiwar movement at a time when it was widely caricatured as a ragtag collection of hippies , Stalinists, and movie stars. She forced the media--and the country -- to acknowledge that antiwar feeling was widespread and growing and included even red staters, even military families. By her simple demand that Bush meet with her and explain why her son died, she pointed up the president's evasions and befuddlement and arrogance -- the ban on photographs of coffins, his seeming lack of concern for the deaths of soldiers, his basic refusal to engage. No matter that she sometimes seemed to be conducting her political education in public. She was a mother wrenched out of her ordinary life by tragedy -- that is a very powerful and inspiring symbolic role....

Still, the place for symbolic protest is in protest movements. Elections are about something else and are played by different rules. There, symbolic figures are mostly wasting their time, and tend to emerge smaller than they went in.

Herewith my comment, republished from The Nation site:

Katha poses a number of significant points, which I see somewhat differently. I agree that based on what we now know, successful impeachment of Bush and/or Chaney is unlikely (Gonzales may be a different case). But I disagree over what follows from that. It is unlikely that Congress--given the Senate rules and closeness of the partisan split there, as well as Bush's veto--will accomplish much in the way of an affirmative legislative agenda. (How much of Pelosi's vaunted first 100 hours shtick will actually find its way into law?). To the extent this Congress can make a contribution, it will come through checks and balances on the prospective Bush agenda (is there one?), and re-establishment of oversight on executive power. That process has begun, and has made some impact. However, the executive branch is doing all it can to frustrate the oversight process and run out the clock. It is yet to be determined how aggressive Congress will be in pursuing its subpoenas and other demands for documents and testimony, and asserting its contempt power. Litigation in the courts will be a slow process at best, and will require complex balancing judgments that may be difficult to predict. In contrast, by launching impeachment inquiries, Congress maximizes its core Constitutional interest in and ability to compel production of documents and witnesses, to investigate the manifest abuses of power in this Administration, and to dramatize, for press and public, this Administration's record of shame.

What higher purpose, or set of accomplishments, is realistically available to this Congress? What else should it be doing in preference to this? Will an impeachment inquiry set back those efforts, or more likely improve their prospects? If the objective is to end the war, or at least force Bush to move more quickly in that direction, is there a better way than this?

That is my most important difference with Katha's analysis. On Cindy Sheehan, I'm inclined to agree with Katha that she is more impressive as an activist/public symbol than as a prospective legislator or policymaker (and that it is worth underlining this distinction), and is more likely to leave the electoral arena diminished than enhanced (if, indeed, her time in the spotlight has not already passed). While I am not a special fan of how Nancy Pelosi has conducted her speakership thus far, it seems to me that a nasty dustup primary contest is unlikely to be terribly productive in either electoral or symbolic terms.

I would like to see the Dems consolidate their position as a governing party before commencing their traditional inclination to eat their own.

Posted by THE WISE BARD 08/17/2007 @ 3:16pm

Hillary Pushes the Button

The Nation Blog: By Robert Scheer .
What in the world was Sen. Hillary Clinton thinking when she attacked Sen. Barack Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons in going after Osama bin Laden? And why aren't her supporters more concerned about yet another egregious example of Clinton's consistent backing for the mindless militarism that is dragging this nation to ruin? So what that she is pro-choice and a woman if the price of proving her capacity to be Commander in chief is that we end up with an American version of Margaret Thatcher?
In response to the 9/11 hijackers, armed with weapons no more sophisticated than $3 box cutters, American military spending, with Senate Armed Services Committee member Clinton's enthusiastic support, has catapulted beyond cold war levels. Senator Clinton has treated the military budget as primarily a pork-barrel target of opportunity for jobs and profit in New York state, supports increased money for missile defense and every other racket the military-industrial complex comes up with, and still feels no obligation to repudiate her vote for the disastrous Iraq war.
Given her sorry record of cheerleading the irrational post-cold war military buildup, do we not have a right, indeed an obligation, to question whether Clinton is committed to creating a more peaceful world? Don't say that we weren't warned if a President Hillary Clinton further imperils our world, as she has clearly positioned herself as the leading hawk in the Democratic field. What other reason was there for first blasting Obama for daring to state that he would meet with foreign leaders whom Bush has branded as sworn enemies, and then for the attack on Obama's very sensible statement that it would be "a profound mistake" to use nuclear weapons in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the attempt to eliminate bin Laden?

You know, I'm really fed up with the "positioning oneself as tough" motif--as Jon Stewart would--or perhaps did--say, "I will eat their testicles." (Probably not the wisest choice of metaphor for a Clinton.) And Obama has done some of it himself. But is it really disqualifyingly naive to say that I would be open to meeting with our adversaries to see if we can improve our relationship after years--or decades--of fruitless and unproductive (or counterproductive) impasse, or that I would not employ nuclear weapons to resolve a political difference of limited magnitude (or megatonnage)? Who is really impressed by the silly, bellicose rhetoric? (Yeah--I'll cover your torture and raise you three Gitmo's! Fix that petfood and unpaint those silly dolls or I'll blast you back to the Stone Age!)

Maybe folks are ready for someone showing quiet confidence, problem solving inclination and ability, and an interest in building constructive relationships. Too bad the someone won't be a female, at least this time around.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Reality-Based Community: Rove's disciple

: By Mark Kleiman
The Clinton campaign, both the candidate and the surrogates, have been going after Barack Obama hard and personally. He's 'naive' and 'irresponsible,' too inexperienced to trust as Commander in Chief. Now Obama says that, largely through no fault of her own, Clinton is not the best person to bring the country back together. The Clinton campaign's reaction: accusing Obama of 'attack politics.' The lie, and the projection, are transparent. But that's not to say that those tactics won't work. After all, they elected George W. Bush, didn't they? It's not easy to figure out which candidate this year could be the legitimate heir of FDR. But it's not hard to figure out which campaign carries the DNA of Karl Rove.

I didn't say it myself, but I will post it. I think it's largely true, and I don't want 4, or 8, more years of it. Unless the alternative is worse.

A Fundamental Truth, Even in Virtual Reality

Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch - New York Times:
"It’s quite possible they would have moral prohibitions against simulating people, although the fact that something is immoral doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”"

Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch

New York Times:
Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems. Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors. There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

I'm very fatigued, spaced out, and feeling really virtual as I contemplate this.

Who's Sorry Now?

The Nation: By Katha Pollitt
In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there was no more effective intellectual spokesperson for war than then-Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff. Not for him the contemptuous brawling of Christopher Hitchens or the smooth triumphalism of William Kristol. Pained, sensitive, with the star professor's gift of seeming to wrestle with his thoughts right there in front of you, Ignatieff made the case for war as a humanitarian and human-rights mission: We had to save the Iraqis from Saddam. For supporters of democracy and idealists of all stripes, this was a very persuasive argument. Four years, four months and seventeen days after bombs began falling on Baghdad, Ignatieff, who left Harvard to become deputy leader of Canada's Liberal Party, has finally joined the long parade of prowar commentators who've publicly acknowledged their mistake. On August 5 The New York Times Magazine carried his long, woolly, pompous pseudo-confession 'Getting Iraq Wrong: What the War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment.' Wandering among references to Isaiah Berlin, Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, Beckett, Burke and Kant, Ignatieff distinguishes between the experimental, enthusiastic mindset natural to academics (himself then) and the "good judgment" and "prudence" required of political leaders (himself now). He thought politics was about all that high-minded stuff he taught at Harvard and let himself get carried away by his sympathy for Iraqi exiles. In other words, Michael Ignatieff supported the war because he was just too smart and too good for this fallen world.

And then Katha really says what's on her mind...

Ignatieff was, without question, the proponent of taking down Saddam's regime that I found most persuasive in the months leading up to the war. His reasons were not Bush's--he was more of a humanitarian interventionist, who advocated selective use of military power to curb genocidal tyrants. I doubt his concept of what the intervention should be, or of what the aftermath should look like, bore much relationship to what actually ensued. But the war was not carried on subject to his direction, and the results have been catastrophic. His recent mea culpa was called for, and probably overdue. That said, I think Katha herself overdoes her critique (especially in parts of the article not reproduced here). Calls for intervention in cases of humanitarian disaster are typically not easy to make, and we have gotten them wrong in both directions (Rwanda? Darfur? vs. Somalia? Iraq?) Ignatieff has tried, more than most, to find a sensible path through, and stumbled badly on Iraq. But not, I think, for the same reasons as the neocons, and not with the same culpability.

Ignatieff's NYT confessional struck me as "off," probably in some of the ways identified by Pollitt, but there is room for a re-telling more probingly critical than Ignatieff's own, but more empathetic than Pollitt's. I haven't quite figured it out--let me know if you find it.

The religious state of Islamic science

Salon Books: By Steve Paulson
Turkish-American physicist Taner Edis explains why science in Muslim lands remains stuck in the past -- and why the Golden Age of Mesopotamia wasn't so golden after all.
In October, Malaysia's first astronaut will join a Russian crew and blast off into space. The news of a Muslim astronaut was cause for celebration in the Islamic world, but then certain questions started popping up. How will he face Mecca during his five daily prayers while his space ship is whizzing around the Earth? How can he hold the prayer position in zero gravity? Such concerns may sound absurd to us, but the Malaysian space chief is taking them quite seriously. A team of Muslim scholars and scientists has spent more than a year drawing up an Islamic code of conduct for space travel.

This kicks off a long and interesting--and likely to be controversial--conversation on scientific thinking, past and present, in Islam. Taner Edis argues that the "science" of medieval Islam (especially mathematics and astronomy, to which Muslims made enormous contributions) bears little, if any, relationship to modern science (from which contemporary Muslims are largely absent, except as basic science transitions into applied technology, including engineering and medicine). Modern science, on this account, is much harder to reconcile with Islamic (and perhaps more generally religious) modes of thinking.

I should note, by the way, that there is a considerable Jewish literature on the religious/halachic issues posed by space travel. Here, as elsewhere, there are interesting occasions for productive conversation between adherents of these faiths. Well, maybe "productive" is not the best choice of adjective, but I already used "interesting".

Churchgoer Tips God For Excellent Week

The Onion :
CHARLESTON, SC—Churchgoer Brad Thaden, 48, reportedly tipped God a little something extra Sunday, claiming that the Almighty had done a better job than usual that week, especially with the weather and his children's behavior.

Glad to hear it. I could use a better week, too. Is that what it takes?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

William Gibson on emergent technology By Greg Dahlmann
At the end of an otherwise ordinary 'so, you have a new book' interview in Salon, sci-fi author William Gibson drops this remarkable take on emergent technologies: I think what scares people most about new technologies -- it's actually what scares me most -- is that they're never legislated into being. Congress doesn't vote on the cellular telephony initiative and create a cellphone system across the United States and the world. It just happens and capital flows around and it changes things at the most intimate levels of our lives, but we never decided to do it. Somewhere now there's a team of people working on something that's going to profoundly impact your life in the next 10 years and change everything. You don't know what it is and they don't know how it's going to change your life because usually these things don't go as predicted. ... I find that both dreadful and exhilarating.

This is precisely the story of assisted reproductive technologies, and to a lesser degree other developments in biomedicine. Maybe even more so, since cellular telephony requires a system, a network, and some planning (even if not governmental or with other forms of democratic accountability), while many innovations in biomedicine (outside the sphere of FDA regulation) just kind of happen, and spread. My own view of bioethics rests largely on the recognition that we can (and sometimes should) buy time to think some things through a bit better than might otherwise be the case, even though it is rare that scientific development can be halted by public or governmental fiat.

Regulating nanotechnology The FDA's Nanotechnology Task Force recently released a report laying out its take on regulation of products containing nanoscale materials. Here's a clip:

A general finding of the report is that nanoscale materials present regulatory challenges similar to those posed by products using other emerging technologies. However, these challenges may be magnified both because nanotechnology can be used in, or to make, any FDA-regulated product, and because, at this scale, properties of a material relevant to the safety and (as applicable) effectiveness of FDA-regulated products might change repeatedly as size enters into or varies within the nanoscale range. In addition, the emerging and uncertain nature of the science and potential for rapid development of applications for FDA-regulated products highlights the need for timely development of a transparent, consistent, and predictable regulatory pathway. The report includes a number of recommendations:

+ Consideration of guidance that would clarify what information manufacturers should give FDA about products, and also when the use of nanoscale materials may change the regulatory status of particular products.

+ That manufacturers contact the FDA early in the product development process. In addition, the report recommends that the agency should assess data needs for regulated nanotechnology products, including biological effects and interactions of nano-particles.

+ That FDA develop in-house expertise and ensure the consideration of new information on nanotechnology as it becomes available. FDA also should evaluate current testing approaches to assess the safety, effectiveness, and quality of nanoscale materials.

Anyone find anything new or surprising in most of that?

The Color of Health Care: Diagnosing Bias in Doctors By Shankar Vedantam
Long before word recently broke that white referees in the National Basketball Association were calling fouls at a higher rate on black athletes than on white athletes, and long before studies found racial disparities in how black and white applicants get called for job interviews, researchers noted differences in the most troubling domain of all -- disparities in survival and health among people belonging to different racial groups. Black babies, according to the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have higher death rates than white babies. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to die of cervical cancer. And in 2000, the death rate from heart disease was 29 percent higher among African Americans than among white adults, and the death rate from stroke was 40 percent higher.

Whether these troubling statistics are best understood in terms of physician bias is an open question, although bias--both intended and unconscious--almost certainly is part of the explanation.