Wednesday, April 29, 2009

There is a spectre haunting Pennsylvania; the Arlen Specter

In order to avoid what would likely be a primary loss, Sen. Specter switches parties. I hope Toomey wins the general election. Or better yet, Sen. Specter loses the Democratic primary, though the craven deme will probably pressure any local deme who might haveconsidered running to bow out. The Senate deme are just as bad.

I used to respect Specter. Though his tool like performance in the Anita Hill interrogation was unsettling; nevertheless, this is the new democrat the other deme so warmly welcome?

I look forward to Sen Toomey.

Monday, April 27, 2009


So Porter Goss enters the fray. His NYT piece is chilling, chilling on two fronts. First, he is correct, the elected officials in congress who were aware of the "High Value Terrorist Program" and who didn't speak out at the time (what they were doing were cringing, looking for political cover, not surprising, but just one brave soul?) should be swept right along with the rest of this to some form of justice. I hope they are all defeated and I will examine that situation upon my next vote. My Congressman wasn't elected at that time, but both my senators may be part of it. Especially, one who I like, Richard Lugar, he is on Foreign Relations. If he knew and didn't speak out or agreed with it, he has lost my vote. This is too telling a situation.

Thats is chill number 1.

Number 2 is the idea that if the CIA can't do this stuff, if they can't keep everything secret, and that the distinction between the CIA "professionalism" and the brutality (opposite of professional is amatuer) of the terrorists...he mentions the dull knife beheadings (I infer that if the CIA were beheading people we would do it more professionally, does that mean with a gulliotine or perhpas we would refrain from such acts). Mr. Goss doesn't make that clear.

Once again, chill number 2, the arguments of a police state...not a free democracy.

One other note, what about all those intelligence professionals who have now come out and questioned this entire foray into acting like terrorists only professionally? I guess they are just political grandstanders and they don't know anything.

Ends justify the means

As I wrote about a month ago, the futility of torture is the inevitable conclusion. And a month ago, I was thinking that as more information dribbles out that more Americans would show their moral indignation and begin demanding some accountability. Instead, very little outrage and even the defense of none other than Dick Cheney, the spouse of Lynn Cheney, who writes children's books, justifies the torture with, "it works."

Frank Rich in a NYT op-ed peice does a good job of capturing the blase response from the public. Therein lies the triumph of terrorism; not that it terrorizes us into hiding in our homes, but rather it turns us into that which we claim to not be. the article is here

Yet, as I read Rich, I cannot help but think back to one of my earliest takes on the entire "war against terror," that the Bush Administration didn't believe enough in our justice system, in our constitution to deal with terrorism. We couldn't rely on our legal standards, our constitutional safeguards to fight terrorism (or to keep "us" safe). Even our legislative process was suspect. Only police power, a police state, could keep us safe and win the war on terrorism.

Even the fantasy "24" scenario, the ticking time bomb, would/should we torture to get information to save those lives, is one which is used to argue against our laws. If such an unusual situation occurred, we have means to deal with it. The legal system can try the torturer(s) and a jury of their peers can decide guilt. Even now, it seems, that the Dick Cheney defense, "it worked" and then the counter, "no it didn't" seems to miss the point. It doesn't matter if it worked or not, torture is against our values, our morality, and our laws. Either change the laws, scrap the values, overturn the morality, or let our system do its job.

If the authorizers of torture (and those who participated) want to defend their illegal and immoral acts, let them in a court of law. Let them show the information....shouldn't matter, but then OJ got off and that is because the prosecutors did a poor it should be.

The biggest casualty, as I see it, is the complete undermining of our system of justice by the Bush Administration and from what I can see, it continues under the Obama Administration. What a shame.

A nation of laws, where even the powerful are subject to justice if they break the laws is the defensible America. Arguments of ends justify means is the argument of a police state.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Are college professors teaching liberal ideology?

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 26 April 2009

Several years ago I wrote an essay addressing liberal bias in the (mainstream) media. That essay reviewed a scholarly article by a sociologist who did a careful content analysis of leading newspapers. What I didn’t realize at the time was how many people take such statements as “the [mainstream]0 media is (liberally) biased” as an article of faith. The article concluded that the content examined didn’t show much liberal bias, indeed, more conservative bias than many are even willing to consider.

Sociologists are good at this kind of thing: debunking myths and taken-for-granted “truths.” It is never a good idea to try to suggest things may not be what they seem to the faithful. Nevertheless, I am going to do it again — call it the “sociological impulse.”

Another article of faith among some Americans is that our colleges and universities are “indoctrinating” students in liberal ideology. Evidence for this claim include anecdotes from current and former students, former faculty who claim liberal bias is why they failed to earn tenure, and selective course titles as well as selective faculty whose words are either poorly spoken or taken out of context. There are few systematic and careful studies of the claim. It is true that faculty in the humanities and social sciences are more likely to identify both as Democrat and liberal (as do professional journalists) but does that translate necessarily into bias in the classroom?

A University of British Columbia sociologist, Neil Gross, surveyed 1,471 American college and university faculty and conducted in-depth interviews with a sub-sample across five disciplines that represent a continuum of political views (literature, sociology, economics, biology, and engineering).

Gross lists three main findings from the in-depth interviews. I examine two of them below (the third focuses on differing understandings of academic freedom).

First, “… there is significant variation across disciplines in the degree to which notions like objectivity and politically value-free knowledge are seen as unproblematic and desirable.” In other words, faculty vary by discipline in how much they embrace the idea that facts are facts and that facts speak for themselves. For the engineer, the discipline where the faculty viewed value-free knowledge as the only real knowledge and a desirable outcome, the “meaning” of a reduction in electrical resistance due to a change in materials is limited to the outcome of the “test.” The professors of literature were the most skeptical of any claim to value-free knowledge. They held that all knowledge is influenced by a person’s experiences and views, from the choice of topic to the position taken on the “facts” regarding knowledge.

Think about your own work; how important is the idea of objectivity?

Gross’ second finding is “… norms remain in place in all five disciplines against overt partisanship in the classroom, and champions of ‘critical pedagogy,’ the view that education should alert students to instances of what the left sees as social injustice, are rare.”

Overwhelmingly the faculty Gross interviewed saw the goal of teaching as instructing students in the subject matter of their fields or training them in various skills. Some subjects, however, happen, at this particular time, to fit with left-liberal political agendas due to their subject matter. The core of sociology is the study of social inequality. Questions about social inequality or its effects on society are not high on conservative agendas; it happens to be central in liberal-left political agendas.

So, even “conservative” sociologists who teach “social stratification” raise the political hackles of conservatives.

Faculty disagree whether they should reveal their own political views when addressing politically controversial topics in class. Faculties’ views on this, Gross claims, cross-cut the disciplines. In my read of his work, what varies is how “secure” the individual faculty member feels in their position at the university. White male tenured full professors are the most secure in sharing their political views in class while untenured, female, minority, professors are more guarded. My perception of this differs, but I’ve never conducted a systematic study, either.

Think about your work; do you use your position to indoctrinate your customers/clients in your political views?

In short, this research suggests most faculty follow disciplinary norms regarding the “knowledge-politics” intersection, keep their classroom focus on the subject matter and skills to be taught, and reject overt politicization of their own or of the classroom in general.

There are, however, exceptions, and those exceptions appear to be much of the basis for the conservative claim of liberal indoctrination of college students.

ADDENDUM: There is only so much you can put in a 750 word essay. Some additional thoughts: 1) are all disciplinary ideas first fit to current political alignments? I mean was Adam Smith a conservative republican before he wrote Wealth of Nations or did conservatives, over time, use his ideas as part of their political ideology? Same with Keynes. Karl Marx (boo, hiss) even said that he was not a marxist as leftist political organizations adopted his ideas and put them to political agendas. In my discipline, Max Weber, was a farily conservative fellow in his native Germany, but his ideas in contemporary America seem kind of leftish (unless you realize he was, in many respects arguing with lefties for a more conservative view). The "radical" sociologist, C. Wright Mills, of the 1950s, seems passe and common sensical today. How about Darwin? republican, democrat, or other? Of course the political agendas of the day don't fit well with the agendas or alignments of yore.

Were the founders of the USA apolitical? Who were the cons and libs then? How did the 2nd amendment become conservative, and the first (parts of it) become liberal?

Politics doesn't drive academia as much, at least historically, as do academic ideas become ideas embraced by politicians.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Confusion about values

Linda Chavez, a conservative columnist, but not one that is always towing the party line, who uses rational thought (sometimes) instead of ideology in her writing, makes a pitch for reasonable immigration reform based on family values. Column is here.

This is her concluding paragraph:

The fact that so many illegal immigrants are intertwined with American
citizens or legal residents, either as spouses or parents, should give pause to
those who'd like to see all illegal immigrants rounded up and deported or their
lives made so miserable they leave on their own. A better approach would allow
those who have made their lives here, established families, bought homes, worked
continuously and paid taxes to remain after paying fines, demonstrating English
fluency, and proving they have no criminal record. Such an approach is as much
about supporting family values as it is granting amnesty.

Ms. Chavez has made her mark as a somewhat family values warrior. She cites statistics from the Pew Hispanic Center to bolster her stand. The stand I agree with completely. But the implications, that because illegal immigrants have among the lowest rates of divorce and single (especially female headed households) represents millions of people who value family values the way she and her family values warriors another example of ideology getting in the way of reality.

Consider some of her reasoning and facts: "Nearly half of illegal immigrant households consist of two-parent families with children, and 73 percent of these children were born here and are therefore U.S. citizens."

And "One of the chief social problems afflicting this country is the breakdown in the traditional family. But among immigrants, the two-parent household is alive and well."

Okay now here is where Ms. Chavez either displays here ignorance of demographics (likely) or her wish that her ideology be confirmed;

Only 21 percent of native households are made up of two parents living with
their own children. Among legal immigrants, the percentage of such households
jumps to 35 percent. But among the illegal population, 47 percent of households
consist of a mother, a father and their children.

Only 21 percent of native households in the US are made up of two parents living with their own children. Sounds scary doesn't it, this makes it sound like only 21 percent of households with kids are made up of two parents living with their own children. But, according to the 2000 Census, there were just over 105 million households in the US. Only 68% of those households are "family" households (remember, some households are made up of people just living together with no kids, living alone, 20 somethings with roommates, etc). Now of these family households, which include married couples without kids or an adult child living with an aging parent, of the total, only 32.8% have kids under 18. So, only about a third of all households have minor children living in them. Now, married couple families with own children make up, in 2000, 23.5%. Now, there is your scary number. Okay, but of all families with children, 71.8% are in married couple families with own children.

I am not comparing exactly the same things here. I don't have the disaggregated data that perhaps Pew is citing. But, the basic problem here is that Pew is looking at illegal and legal immigrants with kids, nearly 47%, according to Pew as cited by Chavez, are the "proper" family, while legal immigrants, not quite as good, but better than 21% of the native born, except, the numbers don't add up, the 71.8% I cite, is reflective of all families, but the vast difference in the number of native born versus immigrant born families, could not produce the 71.8% number, if the native born were only 21% of all families with children.

In short, if you campare the right numbers, native born families might be even more likely to have the "proper" family than the immigrant family.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't like the current situation, compare it to the fall of the Roman Empire

Last week I wrote a supportive note to Froma Harrop's column on how conservatives and right wingers are calling everything socialism or communism. Shortly after that, a local columnist, Arthur Foulkes, wrote a column with this lurid title: "Political, government takeover of economy a disaster for the United States" He has been writing a series of articles that have riled up some of the locals, especially some members of our Economics department, citing the Austrian School of Economics as if it were gospel. In short, he is treating the Austrians the way marxists treat Marx. Be that as it may.

In this installment, he compares the current situation with the fall of the Roman Empire. I recall these comparisons to the US in the late 60s and early 70s, only then, it seemed to me, it was the liberals who were doing the comparing.

I find it amusing that a conservative would admit to the comparison of an empire to us (we are not an empire, after all, the empire is a lefty claim).

A couple of excerpts and some commentary: (you really should read the column, my excerpting will take things our of context)

Things are the opposite in an economy controlled by the state. In a
government-directed economy, all enterprises become hierarchical bureaucracies.
Production and income are no longer based on voluntary exchange but on politics,
planning, regulation and compulsion.

Any large business becomes a hierarchical bureaucracy...look at GM, or IBM, or how about a huge conglomerate like ConAgra foods. Those entities aren't reading the Austrians, I can promise you that. They work very hard to use the State to their advantage. Now, if Mr. Foulkes were not an ideologue he would not only provide examles of the growth of education:

This is what happened to the Romans and what is happening in America today.
Government control of schools and most universities means educators are often
employees of the state and have every incentive to defend it and look to it for
their support. Government control over more and more of the once private sector
means less and less innovation, growth and prosperity. It also means less civil,
voluntary economic cooperation.

Right wingers always use selective examples of the growth of the government. Education is a favorite one to show. yet, in today's annual Parade Magazine (a terrific source of pop knoweldge) among the fastest growing occupations in the immediate future: police officers. yes, right-wingers don't lament the growth of the state using examples like police officers, prison guards, or the military. Indeed, the largest socialist enterprise, I'd argue, in the US anyway, is the US military. Those are never examples of the growing spectre of government control, never mind that all three are in the coercion business. and the military, prison guards, and police never vote in their self-interest.

Many people believe capitalism, private property and individual liberty are
code words for selfishness. This is completely backward. Capitalism and economic
freedom force people to consider the wishes of others in order to make a living.
To become rich in a truly free economy, it is necessary to provide something for
which other people will voluntarily pay.

Indeed, all those military contractors out there who couldn't survive of their favorite congressman didn't ignore the military brass and demand that a weapon's system that doesn't work still be produced or a base which no longer serves any good military purpose is kept open due to the influence of powerful senators. The same principal applies, but doesn't serve the interests of the right wing ideologue.

The growth of the Roman welfare state also killed the ethic of
self-reliance that allowed Rome to prosper.

It is indeed the government with its free trade policies which is ushering manufacturing out of the US where people have no choice but to work for a dollar day to produce $100 a pair sneakers. In fact, the US continues to rely more and more on the financial side of the capitalist equation, just providing money and no work or interest in self-reliance (oil, future technologies, important industries) we will just buy it cheaper elsewhere. But, those other countries are more efficient with their low wages and coercive governments (China, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam). Absolutely. There are so many disincentives to work today, the high taxes on income compared to stock market bingo, declining benefits (at least on welfare you get medicaid), there is no question, the morality of our people is suspect (except for the Austrian adherents).

Mr. Foulkes must see the world in a very simplistic way. The educators I know, probably more than he does, are mostly in favor of education (tax them, pay me) but are not in favor of more, tax them, pay me, but cut them). No doubt, the police are suspect of the liberal symps in the universities so they say, tax them, pay me, but cut them. And on and on. The goofy idea that everyone who works for "the state' automatically views the state as all good and all beneficial is ridiculous. Just like everyone else, they will protect their interests at the cost of others' interests.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Don't like it? call it socialism

Has been a busy week and I've not been able to write anything. I did read in our morning paper, a column by Froma Harrop. She is billed as independent and a thinking columnist, and some ofher columns do fit that, but at times she swings wildly and blindly liberal...

Anyhoo, since my column on intellectual dishonesty a couple of week ago, the column sparked some discussion, more on a letter by a local conservative, which prompted some back and forth on the local community bulletin board hosted by the paper. I also field more than the usual number of emails from critical readers.

The response to call everything socialism is getting really ridiculous. Why not just say, "I don't like it." anyway, Harrop's column, I think is right on. an exerpt and a link

MANY CONSERVATIVES think they’ve found a winner in tarring President Obama and his allies as “socialists.” Earnest attempts to explain why “it isn’t so” are
futile, as is asking people what the heck they mean when they say raising taxes
is “socialism.”
The following Isays it all, but I mean what would socialists know about socialism ayway? and most who hurl this claim aren't going to listen to the socialists anyway....because, President Obama is a socialist, not the socialists.

Real-life socialists scoff at this whole back-and-forth. Obama is “a
hedge-fund Democrat,” Billy Wharton, editor of Socialist magazine, writes in The
Washington Post. “Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a

Let's start calling things there is an economic system.
Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged