Oct 28, 2008

"Ayers's actions were very much of their era" [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

Fernando Salazar writes that while William Ayers' actions as a leader of the Weather Underground were unacceptable, it is wrong to "forget the times in which those actions occurred": in the midst of struggle over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. If Salazar actually believes the former is true, then the latter point is irrelevant.

Regardless, there's a useful way to test the quality of Mr. Salazar's point. Ask yourself what would happen if Sen. McCain were found to have had a working relationship with someone who had participated in bombings of abortion clinics, and who voiced continued enthusiasm for such violence. Consider that in the not too distant past, such forms of domestic terrorism were relatively common, reflecting a widespread radical conviction that it was necessary to prevent the murder of countless would-be children. Does the admonition that we must not "forget the times in which those actions occurred" still sound reasonable?

For extra credit, of course, ask yourself how the media would cover the matter.
UPDATE: A comment I made at the Globe's site (here) in response to the idea that the Weathermen ceased terrorist activities at the conclusion of the Vietnam War:
Regardless of what Ayers might now say, at the time of the Weathermen's heyday the group's primary stated goal was not to stop the Vietnam War; it was to institute a communist regime in America along Maoist lines. The group sought to take advantage of the domestic instability wrought by the Vietnam War and racial tensions to jump-start a communist revolution. That the group slowly disintegrated after the war ended was due to the lessening of this instability, not to any satisfaction of its long-term goals. (Note the group's involvement in the Brinks robbery in 1981 a full six years after Saigon's fall, involving the murder of three.) Retrospectively associating the Weathermen with the Vietnam War is rather facile and convenient, since opposition to the war always enjoyed more popularity among Americans than Maoism. It's much like saying the Bolsheviks were primarily motivated by opposition to Russia's involvement in World War I.

Oct 20, 2008

Hybrid Bumper Sticker [LINK]

I recently saw a car covered with so many strident bumper stickers vying for attention, some overlapping, that I was inspired to generate an absurd mashup: Go here and here if you want to make one yourself.

Shocked and Saddened [LINK]

My spurious response to an NPR story I heard on the way home:

I was shocked upon hearing your story about the Florida church congregation that decided to burn a bunch of X-rated film reels they discovered on a newly-acquired property. They characterized it as a ritual consecration, turning what was unholy into holy. Well, go and sin no more, I say! Did they ever stop to think of all the nasty chemicals they were releasing into the atmosphere, by burning plastic film reels? I was especially saddened to hear that the local fire department was on hand for the event, since they should be especially well trained on issues relating to the disposal of hazardous materials. There should be a special agency that is totally focused on preserving the environment, and whose permission would be required for any event that might have any adverse environmental impacts.
Note the new "hoax" tag.

Oct 7, 2008

Sucker's Bet [LINK]

It was only a matter of time. Among the causes of the 2008 economic crisis, critics point to the Community Reinvestment Act, legislation that boosts affordable housing by mandating that mortgage lenders extend credit to low-income applicants who might otherwise be rejected as uncreditworthy. Lambasted for his prominent role in fostering this policy and for propping up undercapitalized mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has declared that, since these policies were designed to help the poor, such criticism is motivated by racism.

"Significant emotional trauma" [LINK]

A 48-year Brandeis University professor, teaching a course on Latin American politics, was investigated after having told his students that Mexican migrants were once referred to using the derogatory term "wetback," causing "significant emotional trauma" among his students.

(via Power Line)

Oct 5, 2008

Where's Denzel? [LINK]

In case you thought the quality of political debates was particularly abysmal, this Boston Globe piece (print edition, "Ideas" section, 10/5) offers a sobering glimpse into how actual debates are now conducted on campus. For one thing, debaters are encouraged to speak in rapid-fire fashion to cover as many arguments as possible within the limited time and to make it difficult for opponents to respond. That practice, coupled with universities' long marination in identity politics, leads to curious exchanges such as this:

A recent debate between the Towson [University] team and NYU ... was supposed to be about the merits of agricultural tariffs, and the NYU team kicked it off with some machine-gun arguments in favor of lifting taxes on imported ethanol. But during the rebuttal, the Towson debater responded that NYU's fast-talking approach was inherently racist. She gave an impassioned account of the slave trade in Colonial America, placed a chair on a table and sat on it to remind judges how her ancestors had been displayed during auctions, and read a profanity-laced passage from her diary in which she lamented the racism of her rival debaters. ("We had our first full round today and I want to go the [expletive] home. You should have seen the looks I got from these people.") Towson won that debate, unanimously.
Yes, Towson won. (In fact, none of the contestants in the room were white.)

Towson also accused a Fort Hays State University team of racism, a debate that descended into a crude shouting match, culminating with the Fort Hays coach mooning the Towson team. A video produced by the Chronicle of Higher Education captures the scene:

Oct 2, 2008

Blame my car stereo [LINK]

The tape deck in my car no longer works, and I can't listen to my iPod though the cassette adapter, so lately I've been listening to a bit of NPR on the way home from work. And in the middle of their fall fund drive, no less! Granted, I know enough to switch stations whenever Daniel Schorr comes on, but still it sometimes gets so bad I really ought to pull over. Here's my response:

I have often admired David Folkenflik's work on the media beat, but I was greatly irritated by yesterday's piece on the McCain campaign's souring relations with the media, particularly the New York Times.

Folkenflik expresses astonishment at the McCain campaign's scathing dismissal of the Times -- that it's no longer "a journalistic organization," in the words of one of his campaign managers -- but does nothing to evaluate the substance of the campaign's complaints.

Instead, we are treated to the opinion of one journalist who says the dispute is "not really intended to debate the merits of the stories," but rather to excite the conservative base. The same journalist says the "people in the McCain campaign making those charges" probably don't even "believe their own rhetoric." The same journalist, apparently a reliable font of truth, is also quoted in the web version of the report as saying that McCain's attack will likely be counterproductive to his campaign. That's a fine opinion, to be sure, but again having nothing to do with the substance of McCain's complaint.

Folkenflik doesn't solicit a statement from the McCain campaign on the dispute -- not even a "we tried to call them." However, we do hear from the Times's political editor, Richard Stevenson, who said: "No one has disputed the facts that we have reported about [McCain campaign manager] Rick Davis' involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." Folkenflik should not have let this statement stand unchallenged. It took me about a minute to find McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb's categorical denial (in 'A Partisan Paper of Record') that Davis recently received payments from Freddie Mac, allegations based on anonymous sources that the Times trumpeted in their lede. So yes, someone has disputed their reporting of the facts.

My favorite part of Folkenflik's report is where a former McCain aide expresses puzzlement at her former boss's sudden hostility to the press, given their formerly cozy relations. What a mystery! Of course, the reason should be obvious: McCain used to run along the margins of the GOP, and could often be counted on for a few subversive quips, but now he is the standard-bearer. How long was it after McCain's emergence as front-runner before the Times published that disgraceful piece insinuating, again based on anonymous sources, that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist?

Folkenflik should take the McCain campaign's allegations of bias seriously. I'm afraid what I heard instead was a circling of the wagons from someone who identifies far too much with the media to be able to cover it effectively. What else explains such an overwrought conclusion that McCain's "campaign appears to be challenging the media's right to be seen as a referee at all?"

The media's "right"? Anyone who has dealt with an unreliable service provider should bristle at the notion that the media has a "right" to its legitimacy.