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The Abramson Firing

[ 143 ] May 16, 2014 |

There has been a lot of good writing on it; see Friedman, Traister, Echidne, Khazan, Dean.

I particularly wanted to recommend Michelle Goldberg’s piece. It makes several points I agree with that I haven’t seen being made elsewhere. First of all, to the extent that Abramson was unwilling to embrace the “have reporters talk on video about pieces you could read in two minutes” model of journamalism, she was on the side of the angels. And I especially endorse this:

And then there’s the investigation into Thompson’s history at BBC. “After Thompson had been hired for the job but before he’d started, Abramson sent Matthew Purdy, a hard-charging investigative reporter, to London to examine Thompson’s role in the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC,” writes Sherman. “Abramson’s relationship with the two executives never recovered. ‘Mark Thompson was fucking pissed,’ a source explained. ‘He was really angry with the Purdy stuff.’ So was Sulzberger. ‘He was livid, in a very passive-aggressive way. These were a set of headaches Jill had created for Arthur.’”

They may have been pissed, but they were wrong. This was a major story about a powerful executive and a sexual abuse coverup, and Abramson was proving her editorial independence by covering it. ‘[T]rust in the BBC has plummeted because of a scandal set off in part by the network’s decision to halt a reporting project on decades-old accusations of child sexual abuse against Jimmy Savile, the network’s longtime host of children’s and pop music shows,” wrote Matthew Purdy in a resulting piece. “Controversy over the canceled investigation was already brewing [the previous March]. It fully erupted in early October, just after he left and began preparing for his new job as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company.” The suggestion Abramson should have ignored this story because it embarrassed a powerful Times hire says something troubling about the paper’s priorities.

So, to summarize, the man who was the director-general of the BBC when a story about a serial rapist of children who operated in part on BBC premises was being suppressed still has his position. The woman who courageously and correctly investigated this story has lost hers, for no reason that seems remotely convincing. This…does not seem right. It certainly wasn’t about profitability, and while this is a matter of judgment, as a longtime dead tree subscriber I’d say that the quality is substantially improved from the Raines era.

Good Traditional Family Values

[ 70 ] May 15, 2014 |

Apparently, they mean that if young women at a prom are being oggled by a gaggle of middle-aged perverts, you blame the young women and kick them out. In conclusion, try avoid sending your kids to public school because they may not be instilled with proper moral values.

Academic Freedom And University “Reform”

[ 146 ] May 15, 2014 |

This action by my parents’ alma mater was remarkable, and not in a good way:

A University of Saskatchewan dean who spoke out about the university’s efforts to muzzle senior administrators has been fired, stripped of his tenure, had his retirement benefits revoked and was escorted off campus by security.

Robert Buckingham, former executive director of the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health, was dismissed from both his role as the executive director of the school of public health and a tenured professor Wednesday morning because of a letter he wrote in which he detailed efforts to keep senior leaders in line over a new plan to cut spending and potentially merge his department with another.

“I always thought, of any place, freedom of speech would be at a university,” Buckingham told the Star from Saskatoon. “I’ve learned differently.”

Relieving someone of their administrative position because of some public process-based criticisms doesn’t strike me as the best way to run a railroad, but it’s at least not an issue of academic freedom. But stripping someone of their faculty position? Their pension? That’s a different story. That’s simply incompatible with academic freedom on its face.

Fortunately, the administration has partially retreated and recognized this important distinction. But a message has been sent, and I don’t think this is the last time we’ll see something like this.

Law, Politics and the Supreme Court

[ 97 ] May 15, 2014 |

Erik speculated that I would have more on Liptak’s story on free Speech and the Supreme Court. It turns out that he was right! Read the whole etc., but to summarize:

  • As I’ve said before, to reduce Supreme Court decision-making to nothing but politics is an oversimplification, although if the public is going to take away one oversimplification it’s one that’s much closer to the truth than the silly idea that Supreme Court justices are just umpires mechanically calling balls and strikes.  (Unless we’re talking about umpires of the 80s offended at the very idea that they should be applying the strike zone in the rule book.)
  • As in generally the case in American politics, polarization on the Supreme Court is not symmetrical.  The free speech data, despite the Both Sides Do It framing, is an excellent case in point.

Reject Boggs

[ 186 ] May 15, 2014 |

Not only should Michael Boggs be rejected by the Senate, but the blue slip needs to go.

Fortunately, at least on the first question, Harry Reid seems to be thinking along the same lines.

Original 6 Game 7

[ 74 ] May 14, 2014 |

I missed last night’s Game 7 because I had Springsteen tickets. (Really good show, despite setlist issues; maybe I’ll do a separate post on that.) I had it recorded, but the multiple “Let’s Go Rangers” chants on the way out of the show made the result pretty clear. Anyway, hopefully there will be another good game tonight. For those interested in Bruins/Habs things, here’s a good article on the most famous too many men on the ice penalty in NHL history and the classic game it was embedded in.

The Annotated John McCain

[ 49 ] May 14, 2014 |

A reminder guy who has never met a problem that guns and bombs couldn’t solve was a major party’s candidate for president. It’s also a useful reminder that “international law means whatever my vague moral intuitions think it must mean” isn’t a bad argument confined to the left.

There Is No Free Speech Right to 30 Grand For Giving A Speech

[ 122 ] May 14, 2014 |

Michelle Goldberg makes a very smart point here:

Are the protests against commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients an example of the anti-liberal left?

I think there’s a difference between stopping someone from speaking and stopping a college from honoring them. Everybody gets to speak, but not everybody gets to be honored.

Not everyone deserves a $35,000 speaking gig. I think that Brandeis was right to revoke Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree. It was madness to have a Jewish institution putting its imprimatur on someone who has called for the massive repression and conversion of Muslims. It was their fault for not doing their due diligence and not realizing what she said.

What about commencement speeches? Are they invitations to speak, or are they honors that colleges are conferring?

These people aren’t being invited to share their ideas or argue their ideas. They’re being invited to solemnize an important occasion for these students. I don’t know how meaningful of a distinction that is, but it’s a difference.

You invite someone to be a commencement speaker presumably because you see them as a model and a potential inspiration for your students, whereas you invite someone to speak because they have something interesting and potentially provocative to say.

While I’m kind of uncomfortable with this trend, and I think that these protests should be maybe used sparingly, I think that being a commencement speaker has a certain honor attached to it that’s different from just being involved in the regular exchange of ideas on college campuses.

I was furious when [evangelical pastor] Rick Warren was invited to give the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration, even though I feel very strongly that Rick Warren has the right to say whatever he wants to say. I believe very strongly in Rick Warren’s freedom of speech. I also feel his presence at that event was an insult to a lot of Obama’s supporters.

Right. Free speech norms should mean that people just invited to give a talk on campus for no or modest fees should generally be allowed to speak. Ornamental degrees or commencement speeches are a completely different thing for the reasons Goldberg explains, and I’ve tried to as well.

This is Paul’s department, but aren’t most five figure commencement speeches essentially a racket? Left, right, or center, and no matter how smart the speaker, given the format it’s very difficult to craft a commencement speech that doesn’t fall in between “platitudinously unmemorable” and “terrible.” Large fees to speak at these ceremonies seem like another way for elites to ivory backscratch each other with student/taxpayer money.

The Vote Fraud Fraud: Still Fraudulent

[ 106 ] May 13, 2014 |

Iowa Republicans conducted a study trying to show voter fraud, and found essentially no voter fraud of any kind and literally no fraud that would be prevented by Voter ID laws:

Nearly two years and $250,000 later, Schultz said that 238 total cases of suspected election misconduct were investigated. Investigators “found evidence of election misconduct in 117 cases that cancelled out the votes of legitimate Iowa voters,” he notes, and 17 more cases are still being investigated. One of those cases resulted in a not-guilty verdict and four cases were dismissed. Combined, that means at most 134 instances of fraudulent voting were found in Iowa over several elections, compared with 1,589,951 votes cast in the 2012 general elections alone. That means, at most, the investigation found a 0.008427933% rate of voter fraud.

But notably, that total includes more than just non-citizen voting. Sixty eight of the 238 investigated cases involved convicted felons who allegedly were registered to vote and/or voted despite not having had their voting rights restored. And of the 147 registered voters suspected of being non-citizens even after thorough review of the 3,582 people initially flagged, 70 of those turned out to also be citizens (more than 47 percent).

The report also notes that 23 cases examined “potential election misconduct” by people other than non-citizens and felons without restored voting rights. According to the AP, these cases involved people who had cast votes in more than one state — possibly by absentee in one and in person in the other. There was not a single identified case of impersonation fraud at the polls — people showing up and pretending to be another voter — meaning that Schultz’s own investigation found no cases at all that would have been prevented with his proposed voter identification law.

In conclusion, here are the reasons why Republicans want to enact Voter ID laws:

  • Vote suppression
  • That’s it.

Today In the Noble Ideals of Amateurism, II

[ 25 ] May 13, 2014 |

No investigation is too intrusive to insure that NCAA players aren’t receiving voluntary payments from third parties:

Former Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard signed as an undrafted free agent with the Titans this weekend, and it sounds like he’s ready to get out of college. On a radio show last week, Ikard revealed that OU made both him and his girlfriend sign affidavits declaring that their love is real and not an impermissible benefit.

Ikard is a familiar face at OKC Thunder games, sitting courtside with his girlfriend. She owns those seats, so Oklahoma’s compliance office decided to start snooping around to confirm everything was on the up-and-up. “We had to sign a signed affidavit that she was not dating me just because I was a football player,” Ikard said, via SoonerScoop. The implication is clear: Oklahoma was just making sure the entire relationship wasn’t just a sham to get Ikard Thunder tickets.

I’m sure Bob Stoops is also prevented from accepting endorsements and comp tickets too, right? I would hate to think that the Noble Ideals of Amatuerism are being corrupted anywhere by filthy lucre.

Today In the Noble Ideals of Amateurism

[ 92 ] May 13, 2014 |

The NCAA, so concerned about its “student athletes” that they can be prevented form transferring to the school of their choice for no reason whatsoever:

Leticia Romero came to Kansas State University from the Canary Islands to play basketball. After Romero’s freshman season—a successful one on the court, in which she averaged more than 14 points per game—the coach that recruited her was fired, and several assistant coaches chose to leave as well. As a consequence, Romero decided she wanted to transfer. The Kansas State athletic department had other ideas.

Mechelle Voepel of has the full story, and it’s yet another infuriating example of how college sports administrators control unpaid NCAA athletes. Kansas State has thus far refused to release Romero from her scholarship, which means she can’t receive financial aid from any other Division I institution for at least a year. The Kansas State athletic department has mostly refused to explain itself, on account of “student-privacy concerns.” That excuse would make more sense if someone had told Romero why the university is blocking her release. The player says she hasn’t gotten any explanation at all.

But giving students rights might mean that some would be corrupted by the evils of money, a phenomenon unknown within the amateurist hobbyism of the NCAA:

This is the skewed moral universe that the NCAA has created and that its member institutions continue to prop up. There’s now a debate over whether schools should pay the “full cost of attendance” for their athletes—the expenses that aren’t covered by a scholarship. Those expenses average around $3,500 per athlete per year, with the cost differing by school. Schools could make this small concession, considering it a tiny price to pay given the estimates of the fair market value of a college football player. Instead, they’re whining about how this is going to drive them out of business. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard told the Des Moines Register it will cost $750,000 annually to pay for the students’ cost of attendance, and “we’ll have to pass those costs on to our fans,” in part by raising ticket prices. “It’s another financial hurdle that we have to deal with,” Pollard said.

Pollard didn’t talk about financial hurdles in 2012, when Iowa State opened a $20.6 million football complex. He also hasn’t groused about all the scrimping and saving the school will need to do to pay his own $900,000 salary. If, like Iowa State’s players, Pollard took home $0 per year, then the university would have more than enough to give every Cyclone athlete a free education. What say you, Mr. Athletic Director?

The NCAA in a nutshell: oligopolistic profits for me, “amateurism” for thee. Blow it up now.

Has Debate Been Ended On American College Campuses? (Spolier: No.)

[ 161 ] May 12, 2014 |

Today’s Freddie award for generalizations about liberals opposing “free speech” comes from Ruth Wisse.  Admittedly, it’s not pure Freddie in that she actually offers some specific examples.  Let’s examine them:

Assaults on intellectual and political freedom have been making headlines. Pressure from faculty egged on by Muslim groups induced Brandeis University last month not to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the proponent of women’s rights under Islam, an intended honorary degree at its convocation.

This is, for reasons already discussed, silly. She was not denied an invitation to speak, and even the most capacious definition of free speech cannot entail a right to receive ornamental degrees. (This also takes care of the Jeanne Kirkpatrick example.) Also not-so-curiously absent from Wisse’s bland description is the Hirsi Ali’s position that if state restrictions on the rights of Muslims to free assembly and speech violate the Constitution, so much worse for the Constitution. I would suggest that this is not the example you want to use for how liberals hate free speech.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prevented from speaking at Brown University in November

I think there is a point here. If someone has the floor, they should generally be permitted to speak. So 1 minor example.

a lecture by Charles Murray canceled by Azusa Pacific University in April; Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national-security adviser under the George W. Bush administration, harassed earlier this month into declining the invitation by Rutgers University to address this year’s convocation.

I think it’s entirely reasonable for people on a campus community to question who will take the role of commecement speaker or who gets a (generally paid) lecture slot on campus. I don’t see where the free speech violation is.

I do have a clear example, however, of someone who opposes free speech. Ruth Wisse:

Most painful to me was the Harvard scene several years ago when the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, celebrating its 50th anniversary, accepted a donation in honor of its former head tutor Martin Peretz, whose contributions to the university include the chair in Yiddish I have been privileged to hold. His enemies on campus generated a “party against Marty” that forced him to walk a gauntlet of jeering students for having allegedly offended Islam, while putting others on notice that they had best not be perceived guilty of association with him.

So Marty Peretz has a right to express his bigoted views, but people are not allowed to express disagreement with these views because it might make Peretz or his friends uncomfortable. I think the question about how seriously we should take Wisse’s arguments has been settled.

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