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CBA Time

[ 23 ] March 9, 2008 |

Tomorrow, I’ll be mailing my vote to approve our faculty’s new collective bargaining agreement, which was negotiated over the course of about 14 months in 2007 and early 2008.

In the words of one of my friends who served on the negotiating committee, we wrestled the best possible deal from our managerial adversaries. That is to say, the contract guarantees faculty annual wage increases that fail to keep up with the pace of inflation, and it makes our health care premiums look like the payment curve of a sub-prime mortgage. Marginal forms of compensation — summer course pay, overloads and merit bonuses — are bumped gently upwards while the core of the deal assures everyone of real income decline over the life of the contract. I’d like to believe we could have done better by threatening to walk off the job, but these are the sorts of things that most of my colleagues regard as “counterproductive” or “antique.”

Having said that, it’s difficult to imagine life without collective bargaining. Support staff in the humanities and social sciences, for example, organized a drive about five years ago and got their asses handed to them when their statewide colleagues in the sciences — who are paid more generously out of federal grants — voted against the union. Compared with their pay and benefits packages, ours appear to be quite sane and generous. Meantime, the casualization of academic labor continues unhindered, with term appointments and adjuncts comprising an enormous and poorly-compensated share of the institutional burden.

So here’s two inflation-adjusted cheers for industrial democracy. Without an organized bargaining unit to contend with, the University of Alaska would probably be freezing salaries across the board; refusing to appropriate funds for new hires who could not sustain themselves with federal grants; charging me rent for my office; metering my internet and electricity usage; insisting that I punch a time card each morning; and urging me to take a “proactive” approach to my own health by combing the earth for medicinal roots and berries while learning how to trepanate myself to relieve headaches and depression. And of course they’d have to hire at least three dozen new administrators to keep the trains running on time.

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Indeterminacy of Language

[ 8 ] March 9, 2008 |

Drezner wonders if Bill Clinton has broken the space-time continuum:

From Mark Leibovich, “No Longer in Race, Richardson Is a Man Pursued,” New York Times, February 23, 2008:

Early this month, Mr. Clinton called Mr. Richardson and insisted on seeing him face to face. Mr. Richardson said he could not make it unless Mr. Clinton came down to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl on television with him, which Mr. Clinton rearranged his schedule to do….

The Bills watched the game in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Richardson rooting for New England, Mr. Clinton for New York. They smoked cigars, drank wine, devoured barbecued spareribs, chicken wings and shrimp. They talked politics only at halftime.

From Dan Balz, “Influential Democrats Waiting to Choose Sides,” Washington Post, March 9, 2008:

“I’m thinking of changing my phone number,” joked [Pennsylvannia representative Mike] Doyle, who had supported New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson but is now uncommitted. He said he got a surprise call from Bill Clinton on Super Bowl Sunday while cooking osso buco for his family.

Just what was Bill Clinton doing on Super Bowl Sunday? There’s clear photo evidence to support Richardson’s version of events — but I have no reason to believe Doyle is lying.

If I may try to resolve this paradox, is it possible that Representative Doyle, rather than President Clinton, was the one cooking osso buco?

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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House Konbaung

[ 4 ] March 9, 2008 |

Maung Aung Zeya was born in the village of Moksobo around 1714. His family enjoyed considerable local stature, and Maung Aung Zeya rose to the position of headman at a young age. The previous Burmese dynasty was in decline, and was overthrown in 1752 by a combination of outside invaders and internal rebels. Rather than surrender to the new forces, Maung Aung Zeya fortified his village and prepared a defense. Four attempts to capture the village failed, and the chieftain took advantage of the disarray of his enemies to build up support in the countryside. By 1753, Maung Aung Zeya could exercise control over much of what would become modern Burma, and changed his name Alaungpaya (meaning Future Buddha King). More campaigning in 1755 left Alaungpaya substantially without internal rivals. In 1759 Alaungpaya invaded Siam, but his good fortune did not hold; while besieging the city of Ayutthaya, a gun exploded near the king, mortally wounding him.

The Konbaung Dynasty was characterized by ill-defined succession rules and Kings with enormous numbers of wives and children. Bodawpaya, the third of Alaungpaya’s sons to succeed to the throne, had 207 wives and 120 children. Many of the wives were the widows of previous monarchs. The Konbaung fought, often successfully, against the Thai and Chinese empires, and substantially defined the borders of modern Burma. The real threat, however, came from the West; French and British influence in Indochina grew during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and began to threaten the foundations of the monarchy. Wars in 1824 and in 1852 resulted in territorial loss for Burma, but left the kingdom substantially independent. Efforts by King Mindon Min, who ascended to the throne in 1853, to modernize the country bought time for the dynasty.

In 1878 Mindon Min died and was succeeded by Thibaw Min, one of his 110 children. Thibaw decided that the antidote to the British threat was greater French influence. The British, unsurprisingly, didn’t care for this attitude, and in 1885 a dispute between Thibaw and the British escalated into general war. The conflict was brief, and the British had overwhelming superiority. The British captured Thibaw and his immediate family, exiling him, one wife, and two daughters to India. Given a small pension, the former King and his family would live out the rest of their lives in poverty. King Thibaw died in 1916, at age 58.

The Konbaung Dynasty almost died out in India, but one of the King’s surviving daughters had children who lived. The children have lived at various times in India and Thailand, but now mostly seem to live in Burma. During the Japanese occupation of Burma in the 1940s, some thought was given to restoring the Konbaung to the throne, but difficulties with the collaborator government and the difficult of determining the appropriate heir forced the Japanese to abandon the idea. The current claimant to the throne is Edward Taw Phaya, born in 1924 and grandson to King Thibaw. Prospects for a return to the throne are very grim, as the military junta in Burma has displayed little interest in the royal family, and it is unlikely that any revolutionary government would want to restore the throne.

Trivia: The last monarch of what country shares an important political distinction with Abraham Lincoln…. other than assassination?

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It Was Like Berkeley in ’67…

[ 0 ] March 9, 2008 |

I can proudly say that I have visited the Flophouse, and even more proudly say that I got drunk there and broke a chair. My wife broke a lamp.

If anyone would like to touch my shirt in the hope that the coolness will rub off, this can be arranged for a small fee.

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On the Collapse of the Mighty (NCAA Edition)

[ 0 ] March 9, 2008 |

In 1990, the Oregon State Beavers Men’s Basketball team had the fourth most wins of any program in Division I. The Beavs success was only occasionally flashy, but it was steady; they had gone 359-186 under the legendary Ralph Miller, including a 77-11 stretch between 1979 and 1982. In 1990, the Beavs rode Gary Payton’s senior year to a the regular season Pac-10 conference championship.

The Beavs haven’t had a winning season since Payton left for the NBA. This year, they became the first team in Pac-10 conference history to go 0-18 in conference play. Absent sanctions, are there any other falls from grace in the NCAA as impressive as that of OSU?

While I’m on the subject, in brief answer to Yglesias, the narrative arc of Oregon State Beavers basketball is one of the reasons that I prefer the NCAA to the NBA. It’s true enough that there are similar arcs in the NBA, but they don’t play out in such operatic fashion. Moreover, the single-game playoff system enhances, rather than detracts from, the narrative; I remember with crystal clarity how Gary Payton picked up his fifth foul on a charge late in the 1990 NCAA tournament first round game against Ball State, and how the Beavs shortly thereafter lost on an inbound right under the hoop, and then how Ball State went on to beat Louisville and then lose at the buzzer to UNLV.

This is another way of saying that playoffs, in any sport, have never been about “finding the best team”. Rather, they’re about building tension in the most effective way for the sport in question. In this, the NCAA Tournament is indisputably superior to the Bataan Death March that constitutes the NBA playoffs. Major League Baseball uses a playoff system similar to that of the NBA, but the seven game series is much more suitable to the rhythm of baseball than of basketball, and moreover it’s built into the structure of baseball that many of the best and most important players simply cannot play every day. In short, the capacity of a George Mason to reach the Final Four now and again is a feature, not a bug. On the point of the greater athleticism of NBA players, I’ll say only that if I wanted pure athleticism I’d watch a decathalon; athleticism is only meaningful in the context of a certain set of rules, and I visually prefer the playing of the game under NCAA rather than NBA rules.

A final question that pops up in comments occasionally is “How can you enjoy NCAA sports when they’re based on exploitation and have a negative effect on academic life?” These are fair questions; the treatment of players by the NCAA is remarkably exploitative, and I think that big time college athletics has, on balance, a negative effect on academic life. My first answer is that there are the wretched of the earth and the Wretched of the Earth, and that NCAA players are more the former than the latter, and moreover that doing just about anything in the context of an advanced capitalist economy is going to involve the exploitation of someone. My second answer is that I would like college athletics severed from professional sports, and in particularly would like the NBA and the NFL to develop robust farm systems like MLB has, such that talented eighteen year olds who don’t want to go to college can receive fairer treatment. This preference doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t enjoy watching UO or UK play within the system that now exists.

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Incarceration Nation

[ 0 ] March 9, 2008 |

In all the talk recently about the appalling numbers on American prison populations, one thing has become clear: prisons are a huge resources drain. The Detroit Free Press took up the issue the other day in an editorial. The paper (rightly) notes the human toll of our prison addiction. But more interestingly, the paper takes on the financial cost:

States can no longer afford to divert so many resources from education, health care and other pressing needs. Michigan, for example, with one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, spends $2 billion a year on corrections, or 20% of its general fund. It is one of four states spending more on corrections than higher education. In today’s economy, spending more on prisons than college is a recipe for failure.

Since it doesn’t seem that any of the other arguments get us anywhere in terms of prison policy, why not try this one? At a time when our economy is tanking, when we spend bazillions on the war, and when people (or at least many people) really want the state to put more resources into health care and education, why are we spending so much to warehouse young men and women, particularly men and women of color? SEems to me it’s time for us to start speaking a little louder when we ask that question.

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Semiotics Lesson

[ 16 ] March 8, 2008 |

So saith some cornhole representative from Iowa:

An Iowa Republican congressman said Friday that terrorists would be “dancing in the streets” if Democratic candidate Barack Obama were to win the presidency.

Rep. Steve King based his prediction on Obama’s pledge to pull troops out of Iraq, his Kenyan heritage and his middle name, Hussein. . . .

“His middle name does matter,” King said. “It matters because they read a meaning into that.”

On that latter point, King is undoubtedly correct, as these historical examples suggest:

Barry Morris Goldwater. Recognizing the hidden meaning of his middle name, cats and their human companions voted overwhelmingly in favor of the 1964 Republican nominee, based largely on their conviction that he would not urinate in their shoes and scratch the fuck out of their couches. Unfortunately for Goldwater, people who did not want to perish in a tornado of fire also voted that year.

Richard Milhous Nixon. Though he was named for a small, yellow animated character from the future, Nixon’s middle name appears to have been inconsequential in his three presidential campaigns.

Herschel Vespasian Johnson. When Georgia’s former governor ran with Stephen Douglas on the 1860 Democratic ticket, opponents correctly feared that he — like his imperial Roman namesake — would conquer southwestern England, subdue Jewish revolts, and succumb in office to a fatal case of diarrhea. Burdened by these and other unfortunate associations, the Democratic party lost that year to Abraham Lincoln, who wisely avoided having a middle name.

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The Torturer In Chief

[ 12 ] March 8, 2008 |

President Bush, as most of you know, has used his veto powers sparingly. But on some issues — like more poor children getting health care — he simply can’t avoid using them. Today, he acts to advance another issue he feels strongly about: torture. He’s for it:

President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques that are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using such interrogation methods, which include waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad.

Less than a year left. But remember that Straight Talkin’ John McCain urged Bush to support torture as well. Indeed, unlike Joe Lieberman Zell Miller Hillary Clinton, I think that future Democratic candidate Barack Obama is in fact much better qualified to be Commander-In-Chief, and hopefully a majority of voters will reach the same conclusion.

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Who Would Win in a Fight?

[ 0 ] March 8, 2008 |

Han Solo vs. Jimmy McNulty?

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And Don’t Forget Those Negotiations With Tim Allen And Carrot Top

[ 17 ] March 8, 2008 |

Hillary Clinton, as you know, is claiming that having a considerable amount of foreign policy experience is crucial for the next President. Leaving aside the fact that she completely botched the most important vote of her Senate career by making an extremely bad judgment on foreign policy, the problem is that she doesn’t, in fact, have anything like a considerable amount of foreign policy experience. So how does she square the circle?

Pressed in a CNN interview this week for specific examples of foreign policy experience that has prepared her for an international crisis, Clinton claimed that she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland [um] and negotiated with Macedonia to open up its border to refugees from Kosovo.

Sounds impressive! What was the nature of these high-level negotiations in Macedonia?

The Macedonian government opened its border to refugees the day before Clinton arrived to meet with government leaders. And her mission to Bosnia was a one-day visit in which she was accompanied by performers Sheryl Crow and Sinbad, as well as her daughter, Chelsea, according to the commanding general who hosted her.

The good news is that I’m slightly less worried about Clinton making Michael O’Hanlon her Secretary of State. The bad news is that I’m more worried about Gallagher becoming Secretary of State. Actually, I retract the bad news part — that would probably be an improvement.

Her Secretary of Defense, of course, will be her new BFF Straight Talkin’ War Mongerin’ John McCain.

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Hail to the Chief

[ 0 ] March 8, 2008 |

Here’s Trekkie Clausewitz, fitting the Powerliners for a pearl necklace:

Obama sees and describes himself as an astonishment to the world: the audacity of hope; an agent of change; the total transformation of the world; a blissful warrior against arrogance. He speaks in a messianic preacher-voice, because he sees himself as the Minister of the New (liberal fascist) World Order.

Which is of course totally not the way “the great bloggers of our time” have ever spoken of anyone:

I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I’ve ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I’ve ever seen any politician. If I summarized what he said, it would all sound familiar: the difficult times we live in; the threat from Islamic fascism–the phrase drew an enthusiastic round of applause–the universal yearning for freedom; the need to confront evil now, with all the tools at our disposal, so that our children and grandchildren can live in a better and safer world. As he often does, the President structured his comments loosely around a tour of the Oval Office. But the digressions and interpolations were priceless.

The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues–freedom, most of all . . . .

It was, in short, the most inspiring forty minutes I’ve experienced in politics.

. . . I was in the middle of a faculty senate meeting when I posted this, so I was a little more abbreviated than I’d have liked. I should have added that it’s this sort of thing that’s going to make life incredibly easy if and when Obama secures the nomination. Wingnut bloggers who yodel about “teh messiah” are going to have to scrub years worth of archival wanking if they want lefty blogging to be anything more difficult than paint-by-numbers.

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Resignation, cont.

[ 0 ] March 7, 2008 |

I agree with Scott that Samantha Power’s resignation was probably the expedient course of action, though I’m disappointed by the nonsense of it all. Power clearly should have been more guarded in her conversations with The Scotsman, but the feigned hyperventilating over the “monster” remark has been pathetic given the thousand-fold greater absurdity of the Ken Starr analogy.

How long does anyone seriously believe the Clinton campaign would have allowed Power to remain before mainstreaming Paul Mirengoff’s absurd smear that she seeks the destruction of Israel? I’d have given it about two weeks.

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