Subscribe via RSS Feed

Togo in Retrospect

[ 66 ] September 12, 2014 |

I have a piece up on the National Interest on the legacies of the Russo-Japanese War:

The Russo-Japanese War commenced 110 years ago this February, lasting eighteen months before a US-brokered truce mercifully put it to rest. The war killed upwards of 125,000 people, and sharply limited Russian influence in Northeast Asia. Japan gained control of Korea, and gained a long-term foothold for influencing events in Manchuria and China.

Writers have ascribed many legacies to the conflict, some of which we can set aside. Victory against Japan probably would not have prevented the collapse of Imperial Russia and the founding of the Soviet Union; the Revolution happened for other reasons. Moreover, the conflict did not give the Central Powers a “window of opportunity” for defeating Russia in Europe; we now know that Vienna and Berlin over-estimated, rather than under-estimated, Russian power in 1914. Defeat might conceivably have broken Japanese militarism for a time, but the weakness of China and of the European colonial empires would likely have proven too tempting for Tokyo in any case.

Share with Sociable

Cary Nelson’s Ongoing, If Selective, War On Academic Freedom

[ 124 ] September 11, 2014 |

I hadn’t intended to write more about the Salaita case for the time being, with the vote in and the matter to move to the courts. But Bijan alterted me in comments to an article with yet more comments from Cary Nelson, who is still using his status as a past president of the AAUP and erstwhile defender of academic freedom to side with the administration against academic freedom in an important case. Given his status in the field, Nelson’s conduct during this affair has been a disgrace, and the quality of his arguments remains pathetic:

Cary Nelson, a professor emeritus at the U of I, has long been a defender of academic freedom; from 2006 to 2012, he was head of the American Association of University Professors, which wrote the book on academic freedom.

While the AAUP supports Salaita in this matter, Nelson says Salaita’s allies are missing key nuances about the case.

Ah, yes, nuances. What are these complexities? Something on the order of “[p]eople are mixing up this individual personnel issue with the whole question of freedom of speech and academic freedom,” perhaps.

Nelson doesn’t think Salaita should be recognized as a tenured professor, as his hiring hinged on a full review of his dossier – which happened last year.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that this is true, that as a formal legal matter Salaita is not tenured, and UIUC had the authority to fire him. The nuance Nelson is willfully forgetting is that tenure is a means of protecting academic freedom, not the sum total of academic freedom. Let is turn to the version of Nelson who supported academic freedom:

Academic freedom gives both students and faculty the right to express their views — in speech, writing, and through electronic communication, both on and off campus — without fear of sanction, unless the manner of expression substantially impairs the rights of others or, in the case of faculty members, those views demonstrate that they are professionally ignorant, incompetent, or dishonest with regard to their discipline or fields of expertise.

Not what this doesn’t say — “tenured” faculty. And it shouldn’t. If an assistant professor or adjunct instructor is fired for expressing political views, this is a violation of academic freedom even if they do not have access to the same due process rights. Which, in this case, settles the question. Salaita was given an extremely harsh sanction for expressing political views. There has been no showing that he is professionally incompetent or violated the rights of others.

Nelson said Salaita’s tweets and other comments about Israel should be taken into consideration now that they’ve drawn so much attention and criticism.

This is an absolutely remarkable statement. Academic freedom applies…unless someone’s electronic communications attract a lot of attention, in which case they’re fair game. How this is distinguishable from just abandoning academic freedom altogether is unclear. As with any free speech protection, it is not necessary to protect speech that is unheard or universally regarded as inoffensive.

He said it’s not just Salaita’s tweets that are concerning; he’s read Salaita’s books and says their overall tone leads him to believe Salaita’s classroom would not be one for open and free discussion when it comes to Israel and Palestine.

I’ve already addressed this line of argument in my critique of Nelson’s first op-ed. To summarize, 1)the idea Salaita’s twitter feed is a more reliable guide to his teaching than his teaching evaluations is self-evidently risible; 2)the same applies to an assessment of the “tone” of his books; and 3)this argument proves too much, since it can be inferred that anyone who expresses a political view cannot teach those who hold opposing views. In addition, if Nelson has carefully read all of Salaita’s books I’ll wear a Derek Jeter jersey with one of the special memorial patches in class for a month.

And, finally, since Nelson would probably prefer that people think that he still favors academic freedom, we have a self-serving attempt to find a limiting principle:

“He has a position, a political position, on the Middle East,” he said. “And he explains that position in detail in several of his books. But they’re not based on research, they’re based on his opinion. So I wouldn’t count objectivity as one of the defining characteristics of his work at all.”

As Atrios has put it elsewhere on the internets, the argument is that Salaita’s political views are mere “opinion,” while Nelson’s are “objective.” Amazing how that works. And, of course, we can absolutely trust in the objectivity of Nelson’s ex post facto evaluations of the scholarly merits of Salaita’s work, even though he reached a conclusion that he should be fired based on some isolated and in some cases willfully misread tweets. To re-state these arguments is to refute them.

I’d like to conclude with some remarks from Chancellor Wise, because they allow us to consider the wages of the abandonment of academic freedom that Nelson is defending:

Then came those controversial tweets about Israel. And By late July, U of I chancellor Phyllis Wise was tipped off that the Board of Trustees wouldn’t approve Salaita’s hiring, normally little more than a procedural move. Wise says because of the narrow window of time before Salaita was to arrive on campus, she took action quickly — more quickly than she usually would — and let Salaita know his job offer was cancelled.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness, this man must be packing,” Wise said. “I can’t let him risk bringing his whole family from Virginia all the way to Urbana-Champaign and then not really have a position.’”

See — she was doing him a favor! Sure, he may have resigned his tenured position, his wife might have resigned her position, they may have sold their house, his career might have been ruined because a job offer that under the norms of the profession he had every reason to expect was final was yanked at the last minute…but as long as he hadn’t actually moved to Champaign to teach the classes he had been scheduled to teach, no harm, no foul! This is a family blog, so I’ll just leave the evaluation of these remarks to your judgement.  But this does underscore the importance of this case, which goes well beyond one individual.  A precedent has been set, and if UIUC gets away with it there were be plenty more Salaitas. 

…Bijan in comments: “Nelson’s current behavior is really so disgraceful that his name should become a term of abuse as in to Cary water for the administration or to put your principles in a full Nelson.”

Share with Sociable

The Rhode Island Democratic Primary

[ 42 ] September 11, 2014 |

Dumpster-Fire

Above: the Rhode Island Democratic Party

On Tuesday, I voted in the Rhode Island Democratic primary. It was a dispiriting experience. The Rhode Island Democratic Party is a complete disaster. There are some good Democrats. But in a state where Democrats have a 69-6 majority in the House and a 32-5 majority in the Senate, for the most part, if you want power, you need to be a Democrat. And thus, the term “Democrat” means nothing. What has this enormous majority given us? A voter ID law. And then, earlier this year, the legislature decided to borrow a tactic from the great progressive state of Oklahoma and ban municipalities from setting their own minimum wage. This latter move was a response to the Providence City Council voting to place the $15 minimum wage on the ballot this fall.

So yes, the Rhode Island Democratic Party is openly implementing the ideas of the Oklahoma Republican Party.

All this means that the Democratic primary in Rhode Island is hugely important. Now, we aren’t talking about Georgia circa 1930 here. Republicans can win statewide office. Despite our very progressive senators and enormous Democratic majorities, Rhode Island has not elected a Democrat to the governor’s office since 1991, although Lincoln Chafee eventually converted to a Democrat in a failed attempt to win reelection (and according to a rumor I heard because his wealthy wife wouldn’t fund him as an independent since she didn’t want to foot the whole bill). But still, the real ideological divides are really in the primary.

Or they should be anyway. In fact, this primary consisted of nothing but terrible candidates. The winner of the primary for governor was Gina Raimondo. She is so deep in the pocket of Wall Street that she’s been attacked from the left in the page of Forbes Magazine. Forbes. Who knew that was possible. The state workers hate her because of her attacks on pensions. I could not vote for her in this primary under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, the other two options were almost as bad. At first, it looked like Providence mayor Angel Taveras would be a good option. Then Taveras fired all his progressive advisers and embraced Rheeism as a central tenet. Moving right to challenge a right-wing candidate made no political sense. Raimondo already had those votes wrapped up. Taveras ran a terrible campaign and ran out of money at the end.

The third option was Clay Pell, grandson of the famous senator. By most accounts, Pell is a wealthy plutocrat from a famous political family who is, to be kind, not very smart and has the charisma of a rock. We already have that exact thing in the statehouse right now. Although he is married to Michelle Kwan so that separates him somehow. He was also a Republican until just a few years ago. Youthful mistake perhaps.

Despite all of this, I voted for Pell. Do you know what it takes for me to vote for a dim plutocrat ex-Republican? That’s how bad these candidates were. But I figured he would govern to the left of the horrible Raimondo and increasingly terrible Taveras.

Of course, Raimondo is still probably better than the Republican candidate Allan Fung. Voting for her is going to be gross in November.

But wait, there’s more!

The Providence mayoral primary was also a lot of fun. First, you have the fact that ex-mayor, convicted felon, and unconvicted rapist Buddy Cianci is running again. He has a very strong chance of winning and making my adopted city a national embarrassment. He would also like you to know that he did not urinate on that man.

Who gets to face the vaunted Cianci? There were two, utterly horrible but very different, choices.

First, there was Michael Solomon. At first glance, this guy seems like the most generic kind of old-school Democrat with all the warts that entails. First of all, he’s a long time local pol and there are a lot of rumors about corruption which I have no doubt are true. Corruption is crazy widespread in this state. He is also the least articulate guy in the world. He makes Mumbles Menino in Boston sound like Bill Clinton. There wasn’t much reason to have faith in him until he bucked his long-time business allies and pushed the $15 minimum wage law. That was pretty impressive. Still, his negatives are real.

Then there is Jorge Elorza. This is an interesting case. He is the son of Guatemalan immigrants. In fact, that was the entirety of his campaign. Because of his story and because progressives will so often place a good story and diversity above the substance of a politician, Elorza received a lot of progressive endorsements. But not from the unions. And there’s a good reason for this. There is absolutely no evidence is he progressive on almost any issue. This is a powerful indictment of this right-wing empty suit, cut from the Cory Booker and Angel Taveras cloth, although he’s almost certainly worse than the latter at least. Specifically, Elorza publicly opposes raising the minimum wage, is an advocate for charter schools that comes right out of the Michelle Rhee playbook, and opposes raising taxes on the wealthy.

And of course Elorza wins, making the Democratic candidate for mayor in a poor city someone who opposes a fair wage for workers. Have to be pro-business after all. I voted for Solomon, corruption rumors notwithstanding. At least he stands for something positive. But at least Elorza is not Buddy Cianci.

Finally, there was my state House rep. To me, this summed up the incoherentness of the Rhode Island Democratic Party more than anything. I am represented by a woman named Maria Cimini who is reasonably good progressive with particularly strong environmental and gun control credentials. Her opponent was a right-wing Democrat by the name of Daniel McKiernan, who was supported by the horrible Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello. How did Mattiello become Speaker? Earlier this year, the slightly less terrible Gordon Fox resigned after the FBI raided his home and Mattiello won the race to replace him as Speaker. Cimini didn’t support Mattiello and he went after her.

McKiernan is a Republican in just about every other state. His whole campaign was anti-crime. He had these disgusting 1980s-style flyers about how Cimini opposed locking up child abusers, wanted to put criminals back on the streets, and the like. Every picture of him except a very few (the necessary one per flyer or ad) were with other white people in a district filled with Dominicans, Guatemalans, and African-Americans.

And of course McKiernan won too. Now the Rhode Island state assembly is even more right wing than before. Awesome.

What a state.

Share with Sociable

What Does Zephyr Teachout’s Challenge Mean?

[ 71 ] September 11, 2014 |

In the aftermath of Zephyr Teachout’s surprisingly strong challenge to Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for governor of New York, there are a number of articles proclaiming that it is really meaningful. Joan Walsh, writing just before the primary, talks about Teachout reminding Cuomo that there is a liberal base and that you have to run real progressives in order to get policy made. This I agree with entirely.

John Cassidy’s post-mortem argues that the Teachout run is emblematic of something larger.

The Democratic Party establishment survived. But Teachout and Wu both achieved more than seemed possible a couple of months ago. By thoroughly embarrassing Cuomo, New York Democrats didn’t merely deliver a blow to whatever national aspirations he may have. They signalled to other Democrats, Hillary Clinton included, that the political center of gravity has shifted, and that a significant segment of Democratic voters won’t suffer gladly a return to the timid, pro-corporate policies of the Clinton years, which Cuomo represents.

That’s why what happened on Tuesday wasn’t just a New York story: it has national implications. The progressive movement that emerged from the financial crisis, giving birth to Occupy Wall Street and the de Blasio campaign, may still be inchoate and splintered. But it can’t be ignored.

Possible. I don’t know that Cuomo’s national ambitions are completely ruined. But the combination of the scandal and the fact that he’s already been targeted by a left-wing insurgency in his home state certainly can’t help. As for Hillary Clinton, I don’t know. Clinton so far has floated above all of this in a way that she absolutely could not in 2008. When Clinton announces, will there will be a real left-wing challenge like this? One hopes so and that is it credible. If Warren isn’t going to do it, Bernie Sanders would be useful if he runs within the Democratic Party primaries. Otherwise, he is wasting his time. And even if a left-running Democrat did make Hillary work a bit, would it mean anything at all in the general election or after she entered the Oval Office? Doubtful because everyone is going to be working hard for her, despite her flaws, when the opponent is Ted Cruz or whoever comes out of the clown show that is the Republican Party.

I don’t doubt that the Occupy Wall Street energy is part of this challenge. But I also think that wealthier white leftists tend to overstate the power of other wealthier white leftists to create change. In other words, Cuomo won because of his huge numbers in New York’s outer boroughs and any attempt to create real political change in New York is going to have to deal with the machine politics and the fact that a lot of voters have priorities not entirely or at all based around policy. So where all this goes, I really don’t know, but it is fascinating to watch and obviously hopeful. But anything concrete remains nascent at best.

Another interesting facet to this election is the actions of Bill de Blasio. Like Obama in 2008, de Blasio’s campaign used a lot of rhetoric around change, but once the office is taken, both largely promoted the status quo they always believed in. However, at least in the articles I’ve read, the criticism of de Blasio is less strident than I would have thought. This could mean only that I’m not reading the right lefties, I don’t know. But he really went all in for Cuomo in a way that is going to be hard for a lot of people to forget.

Also, the big loser in all of this is the Working Families Party. Although not really a third party despite its name, WFP is supposed to organize the left for positive change. But the WFP is reliant upon its consistuent groups because it is not a social movement. So when parts of organized labor came out for Cuomo, for reasons that made sense to them since it is the unions job to represent their own members’ best interests, the WFP had no real choice but go along. I know that supposedly de Blasio and the unions enacted concessions from him for the endorsement, but I’ll believe Andrew Cuomo follows through on a promise to the left when I see it. So I’m having trouble seeing what the point of the WFP is in political races if it can’t even buck Andrew Cuomo.

Anyway, I guess I’m mostly skeptical that the Teachout run has much in the way of larger implications for New York or national politics. But it is part of the larger dissatisfaction the base has with right-wing Democrats. Whether that appears in the 2016 presidential primary or not answers the question over these implications.

Share with Sociable

High Strung

[ 42 ] September 11, 2014 |

This is helpful.


And the tweet of the day…

Share with Sociable

The Death of Western Forests

[ 36 ] September 11, 2014 |

The impacts of climate change upon my beloved American West are only just beginning to be felt:

Colorado alone could lose 45% of its aspen stands over the next 45 years, says the report released Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Pine bark beetles alone have killed 46 million acres of trees across the west, an area nearly the size of Colorado.

“The wildfires, infestations and heat and drought stress are the symptoms; climate change is the underlying disease,” Jason Funk, the report’s co-author and a senior climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

Projections by the U.S. Forest Service that were included in the report, predict that if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue increasing at recent rates, by 2060 the area climatically suitable in the Rocky Mountains for lodgepole pine could decline by about 90%, for ponderosa pine by about 80%, for Engelmann spruce by about 66% and for Douglas fir by about 58%.

National forests and parks play a key role in the economies of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. National parks in those states, including Yellowstone and Glacier, host about 11 million visitors annually, generating $1 billion in tourist spending, the report, Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, said. If the landscapes significantly change, tourists may no longer visit those areas, it said.

The last decades of my life are likely to be incredibly depressing.

Share with Sociable

UIUC Reaches Peak Gibberish

[ 42 ] September 11, 2014 |

Shorter verbatim Phyllis Wise: “People are mixing up this individual personnel issue with the whole question of freedom of speech and academic freedom.”

This really says it all, doesn’t? “I believe in principles, so long as they never have to apply in individual cases. Especially if the development office is involved.” Joe Freeman Britt should have thought of this. “People are mixing up this individual criminal case with the whole question of due process and Maryland v. Brady and whether it’s appropriate to execute innocent people.”

And yet, it makes sense in its own perverse way. Salaita’s firing obviously cannot be squared with basic principles of academic freedom, even if UIUC can establish that it acted within its formal legal authority. Some UIUC apologists are willing to come out and say that academic freedom is just a racket and firing someone for their political views is perfectly OK, but Wise can’t say that either. So we’re left with pure distilled 100 proof nonsense.

…As expected, the vote goes 8-1 against Salaita. I have no idea how strong Salaita’s case will be under Illinois law, but if the lawsuit gets to discovery it will be interesting indeed.

Share with Sociable

And the Adam Bellow Award For Regrettable Beneficiary of Nepotism Goes To…

[ 33 ] September 11, 2014 |

COO of what is sadly right now New York’s most talented baseball team, Jeff Wilpon.

Allegations only, yes, although credible ones. One thing about growing up in a bubble of wealth is that it can apparently cause you to act like a busybody sexist relative to your employees:

“He frequently humiliated Castergine in front of others by, among other things, pretending to see if she had an engagement ring on her finger,” it says. The lawsuit also alleges that Wilpon told a meeting “of the team’s all-male senior executives” that he was “morally opposed” to Castergine’s pregnancy, and told Castergine that her boyfriend should propose if he wanted his girlfriend to get a raise.

Your female employees I should specify. If Wilpon is universally appalled by employees engaging in extramarital sexual relations, I would suggest that he probably inherited the wrong line of work.

Share with Sociable

Ugh Double Ugh

[ 203 ] September 11, 2014 |

Well, this just looks like a clusterfuck.

In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces…

But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.

The Syria side of the campaign remains a work in progress at the Pentagon, CIA and White House. The development of an operational plan is further complicated by a lack of intelligence — U.S. drones have not been flying over Islamic State-controlled parts of the country for long — and the absence of allied local forces that can leverage U.S. airstrikes into territorial gains.

And then we have this helpful group of assholes:

Progress has been encouraging. Arab states have scrambled to set aside differences to rally against the threat posed by the extremists, whose rampage through Iraq and Syria has unnerved rulers across the region.

On Thursday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was to attend a meeting in Saudi Arabia with all of the major players in the Middle East, including the host country, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, to discuss ways to address the crisis.

Many of these countries are at odds over a range of issues and might not have been willing to send representatives to meet in the same room were it not for their urgent recognition of the new menace in their midst.

In common with their fear of the Islamic State, however, the region’s leaders also share a deep mistrust of the Obama administration, rooted in the past three years of increasing disengagement from the Middle East as the United States has sought to distance itself from the turmoil engendered by the Arab Spring revolts.

So, a group of countries that can’t agree on what should be done with Syria are deeply irritated that the United States has not sorted through what is to be done with Syria. Meanwhile, money pours out of the pockets of the Gulf states into the coffers of ISIS, which leaves everyone in the Gulf states deeply concerned that the US isn’t doing enough about Iran.

Share with Sociable

Hopper

[ 87 ] September 10, 2014 |

Dennis Hopper’s personal journey may have brought him to Taos. But according to my New Mexico people who know Taos well, locals are furious that Hopper was buried there because now their little cemetery where they remembered their dead now has a bunch of hippies leaving joints and booze and smoking and drinking some of that weed and booze in it. And it’s hard to blame them since from Mabel Dodge Luhan and Georgia O’Keefe to Dennis Hopper and the thousands of recent arrivals to these places today, bohemian whites have been co-opting the cultures of non-white New Mexico for their own purposes. Stories like Hopper’s never have the local people in them except as a quaint backdrop. And in the end, that’s really wrong.

Share with Sociable

Blue Whales

[ 51 ] September 10, 2014 |

MARIA_(CRUISE-1854)_WHALE_HUNTING_IN_WESTMANNSHAVEN_BAY

It seems that the eastern North Pacific population of blue whales has recovered to its pre-hunting totals–about 2200.

2200 animals makes it pretty easy to drive an animal to extinction. I was just talking about the Pleistocene extinctions with my students and saying that the enormous size of the American megafauna made it pretty bloody easy for them to die off entirely when the combination of the end of the Ice Ages and the arrival of humans hit them. After all, how many beavers the size of the modern black bear can a forest support?

Share with Sociable

Japanese Flying Fortresses

[ 19 ] September 10, 2014 |

This is a fascinating picture:


Some more information here.

The first B-17 to come under Japanese control was an B-17D which was pieced together from the remnants of other destroyed B-17Ds on Clark Field in the Philippines. The same thing was done to to two B-17Es on Bandung Field on Java. At the time, this was the newest model of the B-17 available. The Japanese were impressed with the simplicity of the cockpit for such a large aircraft. One of the B-17Es was used for a test bed for a captured Norden bombsight, coupled to the Sperry automatic flight control system. Also of great interest was the B-17′s gunnery equipment, especially the Sperry automatic computing gunsight. The May 1943 issue of Koku-Asahi was devoted almost completely to the captured B-17s. Nearly every major component was shown in photos and drawings. Since the Japanese also had instruction manuals for the aircraft, no detail was overlooked.

Share with Sociable
Page 30 of 1,895« First...10202829303132405060...Last »