Friday, May 12, 2006

University of Peking, Northfield Campus

I was just watching some program on CNN (I didn't recognize the show while watching, but I surmise it was Glenn Beck). Anyway, he was harping on the college liberalism talking point with a guest from the Hudson Institute. It's incredible how divorced from reality these folks are. I listen, half incredulous, half appalled, in a vain effort to find something in these tirades that speaks to my actual experience. After all, I go to the famously liberal Carleton College. And while I'm certainly not a conservative, I do hold certain beliefs that challenge the mythical academic orthodoxy, like supporting the Iraq war and advocating increased conservative presence on campus. Yet aside from a few scattered incidents, what's amazing is how geniune the commitment to free engagement and open dialogue has been here.

Alas, reality has long since abandoned those who are waging a war on the American educational system. Beck's interlocutor actually compared the "indoctrination" one finds in a typical American college to what one would find at the University of Peking in communist China. Are they for real? Mr. Beck said that liberal professors want a free flow of ideas, so long as the topic is pornography or abortion. I don't think I ever have had an assignment pertaining to abortion, and the only time I've read on pornography was in Feminist Theory, where we examined Catherine MacKinnon's claim that it was a civil rights violation against women. Damn those liberals, corrupting American culture with their strident opposition to pornography! I'm sorry, but if a Zionist hawk who wrote his final paper urging feminist theorists to support more American military interventions abroad can get an "A" from a professor with a UCLA Ph.D specializing in women's roles in Arab liberation movements (and if this same professor offered to give me advice in trying to get one of my other papers published), then I'm not too worried about bias effecting my learning experience.

Beck offered (I assume half-satirically) a "pledge" that college age students could make to their parents. It consists of three parts (I'm paraphrasing from memory):
1) I will be a barrier between liberal ideals and truth.

2) If I am tempted to "the dark side" I will discuss things for at least an hour with my parents.

3) If after an hour I still disagree with my parents, then I will proudly assert my independence with the understanding that they will no longer pay for my tuition.

Gosh, what a contrast! I mean, I'm sure seeing a commitment to free inquiry and open minds present in that pledge that's missing from contemporary academia. Disagree with your parents, get your tuition cut off! That's the way to foster that independent spirit!

I've urged that Carleton attempt to provide more balance in its political alignment, if only to make debates more interesting. And there will always be horror stories that make the news. But folks like Beck are simply talking non-sense in how they portray the general contemporary college climate. Things aren't nearly as bad as they make them out to be. And I honestly think that nearly anyone who actually is present in a mainstream college or university will attest to that.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Spin Dry

Apropos USA Today's bombshell that President Bush has been collecting information on phone calls made by millions of innocent Americans, Spencer Ackerman has the progression of the Bush administration's ever-changing description of its illicit activities.

1) We're not doing it all

2) We only do it with warrant

3) We only do it targeting specific terrorists, calling to or from abroad, in narrow circumstances

4) ???

I know it can be hard to keep track, but this particular story is, in fact different from the others. And according to field expert Orin Kerr, the program almost definitely breaches 18 U.S.C. 3121 (and it does so even if the prior incarnations of the NSA wiretapping programs are legal, which is far from clear).

Oh, and why does Bill Frist have to be a prostitute for the Bush administration?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Religious Men

I'm pretty much in agreement with Kevin Drum that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Letter to President Bush does not exactly look like a promising breakthrough. But I am mildly creeped out by all the religion talk in the letter. Isn't it indicative that when one of the world's most evil, psychotic dictators thought
"hmm...what do I have in common with George W. Bush? What would be the theme I could strike most likely to resonate with the man?"

he immediately jumped to Bush's evangelical Christianity?

Ahmadinejad's letter also offers up the idea that liberal democracy has failed and that theocracy should replace it. This occurs at a time when the Christian right also has expressed its distaste for liberal enlightenment norms. Is this why Ahmadinejad thought Bush would find his message compelling? What does that tell us?

Not Dead Yet

Okay, so when I said I'd be blogging at full strength this week, clearly I was lying. This week has been work-drenched. I'll let you know when things settle down.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hey, That's My Idea!

Via Concurring Opinions, I see that the Yale Law Journal (which already did something surprisingly sharp and cutting edge with its Pocket Part) is putting out a call for debate-style papers. Two professors with opposing views submit somewhat incomplete papers, then "develop" their ideas in response to objections from their partner.

At the risk of being self-aggrandizing, let me point out that I had this idea over a year ago:
Perhaps an alternative would be recasting the norm about what "acceptable" (esp. for tenure review) scholarship is. If academia was changed to be more debate oriented, with the expectation that professors would not just construct arguments but also actively engage in debate with their philosophical opponents, that could help ... giv[e] an alternative path to academic success beyond just making new claims and blissfully ignoring the scathing criticism coming from the other side of the political divide.

Always on top of the latest trends here at The Debate Link.

PrawfsBlawg is offering itself as a gathering point for scholars to partner up with each other on the project. But one of their commenters made a sobering point: It's possibly (and very likely) that the YLJ will go after the highest-profile names possible, setting up battle-royale matches between titans in particular fields. This would undoubtedly be fun to read, but makes life difficult for young guns who saw this as an opportunity to get their foot in the YLJ.

Sigh--my own brainchild, leaving me outside its gates.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Cultural Roadblocks on the Route to Equality

Belle Lettre has an excellent post the contra-contraception movement, both personally and politically (which, as the cliche goes and this post powerfully proves, are not very far apart at all). As Belle makes clear, there is a strong and growing political constituency growing out of the Christian Right that wishes to enact legal barriers to contraceptive use. They obviously pose a threat, but I feel like the battle lines are sufficiently well-fortified on that particular debate. What I find most interesting is Belle's description of how her upbringing in a conservative, Asian-American home impacted her autonomy and accessibility on these counts.
I was a campus feminist. But I was (am) also an Asian-American woman, raised in a very strict Asian household with a domineering father. I was forbidden to socialize with men, much less date--even after I turned 18, even after I entered college. I lived at home during college, and it was easy for them to control my social life--and I had enough disinclination to hurt my parents that I for the most part obeyed their draconian rules. But I was not always so inclined to follow the rules, and despite their best efforts, I managed to date secretly, seriously my college sweetheart for three years. Despite my own "abstinence only" education and strict moral upbringing, I, like so many other young men and women, disobeyed and disregarded the rules. It happens. It has always been, and it will always be that young people will, despite your best efforts to guide them, make "mistakes," ignore your teachings, and find their own path in life--right or wrong. I'm glad that though I did stray from the path of my fathers, I was able to guide myself, and protect myself--because the teachings I abandoned were no long applicable, and could no longer protect me on this new autonomous path. I am glad that because I was able to protect myself, I could keep my private life private, and my body my own business. I am glad that I never had to face the consequences of my father finding out about my "betrayal" -- because I would have surely suffered at his hands, and I would have surely feared for my life. The pressures of growing up are enough without being denied the information, tools, and means with which to guide and protect ourselves as we make our own life choices. Never forget that it is your life, and your body. And though I am not an extreme moral relativist, I do believe that with regard to your body and heart, you should be your own moral guide. And never forget how much all of this "debate" is pure sexual politics, designed to rob you of that autonomy.

These attitudes are not as uncommon as many suspect. Even in my liberal Washington suburb, I had a friend (half-Dutch, half-Japanese) who was forbidden by her parents to socialize with boys at all--even platonically. This led to some amusing/tense moments when she did do stuff with male friends (she went on a "beach week" trip with our whole high school crew--girls and guys--that she said was girls only. This was slightly more difficult to pull off since I was helping plan the transportation part of the trip). But while it was something I and her primarily joked about in school, it really was no laughing matter when they'd confine her to her room because she dared talk to me over AIM, or withdrew her from her college because she refused to consent to an arranged marriage (!).

All of this reminds me of a piece that I read from Kimberle Crenshaw in for my Feminist Theory class in the fall (it was excerpted in a book I don't have with me anymore, but it might have been from Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics, 1989 U. Chi. L.F., 139-67). It's not that no White women have domineering fathers. It's that particular cultural expectations can make certain strategies (on the sexual health issue and others) that work fine for one ethnic group fail utterly for another. A battered woman's shelter, for example, does little to help a woman who is primarily confined to the home and who has no clue how to navigate the outside world without escort. Abuse hotlines assume that the abused women can use the phone unsupervised. Many crucial issues relating to sexual health assume that the participant is sufficiently autonomous to disobey strict orders from her parents; this can be unrealistic given certain socialization techniques. It's really easy to say that any girl who can't show the requisite autonomy to learn about sexual health isn't mature enough to be engaging in sexual activity in the first place. That may be true to an extent, but that cut both ways--if we're going to demand social autonomy as a precondition for engaging in these activities, then we can't act all shocked and horrified when young women do strike out on their own and try and break free of the traditional constraints their parents place upon them. I'd go further: If social autonomy is our standard, then I (ala Bruce Ackerman) think society has a positive obligation to help provide the tools and information necessary for women to develop independent judgments on issues of sexual health and morality, regardless of what their parents think (it goes without saying that sexual abstinence and chastity are perfectly valid choices, so long as they are made independently and not by social fiat). And since the barriers which prevent the full assertion of autonomous judgment vary from person to person and cultural background to cultural background, this quest will unquestionably require a plurality of techniques to respond to particular situations.

I should note that Belle's piece was cross-posted onto Feminist Law Professors, where she is visiting. I always figured that visiting blogging stints are kind of like visiting professorships--a chance to get some heightened exposure at a more prestigious institution, and perhaps (if you're lucky) a bit of a look-see for a permanent hiring. But even if that's not the case, it's a good sign that a bigger fish in the pond is reading and enjoying your work. So congratulations, Belle!

Back From The Bnai Mitzvot

My twins Bnai Mitzvot was a blast, but I'm glad to back. Hotel internet was infuriatingly spotty, so I couldn't post while I was away. Next week will be fully functional (I promise).