Saturday, November 25, 2006

Isn't There A Commandment About This?

Over in New Jersey, a high school student accused his social studies teacher of preaching in class. The teacher denied it, and the department and principal were prepared to take his word for it. Except the boy had it all on tape.
Junior Matthew LaClair, 16, said history teacher David Paszkiewicz, who is also a Baptist preacher in town, spent the first week of class lecturing students more about heaven and hell than the colonies and the Constitution.

LaClair said Paszkiewicz told students that if they didn't accept Jesus, "you belong in hell." He also dismissed as unscientific the theories of evolution and the "Big Bang."

LaClair, who described his own religious views as "non-Christian," said he wanted to complain about Paszkiewicz to school administrators, but feared his teacher would deny the charges and that no one would take a student's word against a teacher's. So, he said, he started taping Paszkiewicz.

Nice. There are those who say that localities should control whether and to what degree religion should be inserted into the schools. It isn't coercive, they argue, and in any event schools should be taught in accordance to prevailing local norms (which in many cases are Christian). The problem is that in the places where such sentiment is likely to be most intense and thus acted upon (i.e., those places where teachers disregard the current law which says education and religious instruction should not mix), the evidence shows much the reverse: minority religious opinions are marginalized and dissenters are singled out. Consider how LaClair's fellow students reacted to his exposure of the teacher:
As LaClair spoke outside the Devon Street school, some students yelled taunts at him while others glared.

"Mr. Paszkiewicz is an outstanding man," said 16-year-old Stephanie Formoso, a member of the crew team coached by Paszkiewicz and one of his history students.

"Matt set him up," Formoso added. "Mr. Paszkiewicz would always say (when he spoke about religion) 'In my opinion.' He never pushed his beliefs on anyone."

Ah, the Marian Barry defense. This is sadly typical of these sorts of cases. When a member of minority religion comes forward and says that a certain action makes him or her feel like an outsider, a) the claim is mocked and dismissed and b) the marginalization is stepped up a notch. Taunts and glares are actually quite mundane here--threats and acts of violence are quite common in similar cases I've read about.

PZ Myers says that Paszkiewicz is about to become a "right-wing martyr" who will be invited by church groups all over the place to come and lecture about the evils of our secular school system. I suppose this is a test then: how many supposedly Christian groups will be tempted to do that? How many will bend over backwards to defend a man who openly lied about using his teaching position to degrade and marginalize members of religious minorities?

Originally via Steve Benen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Take Your Mouth Off That Whistle

As anyone who has read my discussion on certain 4th Circuit precedents knows, retaliation cases are a major pet peeve of mine. While I've focused primarily on reprisals in cases of racial discrimination complaints, the principle against it holds true generally. Retaliation against parties who complain about something that would be, if substantiated, a bona fide wrong (e.g., racial discrimination, corruption, graft) is almost never justified. Retaliation chills workers from pursuing necessary reforms or correcting wrongs against them, virtually insures that bad policies will continue, and deprives the public of important information about practices by the government or corporation that they might not tolerate were they made public.

That's why I was so upset to read (thru Steve Benen) this article on the growing number of whistleblower and whistleblower retaliation claims being filed in our intelligence agencies--and how they're being dealt with. Whistleblowing complaints have risen by 43% since 9/11, and reprisal complaints have grown along with, jumping 21%. Whistleblowers often face harassment at best and career destruction at worst, and the law seems unable to help them. The Whistleblower Protection Act does not apply to intelligence officers (why?), and even if an internal investigation substantiates a retaliation charge, the investigators don't have the power to enforce any remedy (why?). Perhaps most amazingly, the federal circuit court that hears retaliation cases has ruled against intelligence whistleblowers 98.425% of the time (125/127).

It goes without saying that an agency whose members are afraid to call out mistakes is an ineffective agency, and when that agency is America's intelligence services (whose street cred at the moment is already a bit off), that makes our nation less safe. Giving these brave public servants the protections they deserve should immediately move to the top of the Democratic Party agenda. It's not just Congress that needs reform, and helping our intelligence agencies clean up house would be one of the fastest ways to make our nation stronger and safer at the same time.

Copycats Part II

Continuing the saga of the Georgetown students who tried to claim their house was a religious organization to evade zoning laws, the local zoning board has rejected their claim. Good for them. I suspect it's right as a matter of law, and I want to preserve Carleton's niche position in terms of college-founded religious bodies anyway.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Flying out to Rhode Island tommorrow, flying back to Maryland Friday, getting my computer fixed Saturday (hopefully!). Also bought Final Fantasy XII. So I'm going to be a busy beaver over the next few days. I doubt I'll have computer access while in Rhode Island, so if I don't post over the next few days, I wish every one a happy Turkey day, and an excellent weekend seeing college football, college basketball, and maybe the odd college student who in your family during the commercial break.

The Obama File

Obama apologizes to lovelorn reporter for "messing up your game." Read this, and then listen here (MP3). And yes, "messing up your game" is a direct quote.

Meanwhile, Rahm Emmanuel will "hide under [a] desk" if both Obama and Hillary Clinton run for President. Rahm-bo has close ties to both camps and does not relish choosing between them in a primary fight.

Finally, the conservative attack machine is started to take shots at Obama. They're not very good at it yet, but give them time. My friend Paul Mirengoff tries to downplay Obama's "first in his class" pedigree (what the rest of us would call "drop dead brilliant") by trying to argue that it is merely mimicry of experts (heaven forbid we start listening to them!). After all, who could possibly comprehend the following prescription for Iraq?
[Obama] envisioned a flexible timetable for withdrawal linked to conditions on the ground in Iraq and based on the advice of U.S. commanders. He also called for intensified efforts to train Iraqi security forces, U.S. aid packages tied to Iraqi progress in reducing sectarian violence and new diplomacy with Syria and Iran.

Mirengoff promises an "A" to anyone who can figure out what it would mean practically on the ground. I refuse to do work for a grade over Winter Break, but it strikes me as a fine IR final exam question...for Northfield Community College (or perhaps the academically advanced St. Olaf's student). Any Dartmouth graduate who can't parse that, however, should report back to Hanover and turn his diploma back in.

Kevin McCullough wonders why "Obama's evil" is on Rick Warren's pulpit, with the laundry list of conservative complaints: Obama is pro-choice. Obama is pro-gay equality. Obama wants to punish hate crimes as hate crimes. It was such a well-constructed rant that it was effectively plagerized by Marshall Will Kane (a word to the wise--when undertaking hatchet jobs, creativity is more important than repetition. How do you know what mud will stick when you're all flinging the same stuff?)!

Ben Shapiro says that he's a "radical masquerading as a moderate", but his examples of Obama's radicalism merely show how difficult it will be to make the tag stick. This is "hatred" of President Reagan:
[I was] disturbed ... by Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 ... unconvinced ... by his John Wayne, 'Father Knows Best' pose, his policy by anecdote, and his gratuitous assaults on the poor.

Here's "sliming" Rush Limbaugh:
[I]f Rush Limbaugh's listeners enjoy hearing him call me 'Osama Obama,' my attitude is, let them have their fun.

Listen to him "insult" evangelicals:
Their fervor has gone mainstream. There are various explanations for this success, from the skill of evangelicals in marketing religion to the charisma of their leaders.

Zing! Or how about some classic "Marxist trash"?
I simply believe that those of us who have benefited most from this new economy can best afford to shoulder the obligation of ensuring every American child has a chance for that same success.

I can see him losing the middle already.

Keep trying, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why Not North Korea?

Ann Applebaum has a column up asking why the existence of mass concentration camps in North Korea does not evoke the same outrage in the West as does the genocide in Darfur. Isaac Chotiner distills her argument down to this position:
Applebaum is right to argue that American and European activists are probably much more willing, because of their politics, to be moved by cases of genocide where putting an end to such violence does not directly benefit American security or economic interests.

I don't think that's right at all, and I think it displays a sort of paranoia about the American left that is more befitting of the far right than Applebaum and TNR.

First, obviously, there is the fact that what is going on Darfur is qualitatively worse than the activities in North Korea. This isn't to minimize them, only to say that while brutal concentration camps are bad, a systematic policy of ethnic extermination is worse. However, I think the big issue is one of perceived capabilities. When I was asked by some of my more liberal cohorts why I supported a war in Iraq but not North Korea (that's right, it was far more likely to be my liberal friends than my conservative ones who brought it up), I would invariably respond that "ought implies can," and while an intervention in Iraq (and Darfur) was very much plausible from a military perspective, an intervention in North Korea would be a full-scale war of the type we haven't fought since Vietnam. Now, it may well be that I underestimated the degree of "can" available in Iraq. But insofar as Darfur versus North Korea goes, I think the point still applies: liberal activists see a solution to Darfur that would not commit ourselves to the type of activity that the Iraq catastrophe has discredited, whereas in North Korea there seems to be precious little we can do to stop the concentration camps that would not imply unacceptable loss of life and treasure on our end.

Moreover, I think the descriptive argument about how Sudan is not a country we have "interests" in and is not tagged with any of the buzzwords (communism, radical Islam) that provoke controversy in the modern political sphere is wrong as well. We do have interests in Sudan, both in terms of oil wealth and because we have an interest in checking China's influence in the region. The existence of these interests may not be as widely known as comparable ones in Iran or North Korea, but it is just wrong to say that a Darfur intervention would not objectively aid the US or step on the toes of another great power. Furthermore, it is unclear why these issues would not be presented more frequently in the public eye as Darfur rose in prominence. A similar claim can be made as to the "buzzwords" argument: Sudan, after all, is a Muslim state, and has tried very hard to link Western or international intervention in Darfur with charges of anti-Islamic bias and neo-colonialism. Why haven't these allegations had more of an impact, given the left's continued ambivalence towards charges of imperialism and anti-Islamic sentiment?

I think, then, that the focus on Darfur is not a manifestation of relief that it does nothing for the West, but is rather rooted in an honest and genuine recognition of how uniquely appalling the activities there are, and a firm belief that the US and the world could be doing much more to stop them. Now, history will judge us based on whether we act on those beliefs, or simply lay them aside as we have so many times before.