Two Left Feet

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, August 30, 2002


I was feeling annoyed at the cartographical world yesterday, so I did some searching on Google. First, I looked up "map projections". I found a few sites explaining in great depth (probably greater depth than I needed) the many different projections available for the many purposes people have for maps. Of course, it was then that I remembered the fact that there's no one "perfect" projection--they're all distorted somehow. I think I knew this subconsciously, but I didn't want to admit it. I wanted to know which was the best map. The realization that my quest was in vain put me in a foul mood, perhaps because it reminded me of the way the rest of the world (as opposed to its representation on a piece of paper) is messed up, without one solution to fix everything.

But I got over this funk and decided to see if there was any rhetoric online about maps and their evilness. So I searched for (is "googled" a word?) "racist maps". Sadly, all I got was this, which was depressingly unbiased, describing how the controversy between the "racist" Mercator projection and the Peters projection was all bunk. I don't know much about the controversy, but that sounds reasonable, given that, as I said above, there's no "perfect" projection. My particular bone to pick with the maps I've been finding around the house (even the newer ones) isn't the projection used, but the fact that every single map apportions a significantly greater part to the Northern Hemisphere than to the Southern. It makes South America, Australia and sub-Saharan Africa seem like an afterthought to the great saga of Eurasia and North America. Granted, people live on land, and there's a lot less of it in the Southern Hemisphere (not counting Antarctica, and people don't live on it permanently anyway), but clearly when you're placing northern lands much closer to the middle than they actually are, it's going to change the look of the map.

So, still disappointed with the lack of rhetoric flying back and forth on the great issue of map projections, I looked up "imperialist maps". I found this (Iranian Islam and the Faustian Bargain of Western Modernity ), which has almost nothing to do with maps, but is an interesting read nonetheless. I don't have any expertise on the subject; he could be lying through his teeth or be twisting facts for some motive. On the other hand, maybe it's somewhat accurate. Either way, it too steers clear of rhetoric and diatribe. What is this world (in any projection) coming to?


An article in The New Yorker about traffic, how we should deal with it, etc., etc. Good reading. (Link via Tom Tomorrow.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2002


I went to the dentist yesterday, and after being gently chided for my bad dental habits, I received a bounty of products--Listerine, floss, toothbrushes, toothpaste. All in all, quite generous of my dentist (I have to wonder if those are just free samples from the companies, though).

I suppose it's just my environmentalist bent, but I was surprised and rather horrified at the layers of packaging on a small (3 fl. oz.) bottle of Listerine. Innermost was the glass bottle with a hard plastic cap, with a soft plastic shell on the cap that I had to rip off when I first opened it. I can deal with that. But this entire thing was placed inside something akin to a the carboard inside a toilet paper roll. And then that was covered with a paper skin advertising Listerine's great qualities. Is this really necessary?


Never underestimate the ability of a company to treat its workers as sub-human:

Under a policy implemented in October, line workers at the Jim Beam Brands Co. plant may use the
restroom only during lunch and two other scheduled daily breaks, one before lunch and one after. They
also are allowed one unscheduled toilet break per day, and can be disciplined for taking more, starting
with a warning and escalating to dismissal after six incidents...

Kelley [the union's local president] also said some women employees were told they should report to the company's human
resources department when their menstrual cycles begin, since that might require additional trips to the

In its appeal, Jim Beam said its break policy ''effectively balances the medical needs of employees with
the company's need to maintain a productive workforce.''

(Full story here, via August J. Pollak.)

Wow. So the company admits that it cares more about how productive their workforce is than whether the workers can be dignified human beings. And using the term "medical needs" seems to signify that Jim Beam only cares about the workers as far as keeping them from having any kind of illness or injury. As long as they're able to function as the cogs in the Jim Beam machine, it's all right with the company.

I remember similar attitudes from teachers and administrators at my middle school and my high school. In middle school, everyone had a sheet that the teacher had to sign in the proper date and period, so that they could see whether you were always going in the same class or the same period. Never mind that your body might just have a similar schedule each day. I think I've heard of teachers who never let any students go to the bathroom during their classes, and I remember some times in high school when there was only one boys' bathroom unlocked (the administration had some crazy reason for keeping them locked) in the whole high school (1100-1200 students total). Now, there might be some argument that you need to do that sort of thing in school, though I don't think it's a very strong one. But for adults?

Tuesday, August 27, 2002


A friend of mine sent me this column about global warming a while ago. Nothing new, but it was definitely an interesting read.

It got me thinking about the widespread opposition in corporate America (and therefore mainstream politics and the mainstream media) to the scientific consensus on global warming. Certainly a lot of people just do what their bosses tell them to, or follow the culture around them. But I wonder if those at the top of the corporate ladder (the sort that will actually get something significant out of the Bush tax cut) have a different view. I guess I'd kind of assumed that there was some kind of mass denial going on, that people thought it was being exaggerated, and so they didn't want to give up their money for something that might not come true.

But it occurred to me that some of these way-upper-class types might believe in global warming but not really care that much. The administration report from earlier this summer said we'll have to adapt, and these people have the resources to do so, to move to the places that will be less affected by global warming, if there are any. And of course, ignoring and/or violating the regulations that are put in place will get them even more money that they can use if they need to relocate.

I don't have any evidence of this, and if anyone actually thinks this way, it's probably at least partially subconscious. All I'm saying is that it's consistent with a morality (or amorality, if you like) that says it's all right to give corporations huge tax breaks and subsidies, and let very very rich people keep even more of their money, while at the same time letting people starve and go homeless, letting schools crumble, and polluting our common environment for private profit.

Monday, August 26, 2002


Today, as I was minding my own business between classes, an older woman approached me and said something to the effect of, "Psssst...hey, kid, want a....socialist newspaper??!!" I reached for it eagerly but she pulled it back, hissing, "Actually, we're charging 50 cents per copy." I had no money, so she walked away.

All that I can say about the incident is that it seems rather odd to charge people money for socialist newspapers.


I was reading Tom DeLay's speech supporting "regime change" in Iraq, and I felt like sharing my Mystery-Science- Theater-3000-style musings on the speech. Actually, I think my musings are a bit more bitter than MST3K's, but I'll try to rein it in. :) I'm cutting out a lot, but I don't think the rest of the speech adds much.

DeLay begins very grandly:

Every generation will be tested.

Every generation will be called to defend our freedom.

And every generation must summon the courage to
disregard the timid counsel of those who would mortgage
our security to the false promises of wishful thinking and

All right--every generation will be tested to see if they go along with pro-war propaganda, check. Every generation will be called to defend our freedom from over-reaching attorneys general, check. And every generation must summon the courage to disregard the timid counsel of those who would mortgage our securities of free speech, peaceable assembly, and due process to the false promises of wishful thinking and appeasement. So far I'm in total agreement.

Given our reliance on foreign commerce and international
business, Houston will only prosper if Americans are trading
and traveling.

That`s why I led the fight to give President Bush Trade
Promotion Authority and the power to open new markets for
American goods and services.

Ugh, "fast-track". But I'm getting off-track here.

And more than that, it would mean the abandonment of our
destiny to spread the blessings of democracy and defend

Wow, manifest destiny. I thought that went out of style in the nineteenth century. Not to mention, isn't democracy based on asking the opinions of the people who will be affected by the policies involved? Obviously, it's not really possible to hold an election in Iraq right now, but doesn't it seem suspicious that we're claiming to bring our great gifts of democracy and freedom to Iraq without really asking whether the people there are happy with the idea of us killing lots of them and blowing up lots of their buildings just to oust Hussein? Of course, this is all based on the assumption that the end result of an invasion would be a democracy. More on that later.

The foundation of American society rests on a set of
enduring, defining values: Faith in God, the sanctity of
human life, the existence of right and wrong, and the
certain knowledge that we’re all ultimately accountable for
our actions.

Unless you're a megacorporation that's donated lots of money to the major parties, in which case none of the above apply. I won't even get into the theistic tone of the first "value".

From our commitment to these timeless truths flow the
concepts that we define as democratic values: Free
speech; a free press, free elections, the rule of law; and
the right to change our government peacefully. These are
the bulwarks of liberty.

Wow, irony. Granted, free speech here is still greater than many places in the world, but I get the sinking feeling that it's on Ashcroft's list of things he's trying to get rid of. Didn't Ari Fleischer tell the press to "watch what they say" about Bush and the "war on terrorism"? Free elections? Does DeLay not remember the presidential election of 2000? Of course, I'm sure he thinks they were free. Rule of law: unless you have lots of money (see above). And the right to change our government peacefully? While I'm not sure that the Portland protests were entirely peaceful, it seems that the police way over-reacted. Sadly, these are the bulwarks of liberty.

Our principles compel us to stand with Cuban democratic
reformers against Fidel Castro’s brutal dictatorship. That’s
why we deny Castro’s engine of repression the added
resources he would control if we lifted the embargo.

Our principles mean we stand with the men and women of
Israel as they fight to find peace and security under a siege
of hostility and terrorist violence.

Now I'm willing to admit that there can be honest differences of opinions about the embargo on Cuba and the problems in Israel and Palestine. But...this is too much. While I'm not too keen on giving Castro more resources, obviously an embargo doesn't help democratic reformers. Since reformers are clearly not friends of the government, and since the government probably has a pretty strong grip on whatever resources are still coming into Cuba, I'm guessing those in favor of democracy are not profiting from the embargo. Also, if large portions of Cuba are suffering from poverty, it's going to be hard to instigate any kind of democratic revolt, much less hold together a stable democracy. I don't know if lifting the embargo is the answer, but I'm pretty sure it's not helping democracy.

And to talk about Israel as if it's under seige when it's been aggressive--occupying the West Bank, et al? Again, I'm not trying to say that I know a good solution or that Israel is entirely the villain and the Palestinians the victims. But let's try to be a little accurate. If "our principles" force us to do these things, I don't like our principles.

The cause we champion transcends race and religion. And
the greatness of our democracy is demonstrated by the
diversity of the people we liberate. We lead the forces of
good in the battle between freedom and fanaticism.

I get kind of scared when a powerful politician starts to use phrases like "forces of good" in a serious context. I suppose it's normal pro-war rhetoric, but disturbing nonetheless.

[Bush] said you`re either with us or you`re with the terrorists.
And by properly defining this battle, President Bush won
broad support from the American people.

They understand what`s at stake. And they strongly back
the President`s campaign to destroy the coalition of terror
before it strikes again.

So now the President's simplistic, divisive statement of good-vs-evil is a good thing, though I suppose it always has been for DeLay. And does DeLay really think that there's a "coalition of terror" out there united by anything more than a common hatred of the U.S. and contempt for human life? Apparently he does, since he thinks it's something that can be destroyed "before it strikes again", as if there's a central headquarters or something like that.

These apologists for idleness would have us believe that
consensus is a first principle. But if we can`t agree that
terrorists murdering innocent civilians should be actively
opposed, this path offers nothing but immobilizing confusion.

This doesn't seem to have much to do with Iraq. Who's disputing that terrorists murdering innocent civilians should be actively opposed? But "actively" doesn't imply "by means of invasion".

Who doubts that terrorists seek tools to do grave harm to
the United States? And, once a madman like Saddam
Hussein has nuclear weapons, there`s no telling when an
American city will be targeted at his direction or with his

Where does the idea come from that Hussein is a madman? Ruthless dictator, yes. Morally bankrupt, quite possibly. But crazy, in that he'd sacrifice power and possibly his own life just to hit the U.S., I don't think so.

[Hussein] didn’t disarm. He harassed and denied access to UN
inspectors whenever they approached the truth. He
manufactured Anthrax. He made VX nerve gas.

And he applied the substantial resources of his country to
develop nuclear weapons and stockpile chemical and
biological weapons.

I think most of this is true of the U.S., too. And moral equivalence does apply--if you're going to use any of these points as moral reasons to oust Hussein, you have to be willing to see if your morality matches up. If you're talking about serving the interests of America, that's one thing. But morality is disinterested. Your actions have to prove that your intentions are pure; you don't get to excuse your actions because your intentions are supposed to be pure.

Over the past 30 years, Saddam’s militarism has been a
constant danger to Middle East peace.

Then why is every Middle East nation other than Israel (including Kuwait) balking at the idea of an invasion?

I defy the architects of complacency, to explain to America,
a single instance in which a strategy of international
neglect tamed a militaristic regime.

I'm sure if I were more of a history buff, I could come up with one. Regardless, there's a middle ground between "neglect" and all-out war.

Their [those opposed to the Gulf War] reluctance to confront evil only empowered Saddam
to prowl the Middle East, aiding terrorist groups and
developing weapons of mass destruction.

Prowl the Middle East? Huh? I don't think he's talking about the war between Iraq and Iran, in which the U.S. supported Iraq. So he must be talking about Kuwait. A violation of international law, to be sure. But it's not "prowling". And aiding terrorist groups? Is there any evidence of this?

There’s no doubt that if New York had been spared the first
blow and September 11 had instead hit Paris or Berlin,
America`s war on terror would have gone forward

I really have to disagree here. Europe has seen quite a bit of terrorism within its borders, and we never acted before, complacent in the idea that "it won't happen to us". Granted, September 11 was on a huge scale, but I really don't think the U.S. would have acted as it did had the same thing happened in Europe. We might still support whichever countries of Europe decided to retaliate, but I don't think the majority of the American people would have supported an invasion of Afghanistan because of an attack on an ally's soil. Americans tend to be isolationist.

Removing Saddam would send a clear and unambiguous
signal to every other state sponsor of terror: “Shape up,
because the price of subsidizing terror is now more than you
can afford.”

Returning their government to the people of Iraq would
signal democratic reformers around the region that the
United States is deeply committed to expanding freedom.

The juxtaposition of these two paragraphs is interesting. For the most part, the administration and its supporters seem to have avoided using the word "terrorism" to describe the state-sponsored type, perhaps because the U.S. has engaged in a fair amount of that itself. And if the people of Iraq were to win power in their nation by the end of this, that would be a great thing. But it doesn't seem likely. Afghanistan has nominally returned to democracy, but even its official leader was essentially appointed by the U.S. And outside the capital of Kabul, he doesn't seem to exert much power.

As Americans, we inherit a higher obligation than placating
contemporary opinion.

Is this supposed to mean that the government doesn't have to listen to the people? Or does "contemporary opinion" refer to the rest of the world? Either way, the "we don't care what anyone else says" overtones are a little scary.

For in the last analysis, we`ll answer, not to the fickle
whims of the international community, but to posterity.

Agreed. I just hope lots of innocent people don't have to die before we know what posterity has to say about this.

Here's another, slightly more cohesive reply to DeLay's speech.

Saturday, August 24, 2002


An interesting commentary on globalization that ends up supporting neither the protesters nor the IMF, WTO, and World Bank. I'm not sure if I agree with all of it, but it seems to have a well-thought-out point of view that doesn't rely on the rhetoric of either side. It's quite long, but I'm not sure if it'll be available online after they publish tomorrow's paper, so if you want to read it, you might want to do it now.

Friday, August 23, 2002


An open letter to America from an outraged Canadian, and Wil Wheaton's eloquent commentary on it. Wil's sentiment--that the letter is over the top, inflammatory, and probably inaccurate, but that the underlying theme has some value--seems to be the response I'm seeing from most left-leaners (though I've only read a few). I guess I give the letter-writer a little more credit than most, but I agree that such zealous rhetoric without much evidence isn't very helpful, and in fact gives hawkist unilateralist types a convenient straw man to tear down. Still, if this pushes even a few people to give more thought to American foreign policy than "They hate us because we're free", I'd be happy. Here's hoping....

* * * * * * * *

The Slacktivist defends a good show. I hadn't thought it possible, but my respect for the Slacktivist grew even more today.

And another great piece about an interview on Donahue with 90-year-old journalist Studs Terkel. The interview with Terkel is great--read that--but if you don't read the transcript of the interview, at least read the Slacktivist's commentary. I'd quote it, but it's best read in full.

* * * * * * * *

Marines face obstacles in urban warfare. As if there weren't already lots of reasons not to invade Iraq. (I'm not going to go into any lengthy discussion of Iraq right now--maybe some other time.) I especially liked (i.e. found incredibly disturbing) this conclusion to the article:

Finally, the assault on “al-George” made clear that
attacking cities without having a big numerical advantage is a
risky endeavor. More-hawkish members of the Bush
administration have suggested that a U.S. force of 80,000
would be enough to defeat Mr. Hussein’s 400,000-member
army and 100,000-strong Republican Guard. They’re
counting on the army being dispirited and the rest of the force
turning on Mr. Hussein at some point in the fighting.

In the assault on “al-George,” however, it took 980
Marines to roust just 160 rebels from urban terrain. And
despite wielding a 6-to-1 advantage, the Marine force still
took about 100 casualties.

Don't worry, though. If we do engage in urban warfare in Iraq, you can rest easy knowing that none of the hawks in the administration will have to worry about their sons dying in the streets of Baghdad. At least, if the past holds any clue for today.

* * * * * * * *

Rep. Tom DeLay, House Majority Whip, speaks out in favor of the war and says, among other things:

"The U.S. State Department would do well to remember that it answers to the president of the United
States and not to the European Union," he said.

Representative DeLay and said President would do well to remember that they answer to the people of the United States and not to their own petty interests.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002


A letter to the editor of the Daily Tar Heel concerning the controversy over the summer reading book.

Monday, August 19, 2002


Some interesting stories...

These are both via Cursor.

First, an article in Salon about factoring damage to the environment into economic calculations. What, you mean the earth isn't just an inexhaustible resource which can be wantonly destroyed and contaminated without ill effect? Who'd've thunk? (Brief selection below; go read the whole article--it's interesting.)

Costanza has found that environmental protection is a very good investment opportunity. In a new study, published in the August 9 issue of the journal Science, he finds that for every dollar spent on conserving the world's remaining intact natural habitats, society will get at least 100-fold payback in nature's services.

There could definitely be problems associated with giving everything an economic value and relying solely on that value to make decisions. (What if something doesn't have an easily measured economic value, for example, or we don't find out about that value until it's too late?) The problem would seem to occur only with undue reliance upon the economic figures, a problem that seems to already be with us among some people anyway. Maybe this kind of research will help to get through to those worshippers of the bottom line. After all, the true bottom line is the planet we're living on--if we lose that, all the economic forecasts in the world won't be much help. The ideas for factoring possible environmental degradation into cost-benefit analyses also look interesting; they might end up being a good balance between environmentalism and social justice issues. I'm going to try to find the Science article, maybe at my local library.

* * * * * * * *

Here's a story about a forensic linguistics expert who claims that he has identified two suspects for the anthrax mailings last year, both with extensive experience in U.S. intelligence agencies. I'm most intrigued here by the forensic linguistics itself. Presumably, the researcher has some serious evidence behind his findings, but the article seemed to portray very vague reasons for his conclusions. Maybe I can look into this more.

* * * * * * * *

The Slacktivist has written an elegant lampoon of the idea that you somehow need scientific data to prove that poverty exists, and, yes, the poor are people too! Once there, scroll down for a celebration of Ogden Nash and up for some interesting thoughts on Time and sustainable development. It's good!

Sunday, August 18, 2002


First, a correction about the connection between the author of the article cited by Steven den Beste and UNC. The author, John Fonte, doesn't work for UNC, as far as I can tell; the connection is that his article is due to be published by a journal put out by a department at UNC, and that journal has articles on the UNC servers. Not that it's that important, but in the interests of accuracy (or the closest I can seem to get to accuracy right now), I thought I'd say that.

Second, there's a contest to write a 300-word "op-ad" about September 11 for It looks interesting. (Right now, the link is broken, but it was working a day or two ago, when I first read about it. Hopefully, it'll be fixed soon.)

Friday, August 16, 2002


Time to guess who's more insane...

Choice #1: A county in Georgia might allow alternative theories to evolution, such as "creation science", to be taught in public-school science classes (link via Hesiod). The credulousness (credulity?) of the school board members (and the author of the article) amazes me. Oh, and take a look at that poll to the right. As of this posting, the people who have taken the poll favor teaching "creation science" in the classroom 51% to 49%. At least they also prefer teaching evolution 52% to 48%. (There's a group--currently 3%--that favor teaching both, while "creation science" and evolution alone have 48% and 49% respectively.) I'm not sure whether to be happy that slightly more people prefer evolution, or just very afraid that the subject is being discussed at all. I think I'll choose afraid.

Choice #2: Steven den Beste has figured out what makes those darn elitist leftie (EEEEVIL!!) guys tick. Oh, I'm sorry, the correct term is "transnational progressivism". My humble apologies. I'll try to comment on this later, when I've gotten some sleep and have stopped laughing. In the meantime, Max Sawicky has some rational responses.

(I haven't had time to check it out, but it looks like the article Mr. den Beste gleaned this information from came from UNC. All that goodwill from standing up to the right wing is going down the drain. ::sigh:: Obviously, the person is entitled to his/her views, but if they're anything like den Beste's, one would hope that they were a little more focused, and well...right.)

Monday, August 12, 2002


A few links...

My computer crashed when I was almost done with this post before, and I lost everything. Grrr...::glares evilly at computer::

First off, a truly enlightening column by Terry Jones, formerly of Monty Python (link via August Pollak). It's good to see humor is still an effective way of viewing the world:

To prevent terrorism by dropping bombs on Iraq is such an
obvious idea that I can't think why no one has thought of it
before. It's so simple. If only the UK had done something similar
in Northern Ireland, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in today.

* * * * * * * *

Two pieces from The American Prospect, one about double standards in bankruptcy legislation, no surprise in a corporate-funded Congress, and the other about how the Democratic Party (or at least the left) needs to get back to principles and partisanship:

For the better part of two decades now, Democrats have operated according to so
timorous a model of partisanship that they no longer know how to fight. They know
how to argue policy. They do that quite well, and indeed they often win those
arguments, if for no other reason than that so many of the policies Republicans
support harken back (if I may) to the Gilded Age. But when it comes to hardball
partisan politics, they've been fighting a raging fire with a garden hose. They've been
afraid, even petrified, of arguing politics, of stepping outside the comparatively safe
zone of policy and assertively debating the core principles that are the reason many
of them enter the civic sphere to begin with. Arguing politics means challenging not
only the other side's positions but the very moral and cultural underpinnings of those
positions. It means using emotional arguments to link the opposition to a set of
values alien to this country's best traditions. It means finding the symbolic
representations of the enemy's masked agendas and exposing them. It means not
only attacking the other side but defending one's own side (and not with statistics,
but with moral arguments advanced with conviction). And, finally, it means doing all
this on a permanent basis, day after day, with lots of warm bodies standing next to
one another, saying the same thing over and over, until the media has to cover it. But
all these are things the Democrats no longer know how to do.

Although I am wary of partisanship and getting too focused on particular ideas, I have to agree with this. The right has been ferociously pushing its agenda, while the left has slowly given in. Political discourse is important, but politics is (hopefully) based on principles, and sometimes we need to stand behind our principles.

Thursday, August 08, 2002


More on UNC


Down, boy...

The Rittenhouse Review has made an impassioned exhortation to favor Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) in his re-election bid, even going so far as to suggest donations to his campaign.

So far, so good. From everything I've heard, Wellstone seems to be more Green than the Green Party candidate, Ed McGaa. And with such a tight Senate, it's probably not worth risking a Republican win. Wow, a Republican-controlled Senate. ::shivers::

Then the Review starts to go a little over the edge. It resorts to what is essentially an ad hominem attack on Green Party members ("slavish followers", "weirdos"). I haven't noticed Greens being particularly more slavish than Democrats or Republicans, and since when does being a weirdo discredit one's political views?

I've only been reading the Review for about a week, but up till now, I'd found it interesting and fairly on-target. It could have taken this opportunity to actually analyze the issue of third-party politics. Despite their treatment of the issue, it's not an easy call choosing between the party whose platform most closely resembles yours and the better party of the two that are most likely to win. I haven't figured it out, and I haven't heard or read anything that really struck me as solving the dilemma.

Not to mention the weird points that the Review tries to use as evidence for its views. It essentially equates the Green Party with the Supreme Court in assigning responsibility for getting Bush into office. Hmm...let's look at that comparison: a bunch of progressives voting for someone who had a progressive platform instead of someone whose platform was anything but progressive, or a group of appointed judges becoming a partisan assembly to choose the President in a way the framers of the Constitution could never have dreamed. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that one is fulfilling the idea of representative democracy, and the other...isn't. Also, what about all those other factors in the election: Jeb Bush, Kathryn Harris, the total ineptitude of Gore in picking up states in the middle of the country (even his own)? If Gore had been able to pick up even one more state, even the least populous, he would have won. And if Nader hadn't run and Gore had won, would Gore have had any reason to even consider the progressive agenda?

Yes, Nader was probably one of the many reasons Gore lost the election. And perhaps, in retrospect, we would be better off if Nader hadn't run. But that's hindsight. If we're going to learn from history, we need to apply it to today, not just assume that everything is exactly the same. Also, apparently politics are "for real" nowadays (presumably, they weren't in the past). Oh, and another ad hominem attack ("disheveled college-aged minions")! And finally, the Green Party is only the "so-called" Green Party, according to the Review. They seem to me to be very much the actual Green Party.

The Rittenhouse Review talks about "getting real". Well, I'd say getting real has more to do with discussing issues than becoming inflamed over partisan politics. Public discourse has broken up enough already between the left and the right. Let's not add to that by breaking down the lines of communication between the left and the far left.

Update: Despite any possible hope that the Review would revert to a logical discussion of the issue, it has continued with its tone of derision, claiming that Greens need to grow thicker skins. Perhaps. The problem is that making fun of your opponents, while sometimes an effective rhetorical tool, is not a legitimate form of debate or discussion. Though I can't see the e-mails the Review received, my guess is that they weren't as juvenile as it claims; more likely, that's the only response the Review could think of. Who's being juvenile now? (The blog does make a good point about the questionable strategy of the Green Party, but, alas, it's obscured by the ugly rhetoric around it.)

Wednesday, August 07, 2002


Looks like the college attended by my esteemed colleague is under fire for that evil above all evils--trying to understand people who are different from you (link via Tom Tomorrow):

No one complained two years ago when the University of North Carolina required its incoming freshmen to read a book about the lingering effects of the Civil War, nor last year when it assigned a book about a Hmong immigrant's struggle with epilepsy and American medicine.

But this year, the university in Chapel Hill is asking all 3,500 incoming freshmen to read a book about Islam and finds itself besieged in federal court and across the airwaves by Christian evangelists and other conservatives...

To the university's faculty and some students, the dispute is about upholding UNC's tradition of academic freedom. To the university's critics, it's about maintaining America's moral backbone in the war on terrorism. And to other schools and educators across the country, it has a double lesson: demand for lectures and courses on Islam is higher than ever, but so is the sensitivity of the topic...

"Approaching the Qur'an" is "not a bad book, as far as it goes," [Family Policy Network president] Glover said. The real problem, he said, "is not the sin of the author, it's the sin of the university, which knows this book presents nothing controversial about Islam. . . . Anybody who has read this book and this book alone is still going to be ignorant about why people are killing other people in the name of Allah."

I admit that there are possible First Amendment issues here, but only if you assume that UNC is trying to advocate Islam through choosing this book. Let's be serious--this is a scholarly treatment of the holy book of one of the world's major religions, not the holy book itself. If UNC had told the incoming freshpeople to buy an edition of the Qur'an and read some of the Suras, that might have been an instance of respecting an "establishment of religion", prohibited in the First Amendment. The same would have been true if the students were being forced to read Genesis, or Matthew. But a scholarly treatment of the Bible, its interpretations, and its effects on Christians and Jews would not violate the Constitution. Nor does this book.

I have some experience with the book in question, as it was one of the readings for my freshman humanities course last year. Does it explain why some Muslims use their faith as an excuse for violence? No (not that it tries to). Good luck trying to explain what makes anyone think that an idea is worth killing people over (not to mention that there are people willing to kill for a belief in every religion, and a good many non-religious groups). When we read this book, I remember overhearing complaints from fellow students that it tried to portray Islam as a religion of peace, which it obviously wasn't, according to them. Maybe that's why we need to read books like these. A whole other civilization follows this religion, and we--as a nation and as a society--understand it so little. Must we let violence poison our understanding of a billion people? Doesn't decency require that we at least try to understand?


What punishment awaits corporate criminals?