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April 19, 2007

Filed under: politics»issues»defense

Well, that sounds promising

Website Editor and Writer needed for counter-terrorist website focusing on Islamic terrorism and extremism in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Office is located in Washington DC. Candidate must be able to write under pressure and deadlines, write unsigned editorials and op-eds, edit articles and testimonies. Knowledge of Islamic terror groups and their front organizations in the US a plus. Competitive plus salary. Experience on daily newspaper or wire service an additional plus.

Seems perfectly reasonable and aboveboard to me. Let me just dig out my copy of Islamic Terror Organizations and their Front Groups: The ACLU, Hillary Clinton, and Hollywood before I fill out my application.

I don't know what I find more appalling, the sheer paranoia dripping from every word or the fact that it will probably be a raving success.

February 11, 2007

Filed under: politics»issues»education

What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

I was going to do a review at some point of Michael Berube's What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? But then I left it in the floor of my car, and the dog threw up all over it. So I'm not really keen on flipping through it to marshal my thoughts right now.

But it's good. Incredibly well-written, subtle, and evocative of my best college classes. It's not even really a partisan book--almost more of a primer on anti-foundationalist literary theory, which serves as an introduction to the "liberal arts criticism" perspective. That sounds horrifying, I know, but while Berube may claim that he's only an average professor, he handles this material with a deftness that's really something to see. I think it's probably one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a long time, and I recommend it highly.

Apparently I don't think it's good enough to brave dog vomit for a decent review. But to be fair, there are very few things for which I would confront the contents of Wallace's stomach. There's no shame in that.

January 5, 2007

Filed under: politics»issues»education

Alexandria's Just Down the Road, Actually

Wheat writes:

Calling anyone in Fairfax with a library card
Thursday, 1.4.2007
An amusing editorial about a new initiative of the Fairfax County Public Library system to do away with any books that don't get checked out regularly, classics included.

I tell you. Take a few weeks off the news and the net in general and the world reveals itself as the strange place it really is. I'm feeling the strong desire to stick my nose back in a book and pretend I don't notice.

I respond, in comments:

Speaking as someone with a Fairfax library card, it doesn't bother me much.

As someone pointed out, the point of a library is the democratization of the written word, so that people who can't afford to spend $12-$25 on a new book can still read and keep up with the cultural zeitgeist. Miller claims that book chains bombard customers with "inexpensive choices" including mp3 audiobooks, which are words spoken by someone who has never known the financial crunch where a $7 paperback--much less a trade or a hardback, whether it be pulp or fine literature. I spend $10-$50 on books every week nowadays, but at one point I had to scratch for change in order to afford reading material. It's not a cheap habit. If someone wants to read the classics, there are several used bookstores around Fairfax Co. where they can pick up a copy for a buck fifty, or Amazon will sell used books at about that price.

John J. Miller is the same guy who wrote the "top 50 conservative rock songs" that was roundly ridiculed a few months back. In that light, I'm particularly drawn to where he writes: "There's a fine line between an institution that aims to edify the public and one that merely uses tax dollars to subsidize the recreational habits of bookworms." (emphasis mine) In other words, Miller feels like he (and conservative pundits like him) stand at the bulwark of determining where good and bad culture lie--particularly when it comes to those who can't afford books on a regular basis. How dare those layabouts read a "Mitch Albom tearjerker" or "whatever fickle taste" they might have, instead of dedicating themselves to the manly prose of Hemingway?

Maybe it's my librarian father rubbing off on me, but I think we (and by we, I particularly mean the culture warriors at Opinion Journal) should be less concerned about what people are reading, and more encouraging toward the development of a reading habit in the first place. ...and, sweet mother of mercy, this probably should have been a blog post and not a comment.

November 9, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»economy

What We Learn When We Learn Economics

Mark Thoma at Economist's View recommends (with good reason) this article (warning: PDF) on the unspoken biases of undergraduate economics. Christopher Hayes, the author, notes that the concepts of free markets and market efficiency remain unchallenged in basic economic classes, while complications like externalities and irrational behavior--you know, the considerations of real people--are reserved for the advanced and graduate-level students.

This explains a lot of extreme free-trade rhetoric from amateur pundits. It also undermines the charge of left-wing indoctrination centered on universities.

November 6, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»philanthropy

Anger is a Gift

My friend Madmunk at Philanthropica returned to writing about a month ago. Today, on Election Day, this post struck me (although Madmunk is writing about nonprofits and philanthropies, and not about political action):

Professionalism has its place. Humor and whimsy, I suppose, have their places, too, but so do our passions, so does our anger. And yet we continue to speak this suffocatingly reasonable vocabulary of effectiveness and accountability, this stilted professional jargon of leverage and targets and benchmarks. Do you people ever get angry?

October 2, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»constitutional

The Myth of Church and State

How's this for a lead-in paragraph:

With little public attention or even notice, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act - H.R. 2679 - provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

In completely unrelated news, Jesus Camp opened at the E Street Cinema in DC this weekend, and has gotten fairly good reviews. It's a documentary examining a fundamentalist training camp where kids are trained to take back America for Christ through a series of disturbingly militant metaphors.

Also completely unrelated: When I was in high school, a Pentecostal fundamentalist actually exorcised me. We were waiting for rehearsal for Godspell, where I was going to play Judas of all people, and the conversation turned to evolution and then to religion. Naive as I was, I couldn't believe that someone actually wouldn't believe evolution, but I was a little more shocked when the girl told me that her faith gave her spiritual powers.

"Powers?" I said. "What kind of powers?" I don't remember if handling snakes was part of her answer, but I remember that there was something about healing, and then she noted that she could "see and cast out demons."

"Demons?" "Yes." "You really believe that?" "Yes."

So I told her to go and knock herself out with the casting, at which point she began speaking in tongues, grabbed me by the forehead, and shoved me back into the wall, then looked very proud of herself. I don't know if you've ever been around people who speak in tongues, but if you're not a part of that culture it's terrifying. It sounds silly, but it's not. Those who believe in these kinds of things are not kidding around. They have an agenda.

Just a few unrelated facts. Nothing to worry about here.

August 13, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»defense

Red Alert

Travelers rejoice! The United States Threat Level, as maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, has been moved from Red to Orange for air travel. Passengers are no longer Severely Threatened, but may now take comfort in being Highly Threatened.

With all this Threat Level activity, I had to check my calendar to make sure we weren't at mid-term elections already.

Which is not to imply that the Department of Homeland Security has become simply a politicized bureau of fearmongering for the purposes of a Republican party desparately gripping the reins of power. (After Katrina, do I even have to imply that?) But in my personal observations, a funny fact has emerged: anxiety at terrorism seems to increase with distance from likely targets. John Rogers has noticed the same thing:

I am absolutely buffaloed by the people who insist I man up and take it in the teeth for the great Clash of Civilizations -- "Come ON, people, this is the EPIC LAST WAR!! You just don't have the stones to face that fact head-on!" -- who at the whiff of an actual terror plot will, with no apparent sense of irony, transform and run around shrieking, eyes rolling and Hello Kitty panties flashing like Japanese schoolgirls who have just realized that the call is coming from inside the house!

I may have shared too much there.

To be honest, it's not like I'm a brave man. I'm not. At all. It just, well, it doesn't take that much strength of will not to be scared. Who the hell am I supposed to be scared of? Joseph Padilla, dirty bomber who didn't actually know how to build a bomb, had no allies or supplies, and against whom the government case is so weak they're now shuffling him from court to court to avoid the public embarassment of a trial? The fuckwits who were going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches? Richard Reid, the Zeppo of suicide bombers? The great Canadian plot that had organized over the internet, was penetrated by the Mounties on day one, and we were told had a TRUCK FULL OF EXPLOSIVES ... which they had bought from the Mounties in a sting operation but hey let's skip right over that. Or how about the "compound" of Christian cultists in Florida who were planning on blowing up the Sears Tower with ... kung fu.

A while back, we had some people running around the DC metro area with sniper rifles, taking potshots at completely random people. At the time, I was still at GMU, which has an open campus. And yet, what could you do? Not go to gas stations? Freak out every time you saw a white van? There was really nothing a single individual could do to stop the snipers from killing them while they walked back from Home Depot, except stay in the house all day watching The View.

Needless to say, Barbara Walters and Star Jones didn't really see an increase in viewership.

There are signs here at the World Bank, explaining that--in the event of a chemical or biological weapon attack--the air filtration system can keep us safe for something like four hours. They do not explain, probably because it goes without saying, that not only are we the World Bank, a huge symbol of international globalization, but we are one block from the Bush White House. I am not filled with an incredible feeling of safety when I consider that fact, personally.

But I still come in to work. We all do.

Whereas out where my parents live, in a town of 220 people and a pair of chihuahuas, the volunteer fire department has actually used town funds to take anti-terrorism courses. A couple hundred people, two hours from DC, without even a stop light, and yet to listen to them, you'd think Osama Bin Laden himself was going to personally crash a plane into the Handy Mart. ("They hate us for our freedom and our easily accessible beef jerky.")

It does my heart good to see attitudes coming around on the Iraq war. Honestly. I am so happy to see that apparently storming into another country on a flimsy pretext and attempting forceful democratic reform was perhaps a losing proposition. It would have been nice if we'd learned that lesson before a couple thousand US soldiers and who knows how many Iraqis were killed, but let's try and look on the bright side. One of these sides must be brighter. Just keep turning it over until you find it.

But it would also be nice if we could get back to the root cause of that policy: the way the rest of the country freaks out every time that some Al-Qaeda wannabe manages to tie his shoes together. A foreign policy driven by fear and reactionary panic is not a good way to run a country. Maybe we could give cynicism a shot instead.

July 24, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»economy»corporate

The Case for Breaking Up Wal-Mart

by Barry C. Lynn, reprinted at Alternet from Harpers. Found, as so often with these kinds of economics bits, via Mark Thoma.

April 23, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»immigration

Keeping America Empty

For my own future reference: US English founder and virulent anti-immigrant crusader James Tanton profiled in In These Times.

April 10, 2006

Filed under: politics»issues»immigration

La Marcha

To non-NoVA residents, I apologize, because this image won't mean much. I hope that it's large enough for the few of you living near me to make it out. This is the Vienna/Fairfax metro station yesterday, around 4pm. As you probably know, immigration rallies took place around the country, and DC's was especially large, if the news counts are correct. What you're seeing in the picture is a line that stretches almost out to the parking garage from inside the station, I'd say at least a quarter mile long, and 3 to 4 people wide. It was pretty unbelievable in person.

Future - Present - Past