Category ►►► Acrid Academia
November 3, 2007
The "Flag-Burning Professor" - This May Surprise You
Drudge linked a provocative article from the Bangor Daily News today; the opening paragraph is certainly an attention grabber:
A University of Maine student alleges her former professor offered extra credit to class members if they burned the American flag or the U.S. Constitution or were arrested defending free speech.
On the first day of class, associate professor Paul Grosswiler offered the credit to members of his History of Mass Communications class, according to sophomore Rebekah McDade. Disturbed by the comment, McDade dropped the class and intends to take the course again next semester with a different professor.
Now, I must confess that I always begin reading such articles in a conflicted state of mind:
- I have a natural skepticism about extreme claims like this, stemming from the fact that I have a natural, inborn skepticism about, well, everything;
- I have learnt from bitter experience over the aeons that an awful lot of stories about acrid academia that are too insane to be true -- turn out to be true.
So I typically read in a state of trepidation, because whichever way it goes, one of my deep and cherished beliefs will be crushed. Usually I just shy away and pretend I read it, so I can impress people, but really just move my eyes back and forth and think about England.
But I actually read this one; and despite the fact that at least one other student, Kathleen Dame, possibly two (an unnamed "second student"), also say they think Prof. Grosswiler offered extra credit for such, I actually find I believe the professor himself instead:
In an e-mail responding to a request for comment from the Bangor Daily News on Friday, Grosswiler said he thought McDade misunderstood the class discussion, which was intended to elicit thought about the First Amendment. He said he has held this same discussion for years without incident.
"I don’t intend for students to burn either the Constitution or the flag, and over the years hundreds of students have understood that," Grosswiler wrote.
The thing is, I can easily see how a discussion could seem clear one way to Grosswiler and equally clear the opposite way to McDade and Dame... even in a fairly precise language like English, miscommunication is the norm, not the exception.
Suppose Grosswiler said something like this. I am just now making this up; this doesn't come from any transcript, and I have no idea what he actually said -- save only that I'm sure it was less persuasive and brilliant than my own fantasy lecture below. I only offer this monologue as an illuminating "f'rinstance":
Class, I don't want you just sitting back, listening to the lecture, nodding, and regurgitating what I said. I want you to really understand how important freedom of speech is... and how sometimes you must stand up and protect it, even if it means suffering the consequences.
Our Founding Fathers understood that; when Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty or give me death," at the Virginia Convention of 1775, he wasn't being metaphorical -- he meant it quite literally. The British considered what he said about liberty to be treason and sedition, which were both capital offenses in colonial America.
Over the years, people have chosen many methods of fighting to preserve freedom of speech: Back when flag-burning against the law, many people believed the prohibition, whether state or federal, violated the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech. The most obvious way to protest was by burning the flag and getting themselves arrested; in court, they argued their cases, and eventually they won: The Supreme Court overturned the laws against flag burning.
(Other protesters only burnt the Constitution, which wasn't illegal to do; they made the same point but didn't want to risk jail time.)
Through the centuries, people have been jailed, flogged, tortured, and hanged trying to preserve the precious freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press; and that's what this communications class is about. I want you to experience this material, not just read about it. I want you to go out there and demonstrate a committment to our American liberties, which so many brave men and even women have fought and died to preserve.
Therefore, I give extra credit to students who don't just swallow what I say and spit it out onto a test paper, but actually demonstrate their understanding of the importance of speech and a free press by going out and acting on that understanding.
I don't care what approach you take, whether it's giving a speech, writing an article, or storming the Bastille. You can burn the flag or the Constitution, or you can organize a protest against Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- but do something.
And don't think you can get away with an insincere gesture that's only meant to shock and offend. Whatever you do, it must sincerely come from your heart... and believe me, after twenty years in higher education, you can't fool me: I'll know if you're just faking it, and you won't get any credit.
So whatever you choose to do, go out and show me that you really understand the importance of our essential liberties -- and you'll get extra credit. But much more important, you'll understand just a bit of what so many people have suffered for our vital -- and very American -- freedom.
Yes, I can easily picture it. Of course, Grosswiler wouldn't be as eloquent as I; on the other hand, he would know how to spell "commitment."
Such a speech might easily be misinterpreted by hysterical females (or by hysterical males, of course; I just like scandalizing the proto-feminists) as "I'll give you extra credit for burning the flag." But it would very likely also be true that no student has ever decided to burn the flag to get extra credit... or that maybe someone did, but Grosswiler thought it was completely insincere, and he denied the credit.
In any event, he is absolutely right that there was a whole freedom-of-speech crisis over flag burning, and the Supreme Court did resolve it by ruling that burning the flag was protected speech -- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989); U.S. v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990). And for once, I agree with the Court's expansion of liberties; I'm not one of those who believes that "speech" means only the verbal conveyance of ideas. The very fact, as argued by those supporting the anti-flag desecration constitutional amendment, that the American flag is a cherished national symbol means that burning it is a very effective way to demonstrate hatred of America -- or at least hatred of something the firebug thinks America is doing. There is almost no getting around the fact that this is a clear political message.
Of course, so is giving money to a political campaign; the Court disgraced itself when it upheld McCain-Feingold, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The decision was 5-4 on the most odious provisions, and goofy Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was in the majority, joining liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter.
I strongly believe that if the case were decided under today's Court, with Justice Samuel Alito instead of Sandra Day O'Connor, the BCRA would be struck down. As evidence, look at the decision in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. (2007), where Chief Justice John Roberts' harsh opinion striking down some provisions of the BCRA (related to issue ads within 30 or 60 days of an election) and expressing contempt for campaign finance regulation was joined by Justice Alito. Alas, O'Connor was still on the Court in 2003, else we would live in a freer society.
(However, I would not go so far as to say everything, including stripping and lap dances, is protected speech, however; I would look at intent, how it's exercised, and whether others were allowed their own freedom of speech -- including the freedom not to listen to your speech. Thus, if you walk into a church during services and take off all your clothes to protest the Iraq war, I say you should be arrested: First, there is no rational connection between nudity and pacifism; second, you interfered with other people's liberties -- both freedom of religious worship, obviously, but also freedom of speech... which includes the freedom not to experience someone else's "speech.")
I appear to have wandered far afield, but it's a false apparition: What constitutes "speech" is at the very heart of this controversy. Judging solely from what I read in the Bangor Daily News article, I suspect this is more or less what Professor Grosswiler was trying to convey... albeit clumsily, since he's sure to be a liberal.
I don't think he was seriously encouraging college brats to go out and burn the flag or Constitution. I think McDade overreacted; a partisan group (The Leadership Institute, which I would probably join if I were the joining sort) seized the opportunity to make hay while the iron was hot; and a newspaper saw a chance for a sensational headline.
Ergo, I wanted to put my $58,712.16 worth in before the chorus of conservatives attacking poor Prof. Grosswiler became deafening.
April 17, 2006
Bride of "Glad to See the Back of Him"
Just a fast addendum to our previous post, Glad to See the Back of Him: Sami al-Arian has indeed offered a guilty plea; but in addition to deportation, he has also agreed to serve some prison time... and he has admitted to a series of facts that clearly and unambiguously prove that al-Arian was, in fact, an operative for the Jew-hating terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
WARNING: The New York Sun has a very grabby and aggressive website; if you leave this article open even long enough to read it, the Sun will transfer you to its homepage, so you can see its "breaking news." It will do this every couple of minutes or so, even if you minimize the page and are working on other pages -- such as Movable Type's "Edit Entry" page (ahem).
I am in awe of the sheer audacity and colossal narcissism of the New York Sun: it is the Bill Clinton of newspaper websites.
Back to Sami al-Arian:
Prosecutors and Mr. Al-Arian agreed that he should be sentenced to between 46 and 57 months incarceration on one count of conspiracy to assist a group or individual on a federal government terrorist list. The judge overseeing the case, James Moody Jr., has agreed to impose a sentence in that range at a hearing still to be scheduled.
Since al-Arian has already been in custody without bail for 38 months, he should serve between eight and nineteen more; but with "a reduction for 'good time,'" which I think is like time off for good behavior, he may get an additional six months off. The earliest he could be released is June, but he might be held longer, depending on the actual sentence imposed.
He did not admit to being a leader or founder of PIJ. But among the facts he did admit to were these, each of which he steadfastly denied through his trial:
- That he was, in fact, "associated with" Palestinian Islamic Jihad;
- That he "performed services for" PIJ;
- That he definitely knew that Ramadan Shallah, Bashif Nafi, and Mazen Al-Najjar were all associated with PIJ; these men worked for al-Arian's "think tank," the World & Islam Studies Enterprise;
- That he lied to a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times about Shallah's connection with PIJ, and al-Arian's knowledge of that connection, after Shallah fled the country when he was named PIJ's secretary general.
Perhaps, at long last, those on the Left who have adamantly maintained the complete innocence of Sami al-Arian -- if they have a shred of decency left -- will finally 'fess up that al-Arian duped them. That he played them like a cheap mijwiz... thus calling into question (cough) the sagacity and judgment of said lefties.
Say, is that a Sus scrofa cristatus tooling along through the heavens?
April 15, 2006
Glad to See the Back of Him
Our old pal, former professor and PLO apologist Sami al-Arian, has evidently agreed to plead gulity to one of the counts still remaining against him and accept deportation, rather than risk trial on the nine remaining counts. Last year, a federal jury acquitted him on eight terrorisim-related charges but deadlocked on nine more.
The St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune both reported Saturday that Al-Arian had agreed to be deported after he pleads guilty to one charge.
Any plea agreement would have to be approved by a federal judge. The U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa refused to comment on the report, the newspapers said.
This trial that showed yet again why terrorism cannot effectively be fought in the courtroom: evidence must be made public, or at the very least shown to the defendant... and that may be so potentially damaging that the government simply refuses to present it -- and the defendant walks.
This is why terrorism cannot be fought as a police action.
In any event, I will be very glad to see al-Arian out of the country, having pled to at least one terrorism-related charge... which no innocent person would ever agree to do. Any faint doubts I had about his guilt will be answered if he goes through with this plea bargain.
Adios, al-Arian. Now go away.
February 20, 2006
A Top Ten List...
...That only the White House press corps could love!
So who had the worst blunder? President James Buchanan, for failing to avert the Civil War, according to a survey of presidential historians organized by the University of Louisville's McConnell Center....
Scholars who participated said Buchanan didn't do enough to oppose efforts by Southern states to secede from the Union before the Civil War.
That might be a big harsh; many argue that the war was inevitable, part of the implicate order of the Constitution, which had to avoid dealing with the problem in order to get the New England states and the Southern states on the same document together (or even in the same room together). But I'm sure the presidential scholars know more about Buchanan and his failings than I.
Here are the blunders, in order:
- James Buchanan, for failing to prevent the Civil War;
- Andrew Johnson, for allowing Reconstruction to go the way it did;
- Lyndon Johnson, for escalating the Vietnam War;
- Woodrow Wilson, for the Treaty of Versailles;
- Richard Nixon, for Watergate;
- James Madison, for the War of 1812;
- Thomas Jefferson, for the Embargo Act of 1807;
- John Kennedy, for the Bay of Pigs;
- Ronald Reagan, for the Iran-Contra affair;
- Bill Clinton, for the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Clearly, the criterion they used was that the mistake had to be egregious, and it had to have very severe negative consequences for the nation... or in the Clinton case, at least for the presidency. This is why, e.g., Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Supreme Court didn't make the cut: however bad an idea it was, it didn't work, and there were no significant negative consquences either for the country or FDR.
I certainly don't agree with all of these -- in particular, the last two: Reagan's decision to sell arms, not to Ayatollah Khomeini's faction but to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's, and use the money to keep the Contras going in Nicaragua, eventually resulted in two things: the Contras survived long enough to force elections, in which the Sandinista Stalinists were ousted (they did a big land grab on the way out, further discrediting them); and Rafsanjani's group survived as a (slightly) more moderate faction after Khomeini's death.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ballot-stuffing victory over Rafsanjani dissipated any benefit from Rafsanjani surviving; but that still leaves the survival of the Contras as a palpable benefit. At worst, Reagan's decision was an attempted bank-shot that sank one ball but not the other. And if Rafsanjani had been a little stronger, he might have ended up Supreme Rule instead of Ayatollah Ali Khameni in 1989, which would have been a much better thing. Reagan took a shot, and it was partially successful.
And as far as Clinton's inclusion, I really think that's stretching it. His presidency was so inconsequential that I don't think it would have been possible for him to make the top-ten blunders list, just as he couldn't have made the top-ten brilliant decisions list. Under Clinton, we simply spent eight years hiding from the world and partying like it was 1999. He is of no account.
I can't help thinking Clinton was included only because the lefties wanted Reagan there, and Reagan was included only because the moderates were worried it would otherwise look too partisan. (Notice I didn't include a slot here for the conservatives; remember, we are talking about academe!)
I have no serious problem with the rest of the choices, which have the advantage of actually being part of history, rather than recent news events.
January 30, 2006
Dynamics of a Smear
I always find it wryly amusing, the mental gymnastics that liberals will undertake just to "prove" that conservatives are really just racists. Which, of course, they knew all along; so it's jolly convenient that their studies keep proving it over and over.
For example, when sociologists decide to investigate whether there is a correlation between supporting George W. Bush and harboring ill will towards blacks:
For their study, Nosek, Banaji and social psychologist Erik Thompson culled self-acknowledged views about blacks from nearly 130,000 whites, who volunteered online to participate in a widely used test of racial bias that measures the speed of people's associations between black or white faces and positive or negative words. The researchers examined correlations between explicit and implicit attitudes and voting behavior in all 435 congressional districts.
The analysis found that substantial majorities of Americans, liberals and conservatives, found it more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces -- evidence of implicit bias. But districts that registered higher levels of bias systematically produced more votes for Bush.
The fallacy here is, naturally, the error of predetermined causality: is the correlation between Bush voters and people who find it "more difficult to associate black faces with positive concepts than white faces" due to innate racism? And if so, do racists just naturally tend to gravitate towards Bush?
Or could it be that when blacks learn that a Caucasian is a Republican, they direct such a torrent of hate and racial bigotry towards him that they virtually guarantee that he won't be able to associate his tormenters with "positive concepts?"
And what exactly constitutes a "positive concept" in the first place? Would the list include tolerance of those who believe differently, a belief that everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, and basic fairness? Why should we assume that every subculture in the United States is equally provisioned with these virtues?
If black leaders -- such as Harry Belafonte, Cynthia McKinney, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barak Obama -- to the enthusisatic applause and cheering of ordinary, middle-class blacks, routinely show rampant and hysterical intolerance of anyone to their right; if they prattle incessantly about racial preferences and "reparations" for slavery; if bad employees who happen to be black constantly threaten an EEOC lawsuit whenever a company tries to let them go -- is it really a racist reaction for someone to have a hard time associating various "positive concepts" with blacks, given the recent history?
It's like showing pictures of Arab faces to Israeli Jews and concluding that the latter must be racially prejudiced, because they have a hard time associating "positive concepts" with Achmed, Ramzi, and Mohammed.
But if such wariness is a rational response, then this study shows only that districts that produce more Bush voters are likewise more rational; while districts that produce more Democratic voters are more likely to be living in a fantasy of cultural relativism, where every culture is equally good, and we cannot in fact even judge them except by their own terms.
For this to say anything about latent racism, we must first assume that Republicans have no more reason to be wary of blacks than do Democrats... which is of course patent nonsense: of course we do, because blacks are so much more likely to hate Republicans than Democrats (many blacks do not hate Democrats... they despise them, which is an altogether different emotional response, albeit no less ugly).
When prominent blacks make a point of not "hating Whitey," as David Horowitz titled a book he edited, then those blacks typically come under vicious attack by the civil-rights community as Uncle Toms and Aunt Jemimas -- and Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elderberry, Condoleezza Rice, and Michael Steel could all give you an earful about it.
I would bet that if the authors of this study were to ask the same questions of blacks, they would find an even larger percent of black Republicans who have a hard time associating those "positive concepts" with black faces. It would not, however, be "self-hatred" or prejudice, but rather post-judice: black Republicans have an enormous load of history to back up their angry reaction to most "brothers." How do you love someone who nakedly hates you?
But the Washington Post, which carried this article, wasted no opportunity to use the study as a stick to bash Republicans:
Jon Krosnick, a psychologist and political scientist at Stanford University, who independently assessed the studies, said it remains to be seen how significant the correlation is between racial bias and political affiliation....
"If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial," he said. "We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, 'This takes me aback,' they are ignoring a huge volume of research."
I'm sure... but how much is "research" like this study?
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