25 September 2007

Erik Prince, Duncan Hunter, and political cynicism.

I should be working, but two newsy bits have caught my eye today.

1) According to a story on NPR, Erik Prince, who runs Blackwater USA (you know, the company whose contractors were accused of opening fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq?) has solid ties to Conservative Evangelical Christian groups and the Republican Party. Since 1998, he's given about $200,000 to conservative political candidates.

As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise.” Sorry--Gomer was a Marine, Prince is ex-Navy.
Anyway, the AP reported yesterday that

Blackwater's ties to the GOP run deep. [Prince's contributions to GOP politicians presents] a pattern of donation followed by other top Blackwater executives. The company's vice chairman is Cofer Black, a former CIA counterterrorism official who is serving as a senior adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Members of Blackwater's legal team have included former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and current White House Counsel Fred Fielding. The company tapped a GOP-connected public relations firm after the grisly 2004 deaths of four Blackwater employees who were ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah. Their remains
were strung from a bridge.
Sheesh. What more can you add? It's all so, so cynical.

2) And fresh in the "academic freedom" department, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is mad at Columbia University for letting the nutjob M. A. speak yesterday (9/24). He’s so mad, in fact, the he appeared on “Fox News’s Your World With Neil Cavuto and promised to introduce legislation ‘to cut off funds to Columbia University’” (Chronicle of Higher Ed).

I think what he’s really mad about is his poorly-polling presidential candidacy. Could he be any more obvious (or desperate) in trying to appeal to patriotic zealots? Does he actually imagine this will gain votes? A cynical, silly ploy.

I think it's great that M.A. spoke at Columbia because he revealed himself as an absolutely batsh*t lunatic; the man's lost any credibility he had with Americans sympathetic to Iran's struggles (except, perhaps, for those whacky folks on the fringe).

Moreover, as the Chronicle points out, even if Hunter and his buddies did succeed in pushing some speech-restricting bill through the Congress, chances are it “would probably be struck down by the courts. “Viewpoint-based” allocations of public subsidies are generally unconstitutional [. . . .].” Eugene Volokh, over at the most excellent Volokh Conspiracy, discusses the ramifications of such legislation.

I should think a little something like the first amendment might cause some problems here. What idiocy.

Should I also mention that Hunter has made the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s most recent list (9/18/07) of the most corrupt members of Congress? Why not.

* Admittedly, the Iranian people have a point in complaining about how their president was treated at Columbia. Couldn't Bollinger have waited to lambast A. M. at least until after M. A. had spoken, or even the following day? We'd have had right fits if the same had occurred to Bush while at home, much less overseas. Remember how even Charlie Rangel got into a right state after Hugo Chavez made his ridiculous comments about Bush and "the devil" at the UN?

17 September 2007

UC Irvine & Chemerinsky: Resolution

U C Irvine has re-appointed Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of the university's new law school.

Apparently, Chancellor Drake flew out to see Chemerinsky at Duke this weekend, and the men successfully hashed out their problems. In a joint statement published at the UC Irvine website this morning, Drake and Chemerinsky write:

We resolved to put recent events behind us and immediately begin to focus on our shared vision of creating a law school dedicated to providing the best education for future lawyers, to producing the finest legal scholarship, and to helping to address the legal needs of Orange County and the nation. The law school, like all great educational institutions, will be a place of great diversity, where differing viewpoints are nurtured, debated and cherished. Our goal is to create nothing less than one of the finest law schools in the country. We believe that together, and with the many talented faculty and staff at the University of California, Irvine, we will succeed.
I'm happy for Professor Chemernisky, and I'm glad to see that reason (and academic freedom) has triumphed over ideology.

As this case has closed, I'd like people to recall that the the media frenzy surrounding this situation was not due solely to liberal academics and reporters (as the Orange County Business Journal claims). Yes, Chemerinsky's case was fought in the press, but numerous conservative legal scholars and media figures joined in the fray to support Erwin Chemerinsky. The media fight over Chemerinsky's deanship can't be reduced to the cartoonishly polarized "liberal" vs. "conservative" positions. Sadly, the American public has been well trained to see the world in this simplistic binary. Too many people fail to detect shades of grey where the positions overlap, and where human concerns override ideological ones.

15 September 2007

More Chemerinsky

Professor Chemerinsky published an op-ed piece in the L A Times today commenting on the recent UC Irvine kerfluffle. In the article (which I suggest you read in full), he writes:
As has been widely reported, on Aug. 16 I was asked to be the founding dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine. After a couple of weeks of negotiations, I formally accepted the position and signed a contract on Sept. 4. It always was understood that the job was contingent on approval of the University of California Board of Regents, and it was to be on the agenda for the regents' meetings on Sept. 18-20. I was tremendously excited about the possibility of being part of starting a new law school at an excellent university.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11 [note: before the regent's meeting], however, the chancellor at UC Irvine, Michael V. Drake, withdrew the offer. He told me that I had proved to be "too politically controversial." Those, by the way, were the exact words that he said I could use to describe the reason for the decision. He told me that he had not expected the extent of opposition that would develop.
Later, he adds:

Chancellor Drake initially asked that I simply say that we had mutually agreed to end my prospective deanship. I refused and said that all I wanted was that the truth be told. We live in such ideologically polarized times. It is important for those on both sides of the ideological spectrum to realize that their common commitment to academic freedom is far more important than blocking a particular faculty or dean candidate based on ideology.What now? I have enormous fondness for the many wonderful people I met at UC Irvine, and I hope they find a terrific dean and create a great law school -- a school that, like all schools, should be committed to a rich diversity of ideas and views.
And Chancellor Michael Drake still denies that political ideology had anything to do with his decision.

In his op-ed piece, Chemerinsky asks people to stop with the McCarthy comparisons (guilty!) because he hasn't lost his job at Duke, "and [he] can continue to teach and write and handle legal appeals, as [he has] for the last 28 years."

But, ah, wait!
The L A Times says that Irvine is in the process of rehiring Chemerinsky. So, if he's re-offered the position of dean, should he take it?

Erwin Chemerinsky: Academic Dishonor, Academic Disgrace

It's an absolute disgrace. That is, if newspaper reports and blog accounts truly reflect what’s going on at UC Irvine.

In August, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V Drake approached a Duke University law professor named Erwin Chemerinsky and offered him the post of dean at the new Irvine law school. This week, Drake rescinded that offer.

Chemerinsky is a well-known, highly qualified Constitutional legal scholar; he’s represented Valerie Plame and a GitMo detainee, written numerous op-ed pieces in national newspapers, and participated in radio and television debates. He’s well-respected among his peers. So why did he get the sack? Allegedly, because he’s liberal.

As The Washington Post reports, Chemerinsky claims that “the UC-Irvine chancellor [Michael V Drake] told him on Tuesday that he "knew I was liberal but didn't know how controversial I would be." The chancellor also said "some conservative opposition was developing," and the University of California regents would have "a bloody fight" over approving him.” If an ideological conflict was Drake’s concern, why did he select a well-known liberal as dean in the first place? The Washington Post suggests that a recent op-ed piece by Chemerinsky, published in the LA Times, prompted Drake’s decision to sack Chemerinksy. (the op-ed piece “urg[ed] Californians to reject a plan by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that would, he argued, make it harder for those on death row to have their cases reviewed in federal court.”)

Others aren’t so sure.

Professor Bainbridge, a Conservative legal scholar, writes: “my guess - and it's just a guess - is that Donald Bren may have had a hand in this development. Bren gave $20 million to UC Irvine to finance the law school, which is to be named after him.” Bren is conservative.

But while Bainbridge’s theory is just that, we do know that a conservative LA area politician may have helped muddy up Chemerinsky’s deanship. From SF Gate:

A conservative Los Angeles County politician asked about two dozen people in an e-mail last month how to prevent the University of California, Irvine from hiring renowned liberal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as its founding law school dean, a spokesman for the politician said Friday. Making Chemerinsky the head of the law school "would be like appointing al-Qaida in charge of homeland security," Michael Antonovich, a longtime Republican member of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a voicemail left with The Associated Press.

He was not available for further comment on why he was getting involved in the situation at a campus located outside his jurisdiction in Orange County.
Drake has denied that any political dealings interfered with his decision to fire Chemerinsky. In a letter published on the UC Irvine’s website, In fact, Drake claims, his own ideology is akin to Chemerinsky’s; Chemerinsky just “was not the right fit” for the law school. The vague justifications fall flat. And, although he claims to have discussed Chemerinksy’s deanship with the California Board of Regents, “several board members — including California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles — have said they were not consulted on Chemerinsky and didn't oppose him” (SFGate)

Rather than supporting the university’s decision, several prominent conservatives have leapt to Chemerinsky’s defense and charged Drake with serving a blow against academic freedom. Among them, Hugh Hewitt (yes, the Evangelical Conservative legal expert), who writes in his blog at townhall.com:

Erwin is a man of the left, of course, but a remarkably distinguished and accomplished scholar who enjoys the esteem of professors, jurists and practioners across the ideological spectrum. [. . . .] This is an astonishing and disgraceful episode, which, if perpetrated against a conservative, would rightly lead to a massive outpouring of outrage directed at the university that had allowed such a purge to occur.

Likewise, Douglas Kmiec, another conservative scholar, writes in the LA Times that:

Erwin Chemerinsky is one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country. He is a gentleman and a friend. He is a gifted teacher. As someone who participates regularly in legal conferences and symposiums, I have never seen him be anything other than completely civil to those who disagree with him.

So the news that UC Irvine had selected him to be the first dean of its new law school was welcome indeed. And the subsequent news -- that it withdrew the offer Tuesday, apparently because of Erwin's political beliefs and work -- is a betrayal of everything a great institution like the University of California represents. It is a forfeiture of academic freedom.
Many of Chemerinsky’s peers, both liberal and conservative, have written, in op-ed pieces and in blogs, that U C Irvine--and Drake--should be ashamed. A fine, fine scholar has lost a job merely because of his political tilt. Hewitt is right: if this had happened to a conservative, the outrage would be massive. This reminds me of a story I heard recently from a professor who had attended a Florida university in the 1950s. There was a purge of liberals, and the entire drama department got the sack. While you might expect this of a school in the middle of McCarthy’s Red Scare, you certainly don’t expect this kind of activity now--especially when schools are acutely alert to accusations of distorted academic freedom and the country’s current ideological divide.

Whether Drake made is decision from a fear of controversy, or whether he did it to comply with conservative donors’ demands, he’s indicated his own lack of backbone and critical thinking. I shouldn’t be surprised if he faces a vote of no confidence from the faculty of UC Irvine in the near future.

Aside: As far as I know, David Horowitz hasn’t yet chimed in. I wonder how the activist for academic freedom, who often charges universities of indoctrinating students with liberalism, and who claims that all universities should hire and fire professors according to merit, views the situation?

Update: I owe Horowitz an apology! Two days ago he published a response to the Chemerinsky case at Students for Academic Freedom, writing:

The firing of Chemerinsky is itself an outrage. It is a violation of the principle of academic freedom and should be protested by anyone who cares about American higher education. I have myself debated Professor Chemerinsky, whose politics are in the Alan Colmes mode. Needless to say we don't agree on most things. But Chemerinksy is an intelligent legal mind and well qualified for the position, and his politics should not be a criterion for hiring or firing him.

Wow! Go Mr Horowitz!

But then he qualified that show of support after receiving an email--a comment left on The Volokh Conspiracy that discussed Chemerinsky’s involvement with the Rachel Corrie / Caterpillar case. It’s a bit confusing as he doesn’t indicate what is quoted from the email, so Horowitz’s ideas and the email’s content get kind of tangled up. He also argues that the UC Irvine law school was to be “built around” Chemerinsky. To be honest, I’ve not done enough research to comment on that claim, nor do I entirely understand (without forcing assumptions) why Horowitz objects to this. His final conlusion, that "[w]hat UC Irvine should have done is said, we will hire you as a professor (however reprehensible your politics) but we can't build a law school around you" indeed bows towards academic freedom, but it still limits it because of Chemerinsky's ideology. "Oh, you're good enough for a professorship, but we can't have you as dean, despite your many qualifications, accolades, and the deep respect your conservative, liberal, and moderate colleagues have for you, but we just can't have you as the law school's founding dean.

Still, Horowitz's intial support of Chemerinsky does illustrate that he has some true committment to academic freedom. It's not all anti-liberal fear-mongering (a right relief after that Ahmad al-Qloushi debacle and the Academic Bill of Rights conflicts).

14 September 2007

More Giallo!

And after writing an entry on Giallo.....

I thought I'd scrubbed the excellent local Hollywood Video for horror/suspense titles (it really is a great local HV--they actually specialize in foreign and independent films). But ah! Today I found Crimes of the Black Cat (although I prefer its Italian title: Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk)
A description from xploitedcinema :

A blind pianist overhears a mysterious conversation in a bar. The next day his girlfriend is murdered. The only clue: a yellow silk scarf. This Giallo by the [director] Sergio Pastore is along the lines of Dario Argento and Mario Bava’s early work even if the movie’s most famous scene is ‘borrowed’ from Hitchcock’s legendary shower sequence… Features a haunting soundtrack by Manuel De Sica whose jagged melodies are reminiscent of the best Morricone. Stars Anthony Steffen, Sylva Koscina & Giacomo Rossi-Stuart.
Well, the film isn't all that, but it's intriguing enough for a bit of late-night, post-dissertating catharsis. And the scene "borrowed" from Hitchcock is pretty horrific, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you are a really-truly hardcore Giallo fan.

Giallo! Yes, Giallo!

I've been away working on the Big Project and dealing with existential issues that you certainly do not want to hear about. I've also embarked on a mission to lose some [expletive] weight (which might well be tied to said existential issues--but I've lost ten pounds so wahey!). Rather than go on and on and on about emotional fatness, I give you the Giallo title generator--complete with a director and plot outline!

If you're not acquainted with Giallo, it's an Italian film genre that, at its most basic, might be defined as a stylized, operatic, sometimes brutal murder mystery/thriller; you can usually spot a Giallo via its melodramatic title (e.g., The House With Laughing Windows, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Short Night of Glass Dolls, Don't Torture a Duckling, etc). It's much more than that, though. I recommend Wikipedia's entry on Giallo if you're inclined to know more. And if you want to know more than that, check out this fab blog, Giallo Fever, which is run by a PhD student in Scotland.

If you've ever watched a Dario Argento film (Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Tenebrae, Profundo Rosso, or the classic Suspiria, among other titles) you'll have seen a Giallo film. Giallo elements spill into Argento's horror films as well. In fact, you could say that most of Italy's finest horror directors began with Giallo and never entirely left it. (With the exception of Lucio Fulci. He just got gross [The Gates of Hell? Zombi? Sorry. I have some standards, and they end at some woman puking up sheep intestines]).

You glimpse Giallo's influence in spaghetti westerns as well, such as those by Sergio Leone (aside: Ennio Morricone often scored Giallos, such as Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), and much, much contemporary horror (The original Friday the 13th? Say hello to Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve. Carpenter's* Halloween? Well, I think there's much of Profundo Rosso in there, but I think Carpenter cribbed from Italians across the board).

Enjoy the title generator. My favorite one so far:
A Big Green Aardvark in a Woman's Hands. Directed by Romano Pecorino

* I look forward to Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. I enjoy his old-school, USA grindhouse sensibility. Call me sick, but The Devil's Rejects was one of last year's best movies.

01 September 2007

C30 / C60 / C90 Go (online) !

Here’s a London fellow with an intriguing hobby: the Dalston Shopper.

Dalston Shopper visits local charity shops (primarily, it seems, Oxfam) to dig around in the cassette bins. He purchases the more interesting / curious / bizarre collections (be they mix tapes or studio releases) and uploads tracks and images to Dalston Oxfam Shop--one seriously cool blog. Dalston Shopper’s finds include Indian film music, obscure rave tracks, discarded personal collections. . .

I first read about Dalston Shopper's site in The Guardian, which featured the site in an article on MP3 blogs in its 7/7/07 entertainment guide. You can find it online (with links!) here. Enjoy!

And back to my attempt at dissertating (which seems to become more painful and less fruitful every day. I fear for my ABD status--that is, that I'll never move beyond it).