Thursday, April 28, 2005

Paul Tagliabue, Nationalist

Yesterday when the NFL brass went before the congressional committee investigating steroid use in sports (and we won't pay attention to the absurdity of this right now) one congressman suggested that instead of the NFL and other sports giving their own drug tests that they let the international group that gives drug tests to Olympic athletes and other sports do it for them in order to ensure fairness and so there would be no accusations of a conflict of interest.

Paul Tagliabue's response to this: (slight paraphrase) "I think Americans can solve American problems." He went on to talk about the outsourcing of American problems to other nations. The lesson here is that when you are faced with a solution to a problem that makes a whole lot of sense but which you don't like, resort to base nationalism. Nothing works better than this in America these days.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Responsible Vegetarianism

I am a vegetarian. Have been for I guess about 6-7 years I guess. Much to the chagrin of my family, but that's another thing.

I am neither proud nor ashamed of this fact. It is just part of who I am. I have slipped into the occasional meat eating at times, particularly during a sushi craze a couple of years ago. Whatever.

One thing that bothers me about vegetarians is the level of self-righteousness that surrounds their lifestyle choice. Recent converts are exactly that, converts. Too often they remind me of newly converted fundamentalist Christians with all the annoyance that they cause. Even worse though is how long-time vegetarians lord it over you. If you say something like, "I've been a vegetarian for 2 years," you may well get the response with a condescending tone, "Well I haven't even meat in 4 years." Who cares? Why do we so often resort to such condescension? Who does it help?

While this kind of thing is pretty annoying between vegetarians, it's a lot worse when projected upon non-vegetarians. Too often vegetarianism takes on significant class overtones. How many working-class people are vegetarian? A few, but really not that many. Many working-class people, both in America and overseas, simply don't understand such a strange life choice. Yet too many vegetarians can be rather belligerent about it, offending people offering them food. I once knew someone who went to Cuba. She was a vegan, who are often the worst perpetrators of this attitude. She basically refused to eat in Cuba, something that I understand perplexed her Cuban hosts.

Now I understand that eating meat is something that vegetarians often find repugnant. Nonetheless, isn't it equally repugnant when people offer you food that they can't eat everyday? I think part of this problem comes from the idea of food as a consumer item. We have so many food choices that we can afford to be picky about what we eat. We have the choice to eat or not eat meat. Working-class people in the United States and the developing world don't often have that choice. When they offer you meat, they are making a sacrifice for you and to refuse that can be quite an insult.

Of course, each person has the choice of what they eat or do not eat. Nonetheless, I would like to make a call for a respectable and responsible vegetarianism. One that respects the sacrifices that people sometimes make to serve you meat. One that does not lord your values over others. One that does not place value on the time or the commitment of your life choice.

The Answer to Tierney

Dave at Axis of Evel Knievel found out the information I was looking for yesterday to repudiate John Tierney's obviously flawed argument about Chilean pension plans. Some of the best:

Meanwhile, recent studies by the State Regulator of the private pension administrators, Superintendencia de Administradoras de Fondos de Pensiones, conclude that over half of the affiliates of the system will never be able to save enough in their pension accounts by retirement to fund even the "minimum pension,” which is currently set at about $130 U.S. dollars a month. Not only that but this majority of the workforce is not entitled to the complementary public social security "safety net" either. Two other studies by the government administrator of the public pension system Instituto de Normalizaci√≥n Previsional conclude that about two-thirds of worker affiliates will be unable to save enough for the minimum pension.

The difference between a writer like John Tierney and Paul Krugman is that Krugman feels it necessary to back up his economic claims with something called evidence. It's something that the Republican party has forgotten about. Evidentially evidence is part of relativism. Tierney made his claims about the glory of Chilean private accounts without ever presenting anything but anecdotal evidence. Thanks Dave.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

If Only All Of America Was Based On Chilean Economics

John Tierney's NYTimes editorial today claims that private accounts work for Chileans after comparing what he'll get from social security compared to a Chilean friend of his who has invested under Chile's system of private accounts since 1981. Um, there's a few problems here. One of which might be that those accounts were part of economic program of the Pinochet government with his advisors from the University of Chicago who not only murdered Salvador Allende and thousands of his supporters during and after the 1973 coup but who also destroyed the economy of Chile. Perhaps the biggest reason that the Pinochet government left power, as was the case with several of the dictatorships that came to power in southern South America in the 1960s and 1970s, was that their economies had fallen apart and they didn't want to be blamed for it.

Another small problem which Tierney gives a touch of lip service to is that the vast majority of Chileans are too poor to ever benefit from a system of private accounts. This poverty was in no way helped by the Friedman influenced economic plan that Pinochet implemented after 1973. Tierney claims in 1 sentence that if you are a long-term worker in Chile you will also receive a basic benefit that is superior to the US. However, I am frankly not inclined to believe this. Not only have I never heard this before, but Tierney provides no evidence.

But isn't the point of social security to help ensure basic survival for the poor? Not if you're rich like Tierney it's not. For the Republicans, the actual reason for social security to exist is lost in the debate over how much money we can move to the stock market. Maybe if you're rich like Tierney's friend--a major economist in Chile--you can make a lot of money through private accounts. But you can do that anyway if you're rich!! It's called investing your money. We can fund social security to provide a dignified life for less wealthy elderly people while still allowing Americans who want to invest all the money they want so that they can buy their ivory-covered backscratchers when they're 85.

And if anyone has any evidence, pro or con, about Tierney's claim that the Chilean private account system is superior for poor people than America's, I'd be real curious to hear it.

The Wet Noodle Party

I am disappointed, but sadly not surprised, that Democratic senators, led by Harry Reid and Joe Biden, are now trying to compromise with the Republicans over using the filibuster to stop W's radical judicial nominees. I am not a real defender of the filibuster given that Senators have historically used it to stop civil rights and anti-lynching legislation. However, to compromise on this at this time is just giving up. Do Democratic senators not understand that if you give in to a bully, they will just keep bullying you in the future? Any kind of compromise is a complete victory for the Republicans. It makes Bill Frist look good to the Republican base and increases his chances of being the Republican nominee in 2008. It shows yet again that the Democrats have no backbone and will kowtow rather than force a real confrontation.

Not to mention that any kind of compromise means that the Democrats are going to willingly allow extremists like Janice Brown on the court. How can they call themselves Democrats if they compromise to allow such a lunatic to have a lifetime federal appointment?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Mickey Brantley

Congratulations to late 80s Mariner legend Mickey Brantley for becoming the new hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. Hopefully, the Blue Jays hit better than Brantley did. Of course hitting success in the major leagues is no indicator of the ability to coach hitting. Paul Molitor proved that with the Mariners last year. Mostly I just wanted to blog on this because I never thought I'd hear the name Mickey Brantley again.

More on Ecofascism and Related Topics

My post from last week on ecofascism has generated a decent amount of good discussion, some of which is here on this blog and some of which is on Lawyers Guns Money, which gave this post some nice publicity. I want to go into some of the more interesting points that people brought up in the comments, particularly those of Everett Volk at The Public Trust who was probably the most critical of the ideas in the post and therefore the most interesting to respond to.

I first want to make clear that of course most people who consider themselves environmentalists are not inclined toward fascism or other right-wing movements. However, to interrogate this further, we need to first split those who consider themselves environmentalists because they give money to the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society each month and those who are active environmental activists. The masses who sign petitions, join the big organizations, recycle, and vote based on environmental principles are certainly environmentalists, but they are often of a different breed than the activists. Truly committed activists led me to worry much more about potential connections between environmental organizations and right-wing movements. The principles behind Deep Ecology are almost inherently anti-human. Like Ron (another LGM commenter on the post) I too have had conversations with people who wish that 20% of the population would disappear. Once in such a conversation, I suggested that the person presenting this argument set an example and kill themselves. The point being of course not that I wanted to person to kill themselves but that those who say this are almost always talking about population declines taking place in the overpopulated nations of the developing world. Or to be more blunt, they're talking about a 20% decline in the population of brown people. This argument that one often comes across with Earth Firsters and readers of Deep Ecology thus often has a strong element of racism in it, even if it's within the person's subconscious. And this is deeply worrisome. German ecofascism had and has a strong element of this--Anglo-Saxon nations are of a pure stock and need to reproduce but the dirty foreigners are overcrowding the earth and spreading their pollution into the Fatherland, thus we need to get rid of them.

I would like to say that these kind of thoughts could never become mainstream in America, but if you read the propaganda of the Zero Population Growth people and realize that they are on the verge, through allying themselves with animal rights people (an anti-humanist group almost by definition), of taking over the Sierra Club, you understand that in fact it could happen here. This is what worries me.

As Roderick Nash points out in Wilderness and the American Mind, the concept of wilderness has been central to America's interaction with the environment ever since the Puritans arrived. I find Nash's arguments a bit flawed due to a very selective definition of interactions with nature, but nonetheless one can't deny the centrality of wilderness to American thought. As I pointed out in the first post, I find the concept of wilderness to be a major problem in American environmental thought. Everett Volk defends the preservation of wilderness in his LGM comments and that's fine. There is nothing inherently wrong with the protection of wilderness. I support the idea that certain lands should be set aside from large-scale human impact. But I have great difficulty seeing the validity of an argument that we should prioritize wilderness protection over any other environmental goal.

I would like someone to justify wilderness protection in a way that does not use any kind of New Age language about people's spirit's, people's need to explore, etc. I simply do not recognize those arguments as legitimate for several reasons, including that a) I am a very non-spiritual person and so put no stock in those arguments, b) that the supposed need to explore the world reeks of imperialism and the language of conquest, and most importantly, c) that such arguments also have racial and class overtones because they restrict wilderness access and therefore the supposed rejuvenation of the spirit that comes with it to middle and upper class white people, something which I find deeply troubling. I do not know how you can prioritize wilderness protection in a human way because it is something restricted from the majority of humanity. Nor can I understand an argument that makes wilderness a central tenet of environmentalism from an ecological perspective because with the vast majority of wilderness areas, the protected lands are among the most impoverished ecosystems. If we really wanted to focus on protecting ecosystems, we would do all we could to reinvigorate the Chesapeake Bay, estuaries, cold water marine fisheries, and lowland coastal forests over those of the high Cascades and Rockies. Of course there are many committed activists working on these issues but the focus of the work of the big environmental organizations is not in these places. It's too much in wilderness, national parks, and big wildlife.

Finally, I disagree with the argument that one value in protecting wilderness is that we need to pay attention to non-anthropocentric values. My disagreement here stems from the fact that it is impossible to separate humans from nature--in fact to do is both politically and environmentally irresponsible. Every decision that humans make is anthropocentric because each decision we make affects both humans and the rest of the world's organisms. These supposedly non-anthropocentric decisions are not so at all; rather they value a certain kind of human interaction with nature and human lifestyle over others. It's cloaked in a non-human centered language, but in fact is the promotion of a particular kind of human control over the environment that I cannot agree with.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Nitpicking on Dowd

Maybe I shouldn't pick on Maureen Dowd. With the general pointlessness of her editorials, she kind of picks on herself. However, a sentence from today's typically boring essay (comparing Dick Cheney and Pope Benedict XVI--yawn) does call for a comment:

"Mr. Cheney wants to dismantle the New Deal and go back to 1937."

If you really wanted to dismantle the New Deal, wouldn't you go back to a period before Franklin Roosevelt was president?

Progressive History of the Month

For this month's installment of history books progressives should read, I want to suggest a classic of American historical work that has recently taken on new political relevance. Robert Wiebe's, The Search for Order, 1877-1920. This book on Progressive Era America came out in 1967 but still remains one of the two most important books on the period I would say (the other being Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings, about the connections between social movements in the United States and Europe during this era). Wiebe argues that America's traditional elites (white, middle-class, Protestant) reacted to the rapid and intense changes that were happening in post-Civil War America by trying to place a sense of order upon American society and that the major Progressive movements result from this. The book has some flaws for the modern reader, not surprising given its age, but nonetheless is vital for understanding this key period in American history.

However, its importance to the historical profession is not why I list it as a vital read for progressives (very different from the Progressives) to read. I recommend it because it has played a large role in shaping the historical analysis of Karl Rove. Rove, based on his fundamentally misunderstanding of The Search for Order, believes that where America went wrong was in the Progressive Era. He thinks that these elites placed unnecessary and harmful controls upon America by regulating the natural flow of a pure capitalist society. He considers these elites to still be controlling America today, by which he means liberals. This despite all the obvious evidence that liberals have almost no power in modern America. I argue then that we need to read and understand Wiebe in large part to answer the arguments of Rove and other powerful conservatives who make these absurd claims that America is controlled by a liberal regulating elite. It's almost important to know why Americas originally decided to give government a role in regulating society. Rove has said that he wants to send America back to the Gilded Age. Any reading of Wiebe, or at least any reading by someone not as insane as Rove, will show why such a goal is reprehensible and scary.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Geography and Economics

Yesterday I read a review of Jeffrey Sachs' new book, The End of Poverty. I was truly struck in reading this review how completely disconnected Sachs was from what I would consider to be basic categories of analysis. Early in his career Sachs worked in Bolivia trying to turn around their economy. He was there 3 years he was talking to another economist when the latter mentioned that perhaps the reason Bolivia was so poor was because it is landlocked and mountainous which leads to high transport costs. Sachs admits to being shocked at this idea and that it made a lot of sense to him.

Sachs had worked in Bolivia 3 years before figuring this out. 3 years. You know I could look at a damn map and read a couple articles on the country and figure that out. So I would think would most anyone reading this blog.

To continue, Sachs now takes geography and environment into account in his plans. But he's gone on to be almost an environmental determinist, arguing that one of the biggest reasons for Africa's poverty is its rough environment. Well, I suppose that is a reason, but I can think of about 15 others that have a whole lot more to do with it, i.e. the legacy of colonialism, tribal societies with little sense of nation, AIDS, corruption, civil strife, etc. etc.

So here's my question: Are all economists this ignorant of geographical analysis? I don't know very many economists so do they all live in a vacuum as tightly sealed as Sachs seems to?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tocqueville? I Don't Think So

I just starting subscribing to the Atlantic. I'm not feeling all that positive about that choice. Not only did I end up reading 2 pieces by Christopher Hitchens in the first issue, but I subjected myself to Bernard-Henri Lévy's piece, "In the Footsteps of Tocqueville." This is an idea predestined for disaster. Here's a list of reasons:

1. Tocqueville was writing for his countrymen about a nation which they had little knowledge of. Levy wrote for Americans about a nation that saturates the world with its popular culture products, which is the most powerful nation on Earth, and which everyone in the world knows about, sometimes more than they know their own country. Thus the insights that Levy could have would simply be a shadow at best of what Tocqueville had to say. And in this case, they weren't a shadow.

2. Anyone who decides to follow in Tocqueville's footsteps is going to bring a self-consciousness to the table that will hamper their study. That is certainly the case here.

3. The changing notion of public space in America since the 1820s, as well as advancements in transportation technology, makes a Tocqueville-esque study very difficult today. When Tocqueville struggled to get around America in the early 19th century, people spent almost all of their time in public. Ideas of privacy had little cache with Americans of this time. People pretty well only slept in their homes. Houses were hot or cold depending on the season, poorly lit, disease-filled, and usually just generally unpleasant. So people used the streets in a way that Americans don't today. They walked nearly everywhere. They spent nonworking hours in taverns, public meetings, political events, attending various kinds of popular entertainment, etc. Thus Tocqueville could observe Americans all of the time in many different ways. How would one do this today? We spend almost no time in public spaces today. This situation is a little better in cities like New York or Seattle, but in the vast majority of the nation public space is woefully nonexistent and even where it is, sadly underused. Levy simply cannot overcome this handicap, nor could anyone.

Moreover, early 19th century transportation technology was in its most formative stages. Steampower was just becoming common when Tocqueville was in America and this was quite the revolution. But even with steampower, transportation was slow and, again, very public. If you traveled by horse, you probably spent the night in an inn where you met all kinds of people. If you were on a steamboat, you traveled with dozens or even hundreds of people to talk to. Given the slow and public nature of transportation, you ended up getting to know a lot of people. This was another way in which Tocqueville, and the many other observers of antebellum America including Charles Dickens, got to know the country. Levy travels around in a car, stopping and talking to different people and witnessing different events that he chose. What kind of conclusions about America can you make from such limited observations? The answer is not very good ones.

What's worse about this article is that it's not only is not profound, it's not even very interesting. There are uninteresting discussions with Russell Means and Richard Daley and pointless visits to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Mall of America. So what? What do brief visits to these places tell us about America, except in a very superficial manner? What did I learn about my own country from reading this article? Approximately nothing.

When Your Rhetoric Comes Back to Bite You

From the Times.

When Utah is rejecting No Child Left Behind, you know that the Bush administration has lost on this one. At least since 1994, the Republicans have hypocritically talked a big talk about smaller government while in fact just wanting to change the focus of big government to allow for no taxes but great control over people's everyday lives. Of course this has been especially obvious to many of us since 9/11. And now the Bush administration is starting to feel the backlash to their lip service to small government. States all over the nation are seeing that No Child Left Behind is a disaster. One of the impacts of this is that people in conservative states such as Utah who bought into the Republican small government rhetoric are starting to see how hollow that was.

I'm not sure how I feel about the role of the federal government in education standards at this point. I used to believe that local control of school boards and state control over educating their students led to all kinds of problems, from poor systems in poor states to the embracing of creationism over Darwinism. But given that Americans seem to have a capacity to elect a government of great evil, maybe state control is better. At least then, states like Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin can create quality education systems for their students. Under No Child Left Behind, no state will be producing large numbers of highly educated adults.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Declining Use of the Founding Fathers in Progressive Political Rhetoric

Watched Jon Stewart interview Robert Reich last night. I was really struck by what happened when Reich brought up Jefferson. Stewart basically dismissed any reference to Jefferson by saying that he was banging his slaves while saying this. This brought to mind an issue I consider important--the use of the Founding Fathers in modern political arguments.

I have long been struck in my own research by how so many different groups use the rhetoric and images of the Founders for their own purposes. I have seen them invoked by hunting groups, patriotic groups, radical labor organizations, etc. I had a friend who wrote a thesis on how Jefferson was used by both segregationists and the Civil Rights movement. Today, the Republicans use their version of the Founding Fathers all the time, particularly in discussing the 2nd amendment, small government, and the role of religion in American life. But progressives almost never use the Founders anymore.

What to make of this phenomenon? I am mixed on it. I don't think that invoking men of 200+ years ago is particularly valuable. But then again, isn't the age of our political system one of its benefits and weaknesses? How can you interpret a vague 218 year old document for modern society? Particularly when the actual intent of the writers of the Constitution is so up in the air. Because the Constitution is so open for debate, it makes sense in political arguments to invoke the beliefs of certain Founders when they fit your purpose. But modern progressives represent the first time in American history that this rarely happens. Why? I think the reason almost has to be because of progressives (appropriate) rejection of the patriarchy and slaveholding society that these men represented. But by rejecting to invoke these men at all, we deny ourselves one of the most powerful and resonant rhetorical methods we can use for pushing our agenda. Washington, Jefferson, and the other early American leaders still have great cache with most Americans, even if they don't have a clue what they really stood for. Republicans know this and they misrepresent what these men believed in. But because progressives virtually ignores these figures, we cede this entire rhetorical ground to the Republicans. We don't challenge what they say Washington and Jefferson thought and thus Republican versions of their beliefs go into the ears of Americans uncontested by a progressive version of our early history.

Yes the Founding Fathers had beliefs that we should find repulsive today. But for God's sake they lived over 200 years ago. It's absurd to banish Jefferson as a patriarchal dead white male because he didn't believe in women's suffrage and had sex with a slave. While we should be knowledgeable of the misdeeds of past leaders, we shouldn't judge them entirely by modern standards. To do so has serious consequences upon our attempts to convince the nation of the rightness of our convictions.

Hagel on Bolton

Via TalkLeft.

Even though Chuck Hagel wants to vote against John Bolton, he's probably not going to because conservatives say that such a vote would kill his presidential chances. This is where Senatorial hubris gets really bad. Because Chuck Hagel is never going to be president of the United States regardless of this vote. There is no way he survives the Republican primaries given that he is not trusted by the lunatic base of the Republican Party. That he would even conceive of voting against Bolton is going to permanently stain him as opposed to such potential candidates as Bill Frist and Jeb Bush. If Hagel would realize that he'll never win the nomination, it would free him up to vote his conscience and kill this nominee. But because he actually believes that he can win the nomination, he'll probably end up voting the party line on this and most everything else for the next 3 years and then get blown out in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina and drop out of the race.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Underrated Movies

I am fortunate to have a lot of friends and family who are big film fans and to have intelligent discussions about movies on a relatively frequent basis. But even so, there are a surprising number of films that I think are priceless who virtually nobody I know have seen. This is a list that slowly gets smaller. 10 years ago, one might have put Once Upon A Time in the West on there and maybe The Wild Bunch. Today, these movies get the attention they deserve. Even 5 years ago, Tokyo Story or the Decalogue might have had a place. But there's still a lot of movies that deserve more attention. Here's a short list off the top of my head.

1. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. I am a partisan for silent movies so Dr. Mabuse the Gambler stands for a lot of silents. By itself, it's great. It has drugs, sex, violence, car chases, even hypnotism. All of this within Fritz Lang's critique of the moral decadence of Weimar Germany. Absolutely classic. It plays amazingly fast for a silent. It's totally engaging, funny, and just freaking nuts. More generally, silent films are wonderful, even if their bad. They are documents of a time long, long ago. Because they were pre-code, they often go into elements of American society that movies stopped talking about in the 1930s. I've seen silents on anarchists. I've seen Lon Chaney play a Chinaman. I've seen movies represent the change from agrarian to industrial America. Of course there are many horrible silent movies. But the best are truly wonderful and deserve a lot more attention than they get.

2. Sansho the Baliff. Mizoguchi is the third great Japanese director who came to international attention in the 1950s, along with Kurosawa and Ozu. He sort of splits the difference between the latter two, taking on themes prevalent in Kurosawa movies with the humanism so prevalent in both, and with the attention to interpersonal relationships prominent in Ozu's work. Some of Mizoguchi's movies are difficult to comprehend without a good knowledge of Japanese culture. Many consider Ugetsu to be his masterpiece, but there's a lot of Japanese mythology about ghosts in there that I just didn't understand. Sansho the Baliff though embodies Mizoguchi's style with a great topic--a family connected to nobility torn apart by kidnapping, prostitution, and slavery and the story of Sansho who becomes free again and tries to reunite his family. Absolutely wonderful.

3. George Washington. The first film by David Gordon Green. This is a great portrait of a small southern town and the kind of interracial relationships that are so common without real racist overtones. A great character study with a feeling that is often compared to Malick, though I'm not sure this is fair. Solid acting, good directing. One of the only "independent" films of the decade worth giving a damn about. Green followed this with the equally excellent "All The Real Girls" and his latest, "Undertow", which I haven't yet seen.

4. Man of Marble. One of Andrej Wajda's best works. Few people watch any of Wajda's work these days and it's too bad. Man of Marble is a great pseudo-documentary about a woman at the beginning of Solidarity trying to uncover the history of a Polish working-class communist hero who was used and spit out by the Party during the early postwar years. A great film looking at the kind of damage to persons committed by the Stalinists and how people overcame it. Also a great peak into Polish life circa 1980. See also the sequel, Man of Iron, which includes the acting debut of Lech Walesa and brings the story of Man of Marble up to the present of the Solidarity movement. Also, Wajda's early films are worth watching as well, especially his trilogy on Poland during World War II, A Generation, Kanal, and Ashes and Diamonds. The Siberian Lady MacBeth is also quite good. One of film's most underrated directors.

5. The collected films of Eric Rohmer. I know of almost no one who has even seen a Rohmer film. Perhaps the last member of the French New Wave still making relevant film. I would pick a particular one, but he's one of those directors like a far more consistent Woody Allen or Ozu whose films have a sameness to them--they're pretty much all about French people talking about love and relationships. And I mean talking. If you don't like movies that are basically excuses for interesting conversations, Rohmer is not for you. But he does this so well. A few examples--"Claire's Knee"--about a man who is about to get married and who sees a 16 year old girl's knee and obsesses on what he is going to miss when he is married. Or "Autumn Tale", a film about a middle-age widow who refuses to see a man again despite what all her friends think and how her close friend takes care of the problem for her. Or "Chloe in the Afternoon", about a man in a stable relationship who is seduced by a woman and the moral problems this causes. Very French and very great.

Hitch on John Brown

Hitchens' review of David S. Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist in the recent Atlantic leaves a lot to be desired. OK, this is not surprising. I am amused by Hitchens' saying about the need to understand Brown, "The critical thing here is context."

But the real reason to write here is not to slam on Hitchens, something that others can do more effectively than I. It's to raise the alarm about the rehabilitation of John Brown as a central figure in America's progression for human rights. Because like Bush's reference of the Dred Scott case during the presidential debates and Terry Schiavo, talking about John Brown is all about abortion. For people who believe that the Republican Party is the holder of moral values for America and the world and that violence is acceptable when it is attacks evil, John Brown is the model.

Brown was a lunatic. He butchered a family in Kansas for supporting slavery. Literally. With axes and such. His plot to take Harpers' Ferry was insane and only managed to kill one of the slaves he purported to free. He did play a role in launching the Civil War but not nearly as big of one as Hitchens and evidentially Reynolds claim.

But if you see John Brown as a hero and if you connect slavery and abortion as the two greatest sins in the history of the United States, Brown's actions justify attacks upon abortion doctors. This justifies physical and mental violence against women seeking an abortion. This justifies bombing abortion clinics. This justifies any conceivable action taken to cause a violent clash between the sides of the abortion debate.

Thus not only does such a discussion of John Brown inflate his historical importance, it makes him yet another misunderstood historical figure for the Right to use in their attacks upon America's liberal humanist culture.

And this is very scary.

Ecofascism

"We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind's own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a reintegration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger. That is the fundamental point of the biological tasks of our age. Humankind alone is no longer the focus of thought, but rather life as a whole...This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought."
German botanist and Nazi Ernst Lehmann, 1934.

Take out "National Socialist" and add "Democratic" or "Anarchist" or whatever and you have what is likely a very appealing statement to a large number of environmentalists. This cuts to the heart of what I believe to be the greatest problem with modern environmentalism--the rejection of humanism. More than one Nazi rejected humanism in favor of a fairly radical environmentalism, including Rudolf Hess and to a lesser extent, Hitler. Many of the ideological ancestors of the Nazis called for environmental preservation for the sake of the German nation. And even today, especially in Europe, many environmentalists, for whom the environment is the only issue worth considering, flirt with fascism or ignore the near fascism of many of their allies.

Can this happen in America? Could environmentalism be taken over by right-wing thugs who tie environmentalism up with reprehensible ideas. I believe the answer to be yes. The major point that I worry about is the anti-humanism that is so wrapped up in American environmentalism. I believe this problem to be worse in America than in Europe. In Europe the lack the wilderness and the sheer population density of the place has generally led to an environmentalism that focuses on the problems of people, particularly pollution, nuclear power, urban environmentalism, etc. In America, environmentalism is, and has been for most of its history, specifically aimed to separate most people from the environment. The emphasis on wilderness and wildlife protection, while worthy projects, has demonized people as bad and wolves as good, let's say. People are only supposed to enter nature in very specific circumstances. Work is separated from the environment. Hunting and fishing are often demonized. We only are supposed to interact with the environment in very specific ways. Access should be limited to those who deserve to go into the wilderness, says many environmentalists.

The flip side of this argument is the rural myth that dominates so much of American culture. America has always been a rural oriented culture. But in the past it was that way because most Americans lived off the land. However, today the vast majority of Americans live in urban environments, but they want to live in the country. This feeling has driven a lot of the suburbanization that has driven American urban development since the end of World War II. This pseudo-getting in touch with the land easily blends with conservative politics. People like consuming deer both through eating and watching wildlife, and increasingly its the latter that dominates. The same people who grouse about the government being on their backs and their high taxes and who vote for George W. Bush and Tom DeLay like birdwatching, recycling, deer watching, and having a national forest as a backyard. And many of these suburban environmentalists also attend fundamentalist churches.

There have been several recent stories lately on how evangelical Christians are beginning to show an interest in environmental protection. Undoubtedly, this is leading to consternation among the insiders of the Republican party who love the votes of the Christians so long as Ken Lay's lawyers can write legislation. When I first heard about the evangelical interest in environmentalism, I got a good laugh. I thought about what would happen the first time that evangelical environmentalists worked with Earth First! But then I realized that the two groups have a great deal in common--a disdain for humanism. Both radical environmentalists and fundamentalist Christians often see liberal materialist culture as the greatest evil of America and if both see a potential foil to this in environmental protection, they could make powerful allies. Moreover, consider that today we are seeing the most powerful right-wing populist movement in American history right now. If they turned to environmental protection as a key to their war, they could become extraordinarily powerful. This doesn't mean necessarily that such a movement would take on fascist characteristics. One line of argument says that this wouldn't happen because Americans avoid radical political movements. But this argument is being sorely tested as we speak. Today's German ecofascists connect environmental protection, extreme nationalism, and the need to ban abortion. Can anyone not see how these connections could easily be made in modern America?

I might sound like a doomsday prophet right now. And I don't mean to say that some sort of ecofascist movement is likely in America. I rather think that it's unlikely. But it's important to realize that it is possible and that it would have serious repercussions if it came to pass. The opposition to humanist thought is coming from many angles in today's America and threatens liberal culture in many ways.

Finally, consider how vulnerable the environmental movement is to allying with right-wing groups. Look at some of today's most prominent environmental leaders in America:

1. Ralph Nader--Nader now embodies a combination of environmental protection, hatred of corporations, and disdain for liberal culture. See his screed against "corporate pornography" and recent support of Terry Schiavo's parents for this last point. It's hard to see Nader joining a right-wing environmental movement within the Republican party but it's real easy to see him leading such a movement outside of the 2-party system.

2. Dave Foreman--Founder of Earth First! Foreman was the most prominent environmentalist to support George W. Bush in 2000. Why would such a radical environmentalist be a Republican? A few possible reasons: a) he hates the federal government (odd considering the role of the federal government in environmental law), b) racial prejudice, c) opposition to the cultural liberalism supposedly embodied in the Democratic party, d) a combination of the above. A figure such a Foreman could be a real threat considering he or another similar figure also has shock troops in the Earth Firsters.

3. Russell Means--Former leader of AIM was a active supporter of Bush in 2004. He's also an anti-Semite to boot. He's too much of a crank to be a real player but someone could easily appropriate him and ideas about Native American spirituality for the purposes of a right-wing movement.

Also, like the Nazi ecofascist movement, America's environmental movement has provided plenty of historical figures that could be used by a right-wing environmental movement. Here's a few:

1. Theodore Roosevelt. America's most famous environmental president. He wanted to protect the environment in part to efficiently use the nation's resources. He also saw the forests and mountains as the place where Anglo-Saxons could go to rejuvenate their manhood and whiteness to save the race from the hordes from southern and eastern Europe. He was a racist, an imperialist, and a borderline eugenicist. Yikes!!

2. Madison Grant. A good friend of TR and a leader in the early conservation movement. He was also the author of The Passing of the Great Race, America's most infamous racist book. If you want to connect Hitler and TR, here's the link. Grant, TR's friend and colleague, was brought to Germany early in the Nazi regime and honored for his work in promoting racial purity and eugenicist thought.

3. Edward Abbey. Generally nonpolitical but also a virulent anti-humanist. His fetishization of the man alone in the wilderness could easily be appropriated by right-wing thinkers and his legions of followers could potentially go along too.

If you're interested in Germany's history with ecofascism, I recommend Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier's Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Book Meme

Rob from Lawyers Guns Money has challenged me to answer these book questions that are moving through the blogosphere. So here we go.

If you were stuck inside Farenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
Crime and Punishment

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
You know, it seems like I did once many years ago but I can't even come close to placing it. But not really. The women Philip Roth writes about in The Dying Animal and many other books seem very sexy, but most of them aren't even really well-developed characters.

The last book you bought is?
Just bought 2 books today.
Gail Dubrow and Donna Brooks, Sento at Sixth and Main: Preserving Landmarks of Japanese American Heritage
Michael Bess, The Light-Green Society: Ecology and Technological Modernity in France, 1960-2000

What are you currently reading?
Chris Bolgiano, Living in the Appalachian Forest: True Tales of Sustainable Forestry

Five books you would take to a deserted island?
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Jose Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda
Gao Xingjian, Soul Mountain
The Bible (not for religious purposes)
Philip Roth, Sabbath's Theater

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
The three women from M-pyre, Maggie, Marjorie, and Mikaela. Mostly because I think the responses will be quite interesting.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Now It's Time For Today's Game Of How Many Holes Can We Pick In Thomas Friedman's Latest New York Times Editorial

OK, Boys and Girls. Can you pick more holes in Friedman's latest editorial than I can? I'll give you 1 advantage--you've had less gin than I have tonight.

With that handicap, let's play!!!

1. Friedman says, " In the West it was avoided because a toxic political correctness infected the academic field of Middle Eastern studies - to such a degree that anyone focusing on the absence of freedom in the Arab world ran the risk of being labeled an "Orientalist" or an "essentialist."

That's right. Not only is Friedman an expert in Middle Eastern studies (wasn't he a distinguished professor in the field at both Oxford and Harvard at the same time) but he takes Edward Said down to his essence--if you believe that Middle Eastern nations should have some form of self-representation, then you are an Orientalist.

2. Friedman says, " Well, the combination of 9/11, the Bush policies and the flattening of the world, whereby everyone can increasingly see how everyone else is living, changed all that - as evidenced this week with the publication of the third Arab Human Development Report, written by a courageous group of Arab social scientists under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program. This is one of the finest U.N. products under Kofi Annan.

Yes, Kofi Annan is great when he serves the purpose of the Bush administration. But goddamn him when he doesn't. And of course, there is no question that 9/11 brought democracy to the Middle East. The people of Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria are all blessing Osama Bin Laden, not because his actions were a blow against American infidels, but because he knew that by blowing up the World Trade Center he would finally awaken Americans to the need to promote democracy in the Arab world. And of course the people of Iraq thank W every night.

This is only just a beginning, mostly because the gin is really starting to take effect. Besides I want to give all you boys and girls plenty chances to beat me at this edition of....How Many Holes Can We Pick In Thomas Friedman's Latest New York Times Editorial!!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Movie Query

A friend of mine needs a little help for a course she is teaching.

She is trying to come up with a list of movies that give some sort of reasonably accurate potrayal of life in the world before 1500. This seems to be harder than you might think.

Some of what I've come up with are:
The Seventh Seal
Sansho the Baliff
Chunhyang, which I believe to be before 1500 but am not sure.

Of course there are the Roman epics

And it's tempting to list the truly bad pictures such as Conan the Barbarian, Clan of the Cave Bear, and Passion of the Christ.

Can anyone out there help my friend out here?

Matt Thornton

The most damning comment imaginable about Matt Thornton, Mariners scrub relief pitcher, after he gave the game to the Twins yesterday, courtesy of my friend Scott:
"Makes me (almost) wish for George Sherrill to return."

Ouch!!

Novice or Hustler?

This is the question that Matt Duss from the excellent blog What is the War? asks of me after a recent Seattle poker game with him, Rob Farley of Lawyers Guns Money, and several other people. The first game was terrible. I was the first out. As the other players continued to play, I started drinking. Which is the reason that I won the second game. You see, I had the great misfortune to grow up a Lutheran. And, among other things, what that does is to put a great deal of inhibitions within a person. The first game when I was sober I didn't have the guts to really play. A little alcohol, and what can go wrong with a little alcohol, changed everything. Second game, all over it. Now of course, good cards made a difference too. But don't underestimate what northern Europeans have used for centuries to let their humanity out of the dour bag of their culture--alcohol.

Notes from Seattle

I'm currently in Seattle. Which is why the blogging has been inconsistent. My apologies.

Anyway, a few thoughts from Seattle.

1. Really this must be one of the greatest walking cities in the country. Well, other than Lexington, Kentucky. Seriously though, why would someone drive to work in this city. Driving here is horrible. The buses are great. Walking is great whether it's to work if close enough or to your local store or just for evening walks through the city's great neighborhoods. I'm biased towards the city, but regardless it's great. I love New York, but I can't imagine a better city to live in in America than Seattle. Great walking, nice parks, views of 2 mountain ranges when the weather's right, great food within walking distance, etc. etc. I also like the rain, so that helps.

2. If you ever go to Opening Day, bring some earplugs. Went to Opening Day for the Mariners on Monday. It was a great time, in no small part due to the surprising victory. But we sat right next to where the fireworks and other explosive devices went off. The first time I thought some terrorists had struck the ballpark. Scared the hell out of me.

3. The Seattle Public Library more than any other building I've ever seen epitmoizes what is both right and wrong about modern architecture. It's a beautiful building. It's like working in a modern art installation. There's a video installation as you go up the staircase. There's one part near the bottom that looks like it is covered in a red plastic--there's nothing there but you feel as if you're in the middle of a modernist art piece. Plus being Seattle computer access is great and it really feels like a center of the community. People are playing chess all over the place in there for instance. On the other hand, it's sheer brillance is undermined by the single greatest problem with modern architecture--how people use the space is seemingly irrelevant. For example, you take an escalator to the top of the building where the stacks begin. If you walk down the stacks all the way down several floors, you go on a slowly sloping decline. Then it just stops. Not at a logical point. Just ends. You are left wondering, did I miss a turn? What the hell is going on? The problem is that the stacks don't end near a staircase. Or consider the adjustments the library had to make within the building. For example, like so much modernist architecture there is an emphasis on showing the materials used within the building rather than covering it up. Problems arose when going up the escalator, people would pick off the foam stuff that cover much of the insides. The library had to replace a bunch of it and then cover it with fiberglass. Most frustrating is that on many of the windows where you can see the water, they are covered with some sort of mesh stuff and you can barely see it. Why is that? Not all of the windows are covered with it. I want to see the water when I can?

In any case, it's a great building and I wish more public buildings were as interesting as this. But it also sums up the negatives about modernist architecture as much as just about any building could.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

National League Predictions

This is a little harder for me than the AL because I don't have any NL-only fantasy teams. But whatever.

NL EAST
An interesting and very tight division with 4 out of 5 teams having a legitimate shot.

1. Atlanta, 93 wins
Never pick against the Braves. Leo Mazzone should be the first pitching coach in the Hall of Fame. A lot rides on Smoltz staying healthy but the staff should be good enough with Hudson as the leader. Bullpen looks solid. Not much production at 1B but there's enough around to make up for it with Estrada, Andruw and Chipper, and Furcal. At lot also rides on Raul Mondesi, which wouldn't make me feel all that confident if I were a Braves fan. Still, never doubt Cox and Mazzone.

2. Philadelphia, 91 wins.
At last Larry Bowa is gone. I think this could be a pretty good team. But I think that they also won't actually do that. For the second straight season, people are saying that Pat Burrell will make it back to his 2003 totals. We'll see. Starting pitching has some questions. I guess Lieber's the ace. It's time for Brett Myers to really step up if that's the case. Wagner is of course a fine closer. Rollins is a top SS and with Thome, Abreu, etc. they should be fine. Chase Utley should be a nice 2B as well. If the pitching steps up, they could easily win the division.

3. Florida, 88 wins. A pretty solid team who could also easily win the division. A lot rides of Burnett, Beckett, and Willis being solid and healthy all year. Time for Dontrelle to gain some consistency and start playing to his potential. Carlos Delgado was a nice offensive addition to go with Pierre, Castillo, and Lowell. A slugging 1B was one thing they really lacked last year after moving along Derek Lee. It's hard to pick them 3rd and somehow I think they will finish higher. Over which of the 2 top teams, I don't know.

4. New York, 78 wins. I don't like this team as much as everyone else. Beltran's a great signing but they are relying on Pedro to be 1999 Pedro and that's just not going to happen. It was the perfect time for Boston to be done with him. The loss of Steve Trachsel actually hurts this team a lot since they have a lot of potential in that staff but a lot of questions too and Trachsel is always a solid fourth starter. Glavine and Pedro are aging, Kris Benson is a great underachiever, and I guess this could be the year that Victor Zambrano breaks out but would you want to place money on that? I didn't think so. With Piazza at catcher, every team should get 5 SBs a game. The infield is frankly weak and the OF is above average but not so far to make up for the other questions this team has.

5. Washington, 64 wins. Thank God this team is out of Montreal. At least people might come to see them in Washington. Now if only they weren't owned by MLB. The thing that worries me about this team is that they aren't particularly young or particularly good. If I were a Devil Rays fan, I would have a bit of hope but not if I were a Nationals fan. How are they going to get better by signing players like Vinny Castilla and Christian Guzman? I wish them luck because they are going to need it.

NL CENTRAL
Always a tricky division to pick. The combination of lots of bad teams with top teams historically prone to failure makes this interesting. But #1 this year is quite clear.

1. St. Louis, 87 wins.
I don't like this team as much as a lot of people. I am still worried about Mark Mulder's decline last year and I'm not sure he is the ace St. Louis needs. After him we are looking at Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter which could be really good if they both stay healthy, but what are the chances of that? The hitting should be great again with Edmonds, Pujols, Rolen, Walker, etc. But I don't like the David Eckstein signing at all. I guess if you need neither good hitting or fielding from your shortstop, this is the player for you.

2. Chicago, 84 wins.
Another team I don't like a great deal. I mean if Prior and Wood can stay healthy all year they could be great but they are already having problems. Zambrano could really become the ace of this staff this year and Maddux should be good for at least 12 wins. The bullpen is a mess though and the OF is subpar. The infield should be quite good though with Garciaparra healthy, Lee, and Ramirez. But this is not enough for them to win the division.

3. Milwaukee, 81 wins
I do like this Brewers team. They fleeced the White Sox in the Carlos Lee trade. This provides some protection for Geoff Jenkins who will likely have a better year. Lyle Overbay is a year older. I like their starting pitching with Doug Davis, Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano. Bullpen could be shaky. J.J. Hardy is taking over at SS which could turn out well or it could take some time. This is probably not the year for this team. But maybe in 2007 when players like Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks are on the team, they could be really good.

4. Houston, 79 wins.
A team that took a serious decline in the offseason. Berkman got hurt and is out for a couple of months, they lost Beltran, let Wade Miller go for some reason, and overall just aren't very good anymore. Oswalt is great and maybe Clemens can go strong for another year and Pettite stay healthy. But that's too many maybes for me. What went right? Um, they signed John Franco...

5. Pittsburgh, 70 wins.
A young team that still has too many holes to compete. Really nice young pitching led by Oliver Perez and the rise of John Van Benschoten and Sean Burnett. 2007 could be a good year for Pirates fans if these 3 stay healthy and progress as planned. Jason Bay is the anchor of the batters and that's probably asking too much of him.

6. Cincinnati, 66 wins.
Playing in that park is not helping a team whose pitching is questionable anyway. For the Reds, Ramon Ortiz and Eric Milton are actually upgrades. Not good. OF should be solid of course if the injuries are limited to the 1 needed to get Wily Mo Pena in the lineup. But hey, they signed Joe Randa to be their 3B. What could go wrong there?

NL WEST
A slightly down division but one that will probably rebound pretty quickly to a high state of competition.

1. San Diego, 89 wins.
I like this young Padres team. Led by Giles, Greene, Nevin, Burroughs, and Klesko they should be above average in batting, though perhaps hurt a bit statistically by their pitching-friendly ballpark. A lot rides on how pitchers like Adam Eaton and Jake Peavy do. If they continue to develop, winning the division is a real possibility.

2. Los Angeles, 85 wins.
I guess this team is pretty good, but I'm not sure why. Jeff Kent might have been a nice signing but he's pretty old. Derek Lowe might have been a nice signing, but he's an inconsistent pain in the ass. J.D. Drew might have been a nice signing but he's had one good year and is usually hurt. So I guess if all of these mights turn out right they could be a very solid team.

3. San Francisco, 80 wins.
Bonds hurt and even more sullen than usual. Ancient team--Durham, Alfonso, Snow, Vizquel, Grissom, Alou. A lot of potential for 04Mariner type of decline here.

4. Arizona, 68 wins.
Not a very good team but one that should improve some this year. Signing of Glaus could be great if he actually stays healthy. Signing of Russ Ortiz was incredibly stupid. But hey, like Chan Ho Park his last year in LA, I'm sure those terrible road numbers are just a fluke. It's time for Chad Tracy and Alex Cintron to become solid regulars and Brandon Webb to come back from his terrible year, all of which I believe is likely. If so they could be in pretty good shape by 2007.

5. Colorado, 60 wins.
A disaster of a franchise. They still haven't figured out how to win in Colorado and now their fans are starting to abandon the franchise. They have some potential in their young pitching, but can those guys survive Coors Field? Going with guys like Clint Barmes and Garett Atkins probably makes sense since the team is so terrible anyway but will they build with these guys?

MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Cy Young: Tim Hudson, Atlanta
HR Leader: Albert Pujols
Rookie of the Year: Chris Burke, Houston

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Tourism

As the northern plains continue to depopulate, remaining residents are desperate to find any way to keep their towns alive. Naturally enough I suppose, many towns along the Missouri River are counting on the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to save them. Towns from Fort Benton, Montana to Washburn, North Dakota are building interpretative centers and other facilities to prepare for the influx of tourists that will save their dying communities.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to work. Yes these towns will likely see an influx of tourists through next year. And even for the few years after Lewis & Clark buffs will show up. But after that, how many jobs is tourism going to bring to rural North Dakota? Not many. While I would grab onto the tourist dollars if I were them too, it’s just not going to happen. Tourism can only save a community if it’s a place that a lot of people are going to want to visit over a long period of time. This has worked in places like Aspen, Santa Fe, Taos, and Jackson Hole.

Then again, is this what the residents of Great Falls want? While tourism can save the economy of a community, it also can change the community in great ways. Local people can’t even afford to live in Aspen and Santa Fe today.

So where does that leave Fort Benton and Washburn? More or less in the same boat they were in before. Is it sad that the towns of the western plains are dying? Maybe. But let’s face it, those areas are not designed to hold a large number of people. The climate is cold and very dry. It’s hundreds of miles away from major markets. There’s nothing you can grow there, assuming there’s enough water to grow anything, that you can’t grow cheaper in other places. The story of white settlement in the western plains is fascinating. But whether it should be a settled place is another story. And soon enough, it’s not likely to be.

Friday, April 01, 2005

American League Predictions

Tomorrow the NL:

AL EAST
Baseball's most depressing division. Three teams that, no matter what they do, can't compete. Very sad.

1. Boston, 101 wins. Loss of Pedro doesn't hurt so much I don't think. Not sure how long they can maintain their extremely loose mentality. It's also a very white mentality I should mention which I guess fits in real well in Boston. Still a great hitting team. Ortiz and Manny should have big years. Millar, Bellhorn, Renteria, Mueller, Nixon, Damon, etc a very solid supporting cast. Starting pitching very good. Relief pitching also quite good. And they'll buy whoever they need to fill their gaps in July.

2. New York, 100 wins. Satan was vanquished last year. And they don't seem like a Series team to me this year either, though they could do it. Randy Johnson could be a great pickup. Or he could start 15 games. The team is old. Johnson, Mussina, Pavano, Wright. Could be a great rotation. But probably not. Johnson will probably get hurt. Mussina is not the pitcher he once was. Pavano was great last year but hasn't pitched for the Yankees before and we'll see how he does. He's only had 1 really good season. I wouldn't have touched Wright with a 10 foot pole. How many Bobby Cox/Leo Mazzone reclamation cases do anything after they leave Atlanta? Hitting side of things: solid but aging. Matsui should be great again. Sheffield could be though it will be interesting to see if the steroids scandal affects him. Bernie is old. Giambi, well.... Womack, old. Jeter, solid as of course is A-Rod. Posada should still be good but is aging too.

3. Baltimore, 80 wins. No good moves for them in the offseason. Sosa should hit some HRs but that wasn't their problem last year. They have no pitching. Is Rodrigo Lopez their best pitching? Ouch.

4. Tampa Bay, 75 wins. I like this team a bit. They have some great young players. Lou Pinella is the wrong man to manage them. He doesn't like playing rookies. So he'd rather sign Roberto Alomar to play 2B than give it to Jorge Cantu who hit .300 in his callup. With Crawford, Baldelli, Huff, Brazelton, Cantu, Delmon Young on the way, etc. they would have some potential if they didn't play in this division.

5. Toronto, 71 wins. Probably a little better team than last year, but not much. Signings of Koskie and Hillenbrand were decent. Halladay should be healthy and so should Vernon Wells. Russ Adams is a nice young SS. But the pitching is still pretty shaky, playing in this division kills this team, and they are a year or so away from being a plus .500 team.

AL CENTRAL
An improving division thanks to some good management. Glad to see more competition here than in years past.

1. Minnesota, 91 wins. Solid team all around. Great farm system. Morneau is going to be a great slugger. Loss of Guzman and Koskie doesn't hurt them that much. Lew Ford played a huge role last year and needs to step up again this. Solid OF with Ford, Koskie, and Jones. Mauer should be a great catcher if he can stay healthy. Maybe the most important person to this team is Kyle Lohse who needs to pitch to his potential to go with Santana and Radke. J.D. Durbin should play a nice rookie role at some point this season.

2. Cleveland, 87 wins. Solid young team. Like most, I really like their future. Broussard, Blake, Crisp, Martinez, etc provides a really nice young core of players. Pitching should be better than average with Westbrook and Sabathia. Relying on Bob Wickman to close is not very reassuring. Maybe Brandon Phillips will show up this year. Anyway, not quite at the level of the Twins, but solid.

3. Detroit, 81 wins. I like what the Tigers are doing. They're not a great team. But Bonderman and Maroth should take one more step this year to become solid starters. Picking up Percival seemed a bit unnecessary since they had Urbina but maybe they can trade Urbina to improve somewhere else.

4. Chicago, 78 wins. I don't really like what the White Sox are doing. Speed is great but you don't trade Carlos Lee for Scott Posednik. Bad move. They should be interesting to watch if you like watching guys get thrown out trying to steal 3rd with one out.

5. Kansas City, 55 wins. Terrible team. Terrible franchise. Sad considering how great they were in the 70s and 80s. But they have nothing.

AL WEST
Maybe baseball's most interesting division. All 4 teams could win the division but I think that 3 are significantly short. Maybe a bit of a down year for the division.

1. Anaheim, 94 wins. Very solid team. They could have some pitching weaknesses but they'll buy someone to fill them. Colon needs to step it up this year and Chone Figgins needs to hit like he did last year. Dallas McPherson not becoming the next Russ Branyan is important to the future of the team. Why they're still using Erstad at 1B over Casey Kotchman is a mystery. OF is strong if they don't get hurt.

2. Texas, 82 wins. Great hitting team. Wonderful infield. Rangers have really turned the team around. Teixiera, Blalock, Young, Soriano, Mench, Nix--great young core. Pitching though is still rough. Drese could be OK, Rogers 18 wins last year was a fluke though. If Ricardo Rodriguez could ever stay healthy it would help.

3. Seattle, 80 wins. Picking up Beltre and Sexson should bring them back to respectability. Pitching staff is as bad as Texas though. Moyer, Madritsch, Pineiro, Meche, Franklin. Not exactly a playoff staff here, is it? Bullpen should be solid and at least Ichiro will score more than 105 runs if he breaks the hit record again.

4. Oakland, 78 wins. They got good value for Hudson and Mulder and should be fine long-term but this year, that's a big loss. Zito should be better and Harden should be a quality pitcher. Relying on Haren and Blanton though is a little much now. Next year, yeah. This year, I don't think they can do much. Hitting is OK. Chavez is solid, Crosby is a rising star. But they are still using Scott Hatteberg at 1B. And there you go.

MVP: Hideki Matsui, Yankees
Cy Young: Johan Santana, Twins
HR leader: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
Rookie of the Year: Brandon McCarthy, SP, White Sox

Ward Churchill and the College Right

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches in the University of Colorado system. I won’t give any more details in order to protect this person’s identity. My friend told me the effect that Ward Churchill has had on higher education in Colorado. My friend said that the Churchill controversy had empowered conservative students, not to engage material or to feel better about making their conservative views known in classes necessarily. Rather, it has engaged them to be bullies in class and to accuse professors of liberal bias against them whenever they receive a grade less than they want.

Conservatives, particularly conservative males I think, are naturally bullies. It fits the nature of men who are resentful of having their former white privileges slightly negated. Of course most academics are liberals or on the left. We are not generally inclined to be bullies. But we have to toughen up in our classes against these kinds of people. As I have said before, I believe, on this blog, the academy is the last institution in American society controlled by people somewhere left of center. I don’t believe that this is really going to change anytime soon. It’s not as if there is a horde of conservatives waiting to become professors for $35,000 a year after 10 years or more of education. They wouldn’t be Republicans if they would take a job like that. But where we have to watch out is in the self-censorship. Administrations are running scared of conservative legislatures who want to eviscerate higher education budgets. Departments don’t want to have the next Ward Churchill, or the infamous Richard Berthold in the case of my department at the University of New Mexico. Thus in some departments, though not my own to the best I can tell, political statements by professors are actively discouraged by department chairs, deans, and administration figures.

Maybe there’s not too much teaching graduate students, adjuncts, or assistant professors can do about censorship coming from above. However, we have to do what we can. We can tell conservative students for one that they can listen respectfully to viewpoints that they don’t agree with for once. We can directly challenge their bullying on grades and toward other students in class. Finally, we can tell them that if they don’t want to abide by the rules of our classes, and if they accuse us of grading through political bias to drop our courses if they don’t like us, but that we will, under no circumstances, accept them accusing us of bias because they don’t like the fact that they are lazy.

As you can see, I am preparing for the day I receive a challenge like this.