Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ward Churchill Wins

From New York Times:
The jurors found that Mr. Churchill’s political views had been a “substantial or motivating” factor in his dismissal, and that the university had not shown that he would have been dismissed anyway.

“This is a great victory for the First Amendment, and for academic freedom,” said his lawyer, David A. Lane.

Whether Mr. Churchill, 61, will get his job back, and when, was not resolved. Mr. Churchill’s lawyers said they would ask Judge Larry J. Naves of Denver District Court to order reinstatement, in light of the verdict.
Benjamin Whitmer sez:
There’s some inside scuttlebutt here. David Lane got to talk to the jurors after the case, and word has it they had the following couple of salient points to offer:
  1. Up until the reading of the final instructions by the judge, the jurors thought they were to be deliberating on whether or not Ward had committed academic fraud, pure and simple. It’s an understandable error, given the nature of the witnesses. Their unanimous finding was that Ward hadn’t committed any fraud worthy of the name.
  2. The jurors were disgusted by the repetition of Ward’s protected speech by O’Rourke, including the quotes from the audio that Craig Silverman kept pushing at O’Rourke; they felt this clearly showed the nature of CU’s witchhunt.
As to the award, Ward Churchill never asked for money. In fact he told the jury repeatedly he didn’t want a cent. What he does want is his job back. And given the nature of this verdict, one has to ask how justice could be served if he doesn’t get it. More to come.
The verdict itself is a step in the right direction. Whether it will actually serve to deter universities from going on similar politically-motivated witch hunts in the future remains to be seen (let's just say I'm not exactly holding my breath). If nothing else, we have a jury that saw exactly what quite a few of us saw a few years ago: Churchill was targeted because of what he wrote - not because of his scholarship, but because he had a tendency to tell a side of the story that served to debunk the myth of American exceptionalism.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

And he bravely ran away

Not too surprisingly, Alaska state representative Mike Doogan's decision to out the identity of AKMuckraker has resulted in some fallout - much of it deservedly unfavorable. There's a reason why I have a vested interest in this particular story. You see, although at the moment I seem to be the sole blogger at Notes From Underground, a few years ago I gave the keys to the place to three other individuals who have at various times used pseudonyms, and continue to extend an open invitation to them to post here whenever they wish. In the case of our emeritus blogger, Ductape Fatwa, I seriously doubt if anyone knew his real name, nor did it ever occur to me that it would even matter. What all three of these individuals offer is a shared commitment to human rights and unique angles and experiences that have in the past helped fill a void (and hopefully will continue in the future). If I had ever caught wind that a public official - whether local, state, or national - had dared to out one of these individuals, I would have been horrified and outraged. It is my policy that anyone who blogs here controls the extent to which they identify themselves. There are often good reasons to want to write under a pseudonym or anonymously, and that should be respected. There is also a long-standing tradition of pamphlet writers using pen names and such to get their ideas across - especially ideas that might be considered "dangerous" to the powers that be. We bloggers are the heirs apparent of that tradition (I used to say the same about those of us who contributed written and artistic material to zines a couple decades back). An old college friend was fond of saying that ultimately it didn't matter who says it, but that it simply gets said - the ideas are more important than the identity of their authors.

With that preface out of the way, I am noticing that one of Alaska's bloggers, Shannyn Moore, recently tried to confront Mike Doogan about his misdeed, and the same politician who's come across as confrontational and cavalier regarding his behavior and its consequences did what seems quite typical: he hid in a restroom stall. I kid you not. Apparently there's more to the story, but we'll have to wait until Shannyn is ready to say more. In the meantime, I'm if he's answering his emails much these days - he sure hasn't answered mine yet. Somehow, I'm guessing that he's hoping that if he avoids the damage he caused, it will somehow just go away.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Miss Universe Visits Gitmo

Sticks foot in mouth, perpetuates stereotype of beauty pageant contestants as ditzy. At least she didn't make some statement about orange being the new pink, while making the gulag out to be like summer camp.

Another sign of the times

Looks like the business that operates the Riviera hotel and casino is facing potential bankruptcy, after recently missing an interest payment on its debts (h/t Calculated Risk) Up through last year, the Riv was the site for our National Social Science Association conference. I'm expecting to take quite a few photos of stalled building projects along The Strip this year, given how badly Vegas has been affected by the recession or whatever we're going to call it.

The state of academic freedom

Things you might want to read:

See Michael J. Smith's dispatch entitled, the grovels of academe. Boston College bowed to pressure groups, rescinding an invitation to Bill Ayers. What can I say - political correctness strikes again.

In my state of Oklahoma, some of our esteemed legislators apparently have nothing better to do with their time than to harass the University of Oklahoma over its decision to host a presentation by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (one of my sisters attended the presentation and said it was extremely well done). In this case, the efforts to once again make our state appear culturally backward are bipartisan in nature. To think that some wonder about my disdain for the Demublican stranglehold on the state's political institutions.

If you're interested in the latest developments in Ward Churchill's wrongful termination lawsuit against the University of Colorado, check out The Race to the Bottom and The Ward Churchill Trial. I don't want to get my hopes up too much, but it's beginning to look like the outcome could be favorable for Churchill.

Finally, I recently received the latest special issue of Works and Days - Academic Freedom and Intellectual Activism in the Post-9/11 University. The current edition contains essays from a number of heavy-hitters, including Ward Churchill, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Bérubé, and Henry A. Giroux (among plenty of others), and also includes the text of an interview with Noam Chomsky.

Monday, March 30, 2009

What the Orange County CA bankruptcy of 1994 can teach us

Susie Madrak sez (h/t):

Demonstrating the consistent amnesia of our media overlords, I’ve seen nary a mention of the Orange County CA 1994 bankruptcy that resulted from a hefty investment in derivatives. (You know, like CDOs?) I remember reading a magazine piece (either Harpers or the Atlantic) at the time that illustrated just what time bombs derivative investment could be. It made such an impression on me that a few years later, as a reporter, I lectured some township commissioners who just sat through a presentation by a broker that promised much bigger returns on derivative investments.

“This is what made Orange County go bankrupt,” I said. “I mean, you do what you’re gonna do, but you should know that I will cover the whole issue of high-risk investments in depth if you do.”

They were actually surprised. You know, people tend to accept “expert” advice uncritically, and these were citizens with no particular expertise in finance. They told me they’d look into it, and for whatever reason, they decided not to consider the broker’s proposal - which was good.

For me, red flags go up whenever I hear about derivatives, and that’s why I was so concerned about the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
She then goes on to post the details of the story. For me, it was a stroll down memory lane, as I lived in the county at the time. It makes for an interesting read. The bottom line is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Never Forget: "Absences"

The following pairs of photos come from Gustavo Germano's exhibit, "Absences." These images represent a simple but stark reminder of what it meant to live under the rule of a brutal dictatorship in Argentina (and by extension what it means to live under dictatorship more universally). Mad props to Ten Percent and Inca Cola News for posting these:

Here's the text of an interview with the Germano over at UNESCO's site:
Interview conducted by Lucia Iglesias and Casey Walther (UNESCO).

In your photo exhibition “Absences”, you have documented the repression that occurred in Argentina. Why is it important to document these violations of human rights, instead of allowing these painful memories to rest, as some have suggested?

Some of the gravest human rights offenses, in my opinion, are those committed by States—that is to say, when the State is the agent of terror and becomes an instrument of illegal repression by using methods so perverse as the forced disappearance of people. These sorts of actions have consequences for society: Initially, there is the fear and uncertainty. Then over time, there is the sense of not being able to mourn.

So what I am trying to convey in my work is that, more than just the forced disappearances of people that happened in Argentina, there is also the time that has passed. I want to reflect the double effect that time has had. On the one hand, there is the time that the survivors endured while living in the absence of their lost loved one. On the other hand, there is the time forfeited by the persons who disappeared and did not have a chance to live out their lives. When I was creating the concept of this show, I thought that it would be good to capture the aging of the survivors. And it is this very basic and human concept that the terrorism of the State destroyed.

How did your work develop with the relatives of those who disappeared?

In all cases there were moments where real connections were made and where they relived the moment in the original photo. It was truly a journey to the past and, at the same time, a look into the future. There were cases where some of the relatives had never since returned to the place in the original photo. I don’t know whether it was consciously or instinctively, but every one of the relatives gave me their complete trust to work with them. I think this is reflected in the photos. Personally, I am humbled to have been the vehicle through which these people were able to denounce these crimes, and to have created the moment that allowed this to be conveyed. I also believe that, even though my intention was not to do an autobiographical project, the fact that I myself experienced losing someone in my family to these same crimes has allowed a greater rapport with these people, because between us there is a shared brotherhood. And through this project, my own family has been able to grow.

What’s more, all the people that I photograph are from the Entre Rios Province in Argentina, where supposedly “nothing happened”. I come from that province, and I felt that it was important to document cases of disappearances that were not known and affected normal people from distant villages and to show that the tragedy affected this province as well.

What is the current situation in Argentina with respect to these crimes?

In Argentina, they have abolished the laws that, until recently, had hampered the prosecution of those responsible for these crimes. Little by little, these people are finally being brought to trial, although to defend themselves they’re evoking the time that has passed and arguing that prosecution should wait until their lives have ended since they are already very old. Nonetheless, a few have been convicted, which we of course applaud. This is why my work tries to raise public awareness of this issue.

In 1999, UNESCO awarded its Prize for Peace Education to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers whose children disappeared in that period.
Beginning in the 1970s, Argentina was one of the nations that was used as a laboratory for economist Milton Friedman's economic theory, neoliberalism. One common element in practically any nation in which the theory has been applied is that as wealth is transferred from the poor and middle classes to the well-to-do, governments utilize brutal measures in order enforce understandably unpopular economic and political decisions, including torture, political imprisonment, and death squads (with of course mass disappearances).

V sez: "People should not be afraid of their government. The government should be afraid of the people."