The Middle East & Academic Integrity on the American Campus

March 7, 2005

I went to a conference on the above yesterday at Columbia (organized by my mother!). There were lots of great speakers there, and they showed Columbia Unbecomming which demonstrated how eggregiously aweful the Middle East and Asian Languages Arts and Culture Department is at Columbia and how badly the administration has handled the situation. The overall content was fantastic but it suffered from overambition. In addition simply to having to many speakers, its more fundamental problem was that it was unclear whether the priority was promoting academic integrity or fighitng against anti-semitism/anti-zionism. Pursuit of the later weakened the former and vice-versa.

If the issue was academic integrity, professors and administrators who don’t necessarily feel comfortable rallying for Israel would have had a higher likelihood of attendance and there presence there would have strengthened the hand of those who seek change in the administration either of MEALAC or Columbia and it would have been more difficult to claim that SPME or the David Project were simply trying to promote Israel’s agenda over the free speech of the MEALAC professors. In this battle, perhaps, even anti-Israel academics like Rashid Khalidi might take part (in upholding the ideals of academia).

If the focus was rallying against anti-semitism, the academic integrity claim, lowers the integrity of the rally. Many of the speakers argued that those who claim to be anti-zionist rather than anti-semite are deluding themselves because if they really cared about human rights they would exhibit much more emotion about e.g. the genocide happening right now in the Sudan and that by reserving their vitriol for Israel it is hard to escape the conclusion that such people are much more upset about Jews than genocide. They futher showed that many of the substantive complaints about Israel’s behavior are manifestly either false or unreasonable given the actual context and note that much of the anti-Israel vitriol actually originates with Arabs and Islamists who are both manifestly evil (note the genocide in the Sudan above) and motivated by hate. I would modify the comparison to argue that if people are going to complain about Israel they should also be complaining about France, Russia, and Spain, but otherwise I largely agree with these points.

The problem with making such points in the context of claims about academic integrity is that we are no longer talking about academic integrity but problems with a much larger political movement within which academy plays only a small part. The substance of these complaints is less what professors say or do in the classroom than what they are saying in public forums. In this battle Rashid Khalidi is most definitely the enemy and should be treated as such.

At various times Khalisi was being defended as a reasonable anti-Israel academic. At others it seemed he was being assailed as a dangerous crypto-anti-semite. It would help if we could decide.

Challenge to pro-school-choicers

February 24, 2005

I usually argue in favor of school choice on the grounds that poor children should be forced to attend schools that abuse their monopoly power. But this article from the Philly Inquirer (via Power Line)

THE SCHOOL’S 1999 valedictorian has just been charged with having joined an al Qaeda chapter in Saudi Arabia four years ago and is now accused of plotting to kill President Bush, either with a car bomb or by shooting him.
And the school itself has been accused of teaching students to shun or dislike Christians and Jews, and once used an 11th-grade textbook that claimed trees will say on the Day of Judgment, “Here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.”
You could call it Terror High – the Islamic Saudi Academy in suburban Alexandria, Va., near Washington – a more- than-1,000-student high school at the center of these high-profile incidents. The academy is funded by the Saudi government, a supposed ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a well-known advocate of aggressive anti-terror policies, said the school is like “having a little piece of Saudi Arabia” in northern Virginia. He claimed the Islamic Saudi Academy is a classic case of pitting free speech against protection from future attacks.
“It’s like the Nazis having little Hitler schools in America during the 1930s,” Pipes said last night. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi, although the oil-rich nation is a close ally of the Bush administration.

I don’t think the operation of such a school constitutes a clear and present danger. But in the same way that we have laws against child abuse and child negligence, there may be merit in laws that protect children from …dangerous lessons? I don’t know the answer here. Perhaps all that is needed here is transparency. Perhaps we just need to make it easy for others to know what schools are teaching, but I don’t know that that is enough.

Perhaps we need to require that children be subject to propganda by the state on its own behalf to counteract stuff taught by parents. It sounds incredibly objectionable when phrased that way, but that is, in effect, what public schools actually do. And perhaps that is a valid social function. Certainly many American liberals don’t object to forcing Christian children to be taught about evolution over the objections of their parents…

Bill Keller gets it exactly wrong

February 14, 2005

So there’s this very funny and revealing quote from the New Yorker this week. Nick Lemann (dean of Columbia Journalism School) is writing about mainstream media bias, and basically says that as far as most of them are concerned, they get equal amounts of flack from the left and the right, and they’re always bending over backwards to include the wrong opinions on everything, so they can’t really be accused of bias. Which is funny, because no matter how far they think they’re bending over backwards, the fact that none of them know any conservatives means that most our views fit into the category of the “unknown unknown”, and therefore can’t be covered. And Nick Lemann is one of the most reasonable liberals out there. So here he interviews Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times:

However, Keller, who is himself of indeterminate politics but is probably more conservative than his fiery populist predecessor, Howell Raines, went on, “Conservatives feel estranged becuase they feel excluded. They do not always see themselves portrayed in the mainstream press as three-dimensional humans, and they don’t see their ideas taken seriously or treated respectfully. This is something I’ve long felt we should correct, not to pander to red-state readers but because it’s bad journalism to caricature anyone with reductionist portraits and crude shorthand. Portraying conservatives fairly does not mean
equal time for creationism. But it does mean, for example, writing about abortion in a way that does justice to the deep moral qualms most Americans have about it. It means trying to understand the thinking of people who regard gay marriage as unacceptable, who worry that gun controls represent an encroachment on their civil liberties.”

And there you have it. In a nutshell, “We should really stop presenting conservatives as two-dimensional idiots. Instead we need to understand how homophobic, creationist, anti-abortion gun nuts think.” And that’s the problem. He just doesn’t get conservatives. Most conservatives are just people who think socialism is the problem and freedom is the solution. Gay marriage is a very small sideshow in the big battles of government vs. markets, malpractice lawyers vs. patients, teachers unions vs. children, progressives vs. poor people, taxes, regulations, huge government programs, property rights, what have you. Conservatives believe that the reason that education, pensions, and health care in this country are expensive and low quality but clothing, food, and entertainment are cheap and high quality is that the government controls the former and markets control the latter.

The reason that the New York Times makes my blood boil is not that they can’t understand why anyone would be against gay marriage, it’s that they view the world through the filter of “is this good for George Bush?” and if it is, they ignore it, and if it isn’t, they ram it down everyone’s throat. Is the economy good or bad? Well, George Bush is in power, so it must be bad. Is the environment good or bad? Well, George Bush is in power, so it must be bad. Are things in Iraq going well or badly? Probably badly until a democrat gets elected. There doesn’t seem to be much of an attempt to catalog the way the world really is and let people draw their own conclusions. Because if they did that in an unbiased way, everyone would conclude that the Democrats need to be turfed out for good, and that’s not something they can stomach.

Globalism, Speciation, Extinction

June 24, 2004

Scott Sampson talks about dinasour evolution and notes that:

Ecologically speaking, once two closely related species differing only in reproductive structures (e.g., horns, frills, crests, etc.) come back into contact, it’s unlikely that both will persist for very long, since they will be doing the same thing to make a living.

As humans spread accross the planet, they developed various local cultures to support mate selection and reproduction. Does increased inter-cultural intercourse mean that we should expect to see the extinctions of peoples or cultures? Can a local agrarian culture compete against low cost food produced by agri-business? Can boring European music compete with the mutation of African drumming culture into rock-n-roll? If farming roles or music tastes are part of a mating dance, how does globalization affect mating prospects?

He also makes an argument for protectionist industrial policy:

When all of the continents were united as Pangaea, and even during the initial phases of fragmentation, virtually every terrestrial ecosystem for which we have good data indicates the presence of multiple, perhaps two to four, kinds of large carnivorous dinosaurs, in the range of 750-2000 kg. Given the extensive continental connections, this was a time when terrestrial animals were able to move around much of the planet. It is also why we find remains of dinosaurs on every continent. They didn’t need to fly or swim across major marine barriers—they simply walked from landmass to landmass. With all of this faunal mixing, it is not surprising that we find multiple species of large carnivores in most ecosystems.

Unlike living carnivorous mammals, which often have highly specialized teeth and jaws for particular diets (meat, bone marrow, etc.), large carnivorous dinosaurs apparently lacked such ecological diversity. So, given that they were all doing pretty much the same thing to make a living, it seems reasonable to postulate that inter-species competition would have limited the maximal body size for any one species. It’s highly unlikely that a given lineage could have evolved to be a giant of five or six tonnes when several other species were in direct competition in the same ecosystem. As the continents split apart, dinosaurs and all other parts of the terrestrial biota went along for the ride on these giant rafts of continental crust, setting sail on independent different evolutionary courses. We postulate that it was only after all the continents broke apart that opportunities arose for a single species to dominate an ecosystem and grow to T. rex proportions.

About 75 million years ago, when North America was divided into two landmasses by a seaway, several smaller-bodied tyrannosaurs such as Daspletosaurus and Gorgosaurus lived alongside one another. These animals were large, about 1,000 to 2,000 kg, and no doubt menacing, yet a fraction the size of their subsequent relative, Tyrannosaurus rex, which lived about 67-65 million years ago. In contrast to its predecessors, T. rex lacked the direct competition with other large carnivores. For whatever reason, all other tyrannosaur lineages died out. Almost simultaneously, the seaway receded for good, reconnecting east and west America for the first time in 25 million years and effectively doubling the geographic area for North American dinosaurs. The additional area allowed Tyrannosaurus to increase in body size while maintaining population densities high enough to avoid extinction, at least for awhile.

I don’t buy it. Why wouldn’t the same be true of members of a single species in the same business?

Beauty & Brains Correlated

June 16, 2004

Perhaps the answer to the question about what it really means to be intelligence is to judge a book by its cover. It turns out that Beauty and Brains Often Come Together. So, except perhaps at the limit, when you meet someone who appears smart, but is unattractive, you should have second thoughts about their judgement. If they are academics or their politics are left-win, even more so!

Since people who have post-graduate degrees are politically more left-wing than people who have only bachelors degrees and since the more education one has the less likely one is to have kids (see the previous link) then are the genetic variations that code for a predisposition to left-liberalism being selected against? My guess is that high IQ people who do not go on to grad school are politically to the right of high IQ people who do. Well, the latter are probably having fewer kids than the smarties who do not go to grad school. So are the future generations of high IQ people going to be more right-wing than they are now?

Pacifism vs Due Process

April 16, 2004

Some backchannel feedback on my warriors=pacificists post denied that pacifists were fetishizing war, claiming instead that they are really more concerned with due process issues. The due process issues take two forms:

  1. non-pacificists are too at risk of preemptively attacking countries that are not actually dangerous therefore we should defer all decision making to the UN and follow international law (even if our enemies don’t)
  2. the vast majority of people in “bad countries” are peaceful and it is unfair to punish them for the behavior of the few. we should be loath to attack another country for fear of the civilian casualties we might inflict.

To me, both of these views are the sine-qua-non of war fetishing. The international law argument effectively says that there should be some higher power that should make these sorts of decisions so we don’t have to. To these folks, whatever “international institutions” decide is correct BY DEFINITION — regardless of the representative quality of international institutions with respect to the people’s involved (are ethnic minority dictatorship’s legitimate?) and without regard to the vulnerability of these intitutions to all sort of real world corruptions (oil bribes, threats of terrorism, etc.). Notably, the international law folks do not appear to be making efforts to create representative and trustworthy international institutions, they are just using these intitutions to wish problems away.

Civilian casualty pacifists never recognize that it takes two to tango; they hold the dangerous governments responsible for engangering their people and provoking war (e.g. they never protested Saddam’s failure to comply with UN resolution 1441). Or, they refuse to recognize the obvious fact that real world people/governments have real world and substantive conflicts of interest. If these pacfists were truly interested in avoiding civilian casualties, they would have to make judgements about the relative goodness/badness of each of the two sides in conflict and make judgements about which side should back down (which outcome is best for the populations involved — rather than their governments!). As above, the failure to make this sort of judgement is a failure to participate in the real world. It is simply a fetishizing of war and the responsibility for it that they don’t want to take.

Warriors = Anti-warriors (Is war a means or an end?)

April 14, 2004

Many anti-(Iraq)-war folks are actually truly anti-war (pacificsts). They believe war (and the killing/responsibility associated with it) is inherently bad and must be avoided at all costs. These folks are the mirror image of the classical warrior who believes that war/courage/victory/glory is inherently good. They are both irrationally obsessed with war, both fetishizing kiling and death. They are both, fundamentally warriors, just handling that fetish in different ways.

Both these views are ancient and basically religious. They contrast with the modern (secular humanist view), propounded by Clausewitz, that “war is the continuation of policy/politics by other means.” The purpose of war/politics/policy is to achieve ends we consider desirable. The correct assesment of whether the Iraq/Afghan wars are good/bad for the US is in terms of goals such as strenghtening/weakening the US vis-a-vis likely enemies, increasing/decreasing the risk of WMD terrorism, increasing/decreasing the risk of oil supply shocks (to the economy), impoving/degrading the quality of life for the Iraqi people, etc.

The question is whether you are mature enough to take responsibility for the choices you make. The fetishizing of war is about whether the gods reward/punish killing. The modern view is that people will die/be-killed no matter what choice you make, so you have to take care to choose well.