Archive for September 2007

Politics vs. Justice

September 30, 2007

Via Americablog, a story in the Washington Post regarding Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s decision to try and stay in the Senate.

Craig is the person who initially pled guilty to attempting to solicit sex from an undercover male cop in an airport bathroom. He is now fighting to withdraw his plea and seems to be intent on staying on as a Senator.

Interestingly, the Republican Party – of which Craig is a member – is looking like it’s going to be leading the charge to kick him out of the Senate.

This presents Democrats with a choice – or maybe it’s an opportunity. The way I see it, the Dems can do one of several things:

1) They can do nothing, stand on the sidelines, and watch to see if Craig emerges victorious or whether or not he gets drummed out. (I’m not sure how true this is since I don’t know members of the Minority Party can call a hearing or if they have to have the approval of the Chair of the Ethics Committee – in this case a Democrat.)

2) They can side with the GOP and (presumably) argue that Craig has disgraced the Senate through his actions and his conviction, and pressure him to leave.

3) They can side with Craig and fight the GOP.

In other words, I think the Democrats can side with justice on this one, or they can side with politics and use this issue for political gain. I don’t think they can do both.

Siding with justice means, for me, that the Dems actually take Craig’s side and argue in the public eye that being gay is OK. This opens up an opportunity to talk about the suffering that LGBT folks who are in the closet have to go through, and also about the silliness and injustice present in lots of anti-sodomy laws. Caveat: The whole prostitution angle needs to be navigated, but I think that’s doable. Just talk about how this would never have happened if Craig was free to love whomever he wanted. Overall, a great opportunity for the Dems to take a stand rooted firmly in equality and justice for all, with the added bonus that politically, the Dems will be “above” politics since they would be helping a Republican Senator whose views may change a tiny bit as a result of this (I believe if Craig leaves, his appointed replacement will be a Republican anyway).

However, I think the Dems are more likely to take what I would call the low road on this one and either sit idly by while Craig fights the GOP or even assist in Craig’s ouster. There might be some sniping at the GOP regarding hypocrisy, but not too much, since there are plenty of Dems who fear exposure. This route views the battle as primarily about gaining short-term political advantage for the Party by utilizing power-as-a-zero-sum-game rules: Hurt the GOP and the Dems look better. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help the LGBT community as a whole, and nothing to create a better environment for politics to take place in.

Like I said, the Democrats have a choice. They can ally themselves with justice, or they can play at politics. I’m curious to see what they do.


Truth, Journalism, and Stuff

September 30, 2007

One of Lebanon Truth’s most recent posts got me thinking about journalism.

Specifically, the following passage from this post:

So that is why it is disturbing that the journalism program at the high school seems not to be teaching reporters ethics and good manners. The statement in the school paper is libelous — it recklessly quotes an adult as saying that the superintendent was fired from two jobs in a manner that would lead the average reader (a teenager) to believe it is true. There were warnings within Shearer’s diatribe that he was an unreliable source: he spewed forth a fountain of alleged facts. for example, at least 75% of the people in town want Robinson gone. He knows that from his informal conversations with people. He knows that Robinson was fired because he called people in those towns. (If you really wanted to know what happened, you should check school board minutes or at least the local paper). The student shuld have been directed to remove the quote or include a clarification of the real state of affairs. The student should have been taught that there is a difference between getting fired for cause and not having a contract extended.

I don’t know any other way to say this, so I’ll be direct: I think this is sloppy writing on the part of LT, and as a result, it’s likely to be incendiary irregardless of its truth. Case in point: Even given the number of examples LT uses, the statement “seems not to be teaching reporters ethics and good manners” is incendiary because it’s a far different claim than merely pointing out multiple examples of “bad” journalism or mistakes on the part of the journalism staff. Also, it’s a claim against the newspaper advisor and the newspaper staff – it implies that the staff is doing a bad job because they are not getting the proper instruction.

To put it another way: A series of examples is not a generalized (or generalizable) claim about the program. There’s an immense amount of space between the two.

So: Is LT correct? In some ways, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the tone of the comment almost insures it will be rejected by the people it seems to be directed at: those people involved with the journalism program.

For the record, I think LT is correct on the substance of their comments, and I hope the Warrior Spirit folks have the time and energy to track down more background on the story – because the other big subtext of what’s going on is that I happen to know the newspaper’s editorial staff was decimated over the summer, and as a result, they’ve had a heck of a time just getting an issue out. For that reason alone I am not surprised that someone would take issue with the content of their first publication of the year – it was produced under far more stress than normal and with a less experienced staff than normal. That and I would love to see the WS staff find the time and energy to really dive into this issue in way the Lebanon or Albany papers haven’t – it’s not often that a high school newspaper gets the chance to do original reporting that can compete with an “official” publication, but this might be one of those chances.

We are talking about a high school journalism program here, and inasmuch as LT says “Journalism is a great way for students to learn some great skills and have tons of fun. And they will learn from their mistakes, but don’t we have an advisor to keep them from practicing mistakes that will hurt others?” I think that these kinds of things are going to happen, and calling folks out as a first step is not the most productive way to address the problem. Certainly taking a veiled swipe at the journalism advisor isn’t going to help things either. That sort of action creates a divide, an us-vs.-them setup (one that journalists can fall into very easily, I think) where there doesn’t need to be one. Besides, this sort of error happens in the world of “professional” journalism all the time, and often with equal or greater consequences. Mistakes will happen, so I guess I’d suggest that how one deals with them is probably more telling than the mistake itself.

My experience with my college paper also suggests that journalists, for whatever reason, tend to fall into a defensive mode at darn near the drop of a hat, and once that happens, it’s that much harder to build a positive relationship based on trust. And needless to say, a positive relationship based on trust is a good thing for all parties concerned – it gets journalists access and it (I know, I know) tends to result in better coverage for the non-journalist party involved.

So in this case I might have suggested that LT take their concerns to the editor or advisor directly (if such a thing is possible) and frame them as pointing out factual inaccuracies in the story (because journalists tend to respond to that sort of claim), and then let the newspaper staff do the work themselves and correct their own mistake. Pointing it out to the world in this way is, I think, unnecessarily confrontational.

Qualified Support

September 30, 2007

From the BBC, an interesting story out of New Zealand:

New Zealanders have been given the chance to write their own laws, with a new online tool launched by police.

The “wiki” will allow the public to suggest the wording of a new police act, as part of a government review of the current law, written in 1958.

Police say they hope to gain a range of views from the public on the new law before presenting it to parliament.

I have two opposing sentiments about this – hence the post’s title.

Sentiment #1: This is a good thing; it’s open, it’s collaborative, it allows people to respond without fear (mostly), and did I mention it’s collaborative? In terms of public policy, this is a great move.

Sentiment #2: The idea of public policy is predicated on a small number of folks making rules for the whole – and that there is a mechanism for enforcement of said rules (which is almost always violence). In this case, I’m sure the results of the wiki project will be vetted and edited by some official committee somewhere. So the idea of public policy depends on an assumption of a hierarchy at least of power, if not one of knowledge or expertise.

All that said, I offer – to no surprise – qualified support for this move. It’s better than the status quo of making up policy behind closed doors and then asking for input, but not as good as deciding that having fewer policies on the books is a good policy.

Get Off My Lawn, Pretty Please?

September 29, 2007

Hering’s editorial for today isn’t actually that bad… except for one giant, glaring error.

Well, there may be more than one. The beginning:

The case of Brandon Mayfield is a poor test of the secret searches and surveillance authorized by the Patriot Act. It’s a poor test because the man was no terrorist. Instead he turned out to be an innocent man wrongly suspected of being involved in an atrocity in Spain.

OK, yeah, that’s an error. Last time I checked, we were talking about the process, not the outcome. If the process – in this case the new PATRIOT Act stuff – is good, then the fact that Mayfield was wrongly accused should not matter, right? If the process that the government used to go after him was legal… but apparently it somehow makes a difference.

Anyway. Moving on:

Suppose the government gets wind that somebody with links to al-Qaida has recently signed for shipments of material that could be assembled into a bomb to spread poison gas. Getting a warrant and searching his address would tip off the terrorist cell, if any. So the government uses the Patriot Act to do a search in secret and — a week and a half later — manages to arrest the entire cell together as they huddle in the basement assembling their own version of a WMD.

Is anybody other than the terrorists going to complain about how the search was conducted and the evidence obtained?

Oops. There’s the giant glaring error, or, as I like to call it, Hasso’s latest lie by omission. I refuse to believe the man is stupid, so I can only assume this is intentional.

Hering sets up a dichotomy here that turns out to be false. He claims the choices are between a) “Getting a warrant and searching his address would tip off the terrorist cell…” or b) “So the government uses the Patriot Act to do a search in secret…”

Problem is – well there are actually two problems. The first problem is that Hering never establishes why option A results in the terrorist cell being tipped off – certainly the search can be conducted when no one is home, yes?

But the second problem is the bigger one: There is already a way, without resorting to the PATRIOT Act, to get a secret warrant. It’s called the FISA Act, and it allows for all kinds of secret and nasty shit on the part of the government. Hering’s omission of this (or any other kind of) option is misleading. Of course, it’s kind of obvious where he falls:

Let us also hope that when there’s an actual and imminent threat of terrorist destruction, government agents do whatever it takes in the time required to protect us from that threat. (hh)

Yup. He’s been watching 24 again.


September 28, 2007

From the New York Times, a story on the newly redesigned citizenship test:

Federal immigration authorities yesterday unveiled 100 new questions immigrants will have to study to pass a civics test to become naturalized American citizens.

The redesign of the test, the first since it was created in 1986 as a standardized examination, follows years of criticism in which conservatives said the test was too easy and immigrant advocates said it was too hard.

The new questions did little to quell that debate among many immigrant groups, who complained that the citizenship test would become even more daunting. Conservatives seemed to be more satisfied.

Imagine my surprise.

I was thinking about going into a diatribe about the test itself – it’s available as a PDF at the link – but I think I’ll limit that part and take it a different direction. In a second, anyway. First:

72. Name one war fought by the United States in the 1800s.
▪ War of 1812
▪ Mexican-American War
▪ Civil War
▪ Spanish-American War

78. Name one war fought by the United States in the 1900s.*
▪ World War I
▪ World War II
▪ Korean War
▪ Vietnam War
▪ (Persian) Gulf War

Funny how Mexico is the only country from the Western Hemisphere to make these lists. I could name a few others. I’ll grant that most of the things I am thinking of are not wars, but U.S. interventions or occupations – but still. For a more complete list, see this Wikipedia article.

Anyway, on to my larger point: The citizenship test is pretty bogus. While the questions seem roughly at the level of a high school government class, that could have an interesting result:

“People who take this seriously will have a good chance of passing,” said Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University. “Indeed, their knowledge of American history may even exceed the knowledge of millions of American-born citizens.”

On the other hand, the test would seem rather ludicrous if it was designed at the functioning level of most U.S. citizens, wouldn’t it?

So there’s some tension there, between designing a test on the merits and designing a test based on the average knowledge level of the population the immigrant in question is entering. I think one could make a good argument that there’s a double standard present here.

But that’s still not my main point. Mostly, I think the test is bogus because I think the idea of national citizenship is kind of bogus. Lines on a map are arbitrary, and using violence to prevent people from crossing those lines strikes me as immoral. Also, the idea that someone is more valuable because they are a citizen of a particular country? Pretty baseless.

The Real Reason for Diversity Training

September 28, 2007

According to one person, anyway.

I tend to agree.

This Thesis Topic Won’t Make it Out of Committee…

September 28, 2007

The Rhetorical and Sociologal Analyses of White-Supremacist Barbershops