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57 posts categorized "Academia"

March 25, 2009

RIP: Archie Green, folklorist, father of "laborlore"

The preeminent folklorist of American labor, Archie Green, has died at the age of 91:

Green moved comfortably through the halls of Congress and the halls of ivy, but he preferred life on scaffolding or in a welder's shed or machine shop. Work was where his heart was — doing it and convincing others to document what they did. He coined the term "laborlore" and actively encouraged filmmakers, steel workers and pile drivers, among many others, to keep the stories of working people alive.

Green's infectious enthusiasm and firm belief that labor culture had a place in what he called "a marble mansion" was largely credited with convincing Congress to pass the American Folklife Preservation act of 1976. It established the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. [NPR] (link added)

Green was received a Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress in 2007 for his tireless efforts to document the creativity of working Americans.

More on Green's extraordinary life and work.

July 12, 2008

Bill Donohue and the Catholic League bully PZ Myers over Eucharist joke

When PZ Myers joking suggested that his readers steal communion wafers, Bill Donohue and the Catholic League went ballistic.

PZ made the joke because he was exasperated by media reports of a Florida university student receiving death threats for walking out of church with some unconsumed Eucharist. Ironically, PZ was standing up for the rights of a Catholic student who was being harassed by fellow Catholics.

For the record, the student, Webster Cook, didn't even steal the wafer, it was given to him. Cook is Catholic and is entitled to receive communion.

He says he didn't intend to desecrate the wafer. He just wanted to show it to his non-Catholic friend, whom he had invited to church, before consuming it. It was an unorthodox move, but hardly a hate crime.

Cook says he only walked out with the cracker after a church member saw him take the blessed cracker and physically assaulted him in an attempt to retrieve the wafer. If that's what happened, good for him for walking out. People are free to worship however they like, but that freedom doesn't extend to enforcing their own rules by force.

PZ was joking about desecrating the Eucharist. In his view, the sheer absurdity of death threats over a cracker called for an equally outrageous rhetorical response. Along the lines of: Oh, yeah, I'll desecrate ten crackers Live! on the Internets!!!, what are you going to do about it?

It's called hyperbole, a tactic often used in the these "jokes" the kids enjoy nowadays. Bill Donohue is from an era when any harsh word against the church was punishable heresy. Somewhere there's an Inquisition missing its Inquisitor.

PZ called out bullying by attempting to provoke an even more disproportionate response from the fanatics. He succeeded.

Donohue and his ilk wrap themselves in the mantle of religious freedom, but they don't give a damn about the other part of the First Amendment: freedom of expression.
Some well-intentioned liberals get sucked in by the Catholic League's main rhetorical trick which is to construe any criticism or mockery as a hate crime.

The Catholic League likes to attack the livelihoods of people who criticize them, or run afoul of their proprietary vision of acceptable discourse about the Catholic Church. Donohue and his minions are doing their best to get PZ fired from the University of Minnesota.

Donohue has no religious credentials of his own and no official connection to the Catholic Church. He's not a priest, he's not a theologian. He's just a self-aggrandizing bully who likes to rail against celebrities and get bloggers fired. Why anyone takes him seriously is beyond me. Donohue managed to whip up a minor moral panic around Amanda Marcotte's joke about the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit--as if he and the Catholic League holds the copyright on the Virgin, like Disney does for Mickey Mouse!

For Donohue to construe that remark as hateful towards Catholics should be enough to permanently disqualify him as a cultural critic. Mockery isn't hatred. Being crass isn't a crime. 

Clearly, Bill Donohue can't take a joke. He is the self-appointed defender of one of the richest and most powerful organizations in human history and he has assigned himself the task of policing snark by atheist bloggers. Donohue's complete lack of perspective makes him ridiculous in the truest sense of the word.

If he had more shame, or less money, Donohue would be totally irrelevant.

I wonder how the Catholic League feels about the sale communion wafers as diet snacks in heavily-Catholic Quebec...

Making fun of people who liken the removal of a communion wafer to kidnapping and hostage-taking is A-OK in my book--especially when these folks seem surprisingly unconcerned about the alleged physical assault that preceded the removal, or the death threats that followed.

The Catholic League claims to be a civil rights organization. Yet it consistently targets high-profile atheists like Amanda Marcotte and PZ Myers and attempts to get them fired.  Draw you own conclusions. 

May 12, 2008

Phylis Schlafly: rape denier

KathyG excoriates Washington University for offering an honorary doctorate to anti-feminist crusader Phylis Schlafly:

[V]ery rarely—in fact, almost never—do you see a great university honor someone who, throughout her public life has shown nothing but contempt for the values of the academia, values such as intellectual honesty and integrity, rational discourse, and the dispassionate pursuit of knowledge. Who has been, not a champion of human rights and human progress, but rather, at every turn, sought to thwart the aspirations of millions of female and nonwhite Americans and deny them equal justice under the law. Who has attempted to leave the world a far worse place than it was when she came into it, and in many ways has succeeded at this.

Schlafly is a very talented political operative, but she's not a deep thinker. Feministing excerpts an recent interview with Schlafly in which she argues that marital rape is a contradiction in terms because a woman issues blanket consent to sex by getting married:

Could you clarify some of the statements that you made in Maine last year about marital rape?

I think that when you get married you have consented to sex. That's what marriage is all about, I don't know if maybe these girls missed sex ed. That doesn't mean the husband can beat you up, we have plenty of laws against assault and battery. If there is any violence or mistreatment that can be dealt with by criminal prosecution, by divorce or in various ways. When it gets down to calling it rape though, it isn't rape, it's a he said-she said where it's just too easy to lie about it.

Was the way in which your statement was portrayed correct?

Yes. Feminists, if they get tired of a husband or if they want to fight over child custody, they can make an accusation of marital rape and they want that to be there, available to them.

So you see this as more of a tool used by people to get out of marriages than as legitimate-

Yes, I certainly do. [Student Life]

Schlafly believes that a husband is entitled to extract sex from his wife against her will, as long as he doesn't physically hurt her in the process.

Schlafly also implies that we can't have laws to protect wives from their husbands' sexual demands because someone could make a false allegation. If you take Schlafly's logic to its ultimate and logical conclusion, all rape laws should be struck down because of the mere possibility of spurious allegations. She's advocating the sex crime analog of tort reform: Alleged victims don't deserve the right to arbitration in the courts because someone might eventually bring a frivolous case.

I'm very disappointed that WashU has chosen to reward such a morally reprehensible alum.

December 13, 2007

Mike Gravel mashup

HT: Rad Geek, by way of commenter, bunty.

December 07, 2007

Mindf--ck: A&E ads make New Yorkers hear voices

A&E is literally targeting consumers with hypersonic beams on billboards. The rays broadcast sound in a beam, so the noise is inaudible unless the consumer/victim strays into the target area--in which case they may experience the sound as a voice in their head.

David Giantasio of AdWeek's magazine's blog, AdFreak:

Now, Holosonic Research Labs (sounds like something out of Scanners) strikes some new notes in the urban symphony with a creepy audio outdoor effort for A&E’s Paranormal State. From the release: “People passing by the Manhattan billboard suddenly hear a voice talking to them, but when they take another step the noise is gone. The sound captures their attention and the message appears as though it is just for them.”

Earlier this year, CourtTV used similar technology for a campaign called "Mystery Whisperer":

During the month-long campaign, targeting eleven bookstores and cafes throughout Manhattan, the Audio Spotlight directed more than 100,000 messages to shoppers asking them to tune in to the new Court TV television series.

"Because the message delivered by the Audio Spotlight system is only audible when directly in line with the narrow beam of sound, we were able to capture consumers' attention in a whole new way," said JP Freeley, owner of BlueBlast Media. "We left consumers with a message that resonated instead of one they just walked right past." [Holosonic Press Release, 2007]

Holosonic Research's website offers customers a chance to "put sound where they want it." Great.

The company's PR team has convinced some reporters that this wonderful invention "preserves quiet," which technically it does, on least compared to a megaphone, which broadcasts sound waves in all directions. The ray sends sound to one point, so unless you wander into the beam, you can't hear anything coming from the billboard. None of the gushing media coverage notes that laws against noise pollution preserve quiet even better.

Josh of Gawker got hit by an A&E ray at on Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott. He describes what it was like to literally get shot with an ad for some TV show about ghosts. He was walking along, minding his own business when suddenly he heard a woman's voice in his head saying, "Who's there?"

According to Holoonic, the devices have also been used in libraries and galleries to deliver audio without headphones. I don't know whether people interpret the sound as being inside their head when they are told what to expect.

It's one thing to direct patrons to stand in a particular spot if they want the audio tour. It's totally different, and completely unethical, to bombard unconsenting passers by with unsourced sounds on public sidewalks.

New York needs to ban this nuisance, assuming it isn't already prohibited by existing laws. You can't even put up an outdoor billboard in this city without permission. Corporations should not be allowed to colonize patches of our sidewalks for their stupid brands.

December 03, 2007

The AAA and engagement with the military

Anthropologist, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Last week, I spent a couple of days at the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC. I went for the unveiling of a much-anticipated report on anthropology and the military. I came away feeling like the committee took the easy way out.

The report focused primarily on relatively non-controversial kinds of engagement, such as studying the military, teaching in the military university system, and providing academic input to military leaders on very broad questions like the definition of "culture." In fairness, these relatively straightforward forms of engagement are far more common than exotic HTS-type assignments. Still, what the membership and the media really wanted to talk about were the hard cases like the fledgling Human Terrain System (HTS).

HTS embeds anthropologists and other social scientists on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the short term, Human Terrain Teams provide direct social science support to a brigade commander. However, the ultimate goal of the project is to create a continuously updated map of the "human terrain" that will be available to any government agency that wants to see it, including intelligence agencies. 

HTS has no internal ethical review board. Any American university-based academic who wanted to go live with tribes in Iraq and call it anthropological research would have to submit a detailed research proposal for ethics approval. In HTS, there are no controls over what kind of information these social scientists can gather, or how it must be safeguarded to protect the informants.

The Executive Board of the AAA issued a preemptive statement of disapproval prior to the ad hoc committee's report, in large part because a major New York Times article had thrust HTS into the spotlight.

I can't fault the ad hoc committee for not addressing HTS in more detail. They began their investigation with a much broader mandate two years ago when AAA members noticed that the national security sector was stepping up its efforts to woo anthropologists. HTS didn't even exist when the ad hoc committee got started.

Even so, the report still reads like a cop out. It's not as if the really difficult issues are new. Anthropology has had a long and uncomfortable relationship with the military since the inception of the discipline.

The proponents of HTS see themselves as humanistic mavericks who just want to help the military learn more about culture. They hope that increased cultural understanding will make the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan less violent and more effective. The official line is that a Human Terrain Team reduced "kinetic operations" (the application of military force) by 60-70% in one brigade's territory in Afghanistan. It's hard to know what to make of this statistic without a lot more data, which the military isn't at liberty to share. Correlation isn't necessarily causation.

But let's assume that HTS really is helping the US military apply force more effectively, with less collateral damage. It's still not clear that HTS or, any other program that provides direct operational support to a combat brigade in wartime, is compatible with AAA's code of anthropological ethics.

I discuss some of the ethical dilemmas raised by HTS in greater detail here.

The bottom line is that, according to the the Code, anthropologists doing field work are supposed to put the welfare of their subject population first.  It comes down to the basic moral principle that you shouldn't use people. As a social science that studies real people's everyday lives, anthropology has walk a fine line between exploration and exploitation.

There's a general consensus that it's not right to ingratiate yourself with a group, learn from them, and turn that knowledge against them. Applying anthropological expertise to help kill some of the members of the population under study is not easy to reconcile with the field anthropologists' responsibility to avoid harm to his or her informants.

Some HTS proponents claim that they don't do targeting--that may be true of their operations so far, but there are no rules to ensure that won't happen in the future.

Now, one might argue that anthropological ethics need to be revised in order to balance the well-being subjects with some greater national interest, or a larger duty to minimize harm to innocents. That's certainly the approach the some HTS spokespeople use.

However, I didn't hear anyone at the AAA arguing that the code of ethics needed to be radically revised to accommodate embeds. The debate was couched in terms of what the code already allows. I agreed with the participants who complained that the report, and the "Empire Speaks Back" panel discussion that followed the unveiling of the report were too focused on the kinds of cooperation that might be allowed, and too hesitant to address what might be out of bounds, and why.

October 12, 2007

Support Retrospectacle for blogging scholarship

Science blogger Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle is up for a $10,000 student blogging scholarship.

I love Retrospectacle. I hope Shelley gets some long-awaited support for her efforts through this competition.

Shelley Batts is a Neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. She studies hair cell regeneration in the cochlea, and is just embarking on that quixotic quest called 'thesis.' She lies awake at night pondering how science intersects with politics, culture, policy, money, medicine, and religion in an attempt to be more than just a niche scientist sitting in the oh-so-lovely ivory tower. Follow me and my parrot on the quest to get funded, get a PhD, and stay sane.

Cast your vote here.

September 18, 2007

Cops turn stun gun on student at Kerry event (video)

Live Leak has the raw footage of police Tasering a mildly disruptive student at a John Kerry event at the University of Florida:

RAW STORY has three videos of the incident. Kerry has condemned the use of the stun gun on the 21-year-old student.

August 21, 2007

PZ Myers sued over negative book review

Prominent skeptic and science blogger PZ Myers is in the middle of a legal battle because he had the temerity to pan some crank's book (twice!).

The embittered author, Dr. Stuart Pivar, filed a lawsuit against Myers' publisher in New York's Southern District Court on August 16th.

Andrea Bottaro of Panda's Thumb reports that Pivar is seeking $15 million in damages from Myers and his publisher Seed Media Company.

Pivar claims he was libeled why Myers described him as a "classic crackpot." Here's my favorite part of the complaint (pdf):

16. On July 12, 2007, Defendant Myers maliciously, and without cause, defamed Plaintiff by referring to him as "a classic crackpot."

17. Upon information and belief, Defendant Myers' references to Plaintiff as "a classic crackpot" were necessarily intended to disparage Plaintiff's abilities as a scientific enquirer and were intended to hold Plaintiff up to ridicule and embarrassment in this specific area of Plaintiff's professional endeavors.

18. Myer's defamatory remarks were made with actual malice; Myers called Plaintiff "a classic crackpot" fully knowing that statement to be false as a statement of fact and in reckless disregard of the truth about Plaintiff because Myer's knew full well, the time of publishing his defamatory statement that no scientist holding the international reputation ofany of Hazen, Sasselov, Goodwin or Tyson would endorse or review the work of a crackpot.

19. Myers has publicly described himself on his web log as a "cruel and insensitive person".

Grampa Simpson couldn't have said it better himself!

June 09, 2007

Federal charges for threatening emails

Sometimes threats have consequences:

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ A college professor accused of launching a campaign of threatening e-mails and phone messages after losing his job last year was tracked down with the help of former colleagues and arrested, authorities said Friday.

Xiang Li, a 42-year-old Chinese national who worked at Morrisville State College during the 2005-2006 school year, is being held on federal charges he made interstate threats to injure or kill another person.

David Rogers, the school's dean, said Li was enraged when told his temporary contract as a professor of computer information technology was not going to be renewed because students found him abusive and sometimes belligerent.

"This isn't over yet. People who hurt me, I hurt them. And this isn't over," Rogers recalled Li saying.

Li was fired and barred from the campus after the confrontation with Rogers in May 2006. He then moved out of New York and began threatening Rogers and others at the school in September, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Among the messages were threats to castrate a former colleague and to kill the child of another and the taunt, "Do you think they can protect you from a man who wants to die and wants to kill you?" [AP]

Computer science profs teamed up with the FBI to track Xiang Li down. He was arrested by U.S. Marshals last month in a Pittsburgh airport.