Saturday, April 25, 2009

Republicans need to explain themselves

It’s odd, isn’t it? We are a people who believe in rights. We say that it is “self-evident” that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights".

But something's changed. Republicans, or most of 'em you hear from these days, seem to take the view that some of these rights are alienated in the case of humans who are also alleged terrorists.

Could you Republicans please explain to me how this works, logically? In particular, how does your position on torture square with how we, as a nation, have tended to approach torture in the last century or so?

About five months ago, Evan Wallach, a judge and a former JAG wrote a piece for the Washington Post entitled “Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime." There, he notes that the media usually describe waterboarding as “simulated drowning.” According to Wallach,
That's incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is,

the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.

Wallach notes that the U.S. convicted several Japanese soldiers for using this technique on prisoners of war. Evidently, it was called the “water cure”:
After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan's military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.

Wallach describes more recent judicial events in the U.S., including a civil action
brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee's mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

Then there’s this case:
In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners' civil rights…. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

Wallach notes that the “four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison.”

OK, Mr. and Mrs. Republican. Were we wrong in embracing this series of judgments? Were we wrong to suppose that waterboarding is torture and that it is a violation of human or natural rights? Were we wrong in embracing a regard for persons, all persons, such that there are things that should not be done to them, including torture?

If not, please explain how this all works.

There is a fascinating discussion of torture in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: The Moral Justification for Legalised and Institutionalised Torture . It ends with:
So torture warrants are highly undesirable, indeed a threat to liberal democratic institutions. Moreover, torture warrants are unnecessary. As has been argued above, there may well be one-off emergencies in which the use of torture is morally justifiable. In those cases, the relevant public officials must bite the bullet and do what is morally required, e.g. torture the terrorist to save thousands of innocent people. In such an emergency, the military or police officers involved will need to break the law on this one occasion. But in itself this is a small price to pay; and a price the police, the military and the politicians have shown themselves only too willing to pay in situations that are far from emergencies.

One final matter. What should be done to the military officer, police officer, or other public official who tortures the terrorist if — after saving the city — their crime is discovered? Quite clearly he (or she) should resign or be dismissed from their position; public institutions cannot suffer among their ranks those who commit serious crimes. Further, the public official in question must be tried, convicted, and sentenced for committing the crime of torture. Obviously, there are (to say the least) mitigating circumstances, and the sentence should be commuted to, say, one day in prison. Would public officials be prepared to act to save thousands of innocent lives, if they knew they might lose their job and/or suffer some minor punishment? Presumably many would. But if not, is it desirable to set up a legalised torture chamber and put these people in charge of it?

This kind of position will be familiar to philosophers who have long discussed the so-called problem of "dirty hands." It focuses on extraordinary situations in which an indecent act seems in some sense to become morally necessary. To suppose that such events can occur and that, when they occur, persons in authority should do the indecent thing--with appropriate regret--is interesting and plausible.

Is this what Republicans are talking about in the case of torture in our "war on terror"? That would at least make some kind of sense. It could bring coherence where, prima facie, there is none.

But it means that the people who ordered the torture must be convicted and punished. They must accept this as necessary.


Please explain.

For an enlightening discussion of the (complex and controversial) concept of rights, see the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shep ain't so bad, I guess

Of all the "personalities" on Fox, the only one I just can't figure out is Shepherd Smith. I dunno. He just seems like a nice guy.

But he's on Fox, and so I don't often watch him.

And now he turns up droppin' the F-bomb while condemning the use of torture! (Click below.)

Hey, maybe he is a good guy after all. Go Shep!

Here's the Huffington Post's story:

Shepard Smith Uncensored: "We Are America, We Do Not F**king Torture!"
Fox News viewers witnessed a rather incredible scene on Wednesday as anchor Shepard Smith and Fox contributor Judith Miller (of CIA leak infamy) repeatedly and passionately condemned torture, with Smith declaring at one point, "We are America, we don't torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people -- that means it's mine. That means -- I'm not saying what is torture, and what is not torture, but I'm saying, whatever it is, you don't do it for me! I want off the train when the government starts -- I want off, next stop, now!"

The full segment is worth a watch. And Smith felt strongly enough about the issue to speak out about it again as he was heading into commercial break.

"They better not do it," he said. "If we are going to be Ronald Reagan's Shining City on the Hill, we don't get to torture. We don't do it." Fade to black.

Professions for Women

That time has arrived in the semester when Rebel Girl commences to meditate upon the most canonical texts in her pedagogical repertory – Dr. Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson, Malcolm X and Virginia Woolf. She loves this quartet and has a giggle imagining them applying to teach at the little college in the orange groves.

Students, for the most part, recognize all these figures, though in a kind of cartoony way: Martin "I Have a Dream" King; Thomas "All Men are Created Equal" Jefferson; Malcolm "By Any Means Necessary" X and lately, Virginia "That Crazy Woman Played by Nicole Kidman" Woolf.

As these students work through the texts, Rebel Girl is consistently stunned at their optimism. So much has changed, the students assure her. It's all better now. King's dream has been realized. We are all equal. Malcolm was a movie and a hip-hop message. The angel in the house which so haunted Virginia Woolf has been defeated.

Rebel Girl is not so sure.

She hears things. Voices. Those stories which come to her. Like Woolf, the birds outside Reb's office window chirp in Greek. Reb studied Greek for one summer but found the Aegean and romance more attractive. Still, she can pick out some phrases here and there. The little college birds are urgent. When they speak, she listens, pulls out her dictionary and begins to translate.

What she has learned from her feathered friends prompts her to pose some questions:

Should membership in organizations disqualify one from employment as an instructor in public institutions of higher education?

Should one list those memberships on one's resume when applying for employment as an instructor?

Should the administrators who interview applicants for such a position ask after such affiliations and allow such affiliations to be part of their judgment?

Say, for example, if Virginia Woolf applied for a such a position and listed among her professional affiliations the Women's Service League or, say, the National Organization for Women, should that be reason for the administrators who sit in judgment upon her to disqualify her?

Little birds and students. The ghosts of writers who most likely would never, ever be hired as teachers at the community college in the orange groves.

Imagine the political affiliations of say, a Dr. King or a Thomas Jefferson or a Malcolm X. Those fellas belonged to some pretty radical organizations.

And Virginia Woolf? Well. Wasn't she married to a Jew who helped found the League of Nations? And she herself, a feminist? Can't have one of those. No. Not here.

"Even when the path is nominally open—when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant—there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way," declared Virginia Woolf in 1931 to the members of The Women's Service League.

She was right.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rebel Girl's Poetry Corner: "its morning finding the first time"

Earlier this week, the poet W.S. Merwin was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize for the collection, The Shadow of Sirius —some 38 years after he won his first Pulitzer for The Carrier of Ladders.

Here's a poem from his 2007 collection, Present Company. It seems just right for today even if it is still April, not quite May.

To This May

They know so much more now about
the heart we are told but the world
still seems to come one at a time
one day one year one season and here
it is spring once more with its birds
nesting in the holes in the walls
its morning finding the first time
its light pretending not to move
always beginning as it goes

Former Abu Ghraib commander is seriously pissed

...and no wonder.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Remember those “Jesus glasses”?

In today's OC Register: Anti-Christian teacher lawsuit to be decided soon
A federal judge is expected to rule any day now on whether a high school history teacher accused of disparaging Christians in class violated the First Amendment and should be disciplined.

Capistrano Valley High School teacher James Corbett, a 36-year educator, was sued in December 2007 by sophomore Chad Farnan for purportedly promoting hostility toward Christians and advocating "irreligion over religion" in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

The case now centers on just two statements attributed to Corbett in his college-level Advanced Placement European history course – one in which he may have referred to Creationism as "superstitious, religious nonsense" and another in which he may have characterized religion as being "invented when the first con man met the first fool."

[I]n an April 3 tentative ruling, [U.S. District Judge James] Selna dismissed all but two of the statements as either not directly referring to religion or as being appropriate in the context of a class lecture, including the headline-grabbing "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth."….

IVC: "earth day" miscellany

It was "Earth Day" at Irvine Valley College.
Pretty festive, I guess.

The kid at right didn't think much of the vegan cookies, and he hadn't even tried 'em!

These kids seemed to be sellin' grumpiness.
Well, no, they were nice. And their signs were colorful.

There was some kind of "travel abroad" program at one table. I looked at the pricey brochures. I told the girl that I'd like to visit New Zealand. Someday.

The IVC library is photogenic, inside and out.

Fancy-schmancy, I say. I wanted to slide down that banister.
I didn't.

On the toll road interchange, lookin' south. This image captures the Zeitgeist. I want to set up a lemon-aide stand on this spot, tempting Hummer drivers with the refreshing beverage.

Workers in the fields, just down the road from the college. I wonder what they think of Earth Day?

I snuck up on these two in the library. "Click."

Today is a big day for the district's ambitious ATEP initiative because the five-year period that started in 2004 is at long last over.
Now we wait to see if the City of Tustin will give our efforts their official okey-dokey. Or not.

Does anybody remember what happened on April 28th, 1997? Hint: a day that will live in infamy.
(Of course, if nobody remembers, then I guess the day failed to live in infamy.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The spirit of the clock tower

Irvine Valley College once had a clock tower. It was a good clock tower, as clock towers go. But some of its timber was rotten.

So they tore it down.

We managed to rescue the clock’s hands. That’s all that’s left. Plus our memories.

The clock tower is gone. But the spirit of the clock tower survives.

Here are some pictures that the Reb and I took today around campus and inside the new BSTIC building.

The A-quad: somebody told us that they put this slab of concrete "right on top of the bricks."
"So the bricks are OK," he said.

JOHN YOO STARS IN A MOST CIVILIZED DEBATE ON TORTURE: The big debate today at Chapman University. (Matt Coker gives us the blow-by-blow in OC Weekly.)
Bush lawyer defends waterboarding in local debate: John Yoo, whose memos justified controversial interrogation tactics, defends the practices during a Chapman University debate. (Martin Wisckol in the Reg.)
Outdoor sculpture invitational

Monday, April 20, 2009

Breaking news!

I was Googling today and came across a “Social Media Release” dated April 20 about an event that occurred a full week ago. (See.) Here it is:

Irvine Valley College Foundation Awards Dinner
Raises More Than $43,000

The 21th annual Irvine Valley College Foundation Awards Dinner sponsored by Grainger raised more than $43,000. The gala was held on April 13, 2009 at the Irvine Marriott. [Note: Grainger is a supplier of facilities maintenance products.]

Patrick Healy, NBC Channel 4 News reporter, was the keynote speaker, and Maria Hall-Brown, producer of KOCE-TV’s “Real Orange,” served as the master of ceremonies. [Hall-Brown has done some decent journalism in recent years. In the 80s and 90s, she was an actress, appearing in David Carradine’s Open Fire (1988), among other movies.]

The evening wouldn't have been complete without an auction of city officials for charity. [I’ll spare you the corny details.]

Four individuals were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the college with presentation of the IVC Medal, the Foundation’s highest honor. Medal winners were:

Howard J. Klein of Klein, O’Neill & Singh…
Fawn Tanriverdi, a counselor at the college, ….
Raymond A. Lee and Jeffrey C. Joy of Greenberg Traurig LLP….

Since 1985, IVC has been serving students…. [etc.]

This “media release” appears on the pitchengine site.

I’m told that a real effort was made to make this particular Foundation dinner a class act—to raise it to a "new level," as one person put it. Those who attended tell me that Hall-Brown did a fine job as MC and the person who ran the auction was also good. Almost everything was first-rate.

I’m also told that, unfortunately, KNBC reporter Patrick Healy, the keynote speaker, bombed bigtime. All seem to agree that the fellow was dreadfully longwinded and dull.

How is that even possible? I mean, isn’t he out there every night to cover such events as treed cats, traffic accidents, decapitated horses, and, in general, the day of the locust—while looking fairly natty? C’mon!

Whoever booked Healy obviously didn't ask the right questions—such as, Is he a dull speaker?

And how come Mr. Tom Fuentes wasn’t the MC? Isn’t he always the MC? You've gotta admit: Tom always brings something beyond his florid, over-the-top "master of ceremonies" performance. With Tom, especially if he's had a few belts, there's always the possibility that—oh, I don't know—he might suddenly break down and finally explain what his goddam problem is. The tension and excitement can be incredible!

Well, no. No doubt the switch to Hall-Brown was an unexpected ray of sunshine, a delightful pocket full of posies. Plus Fuentes' presence just reminds everyone that, since 2000, the Foundation seems to have drifted increasingly toward the ever-narrowing and staunch world of Tom Fuentes Republicans. That's some serious staunchitude, man. And some serious narrowification.

Next year, I plan to attend and to provide a detailed report, cuz enquiring minds wanna know about snazzy events at IVC where people dress up and somebody might trip and knock over Raghu or say something completely ridiculous that nevertheless reveals the horror, the heart of darkness, of that man's soul.

Typical Healy report on Channel 4:

"And, as you know, some say that the earth is flat"

From this morning’s Inside Higher Ed:

David Horowitz Wins a Round

For all the controversy over the "Academic Bill of Rights", David Horowitz's statement of his views of academic freedom, the document has been adopted rarely. But on Thursday, the board of the College of DuPage, a community college outside Chicago, adopted as official policy a statement based on the Horowitz document.

The policies adopted by the DuPage board Thursday include language that some professors fear will make it impossible for them to explain to students that issues such as evolution are not in question in reputable scientific circles. For example, one measure states: "Faculty members will be free to present instructional materials which are pertinent to the subject and level taught. Faculty members have a duty to present controversial issues in an unbiased manner which respects their students’ rights to academic freedom to determine for themselves the proper resolution of such issues."....

A Farewell to Jim Houston

Every August, Rebel Girl and her family always stop off at Manzanar, just off Highway 395, as they leave summer in the high sierra and return to Orange County. During the last couple decades, they've watched the site develop from near ruin status to national historical site, complete with maps, guided tours and an interpretive center. Rebel Girl still remembers her shock at discovering the Manzanar graveyard. She realized that while she knew her history, she hadn't really fully contemplated the fact that while thousands were incarcerated, of course, some must have ended their lives there as well.

At the interpretive center, Rebel Girl and Red Emma always point out one name engraved on the wall of internees: Jeanne Watkatsuki. "You know her," they tell the little guy. "When she was a little girl about your age, she lived here with her family."

Once a ranger at the site heard them talking about Jeanne and inquired. "We've tried to get her to come back, for the anniversaries, but she never has," the woman said, disappointed.

Together with her husband, James D. Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston wrote what is perhaps the most acclaimed chronicle of the Japanese internment experience, Farewell to Manzanar, now in its 65th printing. At the end of the book, Jeanne recounts her first and, Rebel Girl believes, only visit back to the camp where her family spent years. Reb understands perhaps why Jeanne has chosen to not to return even though others have.

On and off throughout the years, Rebel Girl has taught Farewell to Manzanar as a text in her California-themed composition class. She's also taught James D. Houston's collection of essays, The Men in My Life, a book that seems to reach even the guys in the back row. This year, she's just finished teaching another of his essays, "The Light Takes its Color from the Sea." Every summer since 1992, she has spent part of it in the warm company of one Houston or both in Squaw Valley. The couple seems to represent a kind of quintessential California experience: Jeanne, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, Jim the son of poor migrants from West Texas, together becoming a kind of symbol of possibility and reconcilation.

Last Thursday Jim Houston passed away at his home in Santa Cruz at age 75, in the house that he and Jeanne lived in since 1962, the same house where a survivor of the Donner Party, Patty Reed, had lived out the rest of her life. Patty Reed appeared as a character in his novel Snow Mountain Passage. Writing in The Washington Post, Carolyn See noted, "The novel takes one of the most ghoulish, garish parts of our national myth and transforms it into a dignified, powerful narrative of our shared American destiny."

According to an appreciation released by his publisher, Knopf:
"Houston worked in the grand tradition of place-sensitive California writers such as Robinson Jeffers, John Steinbeck, and Wallace Stegner, authors he once applauded for "manag[ing] to dig through the surface and plumb a region's deeper implications, tapping into the profound matter of how a place or a piece of territory...can shape character, bear upon the sense of history, the sense of self." These words perfectly capture what Houston himself achieved in the sixteen books he published, half of them novels..."I think of the [California] Coast Range as my home base and habitat," Houston once wrote. "I have come to see Hawaii as a heart-land, some form of older spirit-home." For Houston, California and Hawaii were connected, and he invited readers to see California as he did: “not at the outer edge of European expansion or rather, not only there---but also on a great wheel of peoples who surround a basin, an ocean whose shores touch the south Pacific, Asia, and Latin America."

Rebel Girl has met many writers and what she admired most about Jim Houston was that the heart and intellect she found on the page was also present in his person. It isn't always like that. We writers are often at our very best on the page - and in real life, without the opportunity to revise, well...

Jim was one of the good guys.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wolfdogs, killer waves, and old battleships

On Friday, the OC Reg had a fairly odd story about Orange County Wolfdogs. I had no idea such creatures (dogs with lots of "wolf" in them) existed. I've included two of the OC Reg's pics of these special beasts.

I think I must have one.

It was, of course, a beautiful and breezy, if warm, day here in Orange County. Still, I managed to stare at my computer for hours on end, unearthing more cool Orange County history and photos.

I happened to read that the U.S.S. Colorado, a battleshhip, was anchored off of Laguna Beach in 1933. Don't know why. I do know that it was part of a relief effort immediately after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

Below is a photo of the ship in 1924:

Evidently, the ship—i.e., its crew—distinguished itself during World War II, where it served at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipian, Tinian and the Philippines. According to one account, at Tinian, "Japanese batteries unloaded on the Colorado blasting it 22 times with eight-inch shells." (In 1937, Colorado joined the effort to search for Amelia Earhart.)

Here's a great old photo of Laguna Beach (from north of Main Beach, looking south on PCH) taken during the 30s. Who knows, maybe 1933.

I also came across this odd photo (below) of Dana Point in 1928. According to Steve Turnbull, this beach was a "Surfing masterpiece wiped out by the Dana Point Harbor."

Guess so.

At Turnbull's site, I came across the following post card of Laguna Beach (here) taken in 1918. Actually, it is the product of two postcards fused by Turnbull.

(Click on the photo to make it larger.)

Turnbull explains:
I found two old Postcards of Laguna Beach from 1918, photographed by the same photographer (Beckquist), with one looking toward the Marine Laboratory and "Tent City" while the other was looking south, overlooking Main Beach. After looking at them for a while, I suddenly realized that they were taken at the exact same time, and from the exact same position! So I fired up Photoshop and stitched them together. A perfect match produced this wonderful, never before seen panoramic view of Laguna Beach in 1918. The "Pomona College Marine Laboratory" and the "Tent City Cafe" can be seen on the left, with Main Beach on the right. The "Gum Grove" can be seen at Top of the World and many of those trees still exist, while the trees on the hilltop to the right have vanished today.

Here's a shot of the "laboratory" to which Turnbull refers, perhaps taken years earlier.

8-14: do you regret all the lying?

✅ Trump Encourages Racist Conspiracy Theory on Kamala Harris’s Eligibility to Be Vice President NYT ✅ Orange County Sees Overall Coronavirus...

Goals and Values and Twaddle

blather: long-winded talk with no real substance*
The whole concept of MSLOs [measurable student learning outcomes] as the latest fad in education is somewhat akin to the now discredited fad of the '90's, Total Quality Management, or TQM. Essentially, the ACCJC adopted MSLOs as the overarching basis for accrediting community colleges based on their faith in the theoretical treatises of a movement.... After repeated requests for research showing that such use of MSLOs is effective, none has been forthcoming from the ACCJC [accreditors]. Prior to large scale imposition of such a requirement at all institutions, research should be provided to establish that continuous monitoring of MSLOs has resulted in measurable improvements in student success at a given institution. No such research is forthcoming because there is none….
The Accountability Game…., Leon F. Marzillier (Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, October, 2002)
In the summer of ’13, I offered a critique of the awkward verbiage by which the district and colleges explain their values, goals, and objectives —aka SOCCCD'S G&V (goals and values) blather.
I wrote a post each for the district, Saddleback College, and Irvine Valley College efforts. (See the links below.)
This verbiage—stated in terms of “values,” “missions,” “goals,” “visions,” and whatnot—is often badly written. It is sometimes embarrassingly trite.
It occasionally communicates something worthwhile.
No doubt you are familiar with the usual objections to jargon. Higher education, too, has its jargon—an irony, given typical college-level instruction in writing, which urges jargon eschewery.
Sure enough, SOCCCD G&V blather is riddled with jargon and with terms misused and abused. For instance, in the case of the district’s dubious blather, the so-called “vision” is actually a purpose. Why didn't they just call it that?
As one slogs through this prattle, one finds that "visions" tend to be awfully similar to “missions,” with which they are distinguished. The latter in turn are awfully similar to “goals,” which must be distinguished from “objectives.” But aren't goals and objectives pretty much the same thing?
These perverse word games will surely perplex or annoy anyone armed with a command of the English language. In fact, readers will be perplexed to the degree that they are thus armed. Illiterates, of course, will be untroubled.
Here's a simple point: the district and colleges’ G&V blather tends to eschew good, plain English in favor of technical terms and trendy words and phrases (i.e., it tends to be bullshitty and vague). Thus, one encounters such trendy terminological turds as “dynamic,” “diversity,” “student success,” and “student-centered.” Even meretricious neologisms such as ISLOs and “persistence rates” pop up, unexplained, undefended.
Does anyone see a transparency problem with all of this? Shouldn't the public, or at least the well educated public, be able to comprehend statements of the colleges' goals and values?
In the case of the district, to its credit, all it really seems to want to say is that it wants to teach well and it wants students to succeed. Admirable!
So why all the ugly, common-sense defying, buzzword-encrusted claptrap?

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle - July 31, 2013

THEY BUZZ: Saddleback College's "Mission, Vision, and Values" - August 4, 2013

IVC’s vision, mission, and goals: nonsense on stilts - August 5, 2013

THE IRVINE VALLEY CHRONICLES: no ideas, just clichés & buzzwords - Sep 30, 2013

*From my Apple laptop's dictionary