Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Disturbing New from Tufts

I just recently learned, for FIRE's website, about a disturbing incident at Tufts University. A student-run publication, The Primary Source, was disciplined by the Committee on Student Life for the following two pieces that ran in The Primary Source magazine:

A Christmas Carol that lampoons race-based admission:

A piece on Islamic Awareness week:

Outraged at this lamentable display of injustice and politically correctness, I penned the following email to Tufts President Lawrence Bacow and Barbara Grossman, the chair of the Committee on Student Life.

Dear President Bacow and Professor Grossman,

As a gift-giving Tufts Alum, I was greatly disturbed to hear about the Committee on Student Life's April 30, 2007 decision on The Primary Source. The decision to punish the student run publication for its two satirical pieces is a grave and profound disregard for free speech and intellectual independence.

I am not a conservative and often found myself in disagreement with material published in The Primary Source. Nonetheless, I think it is important that student publications be at liberty to publish any non-libelous material they see fit. When a publication publishes something offensive or disturbing, this allows an object lesson for students to learn about the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs that exist on campus and in the world and to learn tolerance of this diversity. It also allows students to counter viewpoints that they disagree with in a peace manner. This too provides a lesson of how to respond to those we disagree with in a civil society. Rather then always run to courts to complain about harassment, one learns to counter viewpoints with a positive message of one's own. In the case of the Muslim students, they could have used this incident as vehicle to educate the Tufts community about Islamic history and the differences between moderate Muslims and extremists. This kind of intellectual engagement and interaction is what a liberal arts education is all about.

While the Christmas Carol is certainly in bad taste, there is an important difference between satire of policies of the university and a racially motivated attack on other students. The carol picks out no individual student for ridicule or attack nor is it even targeted at black students. It is targeted at the policies of the university. This makes the punishment of the students look to be more of an issue of stifling speech in order to protect the university from criticism.

I am in many ways more deeply concerned about the punishment of The Primary Source for the The Islamic Awareness Week piece. No where in the news reports or releases about this incident does anyone claim that the quotations and events referred to in the piece were factual incorrect or fabricated. It cannot be an issue of harassment or intimidation to publish disturbing yet factually correct reports. I am not surprised that the Muslim students who filed the case against The Primary Source were angered and embarrassed by what was published, but to punish The Primary Source is a form of shooting the messenger. It serves to stifle independence of thought and belief on campus.

If this is the policy of Tufts, then it is no longer the great liberal arts institution that I thought it was. Moreover, I am not comfortable providing monetary support to a school that no longer values individual liberty nor intellectual independence.

Shawn Klein, Class of 95

Though I have given money over the past few years, it hardly amounts to anything substantial, so I don't expect anything more than a form response. I hope that the pressure that FIRE and the ACLU is putting on Tufts will let cooler and more rational heads prevail.

Update [6/15]: I received a nice response from President Bacow. In the email, he wrote the following, promising, comment: "I disagreed strongly with the substance of the Primary Source message, I also came out squarely against censorship of the Primary Source largely for the reasons you have expressed. I have been very consistent in my comments both in response to this issue and the Christmas Carol parody that the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less."

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Stossel for President

John Stossel is a great voice for liberty, and one of the few in mainstream media. Based off of one of his "Give me a break" segments on 20/20, he wrote up an op-ed about gas prices and profit.

This is what he wishes oil company execs. would say in response to criticism about their profits:
"What are you complaining about? What do you think we do with our profits? Buy fancy cars and homes? Well, we do, actually, but nearly all the money goes to looking for more oil and following environmental rules that you want us to follow. You should want us to make more profit. Anyway, we make less profit per gallon than your beloved government takes in taxes."

The last bit about taxes versus profit is really interesting. (read more here) First, because so few people know or think about that. Second, most people don't seem to care. The government takes more of their money, but they criticize the oil company profits. There's really an absurd kind of envy going on.

I also think people think that they'll get a piece of the taxes, but the profits just go to the oil company. Well, more likely the profits benefit people in many more ways than they imagine.

First, the profits go to the shareholders (dividends and increasing stock prices) and through mutual funds and pensions, a lot of 'regular folk' are shareholders in oil companies and so benefit from the profits.

Second, even if one is not a shareholder, each of us benefits greatly from a strong stock and capital market: either because we own stock in other companies or because we like to buy stuff from companies and these companies are largely made possible by a strong stock and capital market.

Third, a lot of profit gets invested back into research and development that ultimately makes gas cheaper and cleaner.

Good stuff at Positive Liberty

A very good post from Jason Kuznicki at the Positive Liberty blog. It is a response to criticism that libertarians are essentially corporate/big business shills. Two main points that Jason raises against this view:
1) libertarians argue for policies that make possible increased prosperity for everyone, not just the wealthy.
2) libertarians argue for policies that restrict any individual or groups of individuals (corporations) from making use of the power of government for their own gain.

In short, while many of the policies advocated by libertarians would benefit corporations and 'the wealthy', they also help the 'little guy'(and arguably to a much greater extent). And the justification of such policies are not in order to benefit either group as such, but to allow the greatest extent of individual liberty.

Like many of the posts at Positive Liberty, there is a lot of other very interesting and good thoughts in Jason's post. Read it.

Update 6/7/07 7:40pm: Timothy Sandefur, also at Positive Liberty, has an equally good follow up post. Refering to libertarianism, "We look toward something new–toward the future, not the past. Our ideas are new and untried paths to wealth and peace, and we ought to advocate them in precisely those terms."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

40 Years Later

I might as well keep the Israeli theme going...

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War between Israel and the Arab countries. Israel, facing a massive, unprovoked attack from Egypt and Syria, struck first on the morning of June 5, 1967 and quickly devastated the Egyptian air force. Over the course of the next six days, Israel pushed Egypt over the Suez Canal, Syrians off the Golan Heights, and the Jordanians over the Jordan River. In this dramatic victory, reality and perceptions changed in the Middle East forever. Israel was no longer seen as just a spry, little country fighting the good fight. It was mighty. To paraphrase Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: They had done the impossible, and this made them mighty.

Israel also took control of territory (nearly quadrupling its size) filled with a hostile and growing population of Arab Palestinians. Israel never intended to keep these territories or rule its people. They were offered to be returned on June 19, 1967 in exchange for peace. The Arab League's response was: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." Few in Israel today think that most of these territories will remain a part of Israel permanently. Israel did annex the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem (to create a united Jerusalem). While many would give up the Golan for peace, Jerusalem, as always, is different and a much more complicated issue.

When I was living in Israel in 1993, it was a time of great hope. Peace was finally coming. Peace got sidetracked since then, for any number of reasons. The future does not look hopeful now...though sometimes that is when the greatest breakthroughs can occur.

For a thoroughly researched and detailed day by day account of the war, including what led to it, I highly recommend Michael Oren's excellent Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Here a couple of interesting links (some may require registration):
Q&A with author and scholar, Michael Oren (Jerusalem Post)
Forty Years On (The Economist)
No Pyrrhic Victory by Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal)
Arab armies planned to destroy Israel by Steve Linde (Jerusalem Post)
What if Israel Had Turned Back by Tom Segev (NY Times)
The Heavy Burden of Victory by Jonathan Tobin (Jewish World Review)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fighting the British Boycott of Israel

Since I am on a little kick here of defending Israel, I thought I'd mention the following.

The ADL has started a campaign against the efforts for the British Journalist and Academic boycott of Israel. In addition to a letter that you can sign (click here to sign the letter), they are running a series of anti-boycott ads. Click here to see a PDF version of one of their print ads. The basic gist of the ads is that to single out Israel for a boycott while ignoring brutal and ruthless regimes like Iran or Sudan is a form of antisemitism.

Criticism of Israel can be an important part of social and political discourse, but it is the failure to appreciate the context that is the antisemitism. Israel is a democratic country that values freedom, individual rights, and religious pluralism. It often fails to meets its own ideal, but at least it has these ideals, unlike Iran, Sudan, and countless other countries where differences are not tolerated, rights are not recognized let alone respected, and where the very work that journalists and academics engage in can land you in jail or worse.

The moral inversion of singling out Israel and not countries that are by far and away much worse is why this boycott is rightly called antisemitic.

A related anti-boycott page: An Open Letter to the People Known as Members of Britain's University and College Union

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Don't let facts get in the way

Sunday's Arizona Republic printed a viewpoint article, "Questions remain over 1967 attack on U.S. intelligence ship 'Liberty'". The author, Mark Genrich, leaves out many facts in this near-slanderous piece. I submitted a letter to the editor which I've posted below:

To the Editor:

With all due respect to the servicemen on the USS Liberty, the tale of an Israeli intentional attack is preposterous. Contrary to Mr. Genrich’s viewpoint article (June 3, 2007), there have been a number of official U.S. investigations, including the US Navy Court of Inquiry and House Armed Services Committee, concluding that this was a tragic mistake. No reason is ever given by these conspiracy theorists for why Israel would intentional attack an American ship.

At the time, the U.S. announced that it had no vessels within a hundred miles of the coast and the USS Liberty was directed not to approach within a hundred miles. Nonetheless, likely because of communication failures, the USS Liberty was attacked fourteen miles from the coast. Israeli forces had reported being shelled from the sea and had concluded that this unidentified ship was responsible. Once the Israelis released this was an American ship, they immediately apologized to American officials both in Israel and in the Washington. Also not mentioned in the article is the fact that Israel quickly and willingly paid reparations to the US and the families of the victims.

Shawn Klein

For more information on the Liberty:
The Jewish Library's Myth and Facts article on the Liberty.
Michael Oren's excellent account of the 1967 war, Six Days of War, provides a detailed account of the incident.

Update: Letter published!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lipstick Jihad

The Israeli journal, Azure, has an interesting review of two books on Iranian youth culture: Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni and Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran by Roxanne Varzi. Each of these books, according to the review, provide insight into the complexity and paradoxes of the Iranian youths. Iran, ruled by a click of dictatorial theocrats, is largely inhabited by disaffected and alienated young men and women who want nothing more than to drink alcohol, have sex, and listen to rock music.

The hopeful elements presented in these books are that the youth appear to want liberty and to dislike the authoritarian regime. This holds the promise of new Iranian revolution that could oust the current repressive and dangerous regime. Whether this can happen before Iran must be bombed to prevent it from going nuclear is an important question.

A most disheartening element,however, appears in the review. According to one of the authors reviewed, Varzi, there is a deeply ingrained reliance on authority and little individualism. She describes how even in simple social activities like a ski trip or party, there was "nothing that was done spontaneously or from individual initiative. The group was always consulted; everyone participated once the activity was decided on, and there was always somehow a de facto leader (chosen usually for age and experience) whom everyone deferred to." This is hardly promising. Even if a revolution could occur, it could very well usher in just a different authoritarianism. Nonetheless a more secular authoritarianism might be preferable to the maniacal, death-obsessed Islamic authoritarianism already in power.

The review has piqued my interest enough to add these to my amazon wish list.