The hypocrisy of simplicity

It seems that police, firefighters, and teachers are now to be considered on the same level as “welfare queens”:

There is, in fact, something astonishing about the ascent of Chris Christie, who is about as slick as sandpaper and who now admits that even he didn’t think he would beat Jon Corzine, the Democrat he unseated in 2009. Some critics have posited that Christie’s success in office represents merely the triumph of self-certainty over complexity, the yearning among voters for leaders who talk bluntly and with conviction. Yet it’s hard to see Christie getting so much traction if he were out there castigating, say, immigrants or Wall Street bankers. What makes Christie compelling to so many people isn’t simply plain talk or swagger, but also the fact that he has found the ideal adversary for this moment of economic vertigo. Ronald Reagan had his “welfare queens,” Rudy Giuliani had his criminals and “squeegee men,” and now Chris Christie has his sprawling and powerful public-sector unions — teachers, cops and firefighters who Christie says are driving up local taxes beyond what the citizenry can afford, while also demanding the kind of lifetime security that most private-sector workers have already lost.[1]

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  1. [1]Matt Bai, “How Chris Christie Did His Homework,” New York Times, February 24, 2011

Academia Adrift: A Preliminary Report on Research Direction

To the extent that coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a measure, a new book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift,[1] has attracted considerable attention within academia since its publication early this year. David Glenn writes that the authors “have been through a torrent of radio interviews and public lectures. In the first days after the book’s release, they had to handle a certain amount of breathless reaction, both pro and con, from people who hadn’t actually read it.”[2] No doubt. The book’s first chapter will likely resonate widely within academia—and authors Arum and Roksa make certain that it will by citing on page two a nearly unanimous consensus among educators that the major purpose of an undergraduate education is to instill critical thinking skills, a purpose they allege is not being fulfilled. From there, they proceed to indict a culture on campuses that seems to be about anything but learning with a decline in hours students spend studying, a decline in expectations professors—who also face increasing demands of a “publish or perish” mentality—have of students, and college administrations that are increasingly business- and decreasingly scholarly-oriented.

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  1. [1]Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2011).
  2. [2]David Glenn, “Scholars Question New Book’s Gloom on Education,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 13, 2011

An eye for an eye in Libya

I can’t argue with Marc Lynch’s call for NATO to intervene in Libya’s bloodshed.[1]. Surely if any situation calls for outside intervention, the specter of a regime massacring its own people is it. But that’s the problem—this is all too often the argument.

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  1. [1]Marc Lynch, “Intervening in the Libyan tragedy,” Foreign Policy, February 21, 2011

Cowboys and Indians in Lahore

As the Guardian notes, the story sounds like something out of a Hollywood action-adventure movie:

On 27 January, Raymond Davis, a bulky 36-year-old CIA agent with a shock of grey hair, was winding through the chaotic Lahore traffic when he stopped at a red light. A motorbike carrying two men, coming from the opposite direction, swerved in front of his Honda Civic. The pillion passenger was carrying a gun. Davis, a former special forces soldier, whipped out his 9mm semi-automatic Glock pistol and, still behind the wheel, opened fire. Five shots sliced through the windscreen. Muhammad Faheem, a 19-year-old street criminal, fell dead.

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Pan-Arabism, lines drawn on maps, and Israel


This map (hosted on Google Maps) of all the protests in North Africa and the Middle East makes the question of which country is “next” seem pretty silly. The regime in Bahrain, home of the United States Navy’s 5th Fleet, has been discredited following violence in which at least five civilians were killed.[1] The map also shows protests in Mauritania, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran, as well as in Tunisia and Egypt.[2] And stories just keep rolling in from around the region, making it difficult for me to get any actual studying done (I’m a Ph.D. student). Definitely not to be lost in the shuffle is a story on Daily Kos about Libya, where they apparently don’t need no stinking Internet for people to get killed in clashes with security forces.[3]

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  1. [1]Juan Cole, “Bahrain Shiites Withdraw from Parliament, Call for King’s Overthrow,” Informed Comment, February 18, 2011; Jim Lobe, “US Faces New Test Over Bahrain Violence,” Inter Press Service, February 18, 2011; Justin Raimondo, “The Battle of Bahrain: King Hamad – the Mubarak of the Gulf,”, February 18, 2011
  2. [2], “Protests across the Middle East”,18.808594&spn=52.805314,98.4375&z=3
  3. [3]Meteor Blades, “Growing crowds of Libyans publicly reject Gaddafi despite bullets and threats,” Daily Kos, February 18, 2011

Not solving the problem in the Middle East

Just as I thought the story had died down, the New York Times carried a story about how uprisings inspired by successes in Tunisia and Egypt have appeared all over the Middle East.[1]

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  1. [1]Neil MacFarquhar, “Unrest Spreads, Some Violently, in Middle East,” New York Times, February 16, 2011

Systemic discrimination and the role of oppressor

A couple times now in my academic career, I have encountered the concept of institutional discrimination, or more recently, systemic discrimination, “racism without racists,”[1] that arises not because any individual is racist, but rather, like Adolf Eichmann, people are doing their jobs within a societal structure that targets particular people with structural violence and sometimes more direct violence as in the Oscar Grant case, where a white police officer shot a black man who was face down on a BART station platform.

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  1. [1]Richard Shapiro, lecture, “Secular/Post-Secular? Emancipatory Jewish Thought,” California Institute of Integral Studies, February 7, 2011.