Wellesley College Statue Story Shouldn’t Be So Big

The Wellesley College statue story is making news in New Zealand, and I just saw it on Al Jazeera, too!  It’s clearly blown way out of proportion, so much that I now regret doing my insignificant part to give it legs in my social media presences.

Let’s be clear, only 713 people have signed the petition to move the statue as of this writing.  Wellesley has approximately 2500 students.   The petition is open to the public so anyone can sign.   I can’t see the signatures, but I suspect that many of the signatories are not from the campus community at all.  Still, even if  we assume that everyone who signed is a Wellesley student, the vast majority of students have no problem with the statue being where it is.  That is consistent with what I am hearing.

I have spent my entire adult life in higher education environments of various sorts: public and private, large and small, technical and liberal arts, foreign and domestic.  Student protests are frequent and healthy.  They seldom get much traction in the media, even when they are much larger and even when they work for it.  What is it about this one that has caused such buzz?  Would this story have gotten so much attention if it had happened at a coed liberal arts college?  Or is it the fact that Wellesley is such an highly rated college, so there’s delight in knocking it down?   Or is it that people delight in seeing a students at a liberal arts college behaving so narrow-mindedly?  Whatever it is, the story has been carried way beyond whatever legs it should have had.

CAIR Asks South Dakota Governor to Veto Anti-Sharia Bill

No Bigotry in Our LawsCAIR Asks South Dakota Governor to Veto Anti-Sharia Bill.

Have you heard about this bill?  Well it’s pissing me off and South Dakota isn’t the only state with one in process!  I urge you to click on the link above and read what the Council on  American-Islamic Relations has to say about it.  I’m not angry about it because  it once again demonstrates the appalling lack of understanding and intolerable amount of prejudice must be endured by Muslims in the United States. That deeply saddens me more than it pisses me off.  As an educator, I will do my best to fight against this kind of ignorance.    Americans are innately curious and open-minded, there is simply so much misinformation that has  so massively skewed perceptions.

I am annoyed, ok a little pissed off, that not only South Dakota, but approximately two dozen other state legislatures are wasting time on such frivolous bills when there are so many other pressing issues facing the states and our nation as a whole.  What’s all this talk I keep hearing about budget crunches,  fiscal austerity, and cutbacks?  Both Virginia and West Virginia have debated this kind of a law, as well.  These people, our elected representatives, don’t even understand our system of government, it seems. They pass frivolous, unnecessary legislation to prevent things that are already impossible, instead of dealing with real issues.

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The Bodyguard, Netflix, and Your Right to Access Promised Content

UPDATE:  Check with TechDirt for a significant correction on this story. Apparently this video was removed from the streaming catalog before Whitney Houston’s death.  While that does mean Warner Brothers did not behave as cynically as I believed, the fact that that there was confusion about the date really rather supports my point.  If you expect a video to be in the catalog, you expect it to find it.  

If you were planning to watch The Bodyguard on Netflix, you’re out of luck. According to this post on TechDirt, it’s been pulled. Unless you’re a huge Whitney Houston fan, you probably won’t notice. It’s not a good movie and you probably weren’t planning to watch it. It’s got some great music, but the soundtrack is available separately. If you were planning to watch it, you are probably really annoyed and need to make other plans. I feel your pain, because I’ve been there. It happens far too often, digitally distributed media has a tendency to just disappear, usually due to rights issues.

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Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security May Deserve Neither, but for Profits… That’s the American Way

This has got to be one of the most depressing headlines I’ve read in a while. That we are willing to compromise civil liberties for security in a post 9/11 world was unsettling enough, but at least understandable.  Fear is a powerful motivator.  But to give up civil liberties simply to protect corporate profits?  That is shocking, unacceptable and un-American!  Patrick Henry must be rolling in his grave.

2011: The Year Intellectual Property Trumped Civil Liberties

Just Ignore Him, Maybe He’ll Go Away. Ron Paul and the Media

Watch this video from the CBS Evening News last Sunday, December 4.  At this point it was clear that Herman Cain was ending his run for the presidency and a new Des Moines Register poll had just shown that Newt Gingrich was the new front runner.  Iowa is one of the first states to select its convention delegates, and thus it is closely watched by all involved in and interested in politics.

So according to the report, it’s now a three way race between Gingrich and Romney.  This in spite of the fact that second place in the Des Moines Register poll went not to Romney, but to Ron Paul.  He’s pretty much ignored in this report.  I first noticed the phenomenon when it was pointed out on The Daily Show on August 15, 2011 just after the Iowa straw poll and Pawlenty dropped out of the race.  In this clip, Jon Stewart notes the media’s reluctance to treat Paul as a serious candidate, even on ultra-conservative Fox News.

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Already? & What’s That Got to Do with Christmas Anyway?

Peace on Earth, Good will to AllIt’s the Holiday Season again. Until recently I’ve had very warm and fuzzy feelings toward Christmas, including all the usual associations of friends and family gathered, good food, gifts, and music. As a very earnest, religious child, I truly believed in a Spirit of Christmas that could surround the world once a year.  I didn’t know anything about non-Christians then, but even when I learned of them, I just knew in my heart that Christmas was a time when you showed generosity and magnanimity toward everyone, and they too would feel cheer joy. I truly believed in the greeting of the angels to the shepherds in the fields, “Peace on Earth, good will to all.” The story of a humble child born in a manger that would save all of humanity for sin, remains compelling even today, but Christmas has definitely lost it’s luster.

In fact, I have come to dread the season. Christmas music invades the malls, radio and television as early as October, so that long before December 25 that it by the time the holiday actually rolls around the music I’ve loved since I was a child starts to seem like the music military units incessantly blast into surrounded compounds in order to get those inside to surrender. The bombardment of advertising that starts even earlier makes me tense about the financial pinch so many of us are in this year. And then there’s the traffic and crowds to content with.  I could go on, but you get my point.  It’s stressful.

There seems to be so little joy and merriment left in the season. In fact there’s an ugliness to it, stoked by rantings about an imagined “War on Christmas” and a siege mentality many people seem to genuinely feel, though I can’t discern any  any credible cause. I’ve already gotten my first Facebook message denouncing the White House for not having a Christmas Tree because they are accused of calling it a “Holiday Tree.” My heart sank when I saw the message. Are we really starting this again? Don’t we have enough to deal with as a country that we don’t need to pile this issue on?

First off, let’s be clear about the veracity of the rumor. It’s essentially the same email/Facebook status message that circulated last year and the year before, just with the dates changed.  It is FALSE! NOT TRUE! It was false in 09.  It was false in 2010, and its false now. President and First Lady Obama had two little girls and will celebrate Christmas in ways that are pretty much like every other Christian, American family, except with a lot of extra security and much less privacy.  Check out the pictures from last year.  They are almost too perfect, just like White House Christmas photos generally have been, ought to be, and probably how you want your family photos to be.

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Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Media Review, October 28-November 4, 2011

The media review seeks to raise awareness about academic freedom issues in the news. Subscription information and archived media reviews are available here. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily those of Scholars at Risk.

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TURKEY 11/3/11: Ragip Zarakolu releases public letter from prison
PEN, 11/3

Russian Terror Law Has Unlikely Targets
Sophia Kishkovksy, The New York Times, 11/3

Climate change scientist Michael Mann fends off sceptic group’s raid on emails
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, 11/2
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Campaign Ads, Satirical Magazines and Religious Intolerance

I’m used to negative politics and personal attack ads.  The strategy of attacking your opponents character is probably as old as politics itself, but it’s gotten particularly virulent in recent years.  Unfortunately, it’s seldom elucidating in terms of someone’s ability to govern.  Women and men who have made mistakes in their past or who have truly disastrous personal lives, may well be effective policy makers.  At the very least, though, we ought to be able to expect these personal attacks to be factual, and far too often they aren’t.  Just follow FactCheck.org or Politifact.com and you will see far to many examples of ads called to task for being untrue.

Sadly, I’ve grown used to these.  They disgust me, but they don’t infuriate me.  What does enrage me is negative campaigning the resounds beyond the campaign and affects our society more broadly.  This is advertising that plays on fear, intolerance and ignorance, impugning the character not only of an individual candidate but of an entire race, religion, ethnicity, or other group.  In a particularly egregious example, popular Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat and a Muslim, is now being challenged in the race by Gary Boisclair, an anti-abortion activist, and member of Randall Terry’s Society for Truth and Justice (STJ), one of 25 candidates they are running in carefully selected advertising markets, less in hopes of getting the candidate elected than as a cover for running explicit anti-abortion tv advertising.  It’s a sleazy but clever strategy, one that the organization itself cops to.  I kind of admire it.  But Bosclair is also using campaign ads promote a Islamophobic agenda, running ads that explicitly attack Ellison’s religion, and that is unacceptable.

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Academic Freedom Media Review-October 8 – 14, 2011

Here, with my apologies, is a delayed reposting of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Media Review.  It is published every Friday, this one on Friday, October 14.  

The Scholars at Risk media review seeks to raise awareness about academic freedom issues in the news. Subscription information and archived media reviews are available online. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily those of Scholars at Risk.

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IRAQ: Sweeping higher education reforms planned
Wagdy Sawahel, University World News

EGYPT: Elections reinstate some university leaders
Ashraf Khaled, University World News

Myanmar prisoner amnesty prompts call for all political detainees to be freed, not just 10 pct
Associated Press, Washington Post, 10/13

Pressure Builds Over Chen
Grace Kei Lai-see, Radio Free Asia, 10/13

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The Rhetoric of Hate v. Forgiveness

A short, but respectable analysis of an aspect of conservative media’s responses the tragic bombing and shootings in Norway came across my screen today.  In “Norway’s Sorrow: Why Is It So Hard For The Religious Right To Denounce Evil?,” Kurt Ostrow argues that a certain segment of the media is unable to simply denounce the attacks and leave it there. They condemn the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, who claimed responsibility for the attack, but then go on to ask if there aren’t real causes for concern that set him off. Ostrow points out that is is part of a very real trend, and provides some excellent examples to support his case, both from Europe and the United States.

He then goes on to make an excellent point.

Right-wing politicians and pundits everywhere have decided it politically prudent to conflate Islamic (of or relating to Islam) with Islamist (of or relating to Islamic militancy or fundamentalism). Or worse: they actually believe this misdirected, misinformed hate.

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