Friday, November 9, 2007

A Brief on New York Times v. Sullivan

Someone sent this in, and I thought I'd post it. See here for why.

New York Times V. Sullivan
376U.S. 254
84 S.Ct. 710
11 L.Ed. 2d 686


A paid advertisement was published in the New York Times that told about the mistreatment of black students in Montgomery, Ala. who were peacefully protesting segregation. The City commissioner of Montgomery, L.B. Sullivan, filed a lawsuit claiming libel in the circuit court. Along with the NY Times, four black students were named as defendants. The Jury awarded Mr. Sullivan $500,000 in damages against each defendant.

Constitutional questions:

What constitutes libel? Can this advertisement printed in the New York times be shown to cause damage to Mr. Sullivan? What limits does the constitution impose upon states power to award damages in libel action brought by public official against critics of his official conduct?

Ruling: Reversed, 9-0


The evidence Mr. Sullivan presented, and was the basis for the state supreme court judgment, was found insufficient to impose a fine of any magnitude upon the defendants. The rule of law applied to this case by the Alabama courts does not provide safeguards for freedom of speech required by the first and fourteenth amendment in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his conduct.

The paragraphs of the advertisement in question that respondent claims damage his character refer only indirectly to him. One refers to police action against students, which he claims to be the personification of the police by virtue of his position as city commissioner. The other paragraph refers to arrests made of students protesting. Police make arrests, so once again Mr. Sullivan claims it is referring to him.

We find it necessary that the national debate on public issues should be open, uninhibited, robust “and may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

The present issue is without question covered by the constitutional protection for free expression. We also find it unnecessary to determine the falsity of any factual statements. There shall be no exceptions to the protections of free speech based on the truth of a statement. Error in open public debate is inevitable. It is most important that the burden of truth never be on the speaker.

A rule requiring a guarantee of truth in criticism or public debate would have the effect of self-censorship. Potential critics would be deterred by the risk of accidentally stating the wrong facts or other similar mishaps.

In order for a public official to recover damages as a result of false criticism they must prove the statement is made with “actual malice,” that is, with the knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not. As for the defendants, we find their is insufficient evidence to show an “actual malice.” It was at most negligence on the part of the NY times. The lower court ruling is reversed and remanded.

Italics added.

Robert Jensen on Thanksgiving

Reprinted in full with the permission of the author, this column covers my feelings on Thanksgiving in a far more eloquent way than I ever could:

Give Thanks No More

A National Day of Atonement


One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits -- which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world's great powers achieved 'greatness' through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin -- the genocide of indigenous people -- is of special importance today. It's now routine -- even among conservative commentators -- to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it's also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.

The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians' land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving 'wild beasts' from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, 'both being beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape.' Thomas Jefferson -- president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the 'merciless Indian Savages' -- was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn't stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, '[W]e shall destroy all of them.'

As the genocide was winding down in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt (president #26) defended the expansion of whites across the continent as an inevitable process 'due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway.' Roosevelt also once said, 'I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.'

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here's how 'respectable' politicians, pundits, and professors play the game:

When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations' lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history. In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who 'settled' the country -- and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable -- such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States -- suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, 'Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?'

This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class -- one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn't spend too much time thinking about history.

This off-and-on engagement with history isn't of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, U.S. elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures -- such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- as another benevolent action.

Any attempt to complicate this story guarantees hostility from mainstream culture. After raising the barbarism of America's much-revered founding fathers in a lecture, I was once accused of trying to 'humble our proud nation' and 'undermine young people's faith in our country.'

Yes, of course -- that is exactly what I would hope to achieve. We should practice the virtue of humility and avoid the excessive pride that can, when combined with great power, lead to great abuses of power.

History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology. While some historians in Great Britain continue to talk about the benefits that the empire brought to India, political movements in India want to make the mythology of Hindutva into historical fact. Abuses of history go on in the former empire and the former colony.

History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won't set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.

As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects on the day's mythology on our minds.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at

More on Blogging, Lawsuits and School Districts

Via Slashdot, a story out of Texas that has some of the same components of Lebanon's ongoing learning experience - except, of course, that the person being sued is not anonymous and is a parent. From the Galveston Courier:

GALVESTON — The public school district has officially demanded that parent Sandra Tetley remove what it says is libelous material from her Web site or face a lawsuit for defamation.

Tetley received a letter Monday from the district’s law firm demanding she remove what it termed libelous statements and other “legally offensive” statements posted by her or anonymous users, and refrain from allowing such postings in the future. If she refuses, the district plans to sue her, the demand letter states.


One legal expert said the district’s move to sue Tetley is rare and unlawful. Under the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, government entities cannot sue for libel — any court would toss out the “threatening” suit as being inconsistent with U.S. law, said Sandra Baron, executive director of New-York based Media Law Resource Center. She called the district’s potential lawsuit an intimidation tactic and a waste of taxpayer dollars.


More background can be found in another Galveston Courier story:

GALVESTON — An appeals court ruled in 2002 that school districts can’t sue for defamation, so Galveston school district may face some hurdles if it moves forward with its lawsuit.

In a case that Galveston school district’s attorney argued is different, Port Arthur’s public school district in 2001 tried to sue a blogger for defamation. The Texas Ninth Court of Appeals tossed out the lawsuit based on black-letter law: New York Times v. Sullivan clearly prohibits such lawsuits.

Someone should look up the New York Times v. Sullivan case. I'm too lazy.

Sandra Tetley's blog.

Writer's Guild Association Strike

Check out this IGN interview with Battlestar Galactica producer and writer Ron Moore; it does a great job explaining why the strike is happening - and why you should support it =)

UPDATE: For lots and lots (and lots) of information on the writer's strike, check out the United Hollywood blog.

This strike seems to be a attracting a lot of support and attention in a really short time.

That's a good thing, but it's a qualified good.

Where is the attention paid to strikers in less-visible industries?

Why are we paying attention to this strike?

In a nutshell, 24.


Something's wrong here.

Another Thought on Lebanon in Response to Comments

I think we've just about revealed the conundrum here in the comment thread to this post...

Assumption #1: No one on the pro-Robinson/pro-law side can tell Rick, Josh, Kim, or perhaps Debi what to do. Given this, it is incumbent on the former group and public citizens to work towards resolution and reconciliation. This is not fair, but I believe it's realistic.

Assumption #2: Robinson and Sprenger are on the side of the law. This is pretty clear.

Assumption #3: Kim, Rick, Josh, and Debi will not go away as long as (a) they feel there is injustice being done, or (b) until Robinson leaves. I am afraid that the correct answer is either (b) or (c) both, in which case the district is in for one helluva ride.

Given those three assumptions, I think this is one way to express the problem faced by the folks in the district:

If RJKD feel slighted when Sprenger, legal counsel and Robinson hew to a strict understanding of board policy and law, and if no one can really change the behavior of RJKD, and having RS give some ground will not result in behavioral improvements, then what should happen? I see no resolution here that ends with everyone happy and no law-breaking.

Instead, I think I have been making another assumption: That while Rick and possibly Josh are power hungry enough to blatantly ignore the law again and again (as opposed to having learned from their first little adventure), Kim and Debi are not. I'm beginning to think that may have been a bad assumption and that Debi will go along with another stupid enterprise - and that Kim will not stand in their way.

So? I am taking as a given that going after Rick and Josh is not an option, as I've not seen any evidence of that so far, but what if that course of action turns out to offer the best chance at a resolution? Why not start a recall campaign against them?

To put it another way: I am a supporter of the idea of restorative justice; most folks in Lebanon, especially RJKD seem interested in punitive justice. I've been pushing for the former and the commenters here have obviously been of the latter variety. I'm beginning to think that a third way - exclusion of the RJKD block from power into equilibrium can be restored and/or they learn to play nice - is maybe viable.

Just following a train of thought wherever it goes...not really sure about this one.

College Racism Roundup

It can be found over here.

Shamelessly stolen from Stoller, who constitutes most of the OSU section - since the Baro isn't really doing their job on any of this. Har.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

ENDA Passes US House (now what?)

Americablog has a good summary (though I should note that I disagree with Aravosis' position on the inclusion of transgendered folks).

"And Now a Noose at OSU"

Basically, go read Michael's post. It's short, but you need to know about it.

The Barometer's Amazing Lack of Professionalism

I submitted an op-ed awhile back that, had it been printed, would have run around the 1st or 2nd of November, but neither the Baro or the GT decided to run it. While I am not terribly bothered by the decision - I know the writing could use some work and of course it is the decision of a paper's editorial staff to run submissions or not - I am less than enamored of the way the Baro handled it: They didn't.

As in, I sent it off and apparently addressed it to a black hole. The GT at least had the courtesy to say no.

Anyway, in light of Michael's letter and post as well as Luke's post detailing his own little affair with the Barometer's amazing lack of professionalism this year, I'm going to run what I wrote here:

Barometer Should Have Known Better

The OSU Daily Barometer's admission that they need to do better when it comes to listening to the OSU campus (see The Daily Barometer, “Examining Offenses,” 10-26-07) is too little and too late.

Every couple of years the Barometer runs something incredibly offensive or ignorant, often around race or religion; rarely do they actually bother to respond to the subsequent outrage or criticisms, often hiding behind the implied claim that they bear zero responsibility for the speech of their columnists.

I'm glad to to see that this time is different, that at least the editorial staff ran a response. However, the failure of the editorial to adequately address the issue suggests a lack of understanding of the nature of the problem, and a problem that outlasts the high-turnover Barometer staff – but not Frank Ragulsky, the Barometer's faculty adviser.

It is my opinion that these sorts of mistakes could easily be avoided if the Barometer's editorial staff had some sort of journalism-oriented diversity or cultural competency training. But they don't. When I served on the Student Media Committee, I pushed for the editorial staff to participate in just this sort of training. But I was rebuffed, and it was obvious that no one, including Mr. Ragulsky, saw such training as beneficial or necessary.

By all accounts, Mr. Ragulsky is an excellent advisor. However, he has been the constant throughout all the incidents that have occurred for a long time, long before I ever came to Corvallis. I find it extremely troubling that he consistently fails to show any interest in educating the staff of a college newspaper about the intersection of journalism and diversity.

Journalists, like everyone else, bring to work with them the sum of their experiences and their values – and are therefore not the neutral or objective actors that ancient media theory hold them to be. It would be nice if the sum of their experiences included some awareness that would allow them to avoid the sorts of mistakes that seem to occur with a disturbing regularity.

So I propose three things, hoping they will provide long-term solutions:

First, that Mr. Ragulsky personally endeavor to have his staff participate in some form of training that addresses the intersection of journalism and diversity at least once every year.

Second, that the Student Media Committee take a more active role in overseeing the newspaper. As it stands, the committee is largely a rubber stamp, having little to no role beyond hiring for a mere seven positions for all of student media. Instead, the Committee members should have unfettered access to information, giving them them the ability to decide for themselves what information is relevant. As it stands, Mr. Ragulsky tends to control the flow of information to such a degree that it forces committee members to do his bidding.

Third, that The Daily Barometer institute a public editor to write columns detailing the internal decision-making processes of the newspaper, as well as receiving and responding to reader criticism of the newspaper. Such a position could provide a wonderful training tool for journalists and editors at a university with no official journalism program.

I suggest these things out of frustration and sadness at seeing a paper I have long been enamored of continue to make offensive, avoidable mistakes no matter who fulfills the role of editor-in-chief. I would like nothing more than to see The Daily Barometer take a more active role as a member of the OSU community rather than hide beyond decades-old ideas about the proper behavior of journalists.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A thought regarding the Lebanon School District

An observation: Sherrie Springer (and to an extent Jim Robinson) wield the advice from the District's legal counsel like a club.

Thing is, it's a club that no one outside the board ever sees. It's perpetually hidden, but everyone is told to trust that it's there and that it says what Sprenger says it does (yeah yeah yeah - I get that the whole board sees the advice, but that doesn't seem to matter to either the other board members or the public). I get the feeling that not only was the public's trust for Sprenger never very high, but that her use of this method has eroded it to just about zero. Possibly negative.

For example: Near the end of Monday's meeting, Sprenger cited the advice from legal counsel as a reason not to entertain the motion to let Kim Fandiño speak - but also cited attorney-client privilege as a reason not to explain the content of the legal advice. While Sprenger is technically correct (as evidenced by the fact that the rest of the board did the same thing even though it obviously disgusts them to have to do so), it leaves KF in the position of having been told no and yet not knowing why, which, despite the understandable legality, is an essentially unjust position.

Furthermore, it's an unjust position brought about by the intersection of two board policies - cyberbullying and the complaint procedures - complicated by the fact that LT is an anonymous blogger. I have to admit that so far I'm not happy with how the conflict between the policies has been handled, because I think it's been resolved in such a way as to cause maximum damage to Kim's position - and whether or not that's intentional on the part of district's legal counsel and/or Jim Robinson, it is being perceived as intentional and political. And while Robinson cannot control every perception of his actions (nor should he have to) it would seem in his best interest to reach out a little and do some P.R. on this one.

Robinson pointed out during the meeting (and this is referenced in this Express story) that by allowing Kim to have a hearing, he would risk violating district complaint policy.

It goes as follows: Kim filed her complaint at level three and moved it to level four when she appealed to the board. Robinson pointed out that she skipped levels one and two, both of which require notification and conversation with the person named in the complaint. Robinson then claimed that if Kim were to identify or claim to identify the blogger in her hearing, and the blogger turned out to be a district employee, Kim would have violated complaint procedure, thus causing an injustice to the employee.

Essentially, Robinson is claiming that allowing Kim a hearing regarding her complaint violating district policy would itself be a violation of district policy, and he and/or legal counsel have decided that the potential of violating the possible employee's complaint rights outweighs Kim's rights. Which is fine if one believes that no cyberbullying has occured, and that Kim should take her case to a civil court (which is what Robinson has said on multiple occasions).

HOWEVER, given that so many people - Kim, Debi, Josh, and Rick come to mind, as well as Ginger Allen and, I suspect, lots and lots of teachers - think that what LT has written is "cyberbullying" (it may be mean, but nothing I have read constitutes cyberbullying OR libel in my mind), Robinson and Sprenger's refusals to do anything but state their positions and ruthlessly use hidden legal advice to defend it is a very, very bad idea politically and PR-wise. It's going to cause the dislike and hatred of them to ratchet up another notch, undeserved or not, because the public perception is very clearly that Kim is not getting anything resembling justice out of this.

And if there's anything that matters in a place like Lebanon, it's that (punitive) justice gets done.

One last thing: I imagine that many of the folks involved in this case are not all that familiar with libel law or the difference between a public and private figure contained therein. I also imagine they are not used to having someone criticize their actions. While I understand that it can be very difficult to deal with what feels like a personal attack, what's going on in this district is nothing compared to what happens in larger locales where there is far more public scrutiny of the actions of public figures (which, like it or not, comes with the jobs of school board member and LEA President). At some point, one has to learn to evaluate criticism for any truth it contains, cull that truth and see if it's worth responding to in some fashion, and forget about the rest. Dwelling on what some anonymous blogger says about you is just stress that no one needs, and I say that without a trace of irony.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stop Thinking and Listen to Hasso Hering

His latest literally tells the reader what to think about voting. Not on the issues before voters, but on the idea of voting itself.

It must be hard sometimes, to not run the world when you so obviously know better than anyone else.


In elections, people who care a lot one way or another make sure to cast ballots. The others don’t. And when you think about it, you would not have it any other way. (hh)

Why bother thinking? I already know what the outcome will be!

Never mind the fact that voting is - by far and away - not this simple.

Jah forbid Hering mention that. It might upset his closed little universe.

Immediate Update: Let's compare Hasso's editorial to the one that ran in the Gazette-Times.

First of all, the GT editorial has the title It's A Right to Die For: Vote Today.

While that should tell you all need to know about the difference, here's an excerpt:

In the global scheme of things, an off-year election with three items on the ballot may not seem like much of a priority, something to cross off our too-long to-do lists. But if you are among the roughly 60 percent of registered voters in Benton County whose ballot had not yet arrived at the elections office as of Monday afternoon, consider that if you don’t review the issues, mark your ballot and drop it at any of the county’s 12 sites scattered between Corvallis, Alsea, Adair Village and Albany, you are passing up something precious.

What’s more, you are letting others decide some important local and state issues that convey lasting consequences. The practical reason not to let this happen is that if 50 percent of the voters do not weigh in on Benton County’s levy proposal, nobody’s vote will count. That’s not a good way to enact policy.

That's more like it.

DH Story on the School Board Meeting

It's pretty short, and omits at least one thing I wish would have been included, but in general captures the high points.

This passage lacks a bit of context:

Tempers flared as board members accused each other of placing the district at legal risk.

Alexander made a motion to hear more from Fandino, which Wineteer seconded, but Sprenger said she would not entertain the motion.

Sprenger adjourned the meeting shortly after the discussion and escorted out an unidentified woman in the back of the room who shouted her support for Fandino.

Specifically, that the board has the option to override the chair's refusal to entertain and decided not to.

I also get the sense that maybe the story was longer and some bits got cut during the editing process, but I'm not really that sure about that.

It also sounds like, from LT's report, that I missed out on the fun.

What Ever Happened to the Green Party?

Markos Moulitsas takes to the proverbial editorial page of The Hill and stops just short - as do almost all other disillusioned Democrats - of mentioning the possibility of something other than a two-party system. Sigh:

But D.C. is a funny place. No one seems to have gotten that resounding message, certainly not Bush and the new Republican minority. More surprisingly, Democrats also failed to get the message. On issue after issue, the Democratic norm has been to capitulate to the slightest pressure from the GOP. And while the public has meted record-low approval ratings for this Congress in response, the lesson apparently remains unlearned.

Whether it’s Iraq funding or the Michael Mukasey confirmation, Democrats continue to give away the store without receiving any concessions in return. It’s a one-way street in a town that has ceded Article I of the Constitution for a unitary, non-compromising executive. The public is sick of this administration’s betrayals. Why aren’t Democrats?

One hopes that last question is rhetorical, because the answer is obvious.

Meta on Lebanon

I am tired of typing and tired of rehashing that disaster. More posts are forthcoming: One on the Sand Ridge Annual Report, one on the single piece of fantastic news, and maybe one with some overall observations about what's going on. Somewhere in there I'm going to include some random odds and ends.

For now, I'm going to sit outside in the cold sun and read a book.

Lebanon School Board Meeting Part Four - A Mandated Report on the CIP Program

This should have been relatively non-controversial; the state and federal governments require a report to be filed detailing expenditures and programs that deal with various government funding sources. SOP, right? The state did not release the necessary data (and apparently there is a lot of it) until mid-October, and the report is due on November 17th, so the district's employees have been scrambling just to get a draft done they could present to the school board for tentative approval (which really isn't that tentative, since the board does not meet again until after the due date). Word has it that the staff was working on the report almost right up to the meeting.

Predictably, Josh and (especially) Rick became clumsy, bullying assholes about the report. Rick disagreed with a paragraph that had been lifted DIRECTLY FROM SCHOOL BOARD POLICY, and then complained when the staff pointed out that he couldn't just change the wording the report without actually changing the source document as well. It was like watching adults try to deal with the cranky prince. It was pathetic and embarrassing.

Rick then proceeded to keep quibbling over minor points of disagreement in a report that was a draft anyway, at one point trying to claim that since Lebanon spends more money on labor costs than the state average, and yet Lebanon's report card isn't all that great, Lebanon is not getting it's money's worth.

Like there are no other factors involved that affect Lebanon's AYP or report card. Seriously.

At this point, Sprenger ranted about how much time the board was wasting when it could be dealing with "kid-related" stuff. She was tired.

Wineteer complained that he thought the board had wanted to move back to a more "goal-based" system, and the report did not indicate this. There is an element of honest disagreement in there, though it's really difficult for me to take that guy seriously.

Given all the complaining about not having time read the report, Robinson suggested - and he was obviously pissed about the possibility that this would be taken seriously - that the board schedule an emergency meeting between then and the deadline to approve the report. Sprenger spat out "how fun." She was furious. She then told the public that she at least had received the draft four days before the meeting, giving her time to read it, which belied a lot of the other members' complaints. It is rare for her to really go after the other board members in such an unprofessional and open manner, so I took this an indicator of her anger and tiredness.

This issue probably brought more people to tears than anything else, for some reason. I think it was the apex of exhaustion for most folks. The board was most vitriolic towards each other here.

One of the two staff members presenting the draft pointed out, at someone's request, what the consequences were for not submitting the report on time. Basically, funding would be denied in increasing amounts the longer the report was not submitted. Sprenger kept asking (in true Rick style, actually) whether or not that was kid money - a transparent ploy to make those holding up the process look bad.

Debi Shimmin saved the day by saying she trusts the employees to do due diligence and their jobs, and she motioned to approve the report. Chris and Sherrie supported her, as did Rick for some reason, and that was that.

I will say that this episode really demonstrated how poorly the board as a whole has learned to work together. They bickered amongst each other and with Robinson over almost every aspect of this issue, most of them trivial. And this time, I'm including Sherrie and Chris in that charge - their exhaustion had obviously overcome their desire to be professional.

And in all fairness, I'd probably have been a lot less civil towards Rick and Josh on this issue than Sprenger and Robinson were. The former two really acted like childish, petulant jerks, attempting to micromanage what is almost certainly a non-issue.

Lebanon School Board Meeting Part Three - The Superintendent's Report (with a special shout out to anyone interested in racist mascots!)

This is a new feature of board meetings, and it is supposedly designed to promote better communication between the board and superintendent.

Good idea. While it should have been done a long time ago - is communication really so bad between the superintendent and the board? - I am glad to see it done now.

Anyway, there were six items on the agenda. I'm going to skip some most of them.

One item that got some time was an update on the Unfair Labor Practice filed by Kim Fandiño over Jim Robinson's ridiculous information control policy. A lone administrative law judge had offered a preliminary ruling that included calling Robinson's policy illegal, so the district is appealing to the full panel.

Wineteer wanted to know why the board did not get to decide what to do, since the Board is usually responsible for ULPs, and Robinson responded by saying that legally, his actions up to this point are his purview - but anything beyond this, like actually challenging the ruling of the full panel, would require board action.

Robinson then some something transparently self-serving: He suggested that if there had been no Superintendent's Report added to the agenda, the Board would not know about this issue at all! Because it was THE ONLY WAY they could have ever found out!

Gag me. Sometimes his attempts at making himself look caring and communicative really suck, probably because it's not his inclination and he's forcing or faking it. In the long run, he's genuinely got to get this 'open communications' thing down - meaning really believe in it, not just hold his nose and pretend - or he's not going to make it, I think.

The only other item I'm going to mention was Robinson's reporting of his meeting with other Oregon superintendents regarding the proposal that's been kicked down the line to eliminate all mascots and logos that are Native American-themed. I could tell the second he brought this up that most people in the room were pissed - not at Robinson, but at the idea that they'd have to change at the behest of someone else.

In all fairness, Robinson did a damn good job explaining this while remaining neutral on the merits. He went over Che Butler's presentation for the benefit of the board, relayed the position he had presented on behalf of the district at the meeting and outlined possible futures.

I'm not going to rehash the following conversation in detail, since it resembled perfectly every other debate I've ever heard about this issue. To wit: I'm Native and I don't care! Self-identified Native students in this district don't care! This is just PC extremism! What's next, banning everything!? I think Warriors are honorable! It's been that way for years! They can pry my mascot out of my cold dead hands! It's all the victim's fault! Blah blah white privilege blah blah blah!

Repeat for 20 minutes with no one disagreeing personally, but with another white person (in this case Robinson) hypothetically & carefully pointing out the reality of the situation, and you've got the debate.

Robinson and Sprenger both pointed out - and I think this is absolutely true - that no matter what the position of the district was, the district had to develop one, and had to be prepared for the possibility that they were simply going to be told what to do with no say in the matter. This was not popular, but I got the sense the crowd actually agreed with it. I would consider such an acknowledgment of reality, however small, a good thing.

Robinson also pointed out - as I have before - that if the state mandates a change without buy-in from the relevant districts, things will not go well. There is some education and learning on the part of the districts that needs to happen for this to work.

On the other hand, making Che Butler go to 16 districts around the state is a pretty harsh example of a person of color educating white folks...again.... when the white folks can fairly easily educate themselves.

Josh Wineteer called Native Americans, or possibly the Warriors mascot, "stoic."

Education and learning indeed.

Robinson pointed out that Aloha High School is also the Warriors, but they are Polynesian Warriors, and that meant they were excluded from possibly changing. Robinson spun this as positive, noting that it might allow LHS to keep the name but not the mascot. (Bizarrely, he also noted that "we have many warriors fighting overseas at the moment," which I think was a mistaken sop to the conservative folks who oppose him - he can't really think that making the LHS logo a soldier is a good idea, can he?)

Wineteer complained that it was a double standard, which indicates to me that he really doesn't understand the issue AT ALL. He really put on a show over this one.

So it goes. I think there's going to be a lot more racist crap spewed unknowingly before this is over, and I think it's going to end in the Warrior mascot being changed, though it may take years.

Aside from Josh's outbursts, the anti-Robinson folks were pretty quiet. I think it was because they are way out of their comfort zone on this one, and probably afraid of saying anything racist.

One, maybe two more posts to go.

Lebanon School Board Meeting Part Two - Hiring and Transfers

In this installment I'm going to cover the consent agenda. I missed part of the discussion as I came late. Apparently most of the hires and transfers were uncontroversial except four: An interim AD, an interim Social Systems Principal, an involuntary transfer from LHS to Sand Ridge, and an Administrative Assistant for Transportation. Those four were pulled and discussed separately; in the end, the latter two passed and the former did not. Here I'll mostly talk about the discussion regarding the two that were rejected.

The discussion was so stupid when I walked in that I almost left without even finding a chair.

How so? Well, Rick Alexander asked what the difference between a substitute and an interim hire was....and he did not appear to be asking a rhetorical question.

I am still shaking my head over that. Who let him on the school board again?

Josh Wineteer then made the "point" that since LHS has three other principals, not hiring Dick Behn as an interim principal would not really affect the school.

That, I thought at the time, is the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Each academy has its own principal, so not filling position requires either a) the other three to somehow collectively fill in, which would be pretty difficult given the small schools structure, or b) to leave Social Systems at a severe disadvantage and without leadership (alternatively, they could just have Dick Behn as an indefinite sub). Either Josh was really, really fishing for a reason not to hire Behn, or...well, or he just said something monumentally ignorant. Again, this did not appear to be a rhetorical question.

Josh also complained that an internal candidate (which reportedly turned out to be Nancy Bauer) did not get selected, and he was confused as to why. I have no idea as to the internal hiring process, but that was the wrong time to ask about it. Seriously - again, it came off as a transparent attempt to get his way without a shred of supporting evidence.

I can only imagine what Ken Ray was thinking in regards to Josh's questions and comments. I consider the fact that Ray's face remained expressionless throughout most of the discussion to be evidence of his professionalism and experience, but damn, would I be furious were I in his position. He had both his interim principal and his interim AD hires rejected.

Speaking of that, Rick kept making motions to reject the hires, and Sherrie kept pointing out that there is no motion required to reject; the board simply lets the matter die. Motions are positive things. Despite this, Rick just kept trying to make the same motion over and over again, doing so at least three times when I was there.

I cannot believe that dude has yet to learn Robert's Rules of Order. I was once given two weeks to learn it - not a problem. This guy has had years and has not bothered. He does not belong on the school board. It's an insult to the students in the district, some of whom probably know Robert's Rules better than he does.

When I first saw the meeting agenda, I had thought that the only possible contentious items on the Consent Agenda would be the AD and Assistant Principal hires. I was told that was unlikely but possible.

I wish I had been wrong.

Let's face it: Rick, Josh, and Debi are really fucking the district over on this one. Yeah, you didn't get Bo Yates - so what? He's got an unresolved complaint against him filed with the TSPC and he's got another full-time job in the district. Once those are resolved, see if he is available next year. For now, deal. Hiring him as AD at this time is not a good idea, and is not in fact evidence of the evil of Sherrie Sprenger or Jim Robinson.

The same goes with Dick Behn - what does anyone have to gain by not letting him fill in as interim principal?

These are two cases where it's really obvious that the high school students and staff are being fucked over so that Rick, Josh, and Debi can throw a fucking temper tantrum.

Please. Grow the fuck up, people. Passive-aggressive behavior is only cute in toddlers.

I hate small-town politics. I hate the backstabbing and the unwillingness to deal with things honestly and openly. I hate the attempts at nepotism. I really hate the fact that the School Board is filled with people who honestly consider their own understanding of issues to be better than those of trained professionals, including the District's surely-insane-and-rich-by-now legal counsel.

Yes, I am aware that there is a huge class schism here between Lebanon's blue-collar, lifetime residents (Allen, Shimmin, Yates, etc.) and the mobile professional class of outsiders (personified by Robinson). I get that, and I even get that I'm coming down hard on the side of the educated. But such a divide in experience and education does not have to result in a mess like this.

More posts to follow.

Lebanon School Board Meeting, Part One - Outing the Anonymous Blogger

Preface: Two nice young gentleman recently informed me that my blog posts are too long. I'm going to go ahead and break what is probably my only principle regarding blogging - don't listen to anyone else, no matter how good their advice - and try something new. Normally, when the LCSD School Board has a meeting, I write a monster post that details everything. This time, I'm going to try and shorten things up, instead dividing the content into several shorter posts. The Lebanon Community School District School Board met on Monday, November 5th, and I would like to relay some of what happened at the meeting in series of blog posts.

Topics that will be covered in the next several blog posts: The board's processes, the appointment of interim staff to cover positions, the Sand Ridge Charter School report, a report on the various Title programs funded by the district that the state mandates be received in the next two weeks, and a few other odds and ends.

So, on to the content!

I'll get to the most relevant one first: While the board had plenty of passionate and emotional discussion regarding the now-Level-4 complaint that Kim Fandiño filed with the district alleging cyberbullying on the part of blogger Lebanon Truth, in the end, the board did not act on the agenda item presented to them. That's the short version. The long version is as follows:

The agenda item that I was really there for was the one regarding the appeal of the cyberbullying complaint to the school board by Kim Fandiño (hereafter KF). As an anonymous blogger who has been known to write about the Lebanon Community School District, I was very curious about the inclusion of this item on the agenda and the potential consequences for my own blogging. All the talk was about how KF was essentially requesting that the board subpoena Google, the company that owns Blogger, the blogging software used by this blogger and Lebanon Truth, to reveal the identity of Lebanon Truth. (Side note: All it takes to get a blogger account is an email address...meaning that revealing someone's identity requires tracing an IP address or similar detective work. Real names are not required - a point that I think none of the pro-subpoena folks know, as they seemed to think it would be as simple as asking Google for a name.)

I have this sinking feeling this post alone, even excluding the preface, is going to be over the prescribed limit given to me by the two gentlemen - hereafter known as Punk #1 and Punk #2 (in no particular order) for blog posts. Screw it.

Rick Alexander started the discussion by immediately motioning to have the board hear KF's complaint.

Tom McHill, a Lebanon attorney and former board member, immediately stood up from the chair he'd been slouching in for the past three hours (the cyberbullying issue was basically the last thing on the agenda) and said that he represented the blogger. He then stated that he was there to defend the blogger's right to free speech.

I did not see that coming, though I should have. It is a brilliant move by LT - I think it caught many people by surprise, and it showed the folks on the board who wanted to out LT that it was going to involve some real work. I'd call it a preemptive strike, though I really hate that term.

Chris Fisher then asked how this issue moved the district forward, and how this was related to educating children, which was actually a comment I found insulting. Workplace safety is completely relevant to educating children, and a violation of that was a central part of KF's complaint, as far as I could see. While I don't think Chris meant it that way, it sure came across as trivializing the obvious emotional pain KF has gone through over this.

Ensuing was a short discussion regarding the various levels of complaint. I learned that a 'level one complaint' involves talking to the person one is complaining about directly, which is a challenge in the case of an anonymous blogger - though not impossible, as LT has an email address posted on their blog. This was something much overlooked in the discussion: the assumption that a resolution to the issue necessarily involved outing LT.

Rick Alexander asked if identifying LT removed their free speech. It was a leading question and he obviously thinks it doesn't. However, I think it does, as it would likely provide an avenue for attack on the part of LT's detractors that would surely serve to silence LT. Furthermore, it's irrelevant to the issue at hand; if I heard Mr. McHill right (and I may not have) protected free speech gets some Constitutional protections as well.

Rick then asked how one enforces a cyberbullying policy, his answer being that it requires outing the anonymous. However, this is a theoretical question masked as something relevant, as the district's legal counsel had ruled that the material presented in the complaint did not constitute cyberbullying by the district's standard. Rick was again trying to lead people on.

Josh Wineteer really only said one thing during the whole debate, but he said it over and over and over: That the board had to choose between preserving Kim's rights and outing LT, and that if the board chose not to out LT they should remove the cyberbullying policy entirely. This assumes, again, that what happened was cyberbullying. Josh is free to believe that, but I'll take the opinion of the Linn County DA and the LCSD's legal counsel over his any day.

Chris Fisher pointed out, as he does often, that this would cost money that, in his words, should be used on kids. This is also a bit disingenuous, as providing a safe environment for teachers is part of creating a good learning environment for kids. Josh called him on it - correctly - pointing out that there were lots of school board policies that take cash away from kids.

At this point, the whole thing struck me as a witchhunt (not for the first time, but the proceedings had become so farcical that it was impossible to not think in those terms). Wineteer and Alexander were asking the same questions over and over and over, questions that were designed to imply that outing LT was necessary and good, even though the reasons against it had been given in spades: It was against the legal advice of the district's counsel and the district office had found it to be a civil matter, irrelevant to both criminal prosecution and violation of district policy.

Chris Fisher asked if the Board had the authority to subpoena Google, and Tom McHill said "no" in no uncertain terms.

Rick then proceeded to act as if he'd not heard a single word said to this point and pointed out that the district is required to promptly investigate and take seriously any credible evidence or allegation of cyberbullying. He claimed that not voting to try and out LT was a violation of that policy, but I think he is full of crap; the District obviously took it seriously enough to let legal counsel look at it as well as have the Linn DA (and reportedly the Lebanon PD) check it out. Once it was decided that it did not violate policy, it was dropped. That's taking it seriously and finding it wanting; instead, I think Rick and Josh (and probably Debi, though I am less sure) equate 'taking it seriously' with doing what they want, which is to open an investigation on the assumption there is something to find. (And, of course, to out LT, which I've always thought was one of the real points of the complaint in the first place.)

Sherrie Sprenger, who constantly looked like she wanted to kill someone, reminded the board several times during the discussion that they had received clear & confidential legal advice from legal counsel, and that choosing to accept said advice basically meant dropping the matter. She also repeated her concerns about once again making the district liable for a potentially illegal action. Instead, she proposed talking to legal counsel directly at the earliest opportunity to clear up what the board's options were.

Jim Robinson interjected hinself into the discussion at this point, noting that it was impossible to actually follow up on complaint procedures without knowing the identity of the blogger, since established complaint procedures required giving the person being complained about notice of the complaint. This, I think, was pretty disingenuous on his part, since the district could at least attempt to contact LT at their provided email address and see what happened. It is also transparent bullshit, or at best a stupid suggestion, since it relies on the assumption that outing LT is necessary to get to the desired outcome, which is something to be proven (personally, I don't think it is necessary). It was not Robinson's finest moment of the night.

At this point I want to insert an aside and note that Sprenger and Robinson, who have both constant targets, were pretty obviously pissed and fed up with what they consider all the bullshit. Neither of them would give an inch, instead offering the most conservative interpretation of LCSD policy possible, which often meant summarily dismissing the concerns of others. This is, if nothing else, bad politics - it has been suggested to me that both Sprenger and Robinson should give their opponents enough rope to hang themselves (my words).

Hm. While I agree that Sprenger and Robinson's actions are somewhat counterproductive, I will say that they are wholly understandable, for two reasons. One, that both of them are exhausted of acting professional in the face of such amateur and unprofessional crap. Two - and this is the big one - I am beginning to think that given the board's recent history, both Sprenger and Robinson legitimately fear that Debi, Josh, and Rick, if given any rope, will manage to hang the district along with themselves. They'll do it through simply ignoring any laws or legal advice they don't like and acting from what appears to me as the gut. I have not considered this option until now, but at the moment I'm finding it pretty frightening. Now back to your regularly scheduled account.

Josh just kept saying that the board 'had' to ditch the policy if it didn't investigate the complaint in this case.

Here, KF got permission to address the board from Sprenger. KF made an impassioned plea to let the board hear the complaint directly, a plea that would be turned down multiple times before the end of the meeting. I think - though I could not see Kim's face - that she was wound up very tight with emotion almost the whole time, which is pretty understandable.

Sprenger then asked for a motion. Debi Shimmin pointed out while appearing to cry that she thought the content of the posts definitely rose to the level of cyberbullying (I should note that LT has talked about Shimmin in the past in less than glowing terms).

Shimmin also claimed that not following up was a denial of KF's rights to due process, and said that the spirit of the complaint was legitimate even if the technical details were not. I found that incredibly unconvincing, as I interpreted it as saying that a school board should judge the case based not on legal interpretations but on how they felt. Um, no?

Interjection: Yes, the debate really went on this long. I am trying to capture it in detail since I know no newspaper will cover it so thoroughly, and besides, I like having a written record of who said what and when (even if it is a rough record).

Josh Wineteer actually suggested that the person behind LT might have become anonymous specifically to violate board policy, which was a suggestion so far out of left field I'm still confused as to what he was thinking.

Tom McHill, LT's attorney, pointed out that if LT is a school district employee, trying to punish LT would bring up a whole host of procedural problems related to how employees are handled (I suspect this is something that the district's legal counsel also said).

Jim Robinson chose this moment to remind the board and audience that civil court was an option he'd suggested to KF as an alternative to criminal court since her complaint was found not to show any violation of the district's cyberbullying policy. Robinson also pointed out that he, Shimmin, and Fandiño had all been attacked and that despite that, the three were all legal amateurs and should seek legal counsel instead of presume to know best.

It was at this moment that Rick Alexander blurted out - and I am sure this was unintentional on his part - the words "why don't we go criminal?" This, despite the fact that it had been explained multiple times including moments before that the district had no standing to bring a criminal charge...and that the Linn County DA and Lebanon Police Department had both decided that the complaint did not rise to the level of a criminal case.

I am thoroughly convinced Rick does not listen, but instead just beats his head against the wall until it ejects another half-baked statement he thinks will help him pursue his goal. He has no place on the school board, as he cannot act like a reasonable adult.

After a bit of back and forth, KF was recognized. She noted that under existing district policy, she had a right to a hearing by the second meeting after filing a complaint. The 11-5-07 meeting was the second meeting, and she wanted her hearing. Sprenger agreed that it was possible to give her one, and that Sprenger would facilitate it, but she also noted that she really disliked the procedure.

At this point the debate was really heated, with KF nearing tears (and Sprenger, I think). Wineteer AGAIN claimed that the board had to make a choice between outing LT and violating KF's rights.

After a few more comments, Rick Alexander made a motion to hear, on the spot, Kim's complaint. I believe Josh seconded it, but Sherrie, finally exerting some serious pressure, decided not to entertain the motion as is her right as board chair (OMFG, what would this circus look like if Rick or Josh or Debbie or even Chris was chair?). The crowd - myself included - was shocked, as was the board. Sprenger was obviously tired, and came right out and said that the board could overturn her denial to hear the motion if they wanted to, but she was not going to allow it.

Sprenger gave the following reasons for denying the motion: It went against direct legal counsel, it exposed the district to legal liability, it was out of order, and 'I'm just trying to keep the district out of legal trouble.' I think she's essentially correct, though feel free to quibble.

KF immediately asked how telling her story made the district legally liable. I think it was a great question, and the only answer I ever saw was that given earlier by Robinson - that doing so without giving the blogger a chance to respond to the complaint would violate the blogger's (if they are a district employee) rights. I think it's a relatively weak answer.

Sprenger got really upset here, letting her long-simmering anger come to the surface. She pointed out both that she believes LT's blog does not help bring about unity or community, and also that she would not be party to the school board once again going down a road that resulted in backtracking from legal liability. Rick Alexander, in his all-time finest moment, interrupted her to say with surprise "We did?"

I wanted to throttle him, since it was obvious that Sprenger was referring to Robinson's suspension, which was initiated by Rick. That means one of two things: Alexander is so stupid he never realized what he'd done the first time around, or two, that Alexander is such a dick he threw that in there as a jab. I'm betting the former, which does not make him look good. If the latter, it's a great bit of comedy, but an incredibly mean and divisive statement.

Wineteer addressed the crowd and claimed that a legitimate concern was being stifled by the school board and that the public should know; this was the closest, by far, that he'd come to sounding like KF's lapdog all night. Sprenger interrupted and snapped at the board to either override her denial of the motion or let it die, practically claiming that the rest of the board did not have the gumption (her word) to do so.

Sprenger won that incredibly tense showdown that lasted all of 10 seconds. After that, the crowd deflated and several people got up to leave. The meeting was over in less than 30 seconds, the room strangely quiet despite the tension.


I am damn glad to see that Sprenger won that fight (though of course it may not be over), and I'm sure LT is at least somewhat relieved as well - it's that much less in legal fees they'd have to worry about if nothing else.

I'm also incredibly fascinated that no one was willing to buck Sprenger and make a motion to override her. She flat-out won a battle of wills, three to one. Hatred for her is only going to go up, but I think she did the right thing, especially when it comes to following board procedure, legal advice, and her own personal legal liability.

Meanwhile, the three clowns - and on this count Debi really did join Rick and Josh, I suspect because she's never been a public figure or had her decisions criticized like this before - showed just how little they understand public governance or what it means to act in anything resembling a professional manner.

It was a long night - this whole debate started some time after 10 p.m., and it was obvious the board, who had been meeting since 5:30, was exhausted.

More to follow; if you made it this far, this post is over 3000 words.

Youtube Videos: Yes on 50

Not generally work safe unless you're wearing headphones, and maybe not even then.

This video is even better, and really eviscerates the tobacco industry's history of advertising. Favorite line: "Why do you hate the children?"

Via Blue Oregon.

Jezebel the name of blog a friend of mine has turned me on to. At first, I was pretty skeptical - it reminded me of Wonkette but with more celebrities. It also reminded me of the biblical character and the resulting stereotype.

However, once I read enough, it penetrated into my tiny brain that the folks behind Jezebel (who I have been assuming are mostly or all women) are pretty critically feminist.

I like that.

They are also incredibly snarky, which I can't help but laugh at.

Anyway, this post is both an endorsement of my new favorite blog and an excuse to post something I read this morning that struck me as being exactly right. This is an excerpt from a suppose IM conversation between two contributors:

YOUNGJEZZY: I'd like to see a study on how the percentage of people who identify as pro-life dwindles after high school. To me, in a lot of ways, being pro-life is just another way of being a "good kid." The reason they get so crazy about it is because it's seriously the only political issue anyone in high school feels directly affected by.

HOTELLOBBYIST: I mean, I think everyone (Code Pink ladies excepted) is more radical in their youth than they are later in life.

Holy crap, does that describe the folks I went to HS with. It was (assumed) common knowledge that lots of the folks in the STARS (Students Today Aren't Ready for Sex, which was a codephrase for abstinence-only) program were having sex. And drinking, but that's another post...

Though I have to say I don't think HS students feel really strongly about abortions because they are affected by it, but because they've been programmed to feel really strongly about it. At least in my experience.

In any case, good on Jezebel for pointing out the - again! - class nature of HS abortion/abstinence debates: "Good" (read: middle class or higher) kids don't have sex. Only poor (read: slutty) women have kids while in school.

Do I even need to say that I've met HS students with kids, and some of them have their shit together far more than their student leader counterparts? No? Good.

It's Not Quite Blackface, But it's Still Racist and Stupid

Via a couple of places (including Think Progress), this AP story:

A top immigration official has apologized after awarding "most original costume" to a Homeland Security Department employee who dressed in prison stripes, dreadlocks and dark makeup for a Halloween gathering at the agency.

Oops. And, of course Think Progress points out the fact that Ms. Myers is totally unqualified (this was not at all surprising to me).

Maybe if the government didn't actually target dark-skinned men for prison, such a stereotype would not exist.


From Democratic Underground via Sadly, No!, a story of what can happen when bad politics and eliminationist rhetoric trickles down.

This is one reason I'm appalled by the existence of the Bush Administration and their tactics. It's not the only one.

What followed was a coordinated effort to block Andy’s medical care or his benefit from the medical care we could secure for him. In specific, the Bush right had its agents make small donations so they could then call Paypal with allegations of fraud that froze Andy’s account. They also called Paypal, misrepresenting themselves as the hospital to “verify” that this effort was a scam.


As late as week before Andy died, we couldn’t keep the poisonous campaign from him. He felt well enough to log into to his email and found a multipage denunciation, supposedly being filed with his state’s attorney general. He called me, not so much in a panic. Panic was no longer a speed Andy had. He called me in despair, because he could no longer fight the barrage of hatred being leveled at him. I don’t remember what I said to him but I hope it helped for a moment.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Attempted Clarification Regarding LT

This is a response to the comments on this post, in which I clumsily offered a short critique of Lebanon Truth.

I support the existence of LT. In general, I support the ideas the blogger is promoting and I am supportive of the content of most of the posts (I generally note my disagreements with LT through comments at their place). I support freedom of speech, though I should note that this should not be taken as an endorsement that all speech is good speech. Freedom to speak and the wisdom of one's words are very, very different things.

The catch is that I believe that the same content can be delivered in many ways. Language - especially written language - is a powerful thing. The style and tone one uses is crucial in how readers understand one's writing.

In the case of LT, I sometimes think the tone of their writing is often more confrontational and abrasive than need be, and that as a result, I think readers will more likely become mistrustful of the content based on the tone in which it is delivered.

Repeating the truth loudly and often does not guarantee positive outcomes. The phrase "don't shoot the messenger" did not evolve in a vacuum. If it were so, politics in this country would look a lot differently.

This is to say nothing about the malleability of truth for all you Foucault fans out there. That's another post.

So, specific responses:

One anonymous commenter suggested that I think truth-telling and reconciliation are incompatible. That's incorrect; in fact, I think telling the truth is necessary for reconciliation, but not sufficient. Case in point: I've been calling Bush an idiot for years (a statement there is mountains of evidence for), yet he's still in office.

Another commenter suggested that I've bought into a tactic to hush LT up. That's a little unfair, since nowhere in the original post did I suggest that LT should stop blogging. In fact, as noted above, I support LT's efforts. However, my support is certainly not blind. That would be stupid. If anonymous commenter #2 on the original post thinks that supporting LT means never saying anything that could be construed as critical, said commenter is wrong.

This has been my attempt at clarifying my attempt at constructive criticism.

A Novel Defense

From the Washington Post:

A federal judge yesterday issued a rare ruling that ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and more than 10 other prominent current and former government officials to testify on behalf of two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of violating the Espionage Act at their upcoming criminal trial.

The opinion by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria directed that subpoenas be issued to officials who include Rice, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, former high-level Department of Defense officials Paul D. Wolfowitz and Douglas J. Feith, and Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state.

Their testimony has been sought by attorneys for Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, who are accused of conspiring to obtain classified information and pass it to members of the media and the Israeli government.

Attorneys for Rosen and Weissman say Rice and the other officials could help clear them because they provided the former lobbyists with sensitive information similar to what they were charged for, according to Ellis's ruling and lawyers familiar with the case. Prosecutors have been trying to quash the subpoenas during secret hearings and in classified legal briefs, but Ellis wrote that the testimony could help "exculpate the defendants by negating the criminal states of mind the government must prove."

It sounds to me like Rosen and Weissman are going to argue that what they did was OK because a bunch of senior government officials were in on it.

Sadly, I am not sure if this defense will work or not. If it does, I don't think I like the outcome...

Questions are Important, Dammit

Update: It's post number 300...whatever that means.

If there's one thing that frustrates me about my current job (Ha! There's definitely more than one!), it's the students' unwillingness or inability to ask questions of the material.

I get that they don't bother because they don't care or don't think the material is relevant, I do. But I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to the intellectual life, and it slays me a bit every time when students fail to get excited by the awesome and interesting material they are being exposed to, especially when it's so obvious that the poem or story in question has something to tell them about how to navigate their lives. I'm also die-hard about interrogating the hell out of pop culture, just to be clear I am a) that boring and b) not talking just about Teh Classics.

That said, I really liked this Q & A from Rate Your Students. I doubt the students I work with could really utilize the method, at least not without some practice, but you never know:

Q: How in God's name do you get your students to stop writing book reports and start writing actual papers with actual theses?


A2: I build my literature classes around the idea of asking questions. We begin the semester with a challenging poem -- usually something fairly modern that they wouldn't have seen before -- and instead of my telling them anything about it, I simply instruct them to read it and make a list of questions. They pair up, see which questions they can answer, and ask more questions. With their lists of questions, we can talk about the 3 basic types of questions about literature (as I define them): Questions that could be answered by knowing more background information -- about culture, history, writer's biography, etc.; Questions that could probably be answered by reading more closely, more carefully, or (in the case of a longer text) further; Questions that could probably only be answered by analyzing or interpreting the text. We discuss some major branches of literary theory, but primarily in the context of what questions each theory asks about literature (How do socioeconomic issues shape the characters' interactions? What is significant about George taking on the typically feminine role of caring for the baby?). This sets the stage for what I tell my students all semester: scholars -- your professors, the people writing your texts and journal articles -- don't know all the answers. Scholars know which questions to ask. The class is then built around the students asking -- and struggling to answer -- questions. We are discussion-based from the beginning, and the discussions come directly from the students' questions (I only put forth my own questions if I think they are critical to understanding the text, and no one in the class has gotten there. I'm always surprised by how rarely this happens.) I make it clear that the "Questions that could be answered by reading more closely, carefully, or further" are questions that students should attempt to answer before coming to class. Once it becomes clear that if they bring those questions to class, I am not going to answer them, the students usually buckle down and get to work. When it comes time for the papers, I ask the students to write several questions about course texts. They work in groups and with me to evaluate the questions -- are they likely to have a complex answer? Is there likely to be an answer at all? When the student has a good, solid question, I explain that the paper should answer that question, and show the reader how the student came to the answer. The thesis to the paper is the answer to the question. Since students are comfortable with asking questions, with struggling to answer questions on their own, and with accepting that there may be multiple plausible interpretations of a text, most of them do relatively well. Even the worst papers I see are more complex than book reports.

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