Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Only in Arkansas: Two Candidates Unopposed; Both Lose

I frequently quote Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page editor Paul Greenberg's statement that editors in Arkansas and Louisiana have it easy: where other editors have to punch up the news to make it interesting, editors in Arkansas and Lousisiana have to tone it down to make it believable.


Here's this morning's the top story of the Northwest Arkansas Times:

Two area school board candidates who faced no opposition in their races last week nonetheless lost their elections because no one, not even the candidates, cast a vote for them.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

So What Did You Learn At School Today?

Looking over titles, descriptions and online trailers of educational videos that appear at my office from time to time, I see falsehoods wrapped in some dimensions of truth.

And given contemporary production techniques, I fear the viewer will come away remembering the falsehoods more than the truths.

Which is in some cases the whole idea.

Examine some of the titles with me:

Not Just a Game: Power, Politics, and American Sports. This laments the corporatism that taints professional sports. True. But the video then makes the weird case that contemporary athletes are cowed by big money and refuse to make political statements like Muhammed Ali and others did years ago. Perhaps. But it just might be that because people see sports as a means to escape the realities of politics and other pressures on their lives, that athletes and others in the game are just giving them what they want. Besides it's not the '60s anymore.

The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men. There's a justified critique of the harmful effects of pornography, but the promotional material tells me that by end of this film the overall message will be that all men and boys are evil. The entertainment culture, claims the film catalogue, teaches that "it's not only normal -- but cool -- for boys and men to control and humiliate women." Note the language: "boys and men." Not "some," not "many," not "a minority." Just "boys and men." Evil creatures, all of them.

The Purity Myth: The Virginity Movement's War Against Women. Okay, I guess some of these films are devoid of any truth. This might be one of them. ("...an unholy alliance of evangelical Christians, political activists, and policy wonks who have been spreading irrational fears about women's sexuality..."). The film is also critical of father-daughter social events aimed at institutionalizing the concept of purity. I see the problem with that: it might make men look good (see Bro Code above).

And this one's great:

The Billionaires' Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution. This might be another film where one really has to go searching for the truth. The filmmaker finds "...irate voters parroting insurance industry PR; [he] learns that home-grown 'citizen groups' challenging the science behind climate change are funded by big oil companies; and infiltrates a tea party movement whose anti-government fervor turns out to be less the product of populist rage than of corporate strategy." Yeah. Right. I've been a Tea Party activist for more than two years and I'm still waiting for my corporate check.

And on it goes: films about oppressed Palestinians (nothing, of course, about Israel), the evils of capitalism, consumer overspending (true) and so on.

These are educational films. Actually, they are propaganda pieces posing as educational material. I'm sensitive to this stuff because I'm a university professor. Of course, there are times when my biases creep into what I teach as much as there are biases in the films I've noted. That's life; that's humanity -- you can't write a grocery list without bias (you put the ice cream first). Yet, there are times when my professional responsibility dictates that I must say to my students that what I am telling them is my opinion, that they are free to accept it or reject it.

That's unlikely with some of these videos. Especially the one claiming corporate control of communications. It's called The Myth of the Liberal Media.

Of course.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


So I'm having a conversation with the 11-year-old son of some friends. It was a wide-ranging talk: he discusses all the books he reads and how he likes fantasy works. I speak to him of the wonders of the old Jack London books and London's great short story "To Build a Fire." We go to other subjects: sentence diagramming, for instance. He hates it, but I think it's necessary to really learn grammar. He disagrees. I tell him I can see he reads a lot, because he has a great vocabulary. He laments that his vocabulary isn't as good as those of his older brothers or his mother. I've never known an 11-year-old to regret he can't speak as well as his parents.

In the course of our conversation, my young friend talks of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II, plus he rattles off the names of battleships at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in December, 1941. I tell him of the strategic shift during that time from battleships to aircraft carriers as he notes that the aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl weren't there when the attack took place. He talks of the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan's General Yamamoto. Although he gets the name wrong, I know whom he means and tell him how American code-breaking allowed for the shooting down of Yamamoto's plane later in the war. He recounts how Yamamoto liked America and lived here for awhile and how Yamamoto opposed the strategy of the Pearl Harbor attacks. I tell him he needs to see the old movie Tora, Tora, Tora, and recommend he watch another old film, Midway. He says he's heard of Midway as a place and I talk to him of how the battle there was a turning point in World War II, how the Japanese navy suffered a defeat that eventually resulted in Japan losing the war.

On we went, talking of World War II, the role of Abraham Lincoln in American history, of Ronald Reagan. Heavy-duty conversation with an 11-year-old, no? But not really -- after all this young man is home schooled. As the result of his first rate, personalized education, he's able to hold his own in an intelligent conversation with a college professor.

Which makes me think of the tired old argument against homeschooling: the lack of peer socialization. You don't hear about it as much as when the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married did some homeschooling at different times with our children. The argument has probably diminished since it's impossible to ignore the characteristics of so many homeschoolers: poised, confident, articulate, knowledgeable individuals comfortable with all kinds of people at all kinds of ages.

But I'll grant that homeschoolers do lack some socialization: they are not continually exposed to drugs, alcohol, bad language, poor influences, nutty educational techniques, and lesson plans designed to destroy traditional concepts of God, family, community, and country.

In that they are deprived.

I think it's great.

And they might learn diagramming, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back on the Campaign Trail...

The Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married put up a lemonade stand to raise campaign funds. And Randy spoke about how over-reaching government is shutting down children's lemonade stands.

An even-numbered year is coming; can elections be far behind?

Tooling up to again work in an election campaign for Randy Alexander. This time I think he'll win. Spent a lot of time and effort campaigning for the 2010 U. S. Senate Republican nomination for Randy. Thought he would be a great U. S. Senator. But 97% of the people voting felt otherwise.

Randy got into politics for the same reason as the Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married and I did: got tired of watching the professional pols wreck the country. So he decided to run, representing "we the people." And why start at the bottom? He went right for the U. S. Senate. And, of course, got creamed.

But he and by extension those of us who worked in his campaign learned lots. We learned about name recognition (of which he gained a great deal in the Senate campaign) and the awkward but necessary role of money in politics. And about door-to-door campaigning, and about political media, and about yard signs, and about whom to talk to, and about more things than most people would ever want to know.

And now, given what we've learned, we think we have a good chance of seeing Randy elected to the 88th House District of Arkansas. After travelling all over the state in the Senate race, Randy is relieved to campaign in an area consisting of not too many square miles.

The incursion of what Michelle Bachmann terms "gangster government" plus other political nonsense has resulted in a whole new group of activists. Some are in Tea Parties, some are running for office, some are writing blogs, some are producing videos, some are calling government officials, some are attending political meetings, some are paying attention to government proceedings.

While there's something for everyone to do, my primary focus is this: to see men and women of integrity and ethics elected to the Arkansas legislature. While there are important battles at all levels, I believe control of the states is critical. And we need state officials who will not be corrupted by the lures of money, sex, and power.

We sent some great people to Little Rock in the last election. Now it's time to send the next group.

And we're counting on Randy Alexander to be among them.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Appeals Court Defends Photographing Police; Bloggers as Journalists

"...though not unqualified, a citizen's right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment." First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The right to take photographs or video of police in public places was affirmed in an August 26 ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in New England. Just as importantly, the court also said individuals with cameras have the same rights as professional journalists.

The court said Simon Glik was within his First Amendment rights when he made a cell phone video of Boston police arresting a man, and arresting Glik for making the video violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Walking by Boston Commons October 1, 2007, Glik had seen three police officers arresting a young man and heard a bystander say "You're hurting him. Stop" Concerned about police brutality, Glik then began recording the event. After subduing the young man, police ordered Glik to stop recording. When Glik objected, police arrested him.

Glik was charged with violating the state's wiretap law, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner. The City of Boston later dropped the aiding in escape charge, and the municipal court dismissed the disturbing the peace charge and also the wiretap charge because the recording was not secret. Glik then sued the city in federal district court and the case ended up at the court of appeals. There, the city argued that police should not be recorded due to their professional immunity from liability but the court cited extensive case law which said government officials in public places may be recorded.

Regarding the First Amendment rights of citizens who are not professional journalists, the court said: "The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status."