February 05, 2005

Obviously, the question of whether Prof. Ward Churchill should be fired due to his vicious, hateful writings about the 9/11 dead concerns academic freedom, not necessarily the First Amendment or freedom of speech. He's not being threatened with jail for his remarks, nor is the government attempting to bar him from exercising his right to vocalize his opinion. A college professor should be granted more leeway in being allowed to say what he wants without having to worry about the axe falling whenever he makes a politically incorrect statement.

But, really, I can't believe that a university should be powerless to act just because a professor has tenure. Putting aside the allegation that Churchill lied about his ethnic background (he claims to be part-Indian, an assertion that has been debunked by the tribe he claims membership in), it's hard to see why a state university, funded by the taxpayers, should have no recourse when one of their employees goes off the deep end. If a tenured professor in geology were to begin teaching his students that the earth was flat, or a paleontology professor were to advocate creationism in the classroom, or a history professor decides that his students should learn about how the Elders of Zion are plotting to eat Christian babies, the schools that are paying them clearly are not getting what they bargained for when they granted tenure in the first place.

The regents at Boulder should examine why Churchill is being paid a salary to teach at their university in the first place (it's certainly not because he has overwhelming qualifications; considering the thousands of PhD recipients who can't land teaching jobs in this country, the fact that Churchill never went beyond a Masters degree is especially grating), and act accordingly. Celebrating the slaughter of other human beings no more belongs in a school than a teacher advocating the rape of women, or the extermination of gays. That is not a matter of free speech, or of defending leftist politics: it is a matter of decency.

But rather than firing the professor, Colorado should set appropriate guidelines as to what it considers acceptable classroom conduct. The university should demand that Churchill apologize for his three-year old statements, and thereafter vigorously regulate the courses he teaches. If he refuses, he should be introduced to the rigorous virtues of the private sector. If they are unwilling to do that, the university might as well announce that it fully backs Prof. Churchill, and that his views about how the janitors and secretaries in the Twin Towers are "little Eichmanns" are shared by the college, and are consistent with what it regards as its educational mission. Poisoning the minds of students should never be considered part of "academic freedom". [link via Marc Cooper]

February 04, 2005

The man who lost the most important boxing match in history, Max Schmeling, has passed away. He was seven months short of 100.

February 02, 2005

I'm not sure what to make of this study, which indicates that more than half of all personal bankruptcies were triggered by excessive medical costs, even though most of those debtors were covered by health insurance. There tend to be a multitude of reasons why people file, most notably mortgage defaults and exorbinant credit card debt, but high medical bills are invariably a part of the problem as well.

Practicing in Los Angeles, a region that has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to bankruptcy law, my perspective may not be applicable nationwide, but I can think of an obvious explanation as to why this study came to this conclusion. There is still a great deal of embarassment when it comes to the filing of bankruptcy. Psychologically, it is perceived as an admission of failure, an acknowledgement that you can't make good on your own promises. Thus, a good many people will try to postpone the inevitable, to be done only in extremis.

Of all the reasons to give in to the temptation of having a deus ex machina, in the form of the Bankruptcy Court, wipe your slate clean, a medical debt is probably the most appealing. We can't be blamed for getting sick, in the same way that we can feel blame for losing their job or running up too much credit card debt. High medical costs are as much a given in our society as having to pay through the teeth for housing or a sports car, but it's just easier to make believe that the medical debt was an arbitrary event, as opposed to the other big ticket items we couldn't afford but purchased anyway.
While the President of Jesusland addresses the Crackerocracy in D.C. tonight, I will be honoring my status as a Californian, first and foremost, with a visit to the L.A. Press Club salon, where tonight the topic of discussion will be "21st Century Sports Journalism". Panelists include blogger Jon Weisman, sportswriter J.A. Adande, sportstalk host Steve Mason, and the moderator will be the venerable Matt Welch (pictured, twixt Sonny and Phoebe, above). First drinks start at six, the gabfest at seven.

February 01, 2005

Who loves the LA Times? Not apparently, Mickey Kaus, who writes that the greater SoCal area would be better off if it were to just disappear tomorrow. Quoth Kaus: "New journalistic organizations would form and expand to fill the void. Some of them would be good. All would be free to actually be lively and irreverent, without the dead weight of the Times bureaucracy and its historic faux-East-Coast confusion of stiff journalism with serious journalism."

In all likelihood, though, the Times' monopoly, should it ever be slain, would simply get replaced by a new monopoly, one that would inherit, in form if not in substance, the same "dead weight" bureaucracy and journalistic philosophy of its predecessor. People who wonder why Los Angeles is the way it is should always remember that the "city" of Los Angeles is only a portion of the vast mega-community of "Los Angeles", which expands as far south as San Clemente, as far north as Bakersfield, and as far east as the borders with Nevada and Arizona.

Even within Los Angeles County, there are numerous cities on the outskirts, not quite suburbs, that are quite distinct from the city of Los Angeles, cities such as Long Beach, Santa Monica, Inglewood, Compton, Pomona, Pasadena, Beverly Hills, etc., that have their own school districts and elect their own city officials, but which are still every much as part of the community of "Los Angeles" as Downtown or the Valley. Many of these satellite communities, in fact, have newspapers of their own, but none has been able to branch out and appeal beyond their locality. It's almost a cliche to note that this region is the Promised Land for immigrants from Central America and East Asia, and these groups have newspapers servicing their communities as well. The genius of the Times has been to create a touchstone, one of the few that exist locally besides the Lakers and the smog, that unites the vast community beyond the city borders.

Because of that, a local newspaper that appeals to the entire region is a necessity; the market demands it. Financially speaking, though, to have two (or more) newspapers attempting to appeal to that same broad base would be prohibitive. And it's been tried. As recently as sixteen years ago, Los Angeles was serviced by another paper, the Herald Examiner, a great newspaper published by the Hearst family. It had an awesome sports section, was gossipy and fun to read, and I still have the last edition from when it ceased publication in 1989, after years of drowning in ink as red as the blood of the Black Dahlia. There were other newspapers too, long ago, as much beloved as the HerEx (which was itself the child of a long-ago merger of two tabloids), but, in the end, none could compete with the Chandlers.

So we're pretty much stuck with the Times. Don't like its liberal politics? Too bad, you're in a Blue State, they come with the territory. Too stodgy for you? Not enough gossip? This isn't New York City, pal, and besides, what gossip column can compete with Court TV? Not enough coverage of local issues and events? Well, that's what the Press Telegram and the Daily News are for. Would LA be better off if the Times no longer existed? Maybe, but then it wouldn't be LA.
Listen, children, to a story, that was written long ago....
ESPN is reporting that Rudy Tomjanovich will step down as Lakers' head coach after tonight's game with Portland.
Jayson Blair, the Sequel: After reading this story, it becomes clear that the real scoop isn't that Iraqi kleptocrat Ahmad Chalabi is being considered for a position in the new Iraqi government, but that the New York Times has another writer who just makes shit up. Can't blame Howell Raines for this one, though....

January 31, 2005

A combination of a slow day in sports and an opportune buzz led me to see Sideways at the local AMC. Paul Giamatti was robbed; in fact, it can be argued that the principal reason it could even have been a plausible Best Film nominee was the fact that he was the star, only one year after his memorable (and also unrewarded) performance in American Splendor. Anyone who has ever taken the 101 north of Santa Barbara will appreciate the humor in this film even more.
Egads--DTP started his own blog!! I used to think he was really "Booze Buddy" from The Happiest Place on Earth, since he seemed to know a great deal about my life as a Functioning Alcoholic, until I heard he actually a had a professional degree in something. I guess he just paid very careful attention to my writing. Anyways, he's funny, if a bit off the edge politically.
Nguyen Van Chalabi: Some historical perspective on yesterday's election in Iraq.
Fact-checking, my ass !! Apparently, the Blog of the Year doesn't have much interest in correcting its mistakes. One of the common criticisms against opinion blogs is that there is no one "monitoring the monitors", but that's only half-true. There are bloggers monitoring Powerline, Hugh Hewitt, Daily Kos, et al.; the problem is that most of their readers seldom visit those blogs on account of a pre-existing disagreement in ideology. For the most part, conservatives limit themselves to the sites on the blogroll of Instapundit, while liberals are content picking from the blogroll of Atrios (from whom, natch, I obtained the above link); crossover is limited, so if a popular blog steps in it, its readers may never find out (if you want to know about the intellectual curiosity of a blogger, always check the blogroll). If a blogger doesn't see fit to correct himself, there's little anyone else can do to threaten his reputation.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum eloquently expands on the above point, but also points out that many of the more conservative boosters of the blogosphere lack, shall we say, the self-correcting mechanism that many readers of more liberal blogs take for granted: a comments section.