Rob on a Roll.

poster for LSU teach-inIn lieu of real content, a pointer to excellent things you’d already know about if you were sensible and had picked up my blogroll.
As if directorship of the North Country Academy for the Excruciatingly Fine Arts were not enough, Rob Helpy-Chalk has been on fire lately. Here’s a backgrounder on the Military Commissions Act (aka the We’ll Torture Anyone We Damn Well Please” Act), followed up with lists of the traitorous swine who voted for it (so you can avoid voting for them) and two posts on absentee voting throughout the country (viz, how to vote the way you want to, instead of the way Diebold wants you to). Here’s another backgrounder, this time on torture methods interrogation techniques, with a particular focus on waterboarding, the adoption of which technique our honorable, humanitarian Puppeteer-in-Chief Vice President calls a “no brainer”.
All of this is part of Rob’s activities with Save Our Constitution, an SLU campus organization devoted to pushing back against the Bush Junta’s efforts to gut the US Constitution, the model and gold standard for representative democracy everywhere and one of the principal reasons I still intend to become a US citizen. Next week they are sponsoring a “teach-in”, a four-hour seminar on The Constitution, Human Rights, and the War on Terrorism:

Schedule of Events
Welcome Remarks
Noon: Natalia Singer (Department of English)
The Military Commissions Act
12:10: Eve Stoddard (Department of Global Studies)
12:25 – 1:10 — Panel 1 — Erosion of the Constitution, Moderator: Eve Stoddard
1:15 – 2:15 — Panel 2 — Torture and International Law, Moderator: Rob Loftis
2:20 – 3:15 — Panel 3 — Language, Rhetoric, Politics of Fear, Moderator: Gus diZerega
3:20 – 4:00 — Wrap-up — What You Can Do, Moderators: Natalia Singer and Jon Cardinal

Damn, people, this is what universities are for! This is what “public intellectual” means — or should mean.

Open Letter to Prof Robert Scherrer of Vanderbilt University

If you read science blogs much at all, you will have run into Rob Knop, either at his own blog, Galactic Interactions, or in someone else’s comments. Though I don’t always agree with him, I find him a cordial and thoughtful member of our virtual community. One of Rob’s particular concerns is the status of women in science, and he recently posted an entry on what happened when he tried to get a faculty meeting to come to terms with the idea that his department (Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt) is a hostile work environment for women:

We have an issue in our department right now which has (tangentially) brought up the issue of the climate for women in physics. We have a serious problem with the climate for women students and post-docs (at least). I don’t really know if it’s worse here than physics departments elsewhere; I know the climate is globally bad everywhere, and maybe it’s worse on average, or maybe it’s better on average. But I do know it’s bad here, and unless we think about it, it will stay bad.
In a short presentation to the department today, I included a slide with this statement on it:

The biggest problem among the faculty is that we all allow things to slide. None of us speak out when we see and hear things that we should be questioning. We are all, constantly, guilty of this; I can name a few instances for myself, and doubtless have forgotten many more.

In retrospect, using the absolute term “none of us” was probably a mistake, but certainly it’s rare when people speak out. This statement was close to a direct quote from a female graduate student I’ve talked to; I asked her what she thought the biggest climate problem was, and it was this: the fact that behaviors are accepted, not questioned, evidently by all.

It wasn’t pretty; you can read the whole thing here. It got worse: his department chair insisted that he take the entry down (which he did). In comments on Zuska’s post about all this, Absinthe posted the text of a letter she sent the dept chair, Robert Scherrer. I thought that was a good idea, so I’m doing the same:

Dear Prof Scherrer:
I write to express my concern over an article posted by Rob Knop on his personal weblog, in which he described the disappointingly negative reaction he received when he tried to get a recent faculty meeting to consider the level of discrimination faced by women in your department.
As a research scientist, sex discrimination in our “tribe” is of immediate and personal concern to me. I believe it to be a widespread and pressing problem and consider it a culpably stupid waste of human resources wherever it occurs. I expect better of my colleagues and professional peers.
I have been reading Prof Knop’s personal writing on this issue for some time, and regard him as admirably open-minded and fair in his approach. I have never known him to be anything but polite and reasonable. I make this point because I can only imagine that his presentation to your faculty meeting was of the same high standard: well reasoned and not in any way threatening.
For him to meet with a solid wall of aggressive denial that the problem even exists is, if anything, cause for even greater dismay than the hostile environment for women that he describes within your department. It took considerable courage for Prof Knop to broach this contentious topic with his colleagues. As chair, you are largely responsible for your department’s overall tenor and for its compliance with legal requirements for equal opportunity. I should have thought you would see Prof Knop as a welcome ally in this undertaking.
In fact, though, your response to Prof Knop’s article is cause for yet further concern. As I understand it, you demanded that Prof Knop remove the post (which he did). This was counter-productive at best, since the Web never forgets; indeed Prof Knop’s post is available in full elsewhere, and has probably attracted more attention as a result of your actions than it would have on its own. Prof Knop has explicitly disavowed the notion that your actions constitute censorship, but on this I disagree with him. His article made no mention whatsoever of anyone by name, nor of any sensitive business (hiring, tenure, or similar). The research community, and academia in general, needs more transparency — not more secrecy.
This is an open letter, having been posted to my own personal weblog. I understand that you are busy, and do not expect a reply. You should know, however, that I will be advising friends, students and colleagues of both sexes that they should avoid your department, and probably view Vanderbilt University itself with some suspicion, on the basis of this incident.

Update: More from Rob, in typically careful and reasonable style. He’s right, and I’m wrong, and I won’t be recommending to anyone that they avoid VU or Rob’s department.
For one thing, they have a pretty strong female and minority presence (see the first comment on Rob’s entry), which can only help in improving the situation — conversely, if they stop getting female/pro-feminist male/minority applicants, that can only be harmful. For another, reading the blog discussion of this whole incident will provide a good background for anyone considering VU or Rob’s department, leaving them armed with penetrating questions to ask at interview time.
I got a response from Prof Scherrer (I won’t quote it as I didn’t ask permission/give warning). He focused his reply on the fact that the meeting included legitimately confidential discussions, which I think is somewhat lame, but then he’s a dept chair and I’m just some weirdo on the internets. (Should I write him again to let him know the change in my position that Rob has caused? I lean towards “quit bothering the guy” myself.)

Why thank you, asshole

— for stifling one of the most original and insightful voices on the internets.

System Offline
After family discussion regarding a commenter’s threat of violence against our dog, Creek Running North has been taken offline.

I hope this will be a temporary hiatus — just long enough for the cops to find you, you worthless Cro-Magnon sack of shit. You maggot. You suppurating carbuncle on the anus of humanity. You cowardly fucking bully.
Chris and family (human and otherwise), be safe.
(h/t: that French-sounding dude)
Update: Chris is back, and in good form. In typical fashion, he’s moved past his own misfortunes and is thinking about community:

This person, whether misguided progressive or malevolent wingnut, sought to build and deepen rifts in the left online world. Mary Beth and Eric Williams and Dwight Meredith over at Wampum run the Koufax Awards, which more than any other single online event builds a remarkable unity and camaraderie across the left-progressive-feminist blog world. […]
There is a tool that would make the Wampum folks’ work on the Koufax Awards much easier this year, and it’s pricy enough that they cannot really afford it without some help. The awards will go on without it, but this tool — a generator to run their off-the-grid tech setup — would make it happen at a lower human cost, and more environmentally sound to boot.
The person who made the threat against Zeke tried to erode our community. You have all responded with truly touching emotional generosity to this threat. Let’s slap that thug’s face, in a non-violent metaphorical sense. Drop a few bucks on Zeke’s behalf to buy the Wampum folks that generator. The threatening asshole brought us all together here: let’s take advantage of that to accomplish the opposite of what he or she had in mind.

Oh, and there’s a message from Zeke:

It matters not how vile their hate,
How lame-anonymous their troll,
I am the master of my plate:
I am the captain of my bowl.

(Update update: I don’t know how Chris fell off my blogroll, but he’s back.)

Favour the third.

This is the third and final favour I’m asking of my readers (for the moment!).
Janet has posted a reminder that the trial of the Tripoli Six is scheduled to resume in just a few weeks, on October 31, so the time for action is now.
Like Janet, I’m asking you to write an actual, dead-trees-and-ink letter. Janet has provided an example letter, and some updates to the contact information that Mike posted earlier; I’m going to try to make it even easier. It’s best if you write something in your own words, but even if you copy someone else’s letter verbatim (and that fact is noticed) it will still make an impression. So here’s a letter you can send:

Dear [name],
I am writing to express grave concern over the upcoming trial in Libya of six foreign nationals, five nurses and a doctor, who have been accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV while working at al-Fateh Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. You have probably seen editorials in Nature1 and in the NY Times2, and a public letter from the UK Royal Society3; all of these prominent persons and publications have condemned the trial in the strongest possible terms.
During the original trial in 2004, a scientific investigation4 by pre-eminent HIV/AIDS researchers Luc Montagnier (Pasteur Institute) and Vittorio Colizzi (Tor Vergata University) concluded that the children were infected long before the medics came to Libya. The Libyan court rejected these findings in favour of an investigation by Libyan doctors whose impartiality and scientific credentials are in doubt. A new, impartial investigation is crucial, as is a commitment by the Libyan court to admit its findings as evidence.
I write therefore to ask you to do all that you can to bring diplomatic pressure to bear on Libya and ensure a fair trial for the Tripoli Six.

and here are the addresses to which you should send copies:
1. your own representatives; you can find their contact details through or Project Vote Smart, using just your zip code. If you don’t know your zip code, you can find that out from the USPS using your address.
2. U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Chair: Sen. Richard Lugar
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
3. U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on International Relations
Chair: Rep. Henry Hyde
2170 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
4. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
5. Senator Bill Frist
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
If you want to do more, Janet has further details, but I have laid it all out as simply as possible. Copy my letter, or write your own, and send it to those addresses (I don’t think it matters much if you write it out once, photocopy it and then just fill in the addressee’s name and your signature).
I don’t know about you, but when the verdict comes in on the Tripoli Six, I want to know that I did what I could to help them get a fair trial.

Favour the second.

I’m asking my readers for three favours; this is number two. (It’s mainly for US readers, though I do think that the whole world has a stake in what happens here.)
Glenn Greenwald is one of the very best political writers you’ll ever read. He’s well informed, careful and insightful; whatever the issue, he is one of my go-to sources for relevant facts and useful analysis. Believe me when I say that if we had a few Glenn Greenwalds in positions of some influence in what passes for the media in this country, Smirky the Killer Clown would not be President. I’m not going to bother pointing out any “best of” posts, just add him to your feeds and read him regularly. Pick any post on his blog to see what I’m talking about. Seriously, any post, he’s that good.
Glenn recently asked for help keeping his blog running:

One of my principal objectives over the last several months has been to find an economically feasible way to continue to devote the bulk of my time to this blog. I typically blog 7 days a week — always at least 6 — and usually spend between 10 and 12 hours a day, sometimes more, on work relating in some way to the blog. Activities such as writing and guest blogging for magazines, along with blog ads, help, but they only produce supplemental income. Periodic support from readers is necessary in order to be able to sustain a blog full-time. Nobody likes to ask: I know I don’t. But reader support just is essential to enable someone to blog more or less full-time.
I’ve had conversations over the last couple of months with various magazines and websites about the prospect of moving my blog to their site, something I would consider only because it provides a model for making blogging more economically viable. But that is something I strongly prefer not to have to do, because I really want to preserve the independence of this blog. Even with an agreement to be able to blog however I want and as much (or as little) as I want — which is the only type of framework I’d consider — being merged into some other entity inevitably creates expectations about content that slowly chips away at true independence.
The other alternative is to try to build the site into a super-high traffic blog in order to maximize ad revenue. Traffic for this blog has steadily increased almost every month since it began, but blogs that are within this traffic range (20,000-40,000 visitors per day) can produce some supplemental income but not income that sustains a full-time blog.
At this point, in order to generate blog-sustaining ad revenue, a blog has to be within the highest traffic range (70,000-150,000 visits per day). But blogs within that range are almost all, without exception, group blogs with multiple posters ensuring frequent updates covering every topic, or Atrios-like blogosphere “shepherds” with numerous posts throughout the day designed to guide people to selected posts and news items. To try to transform this blog into a super-high-trafficked blog — not through natural growth but by changing how it operates — would change the character and nature of the blog and, for that reason, is an option I do not want to pursue.
I’ve become a true believer in the blogosphere as a medium. Its ability to affect political discussion and to effectuate political change is unrivalled. It not only scrutinizes national journalism like nothing else can, but also supplements and, at times, even supplants the national media in fulfilling its central function of providing an adversarial force against government power. One of its most potent attributes is its collaborative effort — the ability to draw on and work with commenters here and other bloggers is an enormous advantage over every other medium. I really believe that the greatest impact can come from devoting my time to my independent blog rather than to other competing activities, and that is the reason I want to be able to continue to do so full-time. But to do that, I need to ensure that it is financially viable and that requires support from readers.

I hope that, if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to point out the value of an independent media, detail what’s wrong with the current state of US broadcast media and newspapers or wax lyrical about the need for trusted sources in our information overload society.
So I’m just going to flat-out ask you to go give Glenn some money. It may be, second only to voting responsibly, the most important political act you’ll carry out this year.

Favor the first.

I’d like to ask you, dear reader, to do me three favors; this is the first.
Biting Beaver is a blogger whose emergency contraception, once she finally obtained it, failed. Now she’s pregant and facing the costs, financial and otherwise, of an abortion. You can read the story in her own words here (EC denial) and here (EC failure) — and that’s important. It’s important that you should be able to read that story, that someone should put a face on the abortion debate and the horrible, indefensible consequences of the laws being advocated (and put in place!) by the punish-women-for-having-sex lobby. Making it available online was a very brave thing for BB to do — and, naturally, the Moral Majority have taken it upon themselves to assault her for it. Via Lindsay, Plucky Punk is asking readers to step up:

The average cost of an abortion in the United States is 468 dollars. Somewhere, there is a woman in need of this money who doesn’t have it.
Let’s see if we can get together and raise this amount, either by giving to Biting Beaver, the National Network of Abortion Funds or to Planned Parenthood. Please leave to amount you donated or pledge to donate in the comments (or if you’ve already donated, leave that amount).

I think BB has probably, by now, been sent enough funds to cover her expenses — and while I don’t know her circumstances, she has a blog so I’m guessing she can cope with the financial burden. Moreover, she didn’t really want to ask for donations and has promised to donate any excess to the National Network of Abortion Funds. So, for myself, I’m going to keep an eye on the story and probably not send BB any money directly. What I will do is to renew my membership to the National Abortion Rights Action League and make small donations to the Northwest Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood, those being women’s rights organizations I trust and currently support.
What I’d like to ask my readers to do is:
1. read Biting Beaver’s story
2. choose one or more of the following:

  • donate to Planned Parenthood
  • donate to NNAF
  • donate to NWLC
  • become a NARAL member
  • choose another women’s rights organization, join or donate, and then send me the reasons for your choice (I may join you)
  • send BB some money; you’ll need PayPal, her email is BitingBeaver [at] yahoo [dot] com

3. drop in on Plucky Punk (or email her, if you prefer to donate anonymously) and let her know how much to add to her running total.

Finally, a religion I could join!

Steve Gimbel, prophet (laughter be all around him):

How did the new religion, Comedism, come to be? It was many years ago (well, nine), when I was teaching ethics at night for a local community college. I was trying to draw the distinction between ethical precepts and social mores. A student raised his hand and asked, “What are mores?” I looked straight at him and replied, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s a more.” Hearing the groans of pain from my students, I realized that set ups that perfect don’t just happen. That could not have been a random humorous occurrence. Think of all the possible combinations of words. To have those exact words, phrased as a question, with a captive audience,…no, that had to be the result of humorous design. I was in the presence of the Divine Comedian.
And so I came to realize that it was my job to spread the gospel of Comedism.

See also the alternative version of the Birth of Comedism, the Comedist Manifesto (do you lose Comedist-Karma points if you get all your “thee”s, “thy”s and “verbeth”s mixed up?), Comedist Sunday School and the War on Comedy.
So anyway, Steve (lbaah) is passing the plate:

In many houses of worship, they pass a collection plate. Comedists donate jokes of value. The theme this go ’round is the old standard, “A man walks into a bar…” Dig deep, give your best.

It’s a good cause, so go make a contribution. Mine are here.

Open letter to Reed Elsevier

Further to the petition and boycott pledge I linked a while back, Tom Stafford has put together an open letter to Reed Elsevier that you can sign if you are an academic or researcher. Tom writes:

The letter will be sent to the Times Higher Education Supplement, a leading UK academics’ weekly, with potential for other national and international coverage. This will be the next in what has now become a series of open letters from professional users of Reed products. Previous letters have been signed by medics (in The Lancet) and high-profile writers (in the Times Literary Supplement), and both have received considerable, and worldwide, media attention.

Here’s the text of the letter (also available as a pdf here):

Mr Jan Hommen
Reed Elsevier PLC
1-3 Strand
xx October 2006
Dear Mr Hommen
We are an international group of academics who are extremely concerned
about Reed Elsevier’s involvement in organising major arms fairs in the
UK and around the world.
We rely on our academic work to be disseminated chiefly by means of
books and peer-reviewed articles, a significant share of these via Reed
Elsevier publications. Being both contributors and (unpaid) referees,
and readers of Reed Elsevier journals makes us stakeholders in the Reed
Elsevier business.
On its website, your company states that it is “committed to making
genuine contributions to the science and health communities” and that it
is “proud to be part of [these] communities”. Conversely, we are not
proud to be associated with Reed Elsevier as we feel your statements are
undermined by the conflict between your arms fair activities and our own
ethical stance. Arms fairs, marketing the tools of violence, are a major
link in the chain of the global arms trade which proliferates arms
around the world and fuels a cycle of human, scientific, economic and
cultural destruction.
This is entirely at odds with the ethical and social obligations we have
to promote the beneficial applications of our work and prevent their
misuse, to anticipate and evaluate the possible unintended consequences
of scientific and technological developments, and to consider at all
times the moral responsibility we carry for our work.
We call on Reed Elsevier to cease all involvement in arms fairs since it
is not compatible with the aims of many of your stakeholders.
Yours sincerely

If you want to sign it, send email to tDOTstaffordATsheffieldDOTacDOTuk with “open letter to Reed Elsevier” in the subject line and a brief note including your full academic title, name, discipline and institution (or former institution if retired). The petition is ongoing, so also please sign that if you haven’t already. As I write there are 357 signatories; if you’re reading this you will probably recognize #19, 32, 55 and 90 (I’m #28).
I know that, after the umpteenth petition or letter or fundraiser or whatever, outrage fatigue starts to set in; and I know that, as world affairs go, there are more important issues than scumbags Reed Elsevier branching out into arms dealing. But — and here I’m speaking to my colleagues: researchers, teachers and academics the world over — this is our issue. It’s in our professional backyard; we own a chunk of it. Not only is a major academic publishing house part of our community, or at least of its infrastructure (whether we like it or not), but as the primary consumers of their primary products and services we have an unusual degree of leverage in this situation. Reed Elsevier is a business: if enough of their customers sign Tom’s letter and petition (and Nick’s boycott), they will get out of the arms trade.