We won! UMass Backs Down!

by Corey Robin on February 18, 2015

UMass issued the following announcement today:

The University of Massachusetts Amherst today announced that it will accept Iranian students into science and engineering programs, developing individualized study plans to meet the requirements of federal sanctions law and address the impact on students. The decision to revise the university’s approach follows consultation with the State Department and outside counsel.

“This approach reflects the university’s longstanding commitment to wide access to educational opportunities,” said Michael Malone, vice chancellor for research and engagement. “We have always believed that excluding students from admission conflicts with our institutional values and principles. It is now clear, after further consultation and deliberation, that we can adopt a less restrictive policy.”

Federal law, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, requires that the U.S. Department of State deny visas to Iranian students wishing to engage in certain fields of study related to the energy sector, nuclear science, nuclear engineering or a related field at U.S. colleges and universities. To comply with the law and its impacts, UMass Amherst will develop individualized study plans as appropriate based on a student’s projected coursework and research in conjunction with an offer of admission. The plan will be updated as required during a student’s course of study.


NBC News has more on the story.

Thanks to everyone who wrote to the university to express their opposition to the university’s policy of prohibiting Iranian nationals from applying to select departments in engineering and the natural sciences. This was a story, I’m proud to say, that got broken here and at my blog (thanks to a tip from a professor in Colorado), and which rapidly got picked up in the national  media. Well done, everyone!

{ 15 comments }

A while back, in a context I can’t exactly remember, I made the point, which seemed to me to be obvious, that all property rights are derived from states governments, and so it’s impossible to sustain a claim that state government interference with property rights is inherently wrong. It rapidly became apparent that this point is controversial in all sorts of ways, so I thought it might be worthwhile to work out where the main lines of disagreement run.

The great thing about a blog like CT is that, on (almost) any topic, lots of my co-bloggers and readers know more than I do, and most aren’t shy about saying so. So, please point me to the relevant literature (about my only reference point here is James C Scott).

[click to continue…]

{ 534 comments }

The Real Mad Men of History

by Corey Robin on February 16, 2015

From The Washington Post (h/t Marilyn Young):

“It’s a childish story that keeps repeating in the West,” smiled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview with the BBC last week. He was dismissing allegations that his regime is attacking Syrian civilians with barrel bombs, crude devices packed with fuel and shrapnel that inflict brutal, indiscriminate damage.

“I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots,” Assad said, and then repeated when pressed again: “They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets. There [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.”

If you think Assad doth protest too much, you’re probably right.


The Post not only cites evidence supporting the claim of the Syrian regime’s “frequent use of barrel bombs in densely packed urban areas” but also cites other instances of regimes using barrel bombs, including the US in Vietnam.

But I was more struck by the civilizational machismo of Assad’s claim that “we have bombs, missiles and bullets. There [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.”

Like so many of the West’s defenders of just war, restrained war, and humanitarian war, Assad takes great—albeit unearned—pride in his precision weaponry. Implicit is a contempt for those pathetic, perhaps even feminized, warriors (the “cooking pot” reference), who would rely on such primitive crudities as barrel bombs.

As the Post explains, the US has its own history with such methods:


Look a bit further into the past, and you’ll find that barrel bombs were featured in an American military campaign, too.


A smart post on the War Is Boring blog details when the United States dropped barrels packed with fuel in an attempt to burn foliage in the dense forests of Vietnam and smoke out Viet Cong guerrillas:


Army crews kicked the incendiary drums out of Chinook helicopters onto suspected enemy camps. They strapped white phosphorus smoke grenades to the cylinders to set them alight.


The Air Force took the concept one step further and tried to start raging forest fires in Viet Cong base areas. The flying branch used fire barrels as well as normal incendiary bombs.



In April 1968, the United States carried out “Operation Inferno,” in which 14 C-130 cargo planes dropped dozens of 55-gallon incendiary barrels filled with fuel over southern Vietnam’s U Minh forest. The sorties sparked raging fires, but they had limited effect, as they all tended to die down once the fuel burned out. The United States also dropped barrels full of a chemical equivalent of tear gas, aimed at flushing insurgent fighters out of their bunkered hideaways.

But throughout the war, you had figures like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy (though McNamara left the Johnson Administration in February 1968 and Bundy in 1966), stressing the reason and rationality, the precision and pride, of the American war effort. And, not infrequently, wrapping it all up in a bow of unrestrained masculinity.

Assad, McNamara, Bundy: these are the real Mad Men of history.

{ 46 comments }

Sunday photoblogging: unicorn

by Chris Bertram on February 15, 2015

Most of the photos I post on Sundays are from a largish archive of old material, but this one was taken this very afternoon in the now-redundant church of St John in Bristol, which is build into the medieval city wall.

{ 4 comments }

Male Nerds and Feminism

by Belle Waring on February 15, 2015

First I want to thank all of you for an implausibly thoughtful and interesting thread. I think I am going to close comments on it soon so that it can retain its purity. Thanks especially to commenters who shared difficult events in their lives.

One thing I thought of saying at the start was, “feminism sucks and is harmful” is not an unpopular view but rather a really popular one, and so a bit beside the point, but there wasn’t much of that, so, no worries. One thing that several male commenters did talk about was the problems created for shy, nerdy guys when they hear the message from feminism “you suck and are a sexual aggressor in a bad way.” Several people pointed to the Scott Aaronson affair: an MIT professor wrote a confessional of sorts in a blog comment about how feminism made him so terrified of his own feelings of heterosexual desire that he spent period of time genuinely to be medically castrated. Amanda Marcotte was among a number of people who thought this was bullshit. Now, here let me say, my first impulse, if I had chosen to write about it on my own, would have been to be a total dick. BUT. In the spirit of not being a dick to everyone all the time, I thought I would actually address this…issue? Cluster of related issues, more like. Because more than one of our commenters felt it was a live issue in their lives, even if only in the past.

Now, part of me doesn’t even understand what’s being complained about here. Here is my best effort to break it down, based on what Aaronson and his supporters, and detractors, and more-or-less middle of the road commentators have said, and also based on some things men have said in the thread below. And by this I don’t intend to call anyone out or imply what anyone said was beyond the pale or anything, but let me know if you are bothered in any way and I’m happy to adjust this.
[click to continue…]

{ 410 comments }

State Department Expresses Surprise Over UMass Policy

by Corey Robin on February 14, 2015

My sister Melissa just sent me a piece from today’s Boston Globe on the UMass Iranian student situation. The big blockbuster in the piece is this:

The college’s new policy, which appears to be rare if not unique among US universities, appeared to catch the US State Department by surprise

The State Department had no idea that this policy was in the offing, and more important, seems to believe or suggest that the policy may be unnecessary.
A US State Department official said that the department was aware of news reports about the UMass decision but that there had been no changes in federal policy regarding Iranian students and he could not say why UMass would change its policy. The department will contact UMass to discuss the decision and will answer any questions from other academic institutions about the law, the official said.

“All visa applications are reviewed individually in accordance with the requirements of the US Immigration and Nationality Act and other relevant laws that establish detailed standards for determining eligibility for visas and admission to the United States,” the official, who declined to be quoted by name, said in an e-mail.

US law does not prohibit qualified Iranian nationals coming to the United States for education in science and engineering,” the official continued. “Each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”


Got that? It is not US law that prohibits Iranian nationals from applying and enrolling in UMass’s engineering and natural sciences graduate programs; it is UMass itself that is doing that.

In one graf, the UMass Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Mike Malone, claims that the policy was developed in consultation with faculty and students (though every student and faculty member I’ve talked to at UMass claimed they only learned of the policy from my blog).

But in a later graf Malone gives a different story:

Malone said that after discussing the issue with outside legal counsel and with faculty at other institutions, administrators believe UMass is in the mainstream of American institutions in having such a policy, though it is rare to publish it.

The moment this story broke and I began talking with sanctions experts, one of whom works for a law firm that specializes in these questions (see update here), I got nervous. Forgive what I’m sure is an overwrought historical excursus, but which may be illuminative nonetheless.

Back during the McCarthy years, institutions like UMass—and outside academe as well; in Hollywood and other parts of the culture industry; and throughout the economy as a whole—were often run by nervous administrators and managers and CEOs who wanted to be in compliance with the government. These weren’t the true-believer anticommunist types, of which there were many; these were just run of the mill, apolitical or even liberal, apparatchiks whose first duty, they felt, was to their job and their institution.

Uncertain about the law and government rules, fearful that if they broke them they or their institutions would suffer, these administrators turned to outside consultants—often, lawyers—for “advice.” Except that the advice industry was itself stacked with two types: either true-believing anticommunists, who had a vested interest in purging the country of reds and leftists and liberals and more, or bottom-liners (and bottom-feeders) whose livelihood depended upon institutions like UMass needing their “advice.”

The combination of this advice industry and nervous administrators was lethal: through some elaborate dance of advice and consent, repressive policies were propounded. Not by force, not by threat, but voluntarily, consensually. The advice-givers would just offer a neutral-sounding statement of the facts, making sense of a byzantine and elaborate set of rules and procedures to harried and overworked administrators; and then the harried and overworked, and fearful, administrators would take the most conservative reading of that advice, playing it safe, and propound the most draconian version of the rules.

A “clearance industry”—seriously, that was what it was called—was set up, in which individuals would go through elaborate rituals of repentance, to prove they were no longer communists or even sympathizers; and if they didn’t go through the rituals, which were institutionalized and regularized everywhere, they were blacklisted and purged. That’s how McCarthyism worked; that’s how it touched so many millions of lives.

It wasn’t simply the state that was the problem in other words; it was the relay system of coercion that private actors in civil society set up, that radiated the state’s power far beyond what it was capable of, that made the whole system of repression as widespread as it was. This, incidentally, was precisely the kind of society Hobbes envisioned in Leviathan: not simply an all-powerful singleton sovereign, but an army of preachers and teachers, working in churches and—wait for it: universities—who would extend the power of the sovereign far beyond what it could muster.

I don’t want to over-read the UMass story. But that mention of seeking “outside legal counsel” and my conversation yesterday with one representative—perfectly well meaning and well intentioned, from what I can gather—of that advice industry makes me worried that the policy at UMass, and other institutions as well, is being driven by a similar dynamic. Particularly when you throw in the State Department’s surprise and clear statement that this policy is not actually required by US government policy.

In other news, after yesterday’s announcement here (see update) that UMass had taken down the policy from its website, it now seems to be back up.

{ 23 comments }

This announcement was recently posted on the website of the graduate school of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst:

The University has determined that recent governmental sanctions pose a significant challenge to its ability to provide a full program of education and research for Iranian students in certain disciplines and programs. Because we must ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, the University has determined that it will no longer admit Iranian national students to specific programs in the College of Engineering (i.e., Chemical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) and in the College of Natural Sciences (i.e., Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Polymer Science & Engineering) effective February 1, 2015.

The full announcement and reasoning—namely, that the university is trying to act in accordance with all the twists and turns of the US sanctions regime—behind this new policy can be found here.

I’m waiting to hear back from some experts on the US sanctions policy as to whether the University is fairly grappling with constraints imposed by the US government or just going rogue.

But while I wait to hear back, I can’t help being reminded of the shitshow we saw when American Studies Association voted for an academic boycott of Israel.

You’ll recall that many self-proclaimed defenders of academic freedom at the time made a lot of noise about the threat that the boycott posed to academic exchange and international conversation. Even though nothing in the ASA vote precluded the exchange of individual scholars or students between the United States and Israel and the organization took great pains to stress that they were calling for institutional boycotts rather than a boycott of individuals.

Well, we don’t need to reprise that argument here. Because now we very clearly have a public university, claiming to act in accordance with US policy, officially banning Iranian national students from applying to entire graduate schools.

Will those putative defenders of academic freedom from the BDS fight speak out against this policy—and speak out far more forcefully than they did then— since this policy really does threaten academic freedom in the way they imagined the academic boycott did?

Or will they defend the university’s decision on the grounds of national security or the need for universities to act in accordance with US law? If they take that path, they’d be admitting a point many of suspected all along: that academic freedom really is not their highest value at all.

What will those defenders of academic freedom say—and, more important, do—now?

While we wait and see what they do, it’s very important that we get word of this policy out. Someone emailed me about it tonight, and I looked all over the internet and could not find a single mention of it. Do other universities have similar policies? Let’s try and gather information and make sure that people in the media and academia and civil liberties organizations know about this.

Updated (February 13, 12 pm)

So I’ve spoken with a few sanctions experts. More on that in a minute. First, some other updates. [click to continue…]

{ 55 comments }

After strange day the Wisconsin Idea survives.

by Harry on February 12, 2015

So here’s roughly what happened.

Last Tuesday (Feb 3) our Governor proposed his budget. Now, as you may remember, he has a habit of putting things in the budget that don’t look especially connected to the budget except insofar as, of course, everything is connected to the budget. So it wasn’t so surprising, I suppose, that, alongside the very substantial and potentially devastating $300 million dollar cut to the UW system (the system, by the way, is comprised by 22 different campuses, some 2-year, others 4-year, and others including substantial numbers of graduate and professional programs, so it is not just UW-Madison), proposed changes to the mission of the system. One change, which although lots of people are unhappy with it, seems to me entirely reasonable, and also trivial since it is already implied on any reasonable interpretation of our already stated mission, is that we should help “meet the state’s workforce needs”. However, along with this came other changes – numerous deletions, which amounted to at best a watering down and at worst the elimination of what we call The Wisconsin Idea, the idea that the university is here to serve the state very broadly, in terms of producing and disseminating knowledge that is valuable for the residents, public institutions, and businesses of the State.

I got an email from a journalist fairly early on Wednesday, after I had heard about the proposals, but before I had scrutinized them (because I was preparing for a class, the students in which I live in a kind of horror of disappointing, as our Governor would be pleased to know), asking what I thought about the proposals. After reading them carefully, I responded that I didn’t want to say anything publicly, because the proposals looked so eccentric to me that I had no understanding of what was going on. And I am cautious about being quoted in public about university matters, because I don’t want to be off-message, and didn’t know at the time how the leadership of my campus (in whom I’m happy to say, I have a great deal of, fortunately justified, confidence, and from whom I am happy to take leadership) would respond. But I did say that I thought the proposed changes were distinctly odd.

Here are what seemed to me that most eccentric changes. The following phrases were all deleted from the mission:


“Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth”
“Which makes effective and efficient use of human and physical resources; which functions cooperatively with other educational institutions and systems”
“Which stresses undergraduate teaching as its main priority”

Let’s start with truth.

[click to continue…]

{ 16 comments }

UPDATE: REDOUBLE YOUR EFFORTS AT MAOIST SELF-CRITICISM, COMRADES; DO NOT BE GULLED BY MY MOPING. TELL US YOU BELIEVE SOMETHING CRAZY. IT IS A NEAR-CERTAINTY!

In the thread to one of my string of unfailingly well-intentioned, generous—not to put too fine a point on it, let’s just say, kind posts on Political Correctness, some of us discussed what it would be like if I were actually kind we had a “safe” thread in which we could discuss feminism without worrying we would ban ourselves from polite society by saying The Wrong Thing. Now, I cannot actually bring it about that other commenters will not remember what you said in this thread and be a dick to you about in some future thread. I can fight the tendency by asking everyone who participates to do so in a spirit of truthfulness and generosity; by banning unpleasant arguments in this thread; and by ruthlessly deleting future comments of this sort when they are made to one of my own posts. If the comment is not made to my own post I can still upbraid the person for violating what is meant to be a minor experiment in honesty and, yes, kindness. However, if you feel what you have to say is truly incendiary you can always just make a burner pseud for the occasion. The tradition followed at unfogged is that regular commenters donning a pseudonym of convenience choose some past political leader. I think it would be nice if we took up floral banners for the day and became Lady Clematis or some such, but I leave the details to you.

Now, I must tell you my own “I have the possibly wrong” opinion on a feminist issue, but it won’t make sense without context. This may seem like a silly tic of mine, this constant introduction of my actual life, blobs and swirls of ink floating on water and ox-gall, and slashed at, just so, with a fork, yielding marbled paper on which the posts are hard to read at times when compared with the black on white clarity of some of my co-bloggers. But this is the secret: the personal really is the political.

When I got raped at college I knew a lot about some things and nothing about others, but being a teenager I pretended to know mostly everything. I wasn’t a college student, even; the National Cathedral’s School for Girls sent two girls every year to study at New College, Oxford during the summer between junior and senior year, with a bunch of college students from Ohio. These programs are just money-farms for Oxford and the professors do not take them very seriously at all. When I got the reading list, I was 16, so I took it completely seriously. I read everything. All the books on the list. I didn’t understand that you’re not really supposed to. I read Ulysses. I did not understand it hardly at all and I just read that damn thing anyway, on my spring break, in the hammock on the sleeping porch at my dad’s in South Carolina, one leg pumping idly against the white uprights between which the screens are stretched, birdsong and cicada up there enough to be loud. So loud! The experience of forcing myself through hundreds of pages of something that I don’t understand is unique to my adolescence. Three Shakespeare plays. Secondary literature I had to get at the big library downtown in D.C.
[click to continue…]

{ 381 comments }

Elizabeth Kolbert has a chilling and heartbreaking article in this week’s The New Yorker about the attempt to bring the surviving apparatchiks of the Holocaust to justice, seven decades after the Second World War’s ending.

She writes of three generations of effort to prosecute and try these men and women. In the second phase, many—most of them mid-level perpetrators—got off.

In 1974, an Auschwitz commander named Willi Sawatzki was put on trial for having participated in the murder of four hundred Hungarian Jewish children, who were pushed into a pit and burned alive. (The camp’s supply of Zyklon B had run short.) Sawatzki was acquitted after the prosecution’s key witness was deemed unfit to testify.

Approximately a million Jews were killed at Auschwitz, and along with them at least a hundred thousand Polish, Roma, and Soviet prisoners. According to Andreas Eichmüller, a German historian in Munich, sixty-five hundred S.S. members who served at the camp survived the war. Of these, fewer than a hundred were ever tried for their crimes in German courts, and only fifty were convicted.


But now we’re into the third generation, where there is less forgiveness, more of a desire to see justice done. The problem, of course, is that almost all of these murderers and their accomplices are dead or dying. [click to continue…]

{ 143 comments }

The landslide winner’s curse?

by Daniel on February 11, 2015

In the light of current events in Greece, I have a lazyweb request for the political science bods among our readers. Is there a word for the following stylised set of facts:

a) A country has a proportional and multi-party electoral system, which often delivers coalition governments.

b) Because it anticipates a coalition, a party puts together an electoral platform designed as a basis for negotiation.

c) This package, as one would expect, includes genuine “red line” priorities. It also includes some less essential policies which might be expected to be negotiated away. It might even include some policies which are borderline undesirable – ideas which have been included intentionally to be bargained away.

d) Against its expectations, the party wins an absolute majority which is taken as a mandate for its entire platform

e) And thus it is saddled with a political imperative to implement a manifesto which is considerably more radical than it had ever really anticipated putting into practice.

If there is, I’m obviously most interested in the special case of

f) Where key parts of the platform involve negotiations with foreign parties, leaving the party subject to “landslide winner’s curse” having to take a negotiating position in international issues which it had been expecting to have diluted in domestic coalition-formation.

I’m not saying this is definitely something that’s happened in the case of Syriza. But if it’s been studied and is in the literature, it feels to me like that part of the literature is worth digging up right now.

{ 200 comments }

Temporarily stranded in the last warehouse of my closed business, itself scoured almost clean save a few odds and ends and the massive teak bed I lusted after for so long, since 2002, bought in 2010, enjoyed…well, I don’t know that I enjoyed it quite, as I spent too many uninterrupted months in 2012 laying there looking at the mountainous terrain of sheets, and the violent tropical foliage visible above my half-shuttered windows, and the pink Christmas tree with its tin-winged angel, left up too long, and the local 1960s vanity with the mirrors all découpaged with photos from abandoned HDB flats and pictures from old HK movie magazines—filled to overflowing as always with unguents and near identical shades of fuchsia YSL lipsticks, and jewelry, and my grandmother’s monogrammed silver-topped powder container in cut crystal, from her girlhood in sober 30s font with the initials of Miss Henrietta Drewry Callaway. But the bed was lovely, minimalist with tapered uprights, with a rail for a mosquito net, and it was mildly unfortunate that when we moved from a big house to a condo that it would not fit. I am going to sell it at Expat Auction. In any case, I was sitting on the screed floor of the double-height space, one wall of windows shining, and so I wrote this blog post long-hand with my new favorite pencil the Palomino Blackwing 602. “Half the pressure, twice the speed!” It says that on the side. It may simply be a 3B with an, replaceable eraser. It will take longer to see. We only got them last week. John thinks I should scan it and post the scan, which has a certain justness, as I do have excellent handwriting, but I think it would be precious.

So, I promised you a response to Freddie deBoer’s response to Jonathan Chait’s anti-P.C. cry in the wilderness of having an extraordinary platform to write whatever you want. Why did I not do this immediately? Both my children have been ill since then, and I had Japanese homework, and I have a new art project which I will tell you about later [I am making my own tarot deck as I have dreamed of since childhood, but with Great-Aunt Nora Cloud’s (well, Violet Bramble’s, I suppose, really) Least Trumps from Little, Big.] And I am very sick and you should all feel super-guilty. No, OK really, also I am bone-lazy and a fundamentally unserious person as has been established.
[click to continue…]

{ 206 comments }

Reason to be cheerful

by Harry on February 10, 2015

Here. I don’t know why Alabama matters more than any other state that has been liberated so far, but I feel that it does, somehow.

{ 18 comments }

It could have been worse, John. A lot worse.

by Eric on February 9, 2015

I recently re-watched Do the Right Thing and found the ending a little shocking. No, not the violent part – which has, sadly, only become more familiar in the quarter century since 1989 – but the actual last scene.

[click to continue…]

{ 32 comments }

I’m an animation history buff, as you may know. Here’s something I noticed today.

“Hell-Bent For Election”, the 1944, Chuck Jones-directed, proto-UPA pro-FDR agit-prop classic, shows Roosevelt’s streamlined profile as the head of the Win The War Special. On the other track is the Defeatist Limited, pulling various cars including, finally, the Jim Crow Car.

jimcrowcar

That is, the cartoon basically says: vote FDR, because Thomas Dewey is in favor of Jim Crow.

I am very surprised to see this messaging in 1944. I wouldn’t have thought the Democrats would have wanted to go there. Too much of a raw nerve. Too close to home for a party still based in the South. (Probably also unfair to Dewey, but the cartoon isn’t a model of fairness. It contains a pretty raw ad hitlerum argument. The surprise is only that it seems to risk offending the white Democratic base.)

It wouldn’t surprise me if the cartoonists, who were all lefties, were wishing FDR further to the left. Maybe message discipline for this stuff wasn’t very tight.

The cartoon got a lot of play in the election. From a book on history of the studio:

The film worked. Distributed in 16 mm by Brandon Films, Inc., of New York City, the cartoon could be rented for ten dollars. Boxoffice reported that it was screened in “union halls, political clubs – even in private homes at parties organized for fund raising purposes.” Naturally, the liberal press trumpeted Hell-Bent For Election: “Clever cartooning, obviously done by Hollywood’s best,” noted John T. McManus in the newspaper PM. The Daily Worker praised the cartoon’s “expert craftsmanship and sound political advice to labor and the nation.” Hell-Bent also warranted a two-page spread in Life – a periodical aimed at the middle-American mind. Direction magazine estimated that Hell-Bent was “shown to more than ten million persons.” (57)

What do you think? I’d be kind of curious to see the Life spread.

{ 32 comments }