Sunday photoblogging: Pembrokeshire bull

by Chris Bertram on September 14, 2014

Most of the photos I’ve posted have been selected from a rather large back catalogue, but here’s one from less than 48 hours ago. A field in Pembrokeshire, a part of the world I’ve visited every year but one since 1994 and has something of the role for me that Wordsworth evokes in “Tintern Abbey”,

…oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration…

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Jonah Goldberg thinks it through. Bonus: “and Ludwig Wittgenstein had much to say on the subject as well.” I sort of hope Goldberg actually is writing a book about Confucius and Wittgenstein.

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Scotland

by Belle Waring on September 13, 2014

I can remember back when I was just a wee sleekit lass that read the Economist… OK maybe I was also a bit daft, but I got better when I realized it was, in the words of a recent Gawker article, a news aggregator magazine for people who want to pretend their seat in Economy Plus is a chair by the roaring fire in a manor house. Anyway, they always used to talk about Scottish Devolution and I thought it couldn’t possibly ever amount to anything very serious. But now it seems as if maybe really power will devolve to its utmost, since there’s going to be a vote on independence and everything, and the polls are tight. Scottish readers, are ye voting aye or nay? Subjects of HRH* generally, are Scottish subjects going to keep on keeping on being subjects of HRH, or what? Might she have to give back that big castle she’s apparently so fond of? Who gets the, um, nukes? Enlighten me with an open thread about how Scots maun live in the future.

*Commenters In The Sky and ZM have pointed out that the Queen is HM and only lesser royals mere Highnesses.

Now that Francis Spufford has shown up to do the work of knowing things about the subject, which is what open threads are for (i.e. making the readers do the work) I am hoisting his discussion with SF author Ken McLeod against Scottish Independence up here so that you may watch it more easily. John and I only watched the very very beginning, in which it was explained that Francies Spufford has a very posh accent (which he has come by in an honest, middle-class fashion) and that Lanark is important in some way, which has led us to extrapolate that perhaps giant crabs will come up through cracks in the ground if the two nations are divided, an outcome we naturally deplore. When it is not 10:22 at night and roughly two hours after I took the meds that are supposed to be, welp, going to bed for sure now, so it won’t hurt to take these topamax is very…what now? I will listen more fully and contribute intelligently to the debate. Possibly. Though I have my second Japanese lesson tomorrow! I had to learn katakana and hiragana in a week, that was sort of my own fault though. My brain is oozing knowledge at night in a way peculiar to language-acquisition. Like when I was cold at night and thought I had to curl up in the pages of the big Liddell to stay warm (insufficient heating in SF + Greek MA exams.) Thanks Francis!

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Musical Purity and Odd Histories

by John Holbo on September 10, 2014

I have two ideas for rock books I’m never going to write: first, a book about band members of famous bands who apparently don’t really love their own band. You’re the drummer for a heavy metal outfit (it pays the bills!) … but you prefer big band.

Second idea: members of cult bands with surprising musical biographies. Two examples I recently stumbled across. [click to continue…]

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Twisting your mind and smashing your dreams

by John Holbo on September 9, 2014

I’m teaching an aesthetics seminar. We’re reading some stuff on music and Roger Scruton’s views were referenced. I’ve never read Scruton on music but I had heard about the Pet Shop Boys’ libel suit , of course. So, naturally, I had long since filed him away in the Allan Bloom remainder bin. Dude hates rock and pop. Thinks it all sounds the same. But googling, to get more of a sense for his views, I found this interview, containing this bit:

I have actually been listening to quite a bit of heavy metal lately, and Metallica, I think, is genuinely talented. ‘Master of Puppets’ I think has got something genuinely both poetic – violently poetic – and musical. Every now and then something like that stands out and you can see that people have got no other repertoire and have a very narrow range of expression, but they’ve hit on something where they are saying something which is not just about themselves. Pop music is so concentrated on the self and the performer that it’s very rare that that happens, I think. It never happens with Oasis or The Verve. It did happen much more of course with the Beatles, and in the old American songbook, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter and all that. That was a popular music which was about communication of often quite gentle feelings. So I’m not as prejudiced as I seem. I would like to be more prejudiced because it would prevent me from listening to this stuff.

I now have a more fabulous picture of Roger Scruton in my mind, foxhunting to a Hoagy Charmichael/Metallica playlist.

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Rawls, Bentham and the Laffer Curve

by John Quiggin on September 8, 2014

The 1970s saw two important and influential publications in the long debate over justice, equality and public policy. In 1971, there was Rawls Theory of Justice, commonly described in terms like “magisterial”. Then in 1974, at lunch with Jude Wanniski, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Arthur Laffer drew his now-eponymous curve on a napkin. Of course there was nothing new about the curve: it’s pretty obvious that an income tax levied at rates of either zero or 100 per cent isn’t going to raise any money (* or, in the 100 per cent case, not very much money), and interpolation does the rest. What was new was the Laffer hypothesis, that the US at the time was on the descending side of the curve, where a reduction in tax rates would raise tax revenue.

I’ve always understood Rawls in terms of the Laffer curve, as arguing in essence that we should be at the very top of the curve, maximizing the resources available for transfer to the poor, but not (as, say, Jerry Cohen might have advocated) going further than this to promote equality.

A couple of interesting Facebook discussions have led me to think that I might be wrong in my understanding of Rawls and that the position I’ve imputed to him is actually far closer to that of classical utilitarianism in the tradition of Bentham (which is, broadly speaking, my own view).

Facebook has its merits, but promoting open public discussion isn’t one of them, so I thought I’d throw this out to the slightly larger world of blog readers.

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Sunday photoblogging: Uppsala – window, shadow

by Chris Bertram on September 7, 2014

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I said in my last post that “barring some major developments,” I wouldn’t be posting on the Salaita affair for a while. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you some major developments.

One of the University of Illinois trustees has broken ranks with his colleagues, publicly voicing misgivings about the decision to dehire Salaita, revealing that the boycott has had a definite impact on the university, and, most important, that this case is not closed and that we have an opening to get the Board to reverse course.

In a bombshell interview with Ali Abunimah, the trustee says, well, I’ll just hand it over to Ali.

A trustee of the University of Illinois has added to public criticism over the decision to fire Palestinian American professor and Israel critic Steven Salaita.


“I think it would have been far better had it been dealt with differently and had it been done with more consultation with faculty,” James D. Montgomery told The Electronic Intifada today.


He also acknowledged the “adverse” impact that a growing boycott was having on the university’s ability to function.


Montgomery, a prominent Chicago attorney, echoed the regrets expressed by Chancellor Phyllis Wise over her own role in the affair.


Montgomery was careful, however, to say that he was undecided about the merits of the case, but he sounded far less certain and more circumspect than a public statement he signed last month along with other trustees forcefully backing Wise’s decision.



Montgomery laid out some of the issues that the board would be faced with at its upcoming 11 September meeting.


“Obviously there’s a lot of uproar on both sides of the issue from the perspective of students and alums who are offended by the manner in which Salaita spoke,” Montgomery said.


“And there are folks who are claiming that is a violation of the right to academic freedom. It’s a difficult decision in terms of what is right and what is wrong,” he continued.


“I know we’re going into executive session and obviously there are people who are seeking to pressure the university to reverse its decision. It’s coming from very significant places. It’s had an adverse impact because people are declining to participate in university activities and there have been a number of events canceled.”



“How it will turn out is anybody’s guess and I would not hazard one at this point,” Montgomery now says, adding he personally has not made up his mind about the issues the board would have to decide.


Montgomery’s public statements come on the heels of Chancellor Wise’s statement yesterday to the faculty that she herself was not the decider in the Salaita affair but rather the agent of the trustees’ wishes. In other words, all those folks, including some commenters here, who credited Wise with making a principled and judicious academic decision, must now come to terms with the fact that she has distanced herself from her own decision, claiming that it was not even hers.

From Illinois Public Media:

The chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana campus Thursday expressed regret about the way she came to a decision to withdraw a job offer to a professor who posted inflammatory comments on Twitter – a decision she said was “pretty unilateral.”


Chancellor Phyllis Wise said members of the Board of Trustees told her in July that they likely would not approve the appointment of Professor Steven Salaita. A week later, Wise sent a letter to Salaita rescinding the job offer.


“The judgment I made in writing him was to convey the sentiment of the Board of Trustees, it was not mine.” She said. “And I did it because I thought I was doing something humane for him.”


Humane, she said, because she didn’t want Salaita to move his family to Urbana only to learn his appointment was not approved.


Wise also admitted in another colloquy (with students) that she did not involve the faculty in the discussion in the way she should have:

 

I, in hindsight, wish I had been a little bit more deliberate and had consulted with more people before I made that decision.


So here are the takeaways:

First, you have a university leadership in total disarray. The fact that a member of the Board of Trustees and the university’s own chancellor would be publicly voicing so many misgivings is not merely a sign that they made a bad decision that they are now regretting; it’s also a sign that no one is in control and all the principal agents are speaking out of turn, on and for their own behalf. That’s a bad sign for the university politically and legally: when you see this kind of unraveling, you’re likely to hear someone in authority say something that they shouldn’t have said, which will come back to haunt the university in court.

Second, this is not a done deal. Montgomery clearly says that he has no idea how or what the Trustees will decide, and how he will vote.

Third, a member of the Board of Trustees and the university chancellor have now publicly admitted that the faculty should have been involved in this decision.

Fourth, as Bonnie Honig pointed out to me, the UI Board of Trustees is small. There are twelve members, two of whom (students) can’t vote. That means we don’t have to sway a lot of individuals. At least one out of ten of the trustees is undecided, with the potential ability to bring some folks with him. (As an important side note, Martha Biondi wrote this on my FB page: “Faculty in African American Studies should write to James Montgomery [the trustee who’s broken ranks], who once served as an attorney for the family of slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and remind him that African American Studies would never have entered the academy without the principle of academic freedom. He has a history fighting racial discrimination as a lawyer. We need to appeal to this history.”)

Fifth, when we went through a similar battle over BDS at Brooklyn College, this is how it happened. One key figure cracked, then they all fell down. No predictions, no guarantees. But this could be the beginning of the end.

Sixth, and most important, email the Board of Trustees. We have an opening, so let’s take it. Be polite, be firm, reach out to them as people. All of you have gotten us to this point. Now take us all the way there.

Again here are the emails:

Christopher G. Kennedy, Chair, University of Illinois Board of Trustees: chris@northbankandwells.com


Robert A. Easter, President: reaster@uillinois.edu


Hannah Cave, Trustee: hcave2@illinois.edu


Ricardo Estrada, Trustee: estradar@metrofamily.org


Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Trustee: patrick.fitzgerald@skadden.com


Lucas N. Frye, Trustee: lnfrye2@illinois.edu


Karen Hasara, Trustee: hasgot28@aol.com


Patricia Brown Holmes, Trustee: pholmes@schiffhardin.com


Timothy N. Koritz, Trustee: timothy.koritz@gmail.com or tkoritz@gmail.com


Danielle M. Leibowitz, Trustee: dleibo2@uic.edu


Edward L. McMillan, Trustee: mcmillaned@sbcglobal.net or mcmillaned@msn.com


James D. Montgomery, Trustee: james@jdmlaw.com


Pamela B. Strobel, Trustee: pbstrobel@comcast.net


Thomas R. Bearrows, University Counsel: bearrows@uillinois.edu


Susan M. Kies, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and the University: kies@uillinois.edu


Lester H. McKeever, Jr., Treasurer, Board of Trustees: lmckeever@wpmck.com

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Not to Mention, I Respect You With My Art

by Belle Waring on September 5, 2014

September! When I made a monthly music-themed mix, September won. At this very moment I’m obsessively listening to this song, “Don’t Wait,” by Maipei. John finds the vocals too computer-processed, but it’s important to note that they are too computer-processed in an Air-song-from-1998 way, and not in a T-Pain-song-from-2008 way.

But obviously when September rolls around, this ticking, percussive guitar/synth/O HAI ITS THE HORNZ thing comes to mind. Firstly, are those, like, daishikis from outer space, or Chinese-inspired sequined outfits from outer space, what say ye? Secondly, John notes no one goes for the balding afro anymore. A man in that position nowadays would shave his head. Not Maurice White. He has the sexual self-confidence to rock this balding afro with pride.

Feel free to tell me “September” is some disco bullshit compared to “Evil” or “Shining Star.” I will ignore your reasonably well-supported claim because WAIIIAIIAIIIAIIsay do you rememberWAIIIAIII…
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What’s the IGF?*

The world’s ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF), organised by the UN, is happening this week in Istanbul. The IGF is a free and open gathering of people from all over the world who have come to talk about how the internet is run. Last year’s IGF was in Bali. The year before was Azerbaijan. Turkey’s jailing of bloggers and recent attempt to ban Twitter are actually part of an established tradition of IGF host countries showing a certain carefree whimsy about human rights and the internet.

IGFs are a bit like weddings or London glass box house extensions. They’re all basically the same, but the tiny, barely discernible differences between them consume vast amounts of energy and generate heartache for everyone involved.

What’s the same about this IGF?

For participants, IGF Istanbul is much the same as all the IGFs that came before. It has the usual long, hot queues for a registration badge, extravagant security measures and slavish worship of alleged VIPs, the near-riots by participants not about the free flow of information but the free flow of coffee; the endless, paint by numbers speeches by a dozen or so communications ministers, a venue network that barely functions, and a gala reception with no alcohol.

These first world problems are actually a plus. They bring the 3,000 participants together, providing just enough shared moaning to break the ice between the different tribes of government, technical community, business and civil society.

What’s different?

Nothing overt, but the ground is shifting. This is the second IGF since the Snowden revelations shattered global confidence in the US’s leadership of the internet, and the first IGF since Brazil initiated a global dialogue about who should be in control. There is also the ongoing saga of how ICANN can prove itself worthy of being cut loose by the US government before the Obama administration finishes. But no world-changing announcements are expected at this IGF.

As ever, countries including Russia that want to control the internet would prefer to have the discussion about it in a forum that governments dominate: the International Telecommunications Union. But those countries still come to IGF and take part, albeit grumpily. They see efforts to stop them getting their hands on the internet’s controlling levers as stemming from the west’s desire to keep it for itself, with freedoms and human rights simply a smokescreen. All the work-shopping and hand-shaking at IGF won’t mask the ugliness of the internet’s basic geopolitics, especially in a city straddling Europe and Asia, and looking up the Bosphorus to Ukraine, Crimea and Russia’s (other) Black Sea resorts.
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As a kind of side-note to Corey’s most recent post, most people, including, I suspect, most academics, don’t realize how important rich people are to the running of universities. Some months back, I was able to listen in on a conversation including a college president (not my own), and was startled to discover how much time the president spent managing relations with the Board of Trustees. Being a board member usually involves a two way relationship. As a trustee, you get some social kudos, and some broad-scale influence over how the university is run. In return, you are expected to give the university a lot of money. Relations with rich donors who aren’t on the board are somewhat similar, albeit less organized – again, there’s an implied quid pro quo, and the implicit or express threat if if you, as a rich donor, don’t like something that the university is doing, the money will dry up. While you do not have any veto, influential officials in the administration will listen – very carefully – to what you say, and be likely to represent on behalf of your viewpoint in internal discussions.

This has consequences for bureaucratic power. The paper trail described in Corey’s post emphatically suggests that Development (i.e. money raising) was heavily involved in the decision making process over Salaita’s appointment, while Academic Affairs (which is usually responsible for teaching and research quality of faculty and the like) was consulted pro forma, and after the fact. Of course, university presidents care – in the aggregate – about research and teaching quality. Apart from their intrinsic value, if research and teaching deteriorate too much, it will damage the university’s reputation. But they contribute to the bottom line only indirectly, and in ways that are difficult to measure. When they are weighed against the immediate and concrete threat of canceled donations and skittish board members (a vote of no confidence in the president is a rather different thing when it comes from the trustees instead of an academic department), it’s unsurprising that presidents will often be prepared to take dubious decisions on hiring and firing. From their perspective, the risks of angering rich people will usually outweigh the risks of angering faculty (who aren’t usually interested in governance issues, are difficult to organize collectively etc).

It also has consequences for ideas in the university. The Board of Trustees is one of the main channels through which the university is supposed to get external guidance and new perspectives on how it can do its job. If the Board is composed exclusively of the rich and powerful, then ideas which appeal to the rich and powerful will have an unusual degree of influence on campus governance and on the direction of the university. It will be difficult to rationally debate bad ideas which are fashionable among rich people, because these are just the ideas that are most likely to be popular with the board. Plausibly, something like this was at the root of the 2012 debacle in the University of Virginia.

One of the least appreciated problems of economic inequality is that it tends to filter out ideas that are uncongenial to rich people, and to heavily overweight ideas that they like. Universities like to think of themselves as removed from all of this. More and more, they are not.

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There are many developments today in the Salaita affair.

This morning, the News-Gazette released 280 pages of documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act revealing extensive donor pressure on Chancellor Wise.

As news spread in late July about a new University of Illinois faculty hire and media outlets began publishing some of his profanity-laden tweets, a number of wealthy donors threatened to stop giving money to the university, recently released documents show.


The letters about professor Steven Salaita started arriving in Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s inbox July 21, and the writers did not hold back.


“Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years, I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses,” wrote one UI business school graduate.



The letters from donors, some of them identifying themselves as members of the UI’s $25,000-plus “presidents council,” have also raised questions about the motivation behind the administration’s decision to not forward Salaita’s name to the board of trustees for formal approval last month.


The chancellor, however, through a spokeswoman, maintains her decision was not influenced by them, but was based out of concern for the students, campus and community.


Then tonight Phan Nguyen sent me 443 pages of documents he had posted online. These are all the documents released by the UIUC in response to four different FOIA requests from various news organizations. I’ve now spent the entire evening reading through these documents and here are some of the highlights. [click to continue…]

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We are getting reports out of the University of Illinois that Chancellor Wise is going to forward the Salaita appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote on September 11. A group of Gender and Women’s Studies students reports the following:

From GWS Undergraduate Stephanie Skora’s report back on meeting with Chancellor Wise on Monday, September 1, 2014:


The meeting with Chancellor Wise was a success, and we have gained some valuable information and commitments from the Chancellor!


We have discovered that the Chancellor HAS FORWARDED Professor Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees, and they will be voting on his appointment during the Board of Trustees Meeting on September 11th, on the UIUC campus! Our immediate future organizational efforts will focus around speaking at, and appearing at, this Board of Trustees meeting. We will be attempting to appear during the public comment section of the Board of Trustees meeting, as well as secure a longer presentation to educate them on the issues about which Professor Salaita tweeted. Additionally, we are going to attempt to ensure that the Board of Trustees consults with a cultural expert on Palestine, who can explain and educate them about the issues and the context surrounding Professor Salaita’s tweets. It has been made clear to us that the politics of the Board of Trustees is being allowed to dictate the course of the University, and that the misinformation and personal views of the members of the Board are being allowed to tell the students who is allowed to teach us, regardless of who we say that we want as our educators. We will not let this go unchallenged.


Additionally, Chancellor Wise has agreed to several parts of our demands, and has agreed upon a timeline under which she will take steps to address them. The ball is currently in her court, but we take her agreements as a gesture of good faith and of an attempt to rebuild trust between the University administration and the student body. She has not agreed unilaterally to our demands, and but we have made an important first step in our commitment to reinstating Professor Salaita. In terms of his actual reinstatement, the power to make that decision is not hers. This is why we have shifted the target of our efforts to the Board of Trustees, because they alone have the power to reinstate and approve Professor Salaita’s appointment at the University. In regards to the rest of our demands, which we have updated to reflect the town hall meeting, we have made progress on all of those, but continue to emphasize that it is unacceptable to meet any of our demands without first reinstating Professor Salaita.


We have made progress, but we all have a LOT of work left to do. We must organize, write to the Board of Trustees, and make our voices and our presences known. We will not be silent on September 11th, and we will not stop in our efforts to reinstate Professor Salaita, regardless of what the Board of Trustees decides.


Please keep organizing, please keep making your voices heard, and please‪#‎supportSalaita‬!


Also, feel free to message or comment with any questions, comments, or concerns.


Assuming the report is accurate, I can think of two interpretations of what it means.

If the UIUC is thinking politically, it would be an absolute disaster for them to open this can of worms, to act as if Salaita’s appointment is now a real possibility, to raise expectations for two weeks or so, to encourage all the organizing this will encourage (I can imagine the phone calls and emails that will now start pouring into the Board of Trustees), only to have the Board vote Salaita down. From a political perspective, this would be a disaster for the university. The strongest weapon the UIUC has always had is the sense that this is a done deal, that they will not budge, that we can raise all the ruckus we want, but they simply don’t care. Opening the decision up again calls that into question. Where does this line of reasoning lead us? To the possibility that the UIUC Trustees will vote to appoint Salaita on September 11, throw Chancellor Wise under the bus (remember, the Executive Committee that upheld her decision is only comprised of three Trustees, not the full Board)*, and say it was all a misunderstanding wrought by an incompetent chancellor. Who’ll then be pushed out within a year. The advantage of this approach is that it will effectively bring this story to a close. There will be angry donors, but everything I’ve ever read and experienced about that crew suggests that their bark is often worse than their bite. The ongoing atmosphere of crisis and ungovernability on campus is not something any university leader can bear for too long, and this threatens to go on for a very long time.

The other possibility is that the UIUC is thinking legally. One of the many weak links in their legal case was that Wise never forwarded Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees for a vote. She basically did a pocket veto. Salaita’s offer letter stated that his appointment was subject to approval by the Board of Trustees, but Wise effectively never allowed the Board to approve or disapprove. So the UIUC’s lawyers could have decided that the better thing to do would be simply to carry out the full deed.

Many questions remain, not least of which is how accurate is this report. Stay tuned. But assuming the report is true, we have to operate on the assumption that the first interpretation is a very real possibility and that we have a lot of work to do in the next ten days.

*John Wilson reminds me in this post that all the members of the Board did sign a letter supporting Wise’s position, which I had forgotten about.

Update (11:15 pm)

Just to clarify my blog post: Like all of us, I have no idea what Wise and the Board are thinking (though we can assume that they are making this decision together). But while I think we have to be as strategic and smart about this as possible (fyi: John Wilson thinks I’m wrong; he may have a point), and gather as much information as we can, there’s always a tendency in these situations to play armchair strategist, to try and read the tea leaves, to figure out the pattern of power, as if we didn’t have hand or a role in shaping that pattern of power. Particularly when questions of law get involved (in a country of lawyers, Louis Hartz reminded us, every philosophical question is turned into a legal claim.) We have to resist that tendency. We have to treat this announcement, assuming it’s true, as a golden opportunity. To use the next 10 days as a chance to shift the balance of power on the ground. Remember the Board will be meeting and voting on campus. There are students, faculty, and activists on and around that campus. That’s an opportunity. Remember these trustees are individuals who can be called and emailed round the clock. That’s an opportunity. Between now and 9/11 (they really chose that date), let’s be mindful of the constraints, but also be thinking, always, in terms of opportunities.

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The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I’m hoping Salaita’s story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise’s decision has been, and how it has isolated the University of Illinois. [click to continue…]

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Sunday Photoblogging: The Last Day of Summer

by Belle Waring on August 31, 2014

For some people, anyway. I don’t normally post photos with people, but this little girl was born right on this blog and look at her now! All grown up and going to Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone’s glad to be home in Singapore eating roti prata and murtabak, though. Well, no, I miss real summer like that. High dunes and cold water and fresh corn and berry cobbler and lobster rolls. But if you read my aunt Laura Wainwright’s book Home Bird you can hear that it gets wickedly cold in the wintertime.
lastdaysm
Later when I’m not tired I’ll make it be so you can click on a high-res version, this one is kinda lame but it busts the margins otherwise…

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