My colleague Bill Cronon tells his story here. This part particularly struck me:

A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students. All thus fall within the purview of the Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA, sometimes known as the “Buckley Amendment,” named for its author Senator James Buckley—the brother of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley). The Buckley Amendment makes it illegal for colleges or universities to release student records without the permission of those students, and is thus in direct conflict with the Wisconsin Open Records Law and Mr. Thompson’s request on behalf of the Wisconsin Republican Party. I don’t know whether Mr. Thompson intended his request to generate a wholesale release of student records, but I myself think that doing so would represent a dangerous intrusion on student privacy. I’m pretty sure the law supports me in this view. If you’d like to review the terms of FERPA, see
http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html
and
http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_04/34cfr99_04.html

A crucial point Cronon makes later is that without confidence in confidentiality many correspondents might either not email, or be less than frank in their emails. I could live with that when it comes to other adults. But my fear is that students, especially perhaps those who most need to break their silence, would refrain from emailing faculty about personal matters. I have been meaning to post for a while on a related issue, which is the very unusual character of some email correspondence between students and faculty — I have had interactions that I would not have had any other way, and therefore not at all prior to email. But on Cronon’s topic: I have emails from students which are deeply personal, expressing worries and sometimes telling experiences under an assumption of complete confidentiality. Sometimes they express ideas that they would not feel comfortable expressing in class, and which constitute some sort of “thinking out loud”. I have total confidence that without this way of communicating with me at least one student would by now have dropped out of college and probably worse, and I’m certain that others would have foregone considerable benefits. And if it were widely known, as it will be if the Republican Party gets hold of Cronon’s records, that no professor, and especially no professor who gets on the wrong side of a legislator of either party, can guarantee confidentiality, many such correspondences would not happen, to the detriment of the students and, at least in my case, the faculty (though the latter should not really count much in the calculation). The worry I have actually remains whether or not FERPA protects the emails of students (which, like Cronon, I’m pretty sure it does) because when they hear a story like this what they hear is “open records” “all emails” etc, comments like Cronon’s and my “pretty sure”, even if they are noticed, are not wholly reassuring. (Given that neither of us are lawyers, even “absolutely certain” would be cold comfort, especially from someone who thought Green Day come from Milwaukee).

Cronon is a moderate — I don’t know him, but have read his work and seen him talk — there is no question that he is sincere in his claim to be an independent.

It is not inconceivable that this is the beginning of a large fishing expedition triggered by the Carlos Lam affair. (Question: is this the end of Carlos Lam’s political career? Have prominent Republicans in Indiana started condemning him yet?)

Update
: this is everywhere now. Here’s Krugman. Follow his link to Richard Vedder which seems to have nothing to do with whoever that is, but is riveting nevertheless)
Further Update: Our Chancellor comments.
Yet Another Update: Stephan Thompson, enigmatic man of mystery (thanks Kris).

Shakedown artists

by Henry on March 25, 2011

Via Alex Tabarrok, this “Wall Street Journal article”:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704081604576144401022132530.html is very interesting.

bq. Some U.S. furniture makers and their lawyers have found a reliable way to extract cash from Chinese competitors deemed by U.S. officials to have “dumped” their products in the U.S., selling them at unfairly low prices. Each year since 2006, they have asked the Commerce Department to review the U.S. duties paid by Chinese manufacturers on imports of wooden bedroom furniture. Many Chinese firms, fearing a steep rise in duties, agreed within months each time to pay cash to their U.S. competitors in return for being removed from the review list. “Everybody in the industry in the U.S. and China understands that these payments are clever shakedowns,” said William Silverman, a lawyer representing U.S. furniture retailers, big importers of Chinese products, at an October hearing of the U.S. International Trade Commission. … About $13 million was paid to a group of 20 U.S. furniture makers from 2006 through 2009, according to a November ITC report. The U.S. firms told the ITC that a much larger, but unspecified, amount of money went to pay the U.S. firms’ lawyers.

Not many people realize how much of US trade policy is effectively set by private industry groups, whose interest in free trade, for better or worse, is largely opportunistic. This is especially obvious in the area of property rights. I recently finished reading an excellent “report”:http://piracy.ssrc.org/ edited by Joe Karaganis on the politics of the piracy debate, which has a good chapter on just this topic by Sean Flynn and Karaganis [click to continue…]

Morality Tales

by John Holbo on March 25, 2011

So I had the flu. Then, a different flu. As to that thing Belle is down with now? I dunno. Something new has been added. But we got to the Joanna Newsom concert, between sneezes. That was great! My brother-in-law asked what she’s like, because he hadn’t heard of her. I said she’s a cross between Bob Dylan and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Do you think that was strictly accurate? Maybe just: a cross between Kate Bush and Arcade Fire, plus harp? (What, you’ve never heard of her? Well, check it out. And this. I was hoping she’d do a live version of that last one, as she does here. No dice. But she did a great version of “Have One On Me”, which is otherwise not one of my favorites.)

The world is so messed up these days that I feel I should be publicly expressing my opinion about that. But instead I’m escaping into an old, wonky-academic philosophy-literary criticism essay that I’ve never managed to get published anywhere. It’s been out of, then back into, the ‘reject’ pile for years. Title: “Ways of World-Breaking and Ethical Escapism”. The question: is there morality fiction? That is, fiction about morality itself being different than we take it to be. No, no, not whether people can disagree about morality, or write about immoral people, or seek to shock, or any of that obviousness. Does anyone write fiction in which they imagine that the world works, morally, a different way than they (author and anticipated audience) take it to work? Or is it rather the case that when we find a ‘deviant’ moral perspective in fiction we either reject it or accept it. And if we do the latter, we export it to the actual world, as part of an expanded moral horizon? So our actual moral horizon and our fictional moral horizon never mutually deviate? Or they sometimes go their separate ways? That’s the question. I say they go their separate ways all the time, so it’s interesting that some folks have denied it. I am responding to some analytic-type philosophers – Kendall Walton, Tamar Gendler, and our own Brian Weatherson – who have taken various positions on this question, the so-called ‘puzzle of imaginative resistance’.

I’ve got the latest draft posted here, for the edification of the interested. I’ll just post one bit from it. I call it “Morality Tale”. I guess I just missed the Hugo Awards nomination deadline. But you can tell me whether you like it. Certainly it goes a long way towards explaining why I can’t publish the whole essay. (Who do I think I am?) [click to continue…]