Saturday, April 21, 2007

Democrats in the Can't Lose Zone

I can't see how the Democrats can lose in the upcoming war funding showdown. Needless to say, they could lose. After all, the mighty 1927 Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig could have lost to the mightily mediocre, 83 win, 2006 Cardinals. And the Dems are definitely not the 1927 Yankees of politics.

Of course, the Bush administration isn't up to the level of the 2006 Cardinals either.

The three main scenarios that I see are these:

1. The Democrats send Bush a bill without a mandatory withdrawal deadline and he signs the bill. If everything were equal, appeasing George Bush in this way would undermine confidence in the Democratic leadership. But everything isn't equal. The Bush administration is being done in by a thousand cuts both big and little. The surge has been a failure, Alberto Gonzales has been twisting in the wind for weeks, and a couple more Republican Congressmen have been caught in the corruption net. Given the continuous bad news for the administration, the Democrats are going to look good even if they are craven and spineless.

2. The Democrats take the withdrawal deadline out of the funding bill, but keep in the mandates for troop preparedness and limit war funding to four months rather than a year. This is what Matthew Yglesias has been pushing and a group led by John Podesta (former Clinton budget director) came out with a similar recommendation today. The idea is that fewer Republicans would support another round of Iraq war funding four months from now and that funding legislation with a firm withdrawal date would have a better chance of either being signed or having a veto over-ridden. According to Yglesias, "This fight is going to need to keep happening -- less in Washington than in members' districts -- over and over again for months until there's more pressure and more votes."

The adherents of this view don't believe President Bush would veto a limited funding timeline. I don't know why though. Bush almost certainly would consider a short timeline as "overly restrictive." As a result, I'm certain that President Bush would veto any war funding legislation with a short timeline. But I'm also pretty sure that the Democrats would win a veto showdown and either force the President to sign war funding with a withdrawal deadline or just cut-off funding for the war.

3. That brings us to the third option: the Congressional Democrats pass legislation with a definite deadline for withdrawal and mandates for the readiness of the soldiers. Then Bush vetoes the bill. He really can't do anything else. He's boxed himself into the same kind of corner that his father did with his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. If the younger Bush went back on his veto pledge now, support for him would crumble on the right and he's be like Alberto Gonzales, twisting in the wind for the next 18 months.

What should the Democrats do? Two things. They should argue that the funding will be there when Bush is ready to sign the bill and let the pressure continue to build one way or the other. But I think the Dems also will have to go one step further. They will need to draw up a bill that appropriates money strictly for the "strategic redeployment" of American troops to Kuwait and northern Iraq advocated by John Murtha. If Bush wants to fund the war for another year, he can sign the first bill. If Bush doesn't sign the first bill, he'll get a second bill mandating strategic redeployment. And if Bush vetoes the second bill, money will run out and Bush will have to wind down the war.

If the Democrats take option 3, they will be right on both substantive and political grounds. However, they should come out ahead politically no matter which option they take.

How I Became a Spiritual Suburbanite

The air-conditioner guy just left after kindly coming out to our house this afternoon to fix a leaky unit that wasn't working. Having a functional air-conditioner is important to me because I have a hypo-thyroid condition that makes me extremely sensitive to heat. As a result, I have enormous appreciation for his take time on a Saturday to come out to my house and do repairs.

And the air conditioner is working great now.

Unfortunately, there was a language barrier between us as he worked. His Eastern Kentucky accent was so thick I could barely understand what he was saying and I'm not sure he understood me all that much better. I've been living in Eastern Kentucky for 17 years, but I have to admit that I'm actually worse on Kentucky accents now than I was after 15 years ago.

That's because I've become a kind of suburbanite even though I don't live in a suburb. My town of Morehead is in the western foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Eastern Kentucky and the nearest urban center is Lexington sixty miles further west. Even though it takes an hour and twenty minutes to get from my house to downtown Lexington, I'm still much more likely to take a trip to Lexington than I am to even go to the east side of Morehead. And I haven't been to the next town east of Morehead in at least 5 or 6 years. When my wife and I want to take a weekend off, we generally go to Lexington and stay at a hotel. When we're in Lexington, the Joseph-Beth book store is our default place to relax and unwind. We've also started getting medical services there and we just generally like being in Lexington.

Without recognizing it, I've gradually moved into the Lexington shopping and culture orbit. I've become a spiritual suburbanite.

Far from detracting from Eastern Kentucky, my own spiritual suburbanness is one of the reasons why I think Morehead is an interesting place to live. A good chunk of the university population and hospital staff are just like me, spiritual suburbanites who face west toward Lexington rather than east and south toward the mountains. Like suburbanites all over the country, they listen to NPR several hours a day, go to Lexington for a variety of services, and have Lexington much more in mind as a place to go than Olive Hill, Sandy Hook, or West Liberty.

In fact, a lot of my friends and acquaintances are so absorbed in the suburban mentality that they would find it strange that I'm mentioning Eastern Kentucky towns as an alternative.

However, it's also pretty clear that a majority of the population in Morehead and Rowan County is oriented toward the mountains and has family connections, educational reference points, cultural interests, and religious interests in mountain culture and ways. From what I hear from my students, a number of people in Rowan County have never even been to Lexington.

And that's great. I just have a hard time understanding a lot of people.

Bush Follows the Quayle Trail

With his approval ratings stuck in the mid-30's and 2/3rd's of the American public supporting a withdrawal from Iraq, President Bush has gone on the road this weekend to promote his "surge" policy.

However, the president has been careful to speak at overwhelmingly Republican venues like Tipp City, Ohio and Grand Rapids, Michigan (the home of former President Gerald Ford).

That's the strategy that Republican campaign strategists developed for Dan Quayle during the 1988 presidential campaign. After Quayle showed that he was not ready for prime time, the Bush/Quayle campaign limited him to safe Republican territory where Quayle wouldn't face difficult questions and wouldn't embarrass himself.

That's exactly what President Bush's handlers are doing with him--keeping him before safe audiences so he doesn't face difficult questions. Given the intense coverage of Bush as president, he's always going to be embarrassing himself to a certain extent (witness Jacob Weisberg's "Bushism of the Day" column for Slate). However, by keeping President Bush on the "Quayle Trail," Bush's advisers hope to keep the embarrassment to a minimum.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech, National Community, and the Right

There were a fair number of students wearing Virginia Tech sweatshirts on my campus in Kentucky today. I would bet the same is happening at high schools and college campuses all over the country.

People usually think of the avalanche of publicity concerning school shootings as something that mostly enables other school shootings. For example, Harry Shearer argues on Huffington Post that NBC's airing of Cho Seung-Hui's video provides inspiration to future mass murderers.

Cho's pathetic outpourings deserved to be put back where they came from--in a small room, with FBI guys sentenced to read, see and parse them. Instead, a hundred thousand self-pitying mentally ill young men (and women?) have just been shown the road to glory one more time . . .

While not disagreeing with Shearer about the effect on Cho wannabe's, I think the media deluge has also reinforced the sense of national community in America. The reports on the victims from friends and families have been so ubiquitous and detailed that many people have begun to feel symbolic bonds with the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, the friends and acquaintances giving testimonials, and the families expressing their sense of loss and grief. People who pay attention to the news, web sites, talk shows, Facebook, and other media outlets begin to feel that they "know" the victims and their families and empathize with them "as if" the victims were their sons, daughters, and friends and the victim's families lived in their own home towns and cities. As the pain and grief of Virginia Tech students and families becomes "our" pain and grief. As a nation, we become a community of pain and grief.

This is what I think is happening on my campus in Kentucky. Just as Prof. Nikki Giovanni of Virginia Tech affirmed that "we are Virginia Tech," students at my university are saying that "we are Virginia Tech" when they wear Virginia Tech gear.

The same was the case with the saturation coverage of Katrina and the terrorist attacks on 9-11. The deluge of reporting in those cases also helped to create and reinforce a sense of community between a nation full of viewers and the people directly affected.

The activist right-wing is very suspicious of this crisis-born sense of national community. A couple of weeks after 9-11, I heard Rush Limbaugh satirize New Yorkers as effete and cowardly (an interesting formulation given Limbaugh's longstanding reluctance to leave his room when not doing his show.) Conservative op-eds also began to appear in my local paper reminding everyone on the right that they needed to refocus on the "war on liberalism." Ann Coulter encapsulated the revulsion of the right for 9-11 victims in Godless: The Church of Liberalism when she claimed she had "never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much” as 9-11 widows.

The same thing is happening now with conservatives like Nathaniel Blake and John Derbyshire who are casting aspersions on the courage and manhood of the Virginia Tech victims and American culture in general. It's as if the sense of community arising from the grief over the Virginia Tech massacre were a repulsive, soft, and womanish thing to right-wingers, something they would want to distance themselves from at all costs. To be a right-winger is to be disaffected with mainstream American culture and society, the national embrace of Virginia Tech is only increasing that disaffection.

Interpreting Bush on Gonzales

Here's Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino statement concerning George Bush's reaction to the testimony of Alberto Gonzales yesterday (via TPM).

President Bush was pleased with the Attorney General’s testimony today. After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the Senators’ questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred. He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. Attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses. The Attorney General has the full confidence of the President, and he appreciates the work he is doing at the Department of Justice to help keep our citizens safe from terrorists, our children safe from predators, our government safe from corruption, and our streets free from gang violence.

What this means is that President Bush was extremely impressed that his friend "Al" was able to repeat all of his talking points under pressure. That's all George Bush has ever been expected to do himself and that's all he's expected from his top assistants.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Right-Wing Memes on Virginia Tech

There are several right-wing memes circulating about the Virginia Tech massacre. Take your pick. As with the case with a lot of right-wing commentary, the underlying issue is the profound disaffection of conservatives with American culture as it's developed since the New Deal and especially since the Sixties. In the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, what's bothering the right are the many failures of manhood in American society.

For poster JustOffal on Slate's Fray, it's Cho Seung-Hui's manhood that was failing in the context of the bizarre world created by liberalism.

"It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a young man bewildered in the forest of new age values and standards being completely devastated by what he sees as an insurmountable combination of unreachable and unfulfillable demands being placed upon him and his masculinity.

From this view, America has a sick culture of "new age values" with traditional standards "being completely devastated." Thus, someone like Cho Seung-Hui becomes unhinged because he can't find a place for himself within "an unsurmountable combination of unreachable and unfulfillable demands being placed on "his masculinity." Just as Dinesh D'Souza believes that American liberalism brought on 9-11 with its rejection of traditional culture, "JustOffal" believes that the rejection of traditional culture creates internal enemies like Cho Seung-Hui.

For other conservatives, the problem is the manhood of the Virginia Tech students who were killed. It appears that none of the young American men charged Cho as he went killing through Norris Hall. None of the college men went out in a blaze of glory. There were no battle cries like "Let's Roll" or "Make My Day" or even "It's Clobberin' Time" from the Fantastic Four. The only guy who appears to have given up his life for others was an elderly Israeli professor. This is all too much for Nathaniel Blake at Human Events.

Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that.

The same was the case with John Derbyshire of National Review online:

"Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy?"

What Blake and Derbyshire were looking for was stories of Virginia Tech college men who they could admire and idolize, men whose memories they could cherish, men who writers like themselves could make into martyrs and legends. In other words, Blake and Derbyshire were looking for men they could love in the same kind of homoerotic way that they loved someone like Oliver North and they disappointed that they couldn't find any. For Blake, there is also a suspicion that American men in general wouldn't pass this kind of manhood test. "Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture."

Unsurprisingly, one of the permutations of disappointed love is hate and another Fray poster nicknamed "Jack_Goebbels" used the occasion to express his hatred for American men in general.

Americans are goddammed fucking sheep. Did you see those pathetic losers, lining up like lambs to the slaughter? What's happened to the frontier in our souls? What's happened to that good old American love of violence?American liberals make me sick with their weakness and their immorality and their gun control and their embrace of victimhood and their passive mewling failure to take responsibility for their own fucking lives.

What was unspoken in Nathaniel Blake is stated clearly in "Jack_Goebbels." Liberal culture had drained Americans in general of independence, courage, or backbone, in other words, of any manliness, and made them easy targets for a killer like Cho Seung-Hui. Not only do Cho's victims deserve nothing but contempt for their failure of masculinity, but American culture has become pathetic and contemptible with its "weakness," "immorality," "gun control," and "passive mewling." For Goebbels, Cho himself was the only "American hero" in the incident--the man who was able to "BLOW AWAY everything that stood between him and his destiny."

"Jack_Goebbels" is obviously not a mainstream conservative, but mainstream conservatives themselves view the Virginia Tech through the same lens of disaffection from American life.

Cho Seung-Hui: Bad Poet Murderer

WATCHING THE CHO VIDEO. Not wanting to "honor" Cho Seung-hui's memory by watching his video, I resisted watching the Cho video for 24 hours. However, temptation got the better of me and I've just watched the CNN version.

I have to admit I'm kind of disgusted with myself. So what do I think about it?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what an asshole! I can see where Nikki Giovanni could refer to Cho as "mean" rather than "troubled." She could have added "snearing," "arrogant," and "stupid" as well. Evidently a fan of his own writing, Cho's constructed his video rant as poetry, really bad poetry--the kind of low-rent chiches that you would see from a villain in a Rutger Hauer or Dolph Lundgren movie. Here's a couple of examples.

Do you know what it feels like to be spit on your face and have trash shoved down your throat
Do you know what it feels like to dig your own grave
Do you know what it feels like to have your throat slashed from ear to ear
Do you know what it feels like to be torched alive
Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be set upon a cross and left to bleed to death for your amusement

You had a hundred billion chances and ways to avoid today
But you decided to spill my blood

In the second passage, Cho sounds like the murderer version of a professional wrestler. It's disgusting. It would have been disgusting if Cho hadn't murdered 32 people, but it's even more disgusting because he did.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The End of the Day at the Local Pharmacy

A Local Note. Talking with the local pharmacists while they were closing up their store, I found out that meth makers usually came in at closing time to buy Sudafed. What made them meth makers rather than sinus sufferers was that they smelled like paint. How obvious can you get?

Why I don't like gambling. Steve Beshear, the Kentucky gubernatorial candidate who came through yesterday, advocates creating casino sites at Kentucky race tracks and on the Ohio River. But I don't like to see more gambling even though Beshear is right that holding gambling in Kentucky would allow the state of Kentucky to collect more taxes from gambling receipts. To expand gambling is to better enable another addiction at a time when Kentucky is laboring under a heavy load of meth, OxyContin, and nicotine addictions. A lot of people have severe food issues as well. I can see the state of Kentucky being constrained to collect gambling taxes, but there should be a way to discourage gambling even as they are taxing it.

RSI Wins College Republican Award

Today, the Morehead State College Republicans gave me a joke award recognizing me for "outstanding scholarship in the field of blogging and for the most consistent misrepresentation of Conservative Views."

I guess the College Republicans consider quoting to be a form of misrepresentation.

In all seriousness though, I've always appreciated the interest that the College Republicans have shown in Red State Impressions. They were reading this blog when it was getting 14 hits a day and I'm still glad for their interest now that the hit count is in the thousands (averaging 9,000 the last couple of days).

Universities and Mass Murderers

Few writers give much attention to how universities work as organizations. But there's some observations to be made in relation to the Virginia Tech massacre.

1. Nikke Giovanni is typical. In her comments on the Virginia Tech murderer, Cho Seung-Hui, the well-known poet Nikki Giovanni brought out two dimensions of faculty interaction with students. First, she emphasized that she has dealt with a wide variety of "troubled" and "crazy" students during her teaching career and that many students pursue murder and suicide themes in their writings. It's within that broader experience of dealing with large numbers of students that Giavanni readily identified Cho Seung-Hui as a particularly "mean"--aggressive, angry, sadistic--person who posed a danger.

Giovanni's working with difficult students is typical. In my seventeen years as a full-time professor, I've consulted with students about family traumas, drug abuse, eating disorders, depression, phobias, pathological insecurity, and family violence in the course of working with them in my classes. In fact, many of my most talented students have struggled with these issues. I also know English professors, historians, and social workers at my university who devote a fair amount of time and energy to student mental health and family issues. And I'm sure there are many more that I'm not aware of. Of course, professors can be as mistaken as anyone else, but college teaching is a helping profession and professors are often highly aware of troubled or dangerous students.

2. So Was Her Chair. Nikki Giovanni's consulting with her department chair about Cho Seung-Hui is also typical for the academic departments I've been around. When I have a difficult student issue, if I think students might file a complaint, or if I think my solution to a teaching problem might cause other problems, I usually consult with my chair and colleagues and some of my colleagues consult with me. Likewise, other professors also try to give chairs a "head's up" about difficult issues when they can. Cho Seung-Hui's disturbingly violent imagery and the surrepticious pictures he took of classmates raised troubling issues for Giovanni as a teacher. What was different about the problems posed by Cho Seung-Hui than other students. What was the best solution for dealing with the disturbances he was causing? Could she have Cho Seung-Hui removed from her class? What would she do if Cho appealed?

In the case of Cho Seung-Hui, Giovanni's chair solved the problem by taking him out of the class, meeting with him one on one for the rest of the semester, and pressing administrators to address the dangers he posed to faculty, other students, and himself. My chair (who I've had some epic battles with) has been very generous in this way as well. Department chairs have few resources other than their own time and energy for solving these kinds of student difficulties and Giovanni's chair took a typically self-sacrificing approach to the issue.

Campus Administrators: Just as the primary job of medical personnel is to tell people they aren't sick (a cardiologist told me yesterday that I didn't have a heart problem), a significant part of a campus administrator's job is to tell chairs, professors, and students that nothing can be done about their particular problem.

In a way, this is reasonable. Campus administrators have to address difficult budget issues on an annual basis, engage in an endless search for money, try to set overall priorities for the campus, and participate in a never-ending round of campus rituals. The rituals themselves take up a great deal of time and energy, especially during the spring semester as universities move toward graduation.

Because the efforts of chairs, profesors, and students to solve their own problems often creates problems (appeals, complaints, grievances, and lawsuits) for administrators, they have an inherent bias toward doing nothing in most cases.

That's what happened in the Virginia Tech case. Despite persistent efforts by the English Department Chair, the Virginia Tech administration decided that they could do nothing about all the danger signs coming from Cho Seung-Hui's English classes. Like most universities, Virginia Tech also had no mechanism for correlating the information on Cho Seung-Hui's class behavior with his sexual harassment of female students, suicide threats, and subsequent psychiatric evaluation.

This isn't to blame the Virginia Tech administration. They did what administrators at my university and most universities would have done. But 33 people are now dead and the inadequacy of administrative traditions were part of the process that led to the massacre. It's time for campus administrators to re-evaluate the ways that they deal with severe classroom and dorm problems.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is America a Sick Culture? is out of service right now, but there was a William Bennett article defending American culture in relation to the Virginia Tech massacre. For Bennett, America is the "last, best hope of civilization" despite incidents like Virginia Tech or Columbine.

From my perspective, the United States is neither a particularly sick culture nor the "last, best hope of civilization." If the war in Iraq has proved anything, it's that the U. S. is not the world's main hope. True, there are things about American society that are extraordinary by any measure. There's an enormous inventiveness to the United States that seems to be unique among contemporary societies. Americans have also tackled the moral problems of racism, misogyny, and homophobia in a particularly open and self-critical way since the 1950's.

At the same time, progress has come at a heavy price. Successful initiatives to combat traditional bigotries have stimulated an aggressive backlash and the American right has become the most virulent culture of reaction in the Western world, probably the whole world, since fascism.

The U. S. has much to contribute to the world. Unfortunately, one of those things is a unstable right-wing which is a constant danger to start new wars and destabilize American and international institutions.

The Neville Chamberlain in George Bush

Like the boy who cried wolf, the right keeps shouting about Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister whose "appeasement" of Adolf Hitler famously failed to prevent the WWII. From the right-wing perspective, George Bush is another Churchill standing tall against the relentless aggression of bin Laden, Iran, and North Korea.

But that's all nonsense. As David Thielen argued back in March, it's George Bush who should be considered our own Neville Chamberlain.

Above all, Chamberlain's appeasement policy was based on a tragid misreading of Hitler's intentions and a stubborn refusal to adjust to reality. President Bush has been just as inept in dealing with the situation in Iraq. In assuming that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11, cooperating with al-Qaeda, and harboring Hitler-like ambitions of global domination, Bush was as grossly mistaken as Chamberlain was about Hitler.

Bush's assumption that Iraq could be transformed into a Western-style democracy was another monumental miscalculation. The Bush administration has huffed and puffed with a constitution, elections, and a parliament, but Iraq is much closer to being dual Sunni and Shiite theocracies than the secular democracy that Bush originally projected. Today, Bush's rhetoric of a "free Iraq" is just as hollow as Chamberlain's proclamation of "peace in our time."

And the Bush administration still hasn't adjusted to the situation on the ground in Iraq! Dick Cheney is still talking about Saddam Hussein's assumed cooperation with al-Qaeda despite being refuted a thousand times. Likewise, it took the Bush administration four full years, 3,000 American combat deaths, and over 50,000 Iraqi civilian deaths to realize that they didn't have enough troops to deal with the problems posed by Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. Even then, the troop increase of 20,000 is much smaller than the numbers demanded by Petraeus' counter-insurgency doctrine and too small to have a decisive impact. Like the Expeditionary Force that Neville Chamberlain sent to France, the "surge" is too little and too late.

Finally, President Bush has been repudiated by the American public just as decisively as Neville Chamberlain was repudiated by British public opinion after the invasion of Poland. The GOP got a "thumpin'" in the Congressional elections last fall, President Bush's approval ratings have been stuck in the low to mid thirties, and 2/3rd's of the American public wants to either withdraw troops from Iraq immediately or set a deadline for withdrawal in 2008. In 1939, the British were so fed up that even Chamberlain's friends were calling on the leader of the Labor Party opposition to "speak for England." That's now the case with the American public which is looking to Nancy Pelosi to "speak for America" and believes that Congress rather than the President should have the primary voice in managing the war in Iraq.

Of course, Neville Chamberlain was forced to give way to his chief critic Winston Churchill because Britain's parliamentary system makes it possible for governments to "fall" if they lose public confidence between elections. Unfortunately for us in America, we're stuck with George Bush, our own version of Neville Chamberlain, until January 2009.

Encounter with Bloodless Candidate

This afternoon I had a chance encounter on a Morehead sidewalk with Steve Beshear, longtime Kentucky politician and Democratic candidate for governor. In a recent poll, Beshear was at 15% while the two leaders were at 20%. Like other Democratic candidates in Kentucky, Beshear is plausible but uninspiring. He gave knowledgeable answers to questions about retirement funds, health care, and gambling and I thought that his answers were on track even if I'm not a big fan of legalizing casinos.

But Beshear was so lacking in oratorical effect that he seemed bloodless, manniquin-like without being handsome.

Other passersby must have seen the same thing because they tried to donate a little blood to Beshear by talking about how Kentucky could be no. 1 in renewable energy. But Beshear didn't take the bait. He seemed to be creating a deliberately low-key effect to distinguish his competence and seriousness from the partisan bumbling of the incumbent Republican governor Ernie Fletcher.

It doesn't work. Something is missing if voters have to pump life into politicians rather than the other way around.

And something was missing with Steve Beshear.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Enormous Blunder at Virginia Tech

The administration at Virginia Tech made a horrific mistake by not locking down the campus after the first two dorm shootings at 7:30am before the beginning of classes. If administrators had shut everything down and gotten students, faculty, and staff to safe places, it's probable that the mass killings in the engineering building would not have occurred.

Having said that, I don't believe that Virginia Tech President Charles Steger and his staff should be fired, become the target of a lot of vitriol, or get sued to within an inch of their lives.

Before today, there had been no mass attack on a college campus since Charles Whitman's assault on the University of Texas in the 1960's. With no road map on how to proceed, Virginia Tech administrators were operating in the dark with no training on how to move forward.

Campus administrators were disastrously wrong, but they were wrong in the way that most people would have erred. They assumed that their world was going to operate in its usual way.

As a result, they should be given a chance to learn from their mistakes.

Virginia Tech Could Happen in Lots of Places

I'm numb over the Virginia Tech shootings trying to imagine what students went through as they and their friends were being hunted down; imagining what their families are going through.

This could happen in my college town of Morehead, KY and hundreds of other little college towns as well. A lot of school shootings occur in rapidly growing rural communities or suburbs like Littleton, Colorado. What often seems to make these places volatile is the mixing of suburban genres with heavily rural ways of life and the guns that go with them. It's not one thing. It's the new pressures created by the mixing of populations that seems dangerous.

And how many hundreds of regional state universities and liberal arts colleges bring suburban atmospheres into heavily rural areas. It must be hundreds. There must be dozens in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania alone.

Morehead State is a good example. Morehead, KY was originally a highly rural area, but the university and hospital have been drawn in the Lexington, KY urban orbit and there's now a lot of suburban types in town with their kids going to local schools. People like me and my family. The shadow of violence has hung over the public schools for some time. Students threatened to pull off school shootings after Columbine and suspicious looking strangers started showing up at schools after the Lancaster shootings. With the killings at Virginia Tech, the specter of violence will probably start looming over Morehead State as disaffected guys get tempted to act out their rage at parents, classes, girlfriends, classmates, snobby cliques, slim hopes, or all of the above in new and more destructive ways.

Like high schools, colleges can be large-scale pressure cookers. I know that I put a fair amount of pressure on my students to excel and I'm not much different from other professors, employers, or anybody else.

Maybe it's time to rethink what we're doing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gonzales: I am a Potted Plant

One almost has to feel sorry for Alberto Gonzales. With the ongoing fired prosecutor scandal, Gonzales has to live uncomfortably in two cognitive worlds. Gonzales would much prefer to stay in the world he's mastered, the world of "Gonzales Standard Lying" in which he issues blanket denials with the expectation that no one can refute him. In today's Washington Post for example, Gonzales boldly claims that "I know that I did not -- and would not -- ask for the resignation of any U.S. attorney for an improper reason." Like all Gonzales Standard Lying, there is an absoluteness here. Not only does Gonzales claim that he "did not" improperly ask for resignations but that he "would not" do so. It's almost as if Gonzales is saying that he is incapable of acting improperly and could not do so under any circumstances.

So innocent!

But there are other worlds than Gonzales Standard Lying. There's also the world in which people make claims that can be supported or refuted by information. This is the world Gonzales entered when Department of Justice e-mails and Kyle Sampson's testimony refuted his original lie that he was not involved in the decision-making. In fact, the claim of absolute innocence that Gonzales makes today is actually a "fall-back" lie made necessary by the fact that government investigators and bloggers like Talking Points Memo dug up a wealth of information refuting the original claim of non-involvement.

Involuntarily forced into the world of claim and counter-claim after a comfortable 12 years in the BushWorld of absoluteness, Gonzales is in a bind. With the pure version of Gonzales Standard Lying no longer accepted, Gonzales has to accompany his absolute denial with a factual claim.

And it's a beauty.

In today's Washington Post, Gonzales acknowledges that he "directed . . . Kyle Sampson to initiate this process [of firing prosecutors];" and received Sampson's periodic updates. But Gonzales also claims that "his updates were brief, relatively few in number and focused primarily on the review process." As a result, Gonzales himself "did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign." At least "to [his] knowledge."

In other words, Gonzales is arguing that he served as a potted plant during Sampson's updates. He knew about "the review process" but did not "make decisions" about who should be fired. Instead, Gonzales merely "approved" the decisions of others.

I would bet that Gonzales' picture of himself as a potted plant is not going to sit well with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Almost worse than being a lie, it looks like a lie as soon as you read it. If Senators refrain from bloviating, they can ask some simple questions. How did Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling justify the list of prosecutors to be fired? Why in fact did Gonzales approve the list? Was it because local Republicans were pressing for partisan prosecutions of Democrats for "voter fraud?" Was there any actual evidence of voter fraud in New Mexico or did Gonzales take Republican accusations "on faith." Did Gonzales know that his assistants wanted a Karl Rove protege in a prosecutor's office in Arkansas, or that there were worries that the Duke Cunningham corruption investigation was expanding outward?

As is the case with President Bush and the Iraq War, Attorney General is finding out that the world of reality can be a tough place for which he is completely unprepared. According to Arlen Specter, Gonzales has "got a steep hill to climb. He's going to be successful only if he deals with the facts." In the case of Gonzales, he's got a steep hill to climb because he has to "deal with the facts."

In the final analysis, Gonzales should just resign so he can re-immerse himself in his lying routine. I'm sure that Gonzales Standard Lying goes over better in the private sector.

And he'll feel better.