Three Americas

My friend Thomas posted a status message to Facebook “wonders why Republicans hate America?”. This is where I’m at:

Define your terms! :-) By “America” do you mean?

  1. a pluralist society striving for a more representative government and greater civil liberties
  2. a consensus society seeking a return to a more stable civic life built upon firm social and ethical principles
  3. a geo-political demarcation for a group of people equally as unexceptional as everyone else.

Clarity of hindsight: law vs. policy

Donald Rumsfield admitted that chucking the Geneva Conventions (and 50 years of military policy) came out of a bad process:

As he explained in an interview in late 2008, policies were developing so fast in the weeks after the September 11 attacks that he did not follow his own normal procedures. “All of a sudden, it was just all happening, and the general counsel’s office in the Pentagon had the lead,” he said. “It never registered in my mind in this particular instance–it did in almost every other case–that these issues ought to be in a policy development or management posture. Looking back at it now, I have a feeling that was a mistake. In retrospect, it would have been better to take all of those issues and put them in the hands of policy or management.”

They went the legal route (“the law isn’t clearly against us”) rather than the policy/management path (“how fully are we screwed if we do this?”). And, if that administration was as biblical as they claimed to be, they should have figured it out: even when following The Law, God is still a mean dude.

Judging reality and experience

The Susan Sotamayor confirmation is bringing with it some interesting commentary. While most of the pablum surrounding Sotamayor’s scutinized comments—that her Puerto Rican heritage prepares her for this position—are about racism (or reverse racicsm, whatever that is), there have been some comments on the nature of reality and the human experience. In our plural society, there is kerfuffle over two competing ideals (as I see it):

  • There exists immutable rules pulled from the eternal ether against which our frail human intellects must seek alignment with laws, policies and ourselves (and I mean all of them, not just life, liberty and property the pursuit of happiness).

  • Experience is reality and the public sphere (and its laws and policies) is the ongoing (and unending) attempt to find commonalities between all of us based upon a tiny set of values so basic that they can be declared universal (life, liberty and property the pursuit of happiness).

The following is from an editorial by Stanley Fish in the NY Times entitled _ What kind of judges do we want? (_emphasis mine):

If Sotomayor is being prescriptive, if she is saying, “I will actively (as opposed to involuntarily) consult the influences that have shaped me at every point of decision,” she is announcing a method of judging that invites Sessions’s criticism.

But if she is being descriptive, if she is saying only that no one can completely divest herself of the experiences life has delivered or function as an actor without a history, she is announcing no method at all. She is merely acknowledging a truth (as she sees it) about the human condition: the influences Sessions laments are unavoidable, which means that no one can be faulted for viewing things from one or another of the limited perspectives to which we are all (differently) confined.

In fact – and this is what Sotomayor means when she talks about reaching a better conclusion than a white man who hasn’t lived her life – rather than distorting reality, perspectives illuminate it or at least that part of it they make manifest. It follows that no one perspective suffices to capture all aspects of reality and that, therefore, the presence in the interpretive arena of multiple perspectives is a good thing. In a given instance, the “Latina Judge” might reach a better decision not because she was better in some absolute, racial sense, but because she was better acquainted than her brethren with some aspects of the situation they were considering. (As many have observed in the context of the issue of gender differences, among the current justices, only Ruth Bader Ginsburg knows what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl and might, by virtue of that knowledge, be better able to asses the impact on such a girl of a strip-search.)

Attributes of Respected Chairs

I found the following on the photocopier (after a few days, I assume its orphaned). Sourced from a SurveyMonkey print-out, it’s part of a “BYU Chair Study” which through context I assume is polling what training resources the owner of this printout requires.

These are attributes of Respected Chairs. The context is a faculty member within an academic institution, but it’s pretty easy to convert to other contexts. As always, the gems beneath the headings (for example, anything that recognizes the time and place for procrastination has my vote).

Be healthy and well-balanced (take care of yourself and your other life): Family, friends, community, religion, teaching & research, health and emotional needs

Be competent: Key leadership skills, preparation, participation, people, issues, professional & national trends

Be collegial: Balanec of sociable and formal, work and personal, internal and external to department

Be effective at managing time: balance important vs. urgent; delegate, optimize secretary/staff/comittees, prioritize

Be proactive: Identify and implement personal program/goals, be responsible, change self - not others

Be aware of the power of your position and use it effectively: Understand sources, extent, and limitations of chair power/influence; exercise skillfully

Be effective in making decisions: Emergencies, mistakes, red flags, stakeholders, when to procrastinate; maximize or satisfy

Be credible: Authentic, believable, inspiring, reliable, sensible, appropriately transparent

Be humble: influence & success through humility, level 5 leadership, egonomics, servant chair

Be skillful in communication: Timely and appropriate information; letters, memos, personal statements/notes (in & out of department)

Be in harmony with your institution: Customs, directives, guiding principles, history, mission, official documents, tenets

Be trustworthy: Build trust in self/others, tap efficiency of trust; recognize/manage enemies of trust

Be politically adept: Allies, connections, favors, gate keepers, information, opponents, social relations

Be accepting of your role as chair; embrace and make the most of it: Less autonomy, changed relationships, careful speech, realigned perspectives, empowerment

A quote for the rain

June in Boston has been wet beneath the unicloud, as my boss calls it. A June Gloom lower and more dripping than any in Southern California. Below is the best advice I ever received for the rain (and any inclement whether, except perhaps lightning, or perhaps more so), from Tom Robbin’s Another Roadside Attraction :

…during my incarceration it had begun to rain. The legendary Seattle rain. It was a thin gray rain; hard and fast and cold. In it, we had to walk four blocks from the Public Safety Building to the Zillers’ Jeep–we were at its mercy. As was my custom in such elements I hunkered against the rain, drew my head into my collar, turned my eyes to the street, tensed my footsteps and proceeded in misery. But my hosts, I soon noticed, reacted in quite another way. They strolled calmly and smoothly, their bodies perfectly relaxed. They did not hunch away from the rain but rather glided through it. They directed their faces to it and did not flinch as it drummed their cheeks. They almost reveled in it. Somehow, I found this significant. The Zillers accepted the rain. The were not at odds with it, they did not deny it or combat it; they accepted it and went with it in harmony and ease. I tried it myself. I relaxed my neck and shoulders and turned my gaze into the wet. I let it do to me what it would. Of course, it was not trying to do anything to me. What a silly notion. It was simply falling as rain should, and I a man, another phenomenon of nature, was sharing the space in which it fell. It was much better regarding it that way. I got no wetter than I would have otherwise, and if I did not actually enjoy the wetting, at least I was free of my tension. I could even smile.

Political Rhetoric

From a Wall Street Journal article on Congressional expense accounts:

Summaries of such lawmaker expenses are available to the public in print, either by mail or in volumes that can be viewed in basement rooms on Capitol Hill. The House’s quarterly reports – which run over 3,000 pages apiece, across multiple volumes – are stored in a cupboard in a windowless office near a shoeshine stand.

It’s a piss-poor device when you actually think about it: why would you need storage to have windows (it’s probably better for the books to not have sunlight)? and who cares if it’s near a shoeshine stand (other than the associations with race and class, of course)? This is the equivalent of an ad hominem attack, but for an inaniment object.

Business rhetoric

“They aren’t charities. They have shareholders to report to,” he [Robert Hammer, an industry consultant] said, referring to banks and credit card companies. “Whatever is left in the model to work from, they will start to maneuver.” This wonderful rhetoric is in regards to beginning to charge annual fees and remove grace periods from people who regularly pay off their credit cards (from the NY Times). In other words, consistent revenue from transaction fees is not the near-term windfall quick-buck, pump and dump shareholders demand. (Yeah, my rhetoric is rusty.)

Current Consumption of Currants

While eating a delicious currant scone from one of my favorite cafes, I looked it currants on Wikipedia and discovered some interesting history of why currants are popular in Britain, but not the United States:

During World War II, most fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom. Since blackcurrant berries are a rich source of vitamin C and blackcurrant plants are suitable for growing in the UK climate, blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the British government. Soon, the yield of the nation’s crop increased significantly. From 1942 on, almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup (or cordial) and distributed to the nation’s children free, giving rise to the lasting popularity of blackcurrant flavorings in Britain.

Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well, but became extremely rare in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s when blackcurrants, as a vector of white pine blister rust, were considered a threat to the U.S. logging industry. The federal ban on growing currants was shifted to individual States’ jurisdiction in 1966, and was lifted in New York State in 2003 through the efforts of horticulturist Greg Quinn. As a result, currant growing is making a comeback in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon. However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since the federal ban ceased currant production anywhere in the U.S., the fruit is not well-known and has yet to reach the popularity that it had in 19th century United States or that it currently has in Europe. Since blackcurrants are a strong source of antioxidants and vitamins, awareness and popularity are once again growing, with a number of consumer products entering the market.