Sunday, August 31, 2014

"To love what was"

Martha died a century ago this weekend. She was the last passenger pigeon. Elizabeth Kolbert reflects:
Species that seem today to be doing fine may be sensitive to change in ways that are difficult to foresee. And we are are now changing the planet at a speed that’s probably unprecedented in at least sixty million years.
In honor of the anniversary of Martha’s death, the Smithsonian has put her taxidermied body on exhibit. (It’s usually kept in a vault.) The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, in North Adams, Massachusetts, is showing a video installation that mimics the flight of hundreds of thousands pigeons passing overhead, and next month, the Yale Orchestra will perform “The Columbiad,” a hundred-and-fifty-year-old symphony inspired by the sight of a flock.  (A century and a half ago, passenger pigeons were grouped together with rock pigeons in the genus Columba; they have since been reclassified.) All these efforts to mark the anniversary are double-edged: commemorations composed by the culpable. As the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote in “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” composed in 1947, “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. … To love what was is a new thing under the sun, unknown to most people and to all pigeons.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sitting while black

Who knew that sitting on a bench in a public place while waiting for your kids to be let out of school is a tazable and arrestable offense? Now we all do. Connor Friedersdorf notes:
The latest example of abusive, atrocious police work posted to YouTube comes from St. Paul, Minnesota, where a black father, Chris Lollie, reportedly got off work at Cossetta, an upscale Italian eatery, walked to the downtown building that houses New Horizon Academy, where he was to to pick up his kids, and killed the ten minutes until they'd be released sitting down on a chair in a skyway between buildings. Those details come from the Minneapolis City Pages, where commenters describe the area he inhabited as a public thoroughfare between commercial buildings. If you're 27 and black with dreadlocks, sometimes you're waiting to pick up your kids and someone calls the cops to get rid of you. The police report indicates a call about "an uncooperative male refusing to leave," which makes it sound as though someone else first asked him to vacate where he was; another press report says that he was sitting in a chair in a public area when a security guard approached and told him to leave as the area was reserved for employees. The Minnesota Star Tribune visited the seating area and reported that "there was no signage in the area indicating that it was reserved for employees."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pregnant? Need Help? Call Jane

Looks like we are returning to the era of Jane. Given the assaults on abortion clinics, their clients and their workers, and the growing inability of clinics to meet medically senseless but politically cynical requrements, I'm not sure this is entirely a bad thing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Colorado philosophy: wtf!

The shitstorm at the U of Colorado philosophy department keeps on keeping on:
The University of Colorado is investigating yet another professor within the beleaguered philosophy department on the Boulder campus.
Associate professor Brad Monton is the subject of a report by Denver-based attorney David Fine for university administrators, according to an email from an account that appears to be Fine's.
Monton is the latest professor to come under scrutiny in the philosophy department, as one professor is in the midst of termination proceedings and another has threatened to sue the university. All this comes after the university made public an independent report that found sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct within that department.

"I wanted to let you know that I am finalizing my report regarding Professor Monton," according to the email, which was sent July 29 to one of the parties Fine interviewed. "After reviewing all the information gathered, we determined we could not responsibly ignore the totality of information presented in this matter in light of the concerns expressed by you and others."
The email also said the university may reach out to witnesses in the future if anything they said was "relevant in proceedings related to the report."
CU declined to provide the Camera with the results of Fine's investigation and would not disclose the nature of the probe, citing confidentiality around personnel matters.
David Fine is the Denver attorney who was previously identified in the Daily Camera as having received $148,589.15 from the University for a report investigating allegations made by David Barnett concerning the handling of a sexual assault case involving two philosophy graduate students. Whether the report Fine refers to in the quoted email is the same as the one in the Barnett case isn't clear from the Camera story.

Monton, who has taught on the Boulder campus since 2006, specializes in the philosophy of science, religion and time, according to his curriculum vitae.
CU awarded him an arts and humanities fellowship in 2007-2008 that reduced his teaching load, and another fellowship in 2008-2009 to teach honors courses on campus.
In April, the state and local chapters of the American Association of University Professors alleged that Monton was forced to resign from the Boulder Faculty Assembly and was banned from participating in university committees and services responsibilities.
The AAUP claimed that Monton was pushed out of the faculty group for comments he made about an independent report that found sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional behaviors within the philosophy department.
Monton had said that several university administrators pressured him into retracting the opinions he expressed during a meeting of the faculty group's executive committee. His comments about the philosophy department report were erased from the meeting minutes.
 ...and sent down the memory hole.

IHE has a update on the the Kaufman and Barnett stories.

h/t Daily Nous.

Monday, August 25, 2014


In the waning days of August, while too many, with too little recollection of history, recent or remote, are apparently trying to celebrate the centenary of WWI by cheerleading for more war, here's some exciting news of sunless life 800 meters under a frozen Antarctic lake.

For the first time, water from a lake beneath the ice has been found to harbour a vibrant microbial ecosystem.
"Our discovery proves that water is habitable space, even if it's at sub-zero temperatures and there is no sunlight," says John Priscu of Montana State University in Bozeman. He co-led the US team that drilled into Lake Whillans, 800 metres beneath the west Antarctic ice sheet.
Read the the article in Nature here.

*See Kim Stanley Robinson and Hildegard of Bingen

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Legal machinery and intelligence

Alan Turing has been posthumously pardoned. His crime? Homosexuality. Please note that the other 49,000 or so people convicted of that crime have not been pardoned.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Compare and Contrast: Street 'Counselors' vs. 'Protesters'

What's the difference between anti-abortion protesters outside of abortion clinics and anti-police-shooting protestors in Ferguson? The Supremes have declared the former 'counseling' and protected by the first amendment. Those who do the latter can get arrested for 'failing to disperse'. Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West in Slate explain:
It’s virtually impossible to square the law enforcement definition of illegal protest with the snuggly warm vision of political protest put forth by a unanimous Supreme Court only two months ago in McCullen v. Coakley. That was the case in which the high court struck down a Massachusetts law barring any protests within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. That law was passed after two clinic workers were shot and killed at clinics in 1994. One of the reasons the court saw the need to overturn it, permitting anti-abortion activists to speak freely within the “buffer zone” around clinics, was that public streets and sidewalks are the sole remaining spaces in which the peaceful and open free exchange of ideas can occur, and that must be protected. As Chief Justice John Roberts put in his lead opinion in McCullen:Consistent with the traditionally open character of public streets and sidewalks, we have held that the government’s ability to restrict speech in such locations is very limited.” After all, “an individual confronted with an uncomfortable message can always turn the page, change the channel, or leave the Web site. Not so on public streets and sidewalks.”
But there is a crucial difference between the abortion opponents whose speech rights were feted by the court in McCullen and the garden variety protesters who can still be rounded up in free speech pens and summarily arrested on the streets of Ferguson: The court was careful to explain that the protesters in Massachusetts are not actually “protesters.” They are “counselors.”
This presents an obvious solution for the outraged citizens who have taken to the streets of Ferguson and been met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and incarceration: rebranding.  From this day forth you should consider yourself “sidewalk counselors.”
Which brings us to 90-year-old Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor arrested this week in St. Louis for “failing to disperse.” In the past week, there have been dozens of others arrested in Ferguson for this same form of protest—for being outside after the state-imposed curfew, or marching up and down a public street instead of staying in the designated “approved assembly area,” or gathering instead of continuing to march when the cops ordered them to keep moving.
On the face of it, Hedy Epstein looks an awful lot like Eleanor McCullen, the “gentle sidewalk counselor” whose desire to teach and leaflet and persuade her fellow citizens was granted so much solicitude by the court in the case that bears her name. Like McCullen, Epstein had an explicit political message to impart: She wants National Guard troops out of Ferguson and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the killing of Michael Brown. It’s hard to credit this message as less important, less informed or informative, or less urgent than McCullen’s. And Epstein’s crime, failing to disperse, is precisely the behavior granted First Amendment protection in McCullen.
 Dahlia Lithwick and Daria Roithmayr have also pointed out in Slate that the arbitrary 'failure to disperse' arrests, the tear gassing and  excessive force violate other constitutional rights---those in the fourth and fourteenth amendments. Their reasoning should be widely read.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ezell Ford

The LAPD police chief met with people questioning the circumstances of the police shooting of 25 year old Ezell Ford last week.
The atmosphere in a South Los Angeles church was at times tense Tuesday night as residents and activists peppered Los Angeles police officials with questions about two officers' fatal shooting of a mentally ill man.
Pictures of Ezell Ford dotted the Paradise Baptist Church, where a crowd of more than 200 people often shouted and interrupted Police Chief Charlie Beck as he tried to address concerns surrounding the investigation into Ford's death.
Beck emphasized that the investigation was only a week old, saying that officials had not yet gathered all the facts. But the crowd grew frustrated when he declined to share information such as the names of the officers involved or why they had stopped Ford.
"Of course that is important to us," he said when asked why the officers approached Ford. "And that will be revealed in the investigation."
The crowd groaned.
"Wait, wait. Stop, please," Beck said. "I will not give you half a story.… We have to find out all the facts."
The meeting came amid continuing questions about the Aug. 11 killing of Ford, 25, who according to his parents was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Beck was joined at the meeting by rank-and-file officers and top brass, along with Police Commission President Steve Soboroff and Inspector General Alex Bustamante.
Conflicting accounts about Ford's death have emerged. An LAPD statement, citing a preliminary investigation, said Ford tackled one of two gang officers who approached him on West 65th Street and reached for the officer's gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a friend of Ford's family told The Times that she witnessed part of the incident and saw no struggle between the officers and Ford.
The LAPD has pledged a thorough and transparent investigation into Ford's death, which will also be reviewed by an independent inspector general and the district attorney's office. But the LAPD has drawn criticism for not releasing more information, including the names of the two gang officers who shot Ford.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a civil rights advocate who met with top LAPD officials last week to discuss the shooting, said that releasing the officers' names is an essential part of being transparent.
"We want to know if there's a prior history of complaints or misconduct, if this officer has been written up, if this officer has been disciplined," said Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "You then determine if this is truly an isolated event, unfortunate and tragic, or if there may be a history for one or more of the officers involved."
For members of a community with experience of repeated incidents of police shootings of unarmed black people, usually men, and police investigations ultimately clearing the shooters, scepticism of police accounts and practices is warranted. This holds as well for this week's St. Louis police shooting of another 25 year old black man police said threatened them with a knife. Police investigations have lost, deservedly so, their epistemic authority with the public and scepticism is the reasonable response.