William Buschert
University of Saskatchewan: Less Current Events



 

Less Current Events*:

 

* or, at any rate, things that I moved from my main page because they had been there for a while.

Think of this as a quasi-archive of a once-upon-a-time quasi-blog.
 

Modernism Workshop at Emma Lake


Eric Dayton and I are organizing workshop on modernist aesthetics and art criticism on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of Clement Greenberg's time as critic-in-residence at the Emma Lake Artists' Workshop. Cleverly, the workshop also falls just after 2007 CFHSS Congress in Saskatoon, helping to ensure that we actually persuade a significant number of academics and others to come to an aesethetics workshop held at a camp/resort in northern Saskatchewan.

What's Left of Modernism? -
Greenberg, Kant, and Contemporary Aesthetics

June 1-3, 2007
U of S Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus

Posted: March 26, 2007

   Yet Another Surveillance Story:
Rank Abuse of Authority by Edmonton Police


When I first read about this on Boing Boing yesterday, a whole bunch of adjectives came readily to mind. Given my line of work (and given the fact that I live in Saskatoon, still arguably Canada's capital city for police out-of-civilian-control), "surprised" wasn't one of them.

In 2004 Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte wrote an article critical of the city's photo radar initiative, calling it a "cash cow" and pointing to data which suggest that photo radar is completely ineffective in preventing traffic accidents. (Those data are accurate, but not, I think, decisive: Enforcement by flesh and blood police officers doesn't do much better unless you spend a lot of money on it, by making enforcement ubiquitous.)

Apparently Diotte's column didn't go down very well at Edmonton Police Service HQ. Even though he was not under investigation for any crime, Diotte's personal information was reportedly accessed at least three times on the EPS computer system. Subsequently, according to the Sun story, that information was used to individually target Diotte in a string operation connected with an EPS anti-drunk driving campaign. The details of how that went down are, I'd say, pretty chilling.

Fuel for the Fire: Cop targeted Sun writer over
column on photo radar, suggests lawyer

Edmonton Sun, 21.09.05

(Here's a mirror copy [PDF, 84 kb.], for when the link above is taken offline)

An irony in this, of course, is that one of the other main complaints about photo radar is that it increases police surveillance powers (by creating data that can be used to track suspects without need for a court order) and may, for that reason, lead to privacy violations.

Posted: September 23, 2005

 

Wealth and Privilege (Eventually)
Flock Together: Part 100,992

The big news today: Belinda Stronach crosses the House to sit as a Liberal, thereby possibly saving the Martin government, probably causing a serious case of the vapors for Stephen Harper and, I'll wager, probably guaranteeing that while she will now have a cabinet post for as long as there is a Liberal inhabiting 24 Sussex Drive, she will never be PM.

I can't honestly say that I'm a big fan of either of these patrimonial plutocrats--Stronach or Martin--but I can see the sense in this part of Stronach's explanation of her move quoted in today's National Post:

"I tried to the very best of my ability to play a constructive role in the Conservative party to advance issues that really matter to Canadians in cities, to women, to young people, to many Ontarians ... But I regret to say that I do not believe the party leader is truly sensitive to the needs of each part of the country and just how big and complex Canada really is.''

Strip away the tact and delicacy, and this suggests to me something I've thought to be the case for a long time. Namely, that as long the CPC continues to coddle the social conservative, ex-Alliance wack jobs in its midst, it will continue to frighten Ontarians, who can't help but see it for what it is.

Posted: May 17, 2005

 
Canadian Republic Now!

[Sex Pistols graphic -- God Save the Queen]So the Queen arrives in Saskatchewan tomorrow. Tonight on the CBC evening news Costa Maragos seemed to be practically wetting himself with anticipation.

Frankly, I could not care less and, apparently, a plurality of Canadians feel pretty much the same way (scroll about halfway down).

Leave aside the obvious (though obviously important) symbolic problem, namely that for many people in Canadian society--in francophone Quebec, among Aboriginal Canadians, among non-European immigrants--the monarchy mainly symbolizes colonialism and ascribed status. But beyond that, who on earth is impressed by this crap anymore? Pageantry, special hats, fancy getups, over-refined manners and unhealthily close genetic ties to one's extended family. Yes, all mightily impressive -- about 300 years ago.

And for this we are shelling out, I reckon, surely at least a million taxpayer dollars to keep Her Majesty entertained during her three days in Saskatchewan?

I don't necessarily endorse everything that the following groups stand for. But possibly tomorrow would be as good a time as any for Canadians to reflect on the fact that there are indeed alternatives to a constitutional monarchy headed by a foreigner.

Citizens for a Canadian Republic
http://www.canadian-republic.ca/

Monarchy-Free Canada
http://www.monarchyfreecanada.org/

Posted: May 16, 2005

  So... when did you stop beating your boyfriend?

Today I received some pre-election campaign bumf from Saskatoon-Humboldt's neophyte Conservative MP Brad Trost. In the feedback section, Trost supposedly wants my opinion on the following:

Do you agree with the NDP's support for the flawed gun registry? [ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] No Opinion

Way to go, Brad. I'm always on the lookout for textbook-grade fallacies to use in teaching informal logic and, trust me, you just made your way into my course notes.

Possibly this is what political consultants call "playing to your base." And, quite possibly, Trost could benefit from a course in informal logic, so at least he'll be able to recognize a petitio principii when he sees one. Depending on what happens in Parliament next week, he may soon have some time on his hands to pursue that.

Much more important, however, is to point out the brazen inconsistency of Trost's substantive point. Trost's tract is headlined "NDP pick gun registry over RCMP" and it goes on to report how, in November, 2004, the NDP caucus--together with a majority of every other party in the House aside from the CPC--voted down a CPC motion to take $20 million away from the gun registry and add it to the RCMP budget. Also mentioned: The fact that in December of the same year Jack Layton voted in favour a $14 million appropriation to fund the gun registry.

Let's get this straight, Brad: Guns are inherently dangerous devices and it is well established that the state has role to play in regulating dangerous things (cf., your car, the emissions from your factory). For decades, a solid majority of Canadians have supported gun control for just that reason. But beyond simply enabling the regulation of dangerous devices, the gun registry has the added benefit of aiding law enforcement by making guns used in the commission of crimes traceable to persons. In fact, one of strongest voices in support of the gun registry has been that of the Canadian Police Association. So, Brad, support for the gun registry is in fact support for the RCMP and all other Canadian law enforcement agencies.

Posted: May 13, 2005

  Automated Art Criticism?

Artfacts.net has introduced an automated rating system for artists. The system, which updates daily, tracks changes in the reputation of artists based on the number of exhibitions of their work and the prestige of the galleries in which their work is shown--being part of a group exhibition at MoMA, for example, brings more points than a solo show at, say, the Mendel.

http://artfacts.net/index.php/pageType/ranking/paragraph/4

It's sort of fun to speculate about fluctuations in the reputation of individual artists. It's also fun, for about ten minutes, to make arbitrary comparisons between the supposed titans of art history and recent enfants terrible. (It turns out, for instance, that Damien Hirst consistently outranks Paul Cézanne.)

Like any claim to have systematized some aspect of aesthetic judgment, the Artfacts ranking system is bound to rankle the sensibilities of people in the artworld ...

Picasso and Warhol... Neck and Neck
Sarah Boxer, New York Times, 01.22.05
(Free registration required)

... but I would be interested to know what Pierre Bourdieu would have made of this. After all, the Artfacts system bears at least a superficial resemblance to the empirical work compiled in his best-known work, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.

[Actually, I think I know what Bourdieu would say: The Artfacts algorithms tell us essentially nothing about art, but quite a lot about the social prejudices of people who read and write for Artfacts. Most of the work done by the ranking system as a whole is accomplished by the reputation rankings assigned to galleries. After that, it doesn't really matter what goes on in the artworld any more than your choice of hat will make a difference in who you see when you look in a mirror.]

 

  When Insurers Become Co-Pilots

As part of a experimental program, US insurer Progressive Corp. is offering a group of 5,000 drivers in Minnesota discounts on their auto insurance of up to 25% in exchange for installing a monitoring device in their cars. The device will record driving speed, as well as the frequency and the time of day of trips taken.

Big Brother offers a driving discount
Washington Times Insider, 08.13.04
(Free registration required)

The company stresses that this is a discount-only program--they will not raise rates for drives who are found to have high risk driving habits.

I think we can expect to see more of this, however. It's only a matter of time, I'd say, before one of Progressive's competitors offers still deeper discounts in exchange for ongoing verification of good driving habits. It's not hard to imagine drivers voluntarily, in some cases even enthusiastically, signing up for such a program.

After that, the next logical step is obvious: Still lower insurance premiums in exchange for accepting not a monitor, but an electronic governor, wired to your car's computer system so as to prevent your car from traveling faster than the speed limit, to disable its ignition unless seat belts were deployed, and so on. This would be yet another example of the delegation of rule enforcement to technological devices (of the sort described by, e.g., Bruno Latour). And, in this case, if the discount was deep enough (and if I had some real assurance the data generated would be kept private), I'm not sure I wouldn't go along with it.

 

 

Privacy News: SGI and University of Saskatchewan


Informed consent is the basic ethical principle in biomedical research. And that principle is usually taken to include control by research subjects over the use of their personal information.

According to information recently reported by the CBC, however, informed consent seems to have have been almost completely disregarded in the course of research sponsored by Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) and carried out at the University of Saskatchewan (and now, in effect, continuing at the University of Alberta).

From 1997 to 1999, identifying personal information collected from SGI accident claims was transferred to researchers at the U of S. Claimants were subsequently contacted by the researchers for a series of telephone interviews and, in some cases, sent an extensive survey questionnaire. The information requested was often highly personal in nature (e.g., rating the quality and frequency of subjects' sexual activity). While letters to claimants describing the study and the survey both contained a 'fine print' statement indicating that the claimants' information would be used for research purposes, there was no clear indication that claimants could opt out of participating in the study. As far the average SGI claimant could know, she had to answer these questions in order to receive insurance benefits. Whether they liked it or not (indeed, whether they knew it or not) virtually everyone was part of the study.

The Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans--the administrative guidelines governing this sort of research in Canada--maintains (Article 2.4) that participation in research should be voluntary and that research subjects should be informed about the nature and possible consequences of their participation. Compliance with these guidelines is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Research Ethics Board (REB) at each research institution; in this case, the University of Saskatchewan.

It's true that there is an exception to the Article 2.4 rule (Article 2.1), according to which some of these provisions can be waived in the case of epidemiological research. Presumably that was the available justification in this case. But it will be interesting to see exactly how the University Committee on Ethics in Human Research justifies the approval of the SGI project when their promised report is made public later this year.

UPDATE (08.05.03): The UCEHR report has now been released.

U of S News Release (08.01.03)

Copies can be obtained from the U of S Research Communications office.

In my view, the report is appropriately critical of the 1997 research protocol approved by the U of S Medical Ethics Committee. It also contains some important recommendations. It is interesting to note, however, that authors of the report take great pains to shy away from the conclusion that the REB erred in granting approval to the application.

http://www.sask.cbc.ca/archives/privacy/

Video clips of the CBC reports:
[Real Player 8.0+ required]

http://www.sask.cbc.ca/archives/privacy/
media/SK_Leo_privacy_long020625.ram

(Aired Thursday, June 20 — focused on University involvement)

http://sask.cbc.ca/tv/canadanow/
media/infocus/tuesday.ram

(Aired Thursday, June 27 — focused the SGI claimants' perspective)


A good summary of the study and the ethical questions that it raises can be found in the following editorial:

http://www.pulsus.com/Pain/07_02/terr_ed.htm
Lorrie Terry
Pain Research & Management, 7, 2. 2002



Note: All of the foregoing, in my opinion, is logically distinct from the matter of the scientific quality of the research and the uses to which it has been put by SGI. Some, however, have pointed to the SGI study as yet another example of how "mandated research" has been allowed to displace "curiosity-driven" research in universities. I reserve judgment on the following links, however, since the parties doing the reporting clearly have their own interests at stake:

The Fault With The New England Journal of
Medicine's
No-Fault Insurance Report
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA.org)

The Incredible Abuse of Saskatchewan
The Coalition Against No-Fault in Saskatchewan

  "An Ominous Signal" for Whistle-Blowers

This week (14.07.04) three senior scientists--Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lamber--were summarily fired by their employer, Health Canada. Citing privacy concerns, Health Canada officials have refused to say why the scientists were dismissed but, according to Health Canada spokesperson Ryan Baker, "It was not because of anything they may have said publicly."

Maybe so, but the optics, as they say, are not reassuring. Over the years Chopra, Haydon, and Lambert have offered highly vocal and very conspicuous public criticism of Health Canada policies and procedures, in connection with BSE, possible threats to human health posed by veterinary drugs, the increasing pressure being brought to bear on regulators to approve new drugs and many other things besides. All of these topics should be of real concern to the Canadian public (even if most Canadians pay little attention to such things until disaster strikes).

At least as worrisome, however, is the broader question of how government regulatory agencies are to treat internal dissent. Regulatory agencies like Health Canada are not as transparent as they could be (and, I'd say, ought to be) and they are only (very) indirectly accountable to Parliament. Yet all of us depend on the integrity of technology assessors and regulators and the fairness of the regulatory system as whole depends on their freedom to speak out.

The National Farmers Union, I'm told, has called for a judicial inquiry into the dismissals. I hope they get it.

Health Canada fires 3 scientists
CBC News (14.07.04)

Health Canada fires scientists who criticized drug-approval process
Canadian Press (via MedBroadcast.com) (14.07.04)

Health Canada fires whistle-blowing scientists
Toronto Star (14.07.04)

Canada Sacks Three Scientists
The Scientist (16.07.04)

 

 
McScience

In this month's (03.04) New York Review of Books, Richard Horton offers an interesting--indeed, spirited--review of Sheldon Krimsky's new book Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?

The Dawn of McScience
Richard Horton
New York Review of Books, 51, 4, March 2004

The review should be of considerable interest to students in PHIL 236, Ethics and Technology.

 

  US Election Aftermath

A Modest Proposal:

[Jesusland Map]
(graphic from warrenkinsella.com, though I'm pretty sure he
got it from somewhere else. Special shout out to Cindy for
reminding me that Warren Kinsella--like practically everybody
else these days--has a blog.)

In a related vein:

http://www.marryanamerican.ca/
"No good American will be left behind ..."

http://USoutofSF.com/
An online petition to have San Francisco secede from the US.

http://www.harpers.org/ElectingToLeave.html
Harper's magazine guide for would-be expatriates


And, almost certainly the greatest work of art to come out of the 2004 US Presidential Election: Ian Inaba's video for Eminem's "Mosh." (via Guerilla News Network, Quicktime plugin required)

I am absolutely serious. It is astonishing, possibly the most powerful music video you will ever see.

[Here, BTW, is the post-election version, with a new, but, alas, much less powerful ending.]

 

 
Spies Among Us (and some shameless self-promotion)

As the following article suggests, the latest trend toward camera-equipped cell phones poses new challenges to social norms. Yet again (as with the telephone, with pagers, with earlier generations of cellular technology), people are faced with the challenge of working out a new etiquette in response to a new technology and renegotiating the boundaries of public and private space.

Keeping up with the cell phones
Nicole MacIntyre,
Toronto Star
, 11.30.03

What makes this especially interesting, I think (apart from the things that MacIntyre quotes me as saying in the article), is the fact that it's ordinary people who have made cell phone cameras popular. For years now people have talked about the 'surveillance society', but the assumption used to be that only the state or big non-state actors such as corporations would have access to the tools that would make the surveillance society possible. It turns out, however, that ordinary people (whether wittingly or not) seem to be willing to do their part in bringing about the end of privacy as we used to know it. That's an old story, of course. But camera-equipped cell phones put just that many more potential privacy hazards into the hands of just that many more people.

 

 

 

Portraits in Intolerance and Paranoia: Larry Spencer

Earlier this week (11.25.04), in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Canadian Alliance MP Larry Spencer (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre) decided to share with the Canadian public his paranoid fantasies about a homosexual "conspiracy" to seduce young people and to infiltrate schools, churches, and the judiciary. If some brave soul were to introduce a bill outlawing homosexuality, says Mr. Spencer, he'd vote for it.

Gay acts should be illegal: Alliance MP
(National Post, 11.27.03, via ProQuest
Access restricted to U of S users)

Alliance MP punished over anti-gay remarks
(Globe and Mail, 11.27.03)

Now, as everyone knows, Alliance leader Stephen Harper responded to this inanity by firing Spencer from his job as 'family issues' critic for the Alliance. Fair enough, I suppose. But I, for one, find it not just embarrassing but nearly incredible that Mr. Spencer has not yet indicated that he is prepared to vacate his seat in Parliament.

Perhaps you would care to join me in suggesting this to Mr. Spencer?

Larry Spencer, M.P.
Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre
6244 Rochdale Blvd.
Regina, Saskatchewan S4X 4K8

E-Mail: spencer.l@parl.gc.ca
Web: http://www3.sk.sympatico.ca/larspe/


Update 1:

The caucus of the new Conservative Party of Canada voted today (02.04.04) to reject Mr. Spencer's application for admission. Spencer has yet to announce that he will be stepping down from Parliament, however. He will continue to sit in the House as an independent until the next election. So perhaps we will have to leave it up the citizens of Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre to ensure that the next federal election is Mr. Spencer's last.

Conservative Party Shuts Spencer Out
Globe and Mail (02.04.04)

 


Update 2:

Spencer went down to defeat in the 2004 federal election, finishing fourth in a five person race. I'll try to resist the urge to gloat.

 


 

US Copyright Tinkering: Milking Mickey Mouse


[Graphic: Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie, 1928


In the November 2002 issue of Technology Review Seth Shulman offers a rather sensible discussion of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (PDF, 163 kb) and Eldred v. Ashcroft, a challenge to the Act that was heard before the US Supreme Court in October:

Freeing Mickey Mouse (PDF, 47 kb.)
Seth Shulman, Technology Review 11.02

In a nutshell, the Act adds 20 years to the term of copyright protection for works by individuals copyrighted since 1978 (from the original 50 years after the death of the creator to 70 years) and sets the term for corporate works copyrighted between 1923 and 1978 at 95 years. Some supporters of the Act claim that these changes bring US law into line with the European Union, which in 1996 extended its term for copyright protection to 70 years.

OK. But why a retroactive change? And what's so special about the year 1923? Well, amongst other things, it happens that a certain beloved cartoon character was created in the mid-1920s and, in 1998, was about to revert to the public domain. The owners of said character, it seems, were quite successful in persuading US legislators that this was not to be welcomed.

It's hard not to see this as garden variety corporate welfare, but it is also, alas, a rather typical example of who gets their say and how when it comes to setting intellectual property rules.

It will be interesting to hear the verdict in Eldred v. Ashcroft this spring.

Related:

Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act
Wikipedia.com

The Eldritch Press
Eric Eldred, (plaintiff in Eldred v. Ashcroft)


UPDATE (01.15.03): In a 7 - 2 decision, the US Supreme Court rejected Eldred's appeal. Both the majority and dissenting opinions can be found here:

http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/eldredvreno/

Justice Stephen Breyer's dissenting opinion seems to me to be especially pointed. It is, in effect, a challenge to legislators to justify what would otherwise look like mere special pleading.

 

 

Business Absurdities


It has been a while since I have had an opportunity to teach the Philosophy Department's course in business and professional ethics. I miss it sometimes--not least because it is so easy to come up with examples of venality, wickedness, and stupidity in the world of business.

The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business
Business 2.0, April, 2002
(now subscriber access only)

Enron's Empire
CorpWatch.org, April 11, 2002

 

 

UK Commission Considers Proposal to Outlaw DNA Theft


Watchdog might urge DNA theft be made an offence
James Meek, The Guardian (UK),
February 14, 2002

The commission seems to be mainly concerned with how unauthorized DNA samples could be used to violate personal privacy rights, for example in the hands of unscrupulous journalists or in police searches. But it is interesting to consider how such a law (if it is ever actually introduced) would affect the use of DNA samples in biotech research. Ordinary civil liberties may turn out be the best defense against so-called bio-piracy (at least in the case of human genes).

 


 

Privacy News: The World Of "Free" Online Services


Interesting times for users of "free" webmail and file swapping services:

Yahoo! Rips! Up! Privacy! Policy!
www.theregister.co.uk, 04.03.02

E-mail is evolving into fee-mail
USAToday, 03.31.02

Kazaa Plans Raise Privacy Alarm
news.com, 04.04.02


 

A Cop in Every Computer


We are at the beginning of a major change in the way intellectual property rules are enforced. Until recently, intellectual property rights ultimately depended on the courts and, sometimes, legal sanctions meted out by the state. Now, however, enforcement is increasingly handled directly by technology -- sometimes the very technology to which the intellectual property rights in question apply.

As the following article from law.com suggests, "content" industries and "technology" industries have markedly different perspectives on this. But one also might ask whether a right really ought to be the sort of thing that you can create and enforce for yourself.

A Cop in Every Computer
Mike Godwin, law.com,
January 16, 2002

This is playing out on other fronts as well ...

Philips moves to put 'poison' label
on protected audio CDs

John Lettice, theRegister.co.uk
January 18, 2002

Studios nearing anti-copying tech for TV
John Borland, CNET.com
January 17, 2002


 

 

McGill Shrugged; Ayn Rand Shrugged Off


The National Post and the Montreal Gazette reported this week (28.07.02) that McGill University has turned down a sizable bequest to fund an Ayn Rand chair in philosophy.

McGill Shrugged
Zach Dubinsky, Montreal Gazette, 07.27.02

If any university I was associated with were to accept such a offer, I'd be embarrassed too. But the comparisons to an "Adolph Hitler Chair in International Relations" or a "Huston Stewart Chamberlain Chair in Eugenics" offered by the anonymous McGill prof quoted in Dubinsky's piece are way overdrawn. Ayn Rand is marginal to academic philosophy for the simple reason that she provides almost nothing by way of original, cogent arguments for her views. That she has been influential among some apparently intelligent people (in particular, as a formative influence on the young Alan Greenspan) is beyond doubt. But then again, lots of people hold influential views--from Yogi Berra to Tony Robbins--and they don't make it into philosophy textbooks either.

It's important to stress this because the Post and Gazette reporting leaves open the implication that Rand is excluded from academic philosophy because she championed views-- such as the virtue of selfish individualism--that are unpopular among eggheads. Or, worse, that she is excluded because her works are popular with ordinary people. Maybe, to some extent, but there are more fundamental reasons as well.


 

Last Call for Biodiversity: GM Corn in Mexico


Maize corn has been cultivated in Mexico for at least 4,000 years. Mexico is, you could say without much exaggeration, the birthplace of corn and the 60 or so varieties of corn that grow there serve as a de facto gene bank for preserving the future viability of the crop.

The news is that, notwithstanding a ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops in Mexico, GM corn has been found growing in the southern state of Oaxaca. At the very least, this ought to serve as an object lesson in how difficult it can be to control GM crops outside of the laboratory. Given the immense social and cultural significance of corn in Mexico, however, it is also gearing up to be a serious political question and yet another hard case in the ethics of globalization.

Mexicans Angered by Spread of Corn
New York Times, Dec. 29, 2001

Transgenic corn found growing in Mexico
Rex Dalton, Nature, 413, 337, (Sept. 27, 2001)
(Access requires paid subscription or institutional site license,
which apparently the U of S does not have.)

UPDATE (04.30.02): In April, the editors of Nature took the unusual step of disavowing an earlier article on genetic contamination of Mexican corn on the grounds that its findings could not be confirmed. None the less, Jorge Soberon, a scientist working for Mexican government, now claims that his research has confirmed these findings.

Mexican Environment Official Claims
GM Materials Have Been Found in Local Corn

Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology,
April 19, 2002


 

Post-September 11 McCarthyism


For a while, in the days immediately following September 11th, the Bush administration explicitly offered "you are either with us or you are against us" as an organizing principle in its war on terrorism. There is nothing surprising about this. Governments have responded to crisis by suspending critical debate and waving the flag since, well, since government was first invented. Sometimes governments have to act under pressure and there is no time for a debate about principles.

So runs the standard justification, at any rate. But obviously just because something serves the interests of government doesn't mean that it is right.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a conservative advocacy group dedicated to purging liberalism from academe, recently issued a report that tries to take the logic of "you are either with us or you are against us" into university classrooms.

The organization -- which lists among its founders Lynne V. Cheney, wife of the US Vice President -- claims an official mandate that sounds as unobjectionable as motherhood and apple pie:

... to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically-balanced, open-minded, high-quality education at an affordable price.

The report, however, rather grandly entitled Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America and What Can be Done About It [PDF], mainly consists of some 117 "unpatriotic" statements by US professors.

These include such outrages as a claim that Osama bin Laden ought to be tried before an international tribunal, that we ought to “imagine the real suffering and grief of people in other countries" and that "ignorance breeds hate." It is claimed that such remarks should be held up to "criticism," but you will look in vain for any actual critical discussion in the report. For the most part, such remarks are simply labeled as relativistic, ideological and un-American.

All this would be merely idiotic if it weren't for the all-too-real possibility that some university administrator, caught up post-September 11 the patriotic fervor, might actually act on it.


The Greatest Danger Comes from Within
(commondreams.org)
Jeff Milchen, Nov. 17, 2001

New York Times Article on the ACTA Report
Emily Eakin, Nov 24, 2001
(access requires free registration)

 

Jello Biafra in Saskatoon


Place Riel Theatre,
University of Saskatchewan,
January 24, 2002
7:30 PM

Did he basically steal the idea of reinventing himself as a spoken word act from ex-Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins? Of course he did. Does that mean that Jello Biafra isn't worth checking out? Not at all.

Biafra, who led the Dead Kennedys back in the day, may not have Rollins' sheer muscular aggression. But an hour or so into a spoken word show that's probably a good thing. They can both be annoying, in their own way, but Biafra always was the more self-consciously intellectual of the two.

I think it's downright hilarious that the Biafra show runs (nearly) back to back with Peter Mansbridge delivering the Roy Romanow Commemorative Lecture. It's all show business now, folks. Anarchy for sale.

Unfortunately, I teach a class that conflicts with the rescheduled show. I'm interested in hearing reviews from anyone who can make it. Drop me a line.


  

Professional Responsibility in Biotech Research

"Brave New Nature"
Sierra Magazine, July/August 2001
http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/200107/
The Sierra Club

A standard claim about biotech products -- indeed the standard claim about most controversial technologies available in the marketplace -- is that the relative safety of such products can be evaluated through "objective" scientific testing. But if scientific risk assessment is possible (and that is itself an open question), then science has to be allowed to work the way that it is supposed to.

Pretty much every philosophical view of how science is supposed to work -- realist, instrumentalist, falsificationist, whichever -- recognizes that science must involve adjudication between competing hypotheses. But it is absurd to call something an adjudication if some competing hypotheses cannot be heard for reasons that have nothing to do with the likelihood of their being true.

That is one way of describing a phenomenon that is increasingly noticeable in the field of biotech research (and elsewhere). I draw your attention, in particular to the cases of Arpad Pusztai and Ann Clark.

The Sierra Club article, "Spinning Science into GOLD," clearly has its own position to sell. On the other hand, as environmental groups go, the Sierra Club hardly counts as a wingnut organization. When you read fawning announcements about industry support for university research -- in the U of S OnCampus News, say -- I invite you to imagine how many Arpad Pusztais and Ann Clarks you have not heard about.

 

  Stuff on TV

John Stossel Challenges the "Doomsayers"

Tampering with Nature
ABC Special, June 29, 9:00 CST

Occasionally interesting, often merely annoying, libertarian zealot John Stossel has a knack for putting a smooth, simple, media-friendly spin on complex social and political ideas. And, that, I would suggest, is the problem.

In this ABC News special, Stossel apparently makes the case that environmentalism amounts to fearmongering and ideologically motivated propaganda. After all, says Stossel, look how comfortable and happy modern technology has made us. Surely this can't be a bad thing. And if modern technology is a good thing, created with good, humanitarian motives, then people who regard modern technological society with suspicion must have some other, more sinister agenda. Boyoboy.

Before tuning in to Stossel, however, you might want to have look at this description of how he achieves that smooth, simple spin: http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/4393

 

  Music

Neko Case and Her Boyfriends
Louis', Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Aside from maybe, just maybe, Steve Earle (circa Transcendental Blues), Neko Case & co. are pretty much the only country-inflected act that you are ever likely to catch me listening to. (No offense to C&W fans, it's just that I find most country music well ... stupid.)

I've caught up with Neko Case before, in Toronto, and trust me when I say that this is one of the coolest acts to make its way to Saskatoon this year. (A rather modest claim, I realize, but still ...)

 

 <<< Current Events      

A Canadian DMCA?


Industry Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage have begun a process to reform the Canadian Copyright Act. In particular, amendments along the lines of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act have been proposed in order to "prevent the circumvention of technologies used to protect copyright material; and, prohibit tampering with rights management information."

If such amendments end up being dictated to Parliament by the "content" industry (TV, film, publishing, software), there is a good chance that, as with the US DMCA, individual rights and the doctrine of "fair dealing" will be compromised. In particular, public criticism of technology protection schemes by computer scientists and others may be discouraged by the threat of litigation.

We don't have to let that happen. The Intellectual Property Directorate has, without much fanfare, solicited public input on the process. The deadline, however, is close at hand: September 15, 2001. Check the links below for more information:

Copyright Reform Process (Industry Canada)

ALERT: Canadian "DMCA" in the Works - Short Deadline (EFF)


UPDATE (02.21.02): Matthew Skala has compiled a useful collection of links on the Canadian copyright reform process, including a meticulously detailed guide to submissions received by the Intellectual Property Policy Directorate.

http://ansuz.sooke.bc.ca/candmca.html

It will be interesting to see how (or if) all of this ends up being reflected in legislation.