Fat, Discrimination, Procedural Liberalism

High cost of being fat. See also this outdated-but-persuasive denunciation of milk and vegetarian recipes online. Also read the book What to Eat, a middlebrow reference book to current nutritional information about supermarket food. See also this list of 20 power foods.
Found on a digg comment: Rule #1 of the Internets : Anyone claiming to be a girl IRL, isn’t.

How a local landscaping company enrages the gay community. Dwight Silverman says, if only she had done it using an older technology like the telephone, there would be no scandal.

Eric Boehlert points out the hypocrisy of Peggy Noonan’s lament of incivility in political discussions.

Michael Berube on academic freedom and censorship. The occasion for this speech was a proposed law by conservatives to monitor public universities for professors who try to inject their ideology into the classroom:

There are two more kinds of confusion behind the attacks on academic freedom, as well, and I’ll just touch on them briefly for now.

The first is that most critics of universities don’t seem to distinguish between unconscious liberal bias and conscious, articulate liberal convictions. They take the language of “bias” from critiques of the so-called liberal media, where it is applied to outlets like the New York Times and CBS News that, in the view of movement conservatives, lend a leftish slant to the news both deliberately and unwittingly. But the language of “bias” is not very well suited to the work of, say, a researcher who has spent decades investigating American drug policy or conflicts in the Middle East and who has come to conclusions that amount to more or less “liberal” critiques of current policies. Such conclusions are not “bias”; rather, they are legitimate, well-founded beliefs, and of course they should be presented—ideally, along with legitimate competing beliefs—in college classrooms. Now, notice that I said legitimate competing beliefs. We have no obligation to debate whether the Holocaust happened. And that’s not a hypothetical matter. Late last fall, the philosopher with whom I co-founded the Penn State chapter of the AAUP, Claire Katz, informed me of a graduate teaching assistant in philosophy who had just had a very strange encounter with a student. The course, which dealt with bioethics, had recently dealt with the vile history of experiments on unwitting and/or unwilling human subjects, from the Holocaust to Tuskegee, and the student wanted to know whether the “other side” would be presented as well. I hope you’re asking yourselves, what other side?—because, of course, to all reasonable and responsible researchers in the field, there is no “other side”; there is no pro-human experimentation position that needs to be introduced into classroom discussion to counteract possible liberal “bias.” We are not in the business of inviting pro-Nazi spokesmen for Joseph Mengele to our classrooms. More recently, I was asked by a member of the Penn State College Republicans whether I taught “both sides” in my graduate seminar on disability studies. In response, I mentioned the debate over what’s called the ethics of selective abortion of fetuses with disabilities, and briefly sketched out four or five positions on the question. My point, of course, was that just as it is a mistake to think that there are two sides to every question, it is also a mistake—and a pernicious one, encouraged by Horowitz, Balch, and company—to think that there are only two sides to every question. But this is the language with which some of our students now enter the classroom; it is the language of cable news and mass-media simulacra of “debate.” There is one side, and then there is the other side. That constitutes balance, and anything else is bias.

A second confusion has to do with “accountability.” The argument goes like this, and I have heard it innumerable times in recent years, here at Penn State and at public universities across the country: We pay the bills for these proselytizing faculty liberals—we should have some say over what they teach and how they teach it. Public universities should be accountable to the public. And you know, at first blush it sounds kind of reasonable. The taxes of the people of Pennsylvania do go to support Penn State, and I take the mission of the public university very seriously. From Virginia to Illinois to dear old State, I have spent my adult life at public universities, and I will be happy to explain my teaching and writing to any member of the public who wants to learn more about it. But let’s look more closely at that funding, and at what forms of “accountability” are appropriate to an educational institution. Only twenty years ago, forty-five percent of Penn State’s budget was provided by public funds; back then, in-state tuition was $2562. Our level of state support is now down to 10 percent, and, not coincidentally, in-state tuition is $11,508. So perhaps it’s worth pointing out that state support has declined as state demands for accountability have increased; or, to put this more dramatically, I sometimes find myself faced with people who say, in effect, “I pay ten percent of your salary, and that gives me the right to screen one hundred percent of your thoughts.”

Berube arrives at a crucial distinction at the end:

To understand what’s at stake in this principle, we have to make an important distinction between substantive liberalism and procedural liberalism. For one of the things at stake here is the very ideal of independent intellectual inquiry, the kind of inquiry whose outcomes cannot be known in advance and cannot be measured in terms of efficiency or productivity. There is no mystery why some of our critics loathe liberal campuses: it is not simply that conservatives control all three branches of government and are striking out at the few areas of American cultural life they do not dominate. That much is true, but it fails to capture the truly radical nature of these attacks on academe: for these are attacks not simply on the substance of liberalism (in the form of specific fiscal or social policies stemming from the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society) but on procedural liberalism itself, on the idea that no one political faction should control every facet of a society. There is a sense, then, in which traditional conservatives are procedural liberals, as are liberals themselves; but members of the radical right, and the radical left, are not. The radical right’s contempt for procedural liberalism, with its checks, balances, and guarantees that minority reports will be incorporated into the body politic, can be seen in recent defenses of the theory that the President has the power to set aside certain laws and provisions of the Constitution at will, and in the religious right’s increasingly venomous and hallucinatory attacks on a judicial branch most of whose members were in fact appointed by Republicans. What animates the radical right, in other words, is not so much a specific liberal belief about stem-cell research here or gay civil unions there; on an abstract level, it’s not about any specific liberal issues at all. Rather, it’s about the very existence of areas of political and intellectual independence that do not answer directly and favorably to the state. So, for example (and this is my final example, chosen especially for you librarians out there), when in April 2005 Alabama state representative Gerald Allen proposed a bill that would have prevented Alabama’s public libraries from buying books by gay authors or involving gay characters, he wasn’t actually acting as a conservative. Real “conservatives” don’t do that. He was behaving like a member of the radical right. Indeed, his original intent was to strip libraries of all such works, from Shakespeare to Alice Walker; and as he put it, “I don’t look at it as censorship. I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children.” Thankfully, relatively few public officials see it as their job to protect the children of America from the heritage of Western culture.

This distinction elucidates my objection with current politics in general. I have no problem with an administration espousing religion-infused or jingoistic policies or foolhardy economics. That is their right. I do have a problem with regimes that spend a lot of time maligning or suppressing dissent or manipulating public information. You have to ask yourself whether right-wing policies also imply right-wing suppression of ideas. We have seen far too many examples of this under Bush and Nixon to be comfortable. (To be fair, there are lots of libertarian/free market people in the Republican Party who are comfortable with dissent).

To me supporting flag-burning is a clear sign you are not truly committed to free intellectual discourse.






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