Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sad Day for Comedy

George Carlin died last night of heart failure at age 71. While I have always been a fan of stand-up, Carlin's act went beyond comedy. Building on the work of Lenny Bruce, Carlin cultivated a confrontational stage persona that influenced nearly every major comic who followed, including Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Dennis Miller, and Lewis Black. His "Seven Dirty Words" bit lead to a court case on profanity and indecency that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and Carlin himself was arrested for some of his provocative language.

Just as a savvy medieval jester understood the intricacies of court politics, Carlin had the ability to take the idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies of our culture and play them out on stage in a one man show, and in the process help us understand ourselves. His use of profanity was not just intended to shock, it was a commentary on how people reveal themselves through the subtleties of language. Carlin's attacks on religion and other social institutions elevated his work from diversionary entertainment into intricate cultural analysis. This was not just a man making people laugh; he was a man making people laugh at themselves and in our laughter we experienced moments of clarity into who we are as individuals and as a people.

Carlin was fond of saying that it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the culture has drawn a line and deliberately cross it, dragging the audience along with him, and making them happy they've traversed it. I've tried to take this on as a personal motto both in my work and in my daily life. I've certainly got a great deal left to do, especially in mastering that last component of making the audience enjoy the trip. But Carlin and his work endures as a shining example to the power of language and a prime example of just how formidable an intelligent man with a microphone can be.

Here are a few Youtube videos of some of my favorite Carlin moments:

Carlin the Modern Man

Carlin on the First Gulf War

Carlin on Stupid People

Carlin on Seven Dirty Words

Carlin on Religion

Carlin on Stuff

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cary Nelson on Academic Freedom

A friend embedded the following Youtube video on his blog. It's an interview with Cary Nelson on the use of contingent faculty and the future of academic freedom. The interview was conducted by Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mama Said Knock You Out

Two big stories this week, one mostly symbolic and the other with big implications.

First, Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. The articles included:

  1. Creating a Secret Propaganda Campaign to Manufacture a False Case for War Against Iraq.
  2. Falsely, Systematically, and with Criminal Intent Conflating the Attacks of September 11, 2001, With Misrepresentation of Iraq as a Security Threat as Part of Fraudulent Justification for a War of Aggression.
  3. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction, to Manufacture a False Case for War.
  4. Misleading the American People and Members of Congress to Believe Iraq Posed an Imminent Threat to the United States.
  5. Illegally Misspending Funds to Secretly Begin a War of Aggression.
  6. Invading Iraq in Violation of the Requirements of HJRes114.
  7. Invading Iraq Absent a Declaration of War.
  8. Invading Iraq, A Sovereign Nation, in Violation of the UN Charter.
  9. Failing to Provide Troops With Body Armor and Vehicle Armor
  10. Falsifying Accounts of US Troop Deaths and Injuries for Political Purposes
  11. Establishment of Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Iraq
  12. Initiating a War Against Iraq for Control of That Nation's Natural Resources
  13. Creating a Secret Task Force to Develop Energy and Military Policies With Respect to Iraq and Other Countries
  14. Misprision of a Felony, Misuse and Exposure of Classified Information And Obstruction of Justice in the Matter of Valerie Plame Wilson, Clandestine Agent of the Central Intelligence Agency
  15. Providing Immunity from Prosecution for Criminal Contractors in Iraq
  16. Reckless Misspending and Waste of U.S. Tax Dollars in Connection With Iraq and US Contractors
  17. Illegal Detention: Detaining Indefinitely And Without Charge Persons Both U.S. Citizens and Foreign Captives
  18. Torture: Secretly Authorizing, and Encouraging the Use of Torture Against Captives in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Other Places, as a Matter of Official Policy
  19. Rendition: Kidnapping People and Taking Them Against Their Will to "Black Sites" Located in Other Nations, Including Nations Known to Practice Torture
  20. Imprisoning Children
  21. Misleading Congress and the American People About Threats from Iran, and Supporting Terrorist Organizations Within Iran, With the Goal of Overthrowing the Iranian Government
  22. Creating Secret Laws
  23. Violation of the Posse Comitatus Act
  24. Spying on American Citizens, Without a Court-Ordered Warrant, in Violation of the Law and the Fourth Amendment
  25. Directing Telecommunications Companies to Create an Illegal and Unconstitutional Database of the Private Telephone Numbers and Emails of American Citizens
  26. Announcing the Intent to Violate Laws with Signing Statements
  27. Failing to Comply with Congressional Subpoenas and Instructing Former Employees Not to Comply
  28. Tampering with Free and Fair Elections, Corruption of the Administration of Justice
  29. Conspiracy to Violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  30. Misleading Congress and the American People in an Attempt to Destroy Medicare
  31. Katrina: Failure to Plan for the Predicted Disaster of Hurricane Katrina, Failure to Respond to a Civil Emergency
  32. Misleading Congress and the American People, Systematically Undermining Efforts to Address Global Climate Change
  33. Repeatedly Ignored and Failed to Respond to High Level Intelligence Warnings of Planned Terrorist Attacks in the US, Prior to 911.
  34. Obstruction of the Investigation into the Attacks of September 11, 2001
  35. Endangering the Health of 911 First Responders
The legislation is about six years too late and not all of these are impeachable offenses, but the articles make up one of the most comprehensive lists of Bush's scandals, outrages, and offenses against the Constitution, the armed forces, and the Iraqi and American people, at least in relation to the war and to September 11th.

The House relegated the piece of legislation to committee hell and with Bush only having six months left in office the legislation is unlikely to actually lead to a formal censure or removal from office. Being savvy to the realities of politics, Kucinich knew this, but had them read out loud in the chamber--twice-- and into the record, with all present members of the House forced to listen. And that was what is really important here, for the present and for history; the president was held accountable and his offenses were set out for all to see.

Second, the Supreme Court ruled that terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts. This is a huge blow to Bush's dangerous attempt to consolidate the power of the Executive and Judicial branches into one and remove habeus corpus upon the accusation of terrorist activity.

Justice Kennedy had this to say in his opinion:

First, protection for the privilege of habeas corpus was one of the few safeguards of liberty specified in a Constitution that, at the outset, had no Bill of Rights . . . The Framers viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom. Experience taught, however, that the common-law writ all too often had been insufficient to guard against the abuse of monarchial power. That history counseled the necessity for specific language in the Constitution to secure the writ and ensure its place in our legal system . . . That the Framers considered the writ a vital instrument for the protection of individual liberty is evident from the care taken to specify the limited grounds for its suspension: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" . . . In our own system the Suspension Clause is designed to protect against these cyclical abuses. The Clause protects the rights of the detained by a means consistent with the essential design of the Constitution. It ensures that, except during periods of formal suspension, the Judiciary will have a time-tested device, the writ, to maintain the "delicate balance of governance" that is itself the surest safeguard of liberty . . . It is true that before today the Court has never held that noncitizens detained by our Government in territory over which another country maintains de jure sovereignty have any rights under our Constitution. But the cases before us lack any precise historical parallel. They involve individuals detained by executive order for the duration ofa conflict that, if measured from September 11, 2001, to the present, is already among the longest wars in American history. . . . The detainees, moreover, are held in a territory that, while technically not part of the United States, is under the complete and total control of our Government. Under these circumstances the lack of a precedent on point is no barrier to our holding . . . We do consider it uncontroversial, however, that the privilege of habeas corpus entitles the prisoner to a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that he is being held pursuant to "the erroneous application or interpretation" of relevant law . . . Where a person is detained by executive order, rather than, say, after being tried and convicted in a court, the need for collateral review is most pressing. A criminal conviction in the usual course occurs after a judicial hearing before a tribunal disinterested in the outcome andcommitted to procedures designed to ensure its own independence. These dynamics are not inherent in executive detention orders or executive review procedures. In this context the need for habeas corpus is more urgent. The intended duration of the detention and the reasons for it bear upon the precise scope of the inquiry. Habeas corpus proceedings need not resemble a criminal trial, even when the detention is by executive order. But the writ must be effective. The habeas court must have sufficient authority to conduct a meaningful review of both the cause for detention and the Executive’s power to detain . . . Our decision today holds only that the petitioners before us are entitled to seek the writ; that the DTA review procedures are an inadequate substitute for habeas corpus; and that the petitioners in these cases need not exhaust the review procedures in the Court of Appeals before proceeding with their habeas actions in the District Court . . . It bears repeating that our opinion does not address the content of the law that governs petitioners’ detention. That is a matter yet to be determined. We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that frame work, a part of that law. [Emphasis added.]

The final words of this excerpt are the most important, as they summarize the argument so many of us have made since September 11th, 2001. Freedom and security are not mutually exclusive and giving up one to have the other is foolish and unnecessary. Bush and his associates have tried over and over to convince us otherwise, arguing that these special courts are necessary to protect Americans. But if these inmates are so dangerous, then why, according to the Times Online, of the 775 people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, 420 have been released without charge?

Kennedy's opinion and Kucinich's list of Bush's offenses are documents that will be key to evaluating the disastrous legacy of this administration in years to come. That they come together in the same week is a terrific bit of timing.