Sunday, March 26, 2006


So, it seems that the latest target of the Republicans is immigration and immigrants. Apparently, their latest 'bright' idea is to make it a felony to be an illegal alien. This is crass. However, even the terminology is somewhat puzzling. Why is it that the U.S. insists upon calling persons of other nationalities 'aliens'? It might make sense if the story of ET was true, but otherwise it makes it sound as if the Blob from Planet X, was working illegally in the U.S.

The problem with the proposals is that there are many jobs that are being done by undocumented workers, because U.S. citizens do not want to do the work. At least, this is one line of defense. It is a bit a Straw Man though. Take the case of workers in New Orleans. Many of the contractors employ sub-contractors who in turn employ undocumented workers. This protects the large companies from sanctions, should there ever be a crack down. It suits companies to employ undocumented workers, because these individuals are not in a strong position to complain when they do not get paid. This means the company can get the work done, whilst 'keeping labor cost down' (as they say in business speak). It is also the case that undocumented workers are more likely to not mind living in dorms, or other substandard living conditions. Given that there is insufficient accommodation in the New Orleans area, economic desperation works to the advantage of the corporations again.

With the proposed new anti-immigrant legislation, one hears the shrill voice of the Republicans waffling vague tropes about National security. They really need to get a new tune. It was not plausible three years ago, it is not plausible now. (Question: How was Iraq ever a threat to the U.S.? Answer: The only way Iraq was a threat was if Saddam Hussein put stamps on his missiles and mailed them to the U.S.!). The Republicans also suggest that anything like an amnesty would be unfair to those who have gone through the 'proper' immigration channels. It is clear the Republicans have never had a conversation with anyone who has had to deal with the faceless, Kafkaesque and baroque entity that is the INS. Even for well off, middle-class and educated persons, even applying for employment authorization is a nightmare, requiring piles of paperwork, a good deal of cash and the services of a lawyer. It is hardly fair to ask a simple honest laborer to negotiate these mine fields.

So, I suggest the following:

  1. Oppose the silly new Republican immigration reforms.
  2. Talk to someone who has had to deal with the INS at any level.
  3. Try and talk to someone who may be an undocumented worker and ask them about their motivation for doing this.
  4. Help those who work hard, but do not make a lot of money, be they documented, or not.

The CP

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Colleges and Hurricanes II: The Specter

Note: This post is the second part of a two part series. The first part can be found here.

There is a specter that haunts higher education in the State of Louisiana. This specter is called force majeure. Force majeure is a French language trope that makes what would otherwise be profoundly preposterous and utterly unreasonable, sound magically justified and somehow plausible.

This spectural linguistic slight of hand is now afflicting various Universities and university systems in the State of Louisiana. It is the term that certain administrations have seized upon to justify the immoral and quite possibly illegal shuffling of university programs, people and assets, with faculty members and students as collateral damage. Should a grandly titled (and remunerated) administrative suit have an old score to settle, force majeure and programs and people suddenly disappear. Need to save a few dollars? That is easy, Force majeure, and savings suddenly appear, as employees disappear.

The specter of force majeure has so far been seen at The University of New Orleans (UNO) and The Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) and other places in the State's university systems. Unfortunately, the specter of force majeure threatens to continue to spread like an STD at an orgy, through the universities of the State.

Of course, there are one or two minor procedural issues with this administrative wielding of force majeure. Not least of these is the fact that most of the universities in the State already have well worked out plans for situations of financial exigency. However, financial exigency is boring, rule bound and lacks the spectral and linguistic magnificence of force majeure. Whereas financial exigency would require careful deliberation, consultation and all sorts of other tedious activities, force majeure sweeps all before it, albeit all to often on to the welfare lines. With this magical pronouncement, the suits suddenly have carte blanche to do as they will.

The insidious nature of the spectral presence of force majeure is such that the mere threat of it's invocation is enough to leave even the most died-in-the-wool faculty trouble makers worry about their futures. Force majeure is no respecter of tenure, or rank. With a whisper of the incantation and the stroke of a pen tenured full professors dissolve into academic dust, as they suddenly become part of the faceless under-class of the unemployed. Only the most foolhardy would not have second thoughts when faced with a weapon of such awesome power.

The other great thing about force majeure is that it requires no further justification. Why did Professor X (the very productive, well respected scholar and excellent teacher) get cut, but Professor Y (the drinking buddy of the Dean/Vice-President/President, who has published a single letter to the editor in their career, who students hate) not? Simple -- force majeure. Not another word is needed. By invoking the specter, the trouble makers can be evicted, whilst the good old boys are protected. Brilliant!

Naturally, this sudden love of force majeure only makes sense from a certain short sighted administrative perspective. This specter spells a kiss of death to the long term well being of higher education in the State. With force majeure stalking the State's education system, what bright new Ph.D. would be suicidal enough to accept a position in this State? Even tenured faculty members are dusting off their Vitas and are applying for positions elsewhere. Effectively, the underpaid and overworked faculty, have hug a sign announcing "For Hire" around their collective necks. The best and the brightest are liable to be lured to greener, saner and safer pastures. Of course, some faculty members are simply too unattractive to be lured elsewhere. They have published too little, taught too much, served too much, or have just become too twisted and used up by the system. Unfortunately, these are the people who will be left to train the future brilliant young minds of the State, after the scorched earth of the specter has finished its deadly dance.

This depressing future scenario is not a forgone conclusion. At the current time, this is only a possible out come. Rationality and wise heads may yet prevail. The AAUP has showed signs of taking notice. The poisonous death dance of force majeure may be prevented. We hope. However, steps will need to be taken firmly and decisively, and soon, to prevent a further tragedy befalling this hurricane ravaged State. The heresy of force majeure must not be allowed to truly and fatally take hold. Even if the fiscal state of things is not too good, then sober, sane and carefully considered steps need to be planned, through consultation and dialogue with all stakeholders. A rash and expedient strategy, such as that embodied by the phrase force majeure, can only lead to further disaster. It must be stopped.

This alone only does a partial job. However, a rational plan, in conjunction with the full legislative support of the governors plan for faculty pay raises, may be sufficient to avert disaster. In the meantime, the specter of force majeure should be denounced as the vile, pernicious and idiotic notion that it really is. DO NOT LET THEM SELL YOU THIS LIE.

The CP

Colleges and Hurricanes I: Context

The 2005 Hurricanes in the State of Louisiana are kind of old news these days. Although the main stream media delights in showing wrecked parts of New Orleans on a regular basis, they often forget the ravages caused by Hurricane Rita on South Louisiana. A detailed account of the damage with pictures is available and worth looking at. However, there are other effects of the storms that has received less media coverage, because it is not so camera friendly.

Immediately after the storms, the State was forced to cut the budgets of State supported services. Some oddities in the law means that almost all cuts had to be absorbed by the health and education sectors. Education in particular is a crucially important area for the long term recovery of the State. It is for this reason that Governor Blanco has proposed pay raises for school teachers and university faculty.

On the face of it, it might seem a little odd that university faculty should need a pay hike. After all, do they not have relatively secure and comfortable jobs? Wouldn't the money be better spent rebuilding levees or something? These kinds of questions have been raised by some, mostly Republicans. The answers to these questions are far from straight forward, however.

The university system in the State of Louisiana has been in a difficult spot for a number of years, even prior to the storms of 2005. During the oil crash in the 1980s, the education system was subject to multiple cutbacks. Indeed, in some years there were several cuts. There is general agreement that State universities in Louisiana are poorly funded and faculty are badly paid, as compared to other States. When this state of affairs is added to the effects of the storms, the results are chronic, though no less catastrophic.

For simple ecenomic reasons, it is hard to hire good faculty, if the rate of pay is well below the going rate. In addition, generally teaching loads at State institutions are higher than comparable institutions elsewhere. More teaching means less research. Less research means fewer publications. Fewer publications translates in a lower professional visibility, which in turn has the effect of retarding an otherwise promising career. So, high teaching loads and bad pay has made it difficult to hire good faculty. This is especially true of new assistant professors. However, when these pre-existing problems are added to by fears about the future, brought on by the uncertainties concerning funding and job security, and with respect to future hurricanes, this puts the State in a tough position. This is the context in which the governor has made the suggestion about faculty pay, and for these reasons it is crucial that this suggestion is supported. If it fails, the State will be in a very bad way. However, faculty pay raises alone are not sufficient!

To be continued...

The CP

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Why is this damned blog such a pain?
I have already lost one post

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A History of Abortion and Profound Stupidity

Recently, the State Legislators in South Dakota showed that they were Neanderthal imbeciles by passing a bill which banned abortions under almost any circumstances, including rape and incest. Naturally, the world was appalled at such profound stupidity. However, it seems that Louisiana State Senator Ben Nevers, of Bogalusa wants to join the crew of morons. He has filed a similar Bill in Louisiana. Fortunately, the activities of these idiots have motivated people like Molly to publish helpful information, before any of these silly bills have a chance to effect a women's right to choose. The whole proposition though is profoundly stupid. The chance of these State rules influencing Roe v. Wade are about as likely as a hat stand getting elected President of the U.S. (although a hat stand might admittedly be less moronic than George W.).

Now, I am sure that all these political light weights are trying to curry favor with religious voters. This is despite the fact that many of these fine, upstanding religious types oppose abortion by day, but have their Preachers take their wayward daughters for 'procedures' in Texas should they happen to get themselves 'up the duff' with the wrong kind of partner (this is no joke, I know of multiple cases). The problem with the whole abortion debate is that the people involved appear to have absolutely no clue about where the purported Christian prohibition on abortion comes from. Wearing my 'Historian of Ideas' hat, I will now explain the facts.

The famous theologian St. Thomas Aquinas undertook the ambitious project of reconciling Aristotle with The Bible. One rather thorny problem that St. Thomas had to deal with concerned Souls. In Aristotle's view, humans actually had a variety of types of soul (in this, he followed his teacher Plato). The soul that really mattered though was the so-called 'rational soul'. Indeed, according to Aristotle, the defining feature of human beings is that we are rational animals. Possessing a rational soul was thus a rather crucial issue! Unfortunately, Aristotle had rather exclusive views about the kinds of beings that could posses a rational soul. In order to be rational, in Aristotle's view, it was necessary to be,

  1. Adult,
  2. Male, and
  3. Greek
These restrictions were a little bit too limiting for a theological position that was supposed to offer universal salvation. After all, it would be a bit embarrassing if only Greeks could be saved! So, St. Thomas could not use the Aristotelian criteria. This left him at a bit of a loss. When should a human be said to gain their soul? It turns out that there were a variety of other theories available on this issue. One theory held that the soul was assigned at birth. Another, suggested that some degree of maturity (albeit less than full adulthood), was necessary before an individual could be said to have a soul. A third theory suggests that souls were somehow assigned at conception.

As history tells us, St. Thomas went with this third option. In doing this, he rejected the options outlined above, along with numerous others (cyclical rebirth, a la Plato, for instance). However, this raises the question of why St. Thomas chose this option, rather than one of the others. On this matter, unfortunately, history has left us in the dark. The point here though is that the whole hysteria associated with Christianity and abortion is an artifact of a decision that could well have been fundamentally arbitarily made. There is no principle here, just historical happenstance.

These facts should be kept in mind next time some religious maniac insists that a women who has been subject to incestuous rape should be forced to drop out of school so that she can give birth to the product of such an involuntary union.

The CP

Monday, March 13, 2006


Ok, so I have been indolent with this blog. I notice threats in the comments. Point taken, but thanks for noticing. This blog will no longer be inactive. The CombatPhilosopher has returned. You have been warned. Corrupt political types, incompetents and moronic multinationals beware, the CP is back in business and will be washing your dirty laundry here.

So, time for a recent news comment. I was going to write a thing about how to screw BellSouth, by hacking their services. I hate BellSouth for their immoral and undemocratic actions in the town of Lafayette, Louisiana. L.U.S., the public owned utility company have a proposal to offer a fiber connection to every home in the town. As a locally owner utility company, this sounded like communism to BellSouth and their tired and failing business model. So, they kept going to court, moaning like big babies that L.U.S. was acting unfairly. I have not had BellSouth as my phone company for years. I prefer(ed) AT and T. Ma Bell may have been bad in the past, but she has offered me good service and less outrageous prices than the weannies at SmellSouth. Then, AT and T went and bought SmellSouth. So, my objections are now a bit mute. However, for informational purposes,should you wish to get a DSL connection on the cheap, here is how to do it:

1) Go to Wal-Mart, or similar, and buy a cheap wireless hub ($60, or so - Linksys is better than Belkin, generally).
2) Talk to your neighbour who has DSL and do a deal.
3) Attach the wireless hub to their DSL line, with SmellSouth, or whoever (N.B. the closer your house is to your neighbours, the better this works -- in an appartment complex several people can share a single line).
4) Set up the wireless hub securely so only approved computers can access.
5) Share the cost of the connection with your neighbour who has done a deal with the Devil's minions (SmellSouth).
6) Laugh at SmellSouth as their stock price falls.

The CP

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