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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dr. Strangelove's "Wargasm"

I forgot to blog about this, but back on November 4-5, I attended the annual ISAC-ISSS conference at Notre Dame University. If you are interested, my paper was entitled "Grappling with Dr. Strangelove’s Wargasm Fantasy," which was placed on a panel "Perspectives on Gender and Security."

Here's the abstract:
Dr. Strangelove continues to be one of the most acclaimed comedic films of all-time, often appearing on critics’ lists enumerating great films. Likewise, international relations experts commonly view the film as a “no brainer” choice among the most essential IR-themed movies. Dan Lindley’s 2001 Teaching Guide to Dr. Strangelove offers the standard rationale for studying this film. It can be “a springboard to discuss deterrence, mutually assured destruction, preemption, the security dilemma, arms races, relative versus absolute gains concerns, Cold War misperceptions and paranoia, and civil–military relations.” This paper considers critical theoretical concerns raised in the film that Lindley and others overlook. First, the film’s narrative is scripted as a satire or black comedy rather than as a tragedy or romance. This is a meaningful choice that strongly influences the way the film should be understood. Second, as film critic Tony Macklin argued decades ago (1964), the film can be viewed as a sex allegory, a dominant theme that has typically been ignored. Even director Stanley Kubrick acknowledged the film’s “sexual framework.” What does the film’s “Wargasm” imply about international relations and nuclear strategy?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Vicious cancer"

Conservatives in Washington have claimed that "personnel is policy" at least since the Reagan administration. If there is any truth to that maxim, then Americans might want to be worried about the announcement that retired Army three-star Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn will be Donald Trump's National Security Advisor.**

Why should Americans be uneasy about Flynn's advisory role in a Trump administration?

First, Flynn is one of those hawks who believes the US is in the midst of an unending war against radical Islam. In the words of the BBC, "Flynn believes the US is losing a global war against Islamist extremism that may last for generations." As national security journalist Eli Lake noted when reviewing Flynn's book, "the skeptical reader" might see Flynn's war against radical Islam as "a recipe for endless war."

While Donald Trump certainly campaigned as a hawk when discussing ISIS and terrorism, he also tried to signal that the US under his leadership would not make dumb decisions that would commit it to long and unwinnable wars. I believe this explains his criticisms of the Iraq war (including his repeated false claims that he opposed the war before it started -- and his similar false claims that he opposed US intervention into Libya and Syria).

Trump has clearly expressed opposition to nation-building and regime change. Moreover, he often tried to sound less hawkish than most of his political opponents during the election cycle (whether Republican or Democrat). In his foreign policy speech from April 2016, Trump said:
"I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must fight to win. I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary – and will only do so if we have a plan for victory. Our goal is peace and prosperity, not war and destruction 
....unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct....The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies."
Despite Trump's efforts to assure the voting public that he was opposed to many of America's recent wars, he has picked a National Security Advisor who seems to think the US is in for a war without end.

Second, Flynn seems to be a bona fide Islamophobe.  Politico recently quoted an unnamed "former senior intelligence official" saying that Flynn's "views on Islam are off the charts." How far off the charts?

The BBC again:
In February 2016, he [Flynn] tweeted "fear of Muslims is RATIONAL", while in July, he told the New York Post "the Islamic world is an epic failure" as he advocated his plan to beat radicalism. 
In August, he spoke at an event in Dallas, Texas, for an anti-Islamist group Act for America, saying that Islam "is a political ideology" and that it "definitely hides behind being a religion".
Perhaps worse, in that Dallas speech (video here), Flynn called Islam a "vicious cancer." Note, he said this about Islam, not radical Islam.

Islam is a religion of about 1.6 billion people on the planet. Wherever you are reading this, there are likely practicing Muslims in your town. Many famous athletes and celebrities are Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims currently serving in the US military. Members of Congress practice Islam.

I would also note that this kind of phrasing is inconsistent with what Trump himself has said about Islam. This is Trump in his ISIS speech in August 2016:
Just as we won the Cold War, in part, by exposing the evils of communism and the virtues of free markets, so too must we take on the ideology of Radical Islam.
While my opponent accepted millions of dollars in Foundation donations from countries where being gay is an offense punishable by prison or death, my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.
Our Administration will be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and will amplify their voices. of my first acts as President will be to establish a Commission on Radical Islam – which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community who will hopefully work with us. We want to build bridges and erase divisions.
Trump in his "Foreign Policy" speech in April 2016 claimed, "we’re going to be working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world, all of which are at risk from radical Islamic violence. We should work together with any nation in the region that is threatened by the rise of radical Islam."

After an unsteady start, George W. Bush was very careful not to describe the "war on terrorism" as a war on Islam. Famously, North Korea was one state listed in the "axis of evil." By contrast, in recent world history, Flynn's kind of loose talk linking a group of people to a disease or disease carrying insect has proven to be very dangerous. In the US, think of the pernicious red scare that led to blacklists of people labeled as "communists."

Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has openly called for restarting the House Un-American Activities Committee.

That idea seems quite Un-American to me. However, it is the kind of idea fed by Flynn's loose talk about Islam.

**The National Security Advisor is a White House position that does not require Senate confirmation. Some presidents have leaned quite heavily on their National Security Advisor(s), while others have relied more on different personnel for policy advice and viewed this role as more managerial. Flynn campaigned for Trump and is often viewed as a close policy advisor.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

2016B OBFLB Champions

I've periodically posted draft results or season results from my two long-running fantasy baseball leagues. This is an update for one of those leagues.

Since 1991, I've owned the Louisville Sluggers in the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League (OBFLB), a 24 team online league that plays two seasons during each major league season. The second (half) season begins after the all star break and typically features 9 weeks of head-to-head competition by teams in three 8 team divisions. Everyone plays a round robin schedule, plus teams from the other divisions that are determined largely by first half performance with an eye toward equality. As it happens, one of the two teams I played during this out-of-division week was another divisional champion The Ballplayers in Arlington. My team lost that week.

Indeed, the Sluggers were certainly lucky to be in the playoffs. As measured by CBS's statistical Breakdown (universal head-to-head results), the Sluggers were the 7th best team in the league (only 8th prior to the playoffs). I tip my hat to Men of LA and Snoqualmie Spazmatics for having really good teams that failed to survive the short second half regular season.

The winners of the divisions and a single wild card team play against each other in the playoffs during the next to last week of the regular major league baseball season. Then, the winners of those head-to-head matchups play each other in the final week of the regular season to determine the World Series champion. The wild card team Theocracy (owned by a Cub fan, I believe) came from my division, so the Sluggers ended up beating all 3 of the playoff teams, including Theocracy in the final week of the regular season and a revenge rematch against TBiA in the first round of the playoffs.

In 2016B, the Louisville Sluggers ultimately won the championship against the Valley Dudes, a team managed by my friend Barry. I recruited him into the league long ago, but don't get the idea that this league is local. Generally, the owners are from across the US, though one team is operated from western Australia. I've only met a few of the owners face-to-face, but have known many of the owners online for 20+ years.

This was the Sluggers 8th World Series championship in a bit more than 50 (half) seasons of competition. No other team has more than 7 (Men of LA).

In this league, teams submit lineup cards to prioritize 9 hitters (at 8 defensive positions, plus DH), 5 starting pitchers (minimum 4), and 3 relief pitchers (minimum 2). Through the week, the teams compete in 10 categories, including batting average, home runs, stolen bases, plate appearances, runs produced average ((R+RBI-HR)/ABs), pitching wins, saves, innings pitched, ERA and WHIP. We award 2 points per victory, with each team receiving 1 point for a tie.

The Sluggers won the Series 12-6-2 (so 13-7). Here's the line score from CBS, our stats service:



The 2016B World Series was closer than the final 13-7 score looked. In the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, Adam Wainwright was working on a shutout and had put the Valley Dudes narrowly in front in ERA. Had the pitcher been able to hold that ERA lead and attain a pitching victory (the Cardinals easily won this game 10-4), the final World Series score would have been 10-10 and Dudes would have won because of the Breakdown tiebreaker. Valley Dudes were a better team through the season.

However, the Pirates lucked into a couple of baserunners with 2 outs and then Andrew McCutcheon got a huge RBI hit that cemented the ERA category for the Sluggers. Wainwright left the game before the Cards built a big lead and that sealed the deal.

Incidentally, Wainwright was not listed as a starter last week by the Dudes manager, but was forced into action when Tiger starting pitcher Matt Boyd was skipped in the rotation thanks to a rainout against Cleveland.

The World Series heroes for the Sluggers played mostly on offense. Joey Votto batted .419 in the Series and slugged 3 HRs. Rookie Byron Buxton hit 2 HRs with a .571 RP, completing his strong final Sept/Oct (9 HRs, .287 BA, with 1 SB. and .327 RP in 113 PA). Four other Sluggers hit a homer, including star 3B Nolan Arenado.

On the pitching side, youngsters Mike Foltynewicz and Blake Snell (in a start shortened by rain) combined with the bullpen to throw nearly half the team's innings for the week, allowing only 1 ER and a 0.77 WHIP. Chris Archer also had a good start and earned a much-needed victory.

Below, you can find my lineup card. I'm putting my mid-season retained players ("keepers") in bold red text and noting draft round or free agent acquisitions status for all other players. the draft is 28 rounds, but begins with round 8 as all teams ahve to keep at least 7 teams. I kept 10 players, so my draft started round 11.

C: Zunino SEA (round 22)
    Navarro TOR (round 24)

1B: Votto CIN
     Marte LAA (round 25)
     Gosselin ARI (round 27)

2B: Kipnis CLE
    Russell CHC
    Gosselin ARI

3B: Arenado COL
     Marte LAA
     Gosselin ARI
SS: Russell CHC
    Tulowitzki TOR
    Gosselin ARI

OF: Schebler CIN (free agent)
OF: Buxton MIN
OF: Santana MIL (round 23; released, reacquired as free agent)
    Benintendi BOS (round 11)
    Marte LAA
    Kim BAL  (round 15)
    Guyer CLE (round 19)
    Gosselin ARI

DH: Tulowitzki TOR
    Benintendi BOS
    Marte LAA
    Kim BAL
    Guyer CLE
    Gosselin ARI
    Navarro TOR

SP: Archer TB
SP: Smyly TB
SP: Snell TB (round 13)
SP: De Leon LAD (round 12)
SP: Foltynewicz ATL (round 18)
SP: Conley MIA (round 14)
SP: Dickey TOR (round 16)
SP: Andriese TB (round 20)
SP: Skaggs LAA  (round 21)
RP: F Rodriguez MIL
    Dyson TEX
    Feliz HOU (round 26)
    Law SF
    Conley MIA
    my SP, in order listed above

I released these draft picks during the season:

OF Rasmus HOU (round 17)
OF Taylor WAS (round 28)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Threat inflation in Russia

While America ponders and laments its 2016 presidential choices, I'm again sorting through old clippings torn from magazines. This snippet seems especially pertinent as it is from a profile of Vladimir Putin, published about a year ago in Time. As I've noted before, Putin's consolidation of power has depended at least in part upon fear appeals.

Donald Trump (and other conservatives and/or Republicans) have been praising Putin for a couple of years now -- and, arguably, forming new policy proposals that are oddly aligned with Russia's interests. For example, the Republicans platform went soft on Russian involvement in Ukraine and Trump often says NATO is obsolete.

Essentially, the Time story linked above notes that the bureaucratic structure Putin has created foments threat inflation:
Most of the top jobs in the security services, the government and the powerful state corporations went to the members of Putin’s St. Petersburg circle, which came to form the core of what Minchenko calls the Politburo 2.0. The structure of this body differs drastically from its Soviet incarnation. Whereas the old Communist Party bosses met regularly to decide the affairs of the state together, Putin keeps his circle divided into clans and factions that seldom meet all at once. This helps prevent any groups from creating a coalition against him, and it also “makes Putin indispensable as the point of balance,” says Minchenko. “Without him the system doesn’t work, because everyone is connected through him personally.” 
But there are major drawbacks. As the rival factions compete for Putin’s attention, they tend to exaggerate the threats that Russia faces. The intelligence services, for instance, might overstate the threat from foreign spies, while the oil and gas tycoons might play up the danger of competitors in the energy market. When Putin meets separately with each of these factions, “he hears from all sides that there are threats everywhere,” says the political consultant Kirill Petrov, who has worked with Minchenko in mapping the elites. “It’s not a healthy atmosphere.”
The story's main point is that Putin is an autocrat, which makes him a strange figure for Americans to emulate:
One of the figures in Minchenko’s diagram, the senior counselor to Putin who spoke on condition of anonymity, concedes that this informal system of relationships breeds paranoia. But the system’s bigger flaw is its total dependence on just one man. “It is power without institutions,” says the adviser. “It means we have no solid ground beneath us.” The state is Putin, and Putin is the state.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Presidential politics goes nuclear

This "daisy ad" from 1964 is infamous, though it aired only once (but see also this ad for more context from that campaign cycle). I've showed this ad many times in my classes:

A super-PAC supporting Hillary Clinton is going to run the following ad in a number of swing states this election cycle -- Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

I'm not 100% sure that ad is all that effective. Read this piece and watch the accompanying videos to understand the context for this ad. People who have paying attention to the campaign for months (high information voters) already know this material, but those not paying attention (low information voters) won't get enough content from the new ad.

Will it resonate emotionally?

I'll close by quoting a (former?) Republican hero:

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?”
Ronald Reagan, 1984 State of the Union

H/T to Patrick Caldwell. 

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Trump on Iraq

Last night, as he repeatedly has, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed to Matt Lauer on national television that he was an opponent of the Iraq war prior to its start in March 2003:
“I was totally against the war in Iraq. You can look at Esquire magazine from '04, before that,” Trump told Matt Lauer during NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” Wednesday night, responding to a criticism Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made earlier in the evening that Trump was not being honest about his position.
On September 11, 2002, Trump was interviewed on Howard Stern's radio program. At about the 1:40 mark of the audio embedded in the video below, Stern asks him directly if he is in favor of invading Iraq. Trump said, "Yeah, I guess so. Uh, you know, I wish the first time it was done correctly."

As the Washington Post reported today, Trump also seemed to support the war when it was initially underway. He certainly wasn't hinting that it was going to be a long and costly disaster:
In an interview with Fox News one day after the March 2003 Iraq invasion, Trump praised the effort while talking about the war’s impact on Wall Street. 
“Well, I think Wall Street’s waiting to see what happens, but even before the fact they’re obviously taking it a little bit for granted, and it looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint, and I think this is really nothing compared to what you’re gonna see after the war is over,” Trump told Fox News’s Neil Cavuto.
This is the most revealing line in the WaPo story, addressing the media's coverage of this year's presidential election: "[Trump's] claim has been repeatedly debunked by independent fact checkers, though Lauer did not press him on the issue."

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Friday, September 02, 2016

Summertime Blues

I didn't blog at all in August and I'm not sure that a full month has ever previously elapsed without at least one post.

July ended with great sadness. My mother-in-law, Donna Courtney died far too young. She was a remarkably loving and generous person, now constantly missed by her family and friends.

My wife and I traveled to Michigan in early August, partly for a brief vacation and partly to retrieve our youngest daughter, who had worked at camp at Interlochen through the summer.

Almost immediately after returning from Michigan, I made an unexpected trip to Tulsa as my mother had fallen and broken her arm. Days after that travel was completed, I helped move my oldest daughter to Chapel Hill, NC, where she began graduate school. I got back the evening of August 19, having spent 11 nights of the month away from home.

The University of Louisville kicked off the fall semester in mid-August and I've already been attending (or often leading) numerous meetings and teaching a graduate class.

That summary explains the lack of blogging.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The UofL Foundation President

University of Louisville President James Ramsey resigned this past week, though he offered to continue serving in that capacity through the end of the academic year (at the same generous level of compensation he had been receiving). The Board of Trustees declined to accept that offer and he was immediately replaced by an interim President, Interim Provost Neville Pinto -- a choice apparently mandated by the University's "Redbook".

The day after this occurred, Ramsey reported to work at Grawemeyer Hall as President of the University of Louisville Foundation. For those not paying close attention, it has largely been the UofL Foundation that has paid Ramsey millions of dollars annually over the past few years.

The Foundation's bylaws make clear how every member and officer of its Board of Directors is appointed. The University President is automatically a Director; thus, Pinto presumably replaces Ramsey as a voting member of the Foundation Board when it next meets in September. Some Foundation Board members serve because they are UofL Board members. The Foundation bylaws make clear that once a person is no longer serving UofL in these capacities, the person is no longer a voting director on the Foundation Board.

The President of the Foundation is a Board-elected one-year position that does not have to be filled by a director. The Foundation Board could end the relationship with Ramsey almost immediately, as reported by WDRB reporter Chris Otts:
Ramsey acknowledged Thursday that because he resigned from the university, the foundation board can terminate his employment with no financial consequences.  But he said he hopes to convince the foundation directors to keep him on.
Note going forward that it is very unusual for any American Foundation leaders to earn more than about $130,000 annually. Indeed, Foundation leaders who are paid even $190,000 are in the 90th percentile for the position. Also, the IRS looks askance at very high payments to salaries for non-profit leaders. From section 4 of that linked IRS publication on Governance:
A. Executive compensation. A charity may not pay more than reasonable compensation for services rendered. Although the Internal Revenue Code does not require charities to follow a particular process in determining the amount of compensation to pay, the compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and others in a position to exercise substantial influence over the affairs of the charity should be determined by persons who are knowledgeable in compensation matters and who have no financial interest in the determination. Organizations that file Form 990 will find that Part VI, Section B, Line 15 asks whether the process used to determine the compensation of an organization’s top management official and other officers and key employees included a review and approval by independent persons, comparability data, and contemporaneous substantiation of the deliberation and decision. 
James Ramsey was very well compensated as a University President, but it is hard to see a case for continued generous compensation as a mere Foundation President.

Leadership Disarray

All of the administrative changes mentioned above are somewhat clouded by a Kentucky court-imposed injunction yesterday ruling that Governor Matt Bevin's newly constituted UofL Board (the one that accepted Ramsey's resignation earlier in the week) is NOT the University's Board any more. The Board that Bevin claims to have dissolved (as opposed to firing, which would have been illegal without a hearing for each trustee) is again THE UofL Board. Of course, it is short several members as it has been since late March when the Governor argued (persuasively) that the Board in place at the time violated state law because it had too little minority representation. The University apparently again has a Board in place that has refused to act on personnel issues (tenure and promotion cases, new tenure track hires) since late March because of its lack of minority representation.

Some members of the now reconstituted UofL Board served also on the Foundation, by the bylaws of that institution. They had already been dismissed, so the operational status of both entities is in disarray. The judge issuing the injunction did state that the ruling would not change actions Bevin's Board had taken, such as accepting Ramsey's resignation. However, Bevin's Board had not approved a proposed 5% tuition increase and the old Board had explicitly rejected that proposed increase back in early June.

The University is in the new fiscal year without a firm budget and clear notion of the cost of tuition. Classes start in four weeks. Without a tuition increase, planned faculty and staff pay raises could only be funded by deeper cuts in other University budgets -- or perhaps Foundation contributions. Many jobs will likely be eliminated if additional cuts are needed. The inability to operate is a disaster and Government Bevin could prolong this disaster indefinitely by failing to add members to the old Board. Based on his immediate reaction to the injunction ruling, Bevin's office plans to appeal the ruling.

Foundation Leadership and Accountability

The University of Louisville Foundation is an important supplemental source of University funding, particularly vital in a time of crisis. Should the Foundation retain James Ramsey as President in this time of need?

I blogged several months ago about the poor performance of the University's endowments . My spouse told me that my posting had been linked by friends and colleagues on Facebook -- and that some commenters there criticized elements of my argument. Some of the criticisms were certainly valid. After all, I compared University endowment performance to my personal investment performance, which has hinged on a "buy and hold" (and reinvest dividends) strategy that did not include withdrawals for spending.

The University needs asset growth in order to spend, but the overall endowment doesn't really need to grow as long as the investments are generating sufficient revenue to fund spending needs. The University needs to average 5.5% annual growth in order to fund endowed spending -- and then more than that to pay Foundation operating costs (including apparently millions of dollars in payments to top University leaders).

Note that President Ramsey and his supporters have often defended his performance as a fundraiser for the University, so a lack of growth in the overall size of the endowment either indicates that he has not really raised lots of new money or that the older investments have performed poorly.

As President, arguably, Ramsey had a leadership role for both tasks. Indeed, this is probably where I should have directed my criticism several months ago. The Foundation President seems like an appropriate person to hold accountable. According to the Foundation bylaws, the President:
...shall be the Chief Administrative Officer and General Manager of the Corporation.  He shall, in addition, perform such other and further duties and have such powers as are usually performed and possessed by similar officers of like corporations, whether stock or nonstock. The President is authorized to execute any instrument of writing for the Corporation and to act for it under any agency contract or agreement it may have with any corporate agent which at any time may be holding or administering any of its assets or endowment or trust funds; any such agent may assume that the President has authority to bind and act for this Corporation.
How has the Foundation/President performed managing its money -- or hiring the right managers to oversee Foundation funds?

I'll answer that question with an anecdote, but the story involves an endowment that is one of the largest in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Department of Political Science, which I have chaired since January 2012, includes the Center for Asian Democracy and an Aung Sun Suu Kyi endowed chair in Asian Democracy. The CAD and the chair are actually funded by two endowment accounts. One account was a late 1990s "bucks for brains" state-funded personnel line that was originally funded at $1 million or more. The other is a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Those grants and endowments date back to at least 2006. This is ambiguous because the "bucks for brains" account is older and may have previously been tied to a different endowed chair. As a result, when Political Science inherited the account in 2006, the endowment was worth about $1.5 million. The State Department monies arrived at Louisville in 2006 and were vested for a spending policy one year later.

The $5 million 2006 grant from the Department of State was worth only $4.113 million as of December 31, 2015. That's a key date because the University uses it to decide a spending policy for the following academic year. After a decade managing $5 million, the Foundation managed to lose (or spend) over 15% of its value.

Oh, and this wasn't simply because the endowment was created just before the Great Recession. As recently as December 31, 2013, the endowment was worth $5.066 million.

The DJIA closed at  16576.66 on December 31, 2013. On the same date in 2015, it closed at 17425.03. The stock market grew a bit more than 5% in that period, which is somewhat disappointing and obviously below the 5.5% annual return threshold needed to allow a full spending policy and preserve principal. However, the CAD endowment lost a substantial portion of its original principal, well beyond the spending policy.  Incidentally, the DJIA closed at 12463.15 in 2006, meaning the DJIA is up about 40% during the entire period of the CAD's existence. A well-managed account likely could have preserved almost all of the principal and achieved a sizeable chunk of a 5.5% annual spending policy. A well-performing investment might have managed to increase the size of the account and the annual spending policy.

Clearly, University of Louisville Foundation investments have not been especially well-managed over the decade in question. Is the President of that entity going to be held to account?

What are people tied to endowed personnel lines supposed to do going forward?

The CAD endowment returned insufficient funds this year to pay even the endowed chair salary. Last year, CAD additionally employed a staff member to manage programming, two postdoc researchers, and a graduate research assistant.

Again, who should be held responsible for a decade of poor performance?

Given that endowments were down in 2015, James Ramsey personal assets grew substantially more than the Foundation's assets. And that's just based on his payments from the Foundation.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Digital Activism

For years, I've been interested in the possibility of political activism and public deliberation on the internet. As department chair, I recently hired a former graduate student, Matt Evans, to teach an online course on "Political Activism in the Digital Age."

Here's the course description, for students who might be interested in enrolling over the next month:
How do we change the world? 
Over 100 years ago, Henry David Thoreau answered this question by suggesting Americans should vote with their whole ballot. This means utilizing the better part of politics – the aspect that could change the world in the face of impossible obstacles through all those activities outside the realm of voting called activism. 
Political Activism in the Digital Age – an online political science course in Fall 2016 – examines activism through the concrete tactics of activists in groups and social movements within and outside of the US. Rather than work through overpriced textbooks – an oxymoron – the class will draw on readings, videos, and other material accessible through Blackboard to empower students to change the world. For more information, contact the instructor Dr. Matt Evans.
Since it's an online class, students don't have to live in Louisville to enroll. Indeed, the instructor lives and teaches in Arkansas.

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Friday, July 01, 2016

UofL Board and Debate

Earlier this week, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin picked a new Board of Trustees for the University of Louisville. As I blogged two weeks ago, Bevin recently disbanded the old Board in what appeared to be a brazen use of executive power given Kentucky statutes regulating the way Board members are supposed to be appointed and removed. Moreover, the committee that nominated the new Board members may itself be illegal because it lacks diversity. 

For those following from afar, I should note that the old Board's paralysis this year was initially triggered by a lack of diversity. It was not diverse and needed additional members to make lawful decisions. Governor Bevin could have fixed that problem any time since March simply by appointing new minority Board members. But he didn't. 

This post, however, isn't about the legal or political processes. Instead, it is about the nature of academic debate and the difference between faith and opinion on the one hand and knowledge on the other.

One of the newly appointed members, Douglas Cobb, has received special scrutiny for his controversial contributions to public discussion almost from the moment he was named to the Board. Cobb had an active twitter feed that was deleted shortly after he was named to the University's Board. However, the account feed survived long enough for various local reporters to notice that Cobb used it to deny mainstream climate science and evolution. He expressed anti-LGBT views and called for the firing of various University coaches and officials because of sports scandals (but not exactly these scandals). There's more:

Cobb, who is an elder at Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church, has also devoted attention on Twitter to issues involving Islam and terrorism, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, questioning fairness policies and quoting Bible verses.
In a tweet two years ago, Cobb said that when Nigerian-based terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped as many as 200 school girls it was practicing a version of Islam that "is orthodox Islam." In another 2014 tweet, Cobb cited a biblical verse to say that being gay and Christian were “incompatible terms of identity.”
In various tweets referenced in the media stories, Cobb dubbed climate science a hoax "invented by the progressive left" and said it reflects a "socialist line."  He tweeted, that "the same people who are lying to you today about global warming have been lying to you for 150 years about evolution."

Perhaps because so many of Cobb's tweets reference the UofL athletic program, sports columnist Tim Sullivan wrote a piece today defending Cobb's contributions to debate about various issues, including controversial science and public policy positions Cobb staked out in his twitter feed. 
Still, debate is healthy. Public institutions warrant scrutiny from a wide range of vantage points. On some levels, appointing trustees whose points of view are likely to cause conflict is preferable to the intellectual lockstep of unquestioning cronies. Hard as it is look past Cobb's harsher opinions and judgmental attitude, his presence should prompt all constituencies to pay closer attention to board proceedings.
Given U of L's recent history, which has included federal charges of fraud, an FBI investigation into the misuse of funds, an NCAA probe of recruiting irregularities involving strippers and prostitutes, and disproportionate pay packages for administrators, it’s fair to ask whether the board should have been even more sharply divided and more inclined to challenge the status quo.
Plus, Cobb is bound to offer some dissenting opinions that will enliven local discourse and provide deserving pundits with fresh material on slow days.
What Sullivan ignores here is the difference between knowledge and rational debate on the one hand versus ideas grounded in faith and opinion. Cobb’s views on LGBT issues, Islam, and gender diversity apparently emanate from his faith. Fine. He’s entitled to his personal religious perspective, but should that faith play any role in influencing the future of a public University? Keep in mind that this same public University has been praised for being one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the South. Moreover, the University’s mission statement is committed firmly to diversity.

As for climate science and evolution, Cobb “debates” by referencing conspiracy theories and offering political slurs. The current mainstream scientific understandings are built on mountains of evidence, analysis, and peer-reviewed empirical research. Scientists can be wrong, but their errors should be identified through rigorous scientific processes. 

Oh, by the way, social science works in the same way and I’m quite confident our Middle East and Islamic Studies faculty could dismiss his dubious ideas about Boko Haram and Islam in less than 5 minutes of class time.

So far as I can see from the quoted tweets, Cobb has not contributed one meaningful idea to any active scientific debate in the wider public debate. It's not difficult to understand why this is so. Climate change, for example, has long been mainstream science with very little dissent in the scientific community. Journalists were partly to blame for any public perception of controversy because coverage was horribly misleading. Additionally, Exxon and other wealthy funders are also to blame as they invested substantial sums in propaganda to create public doubt about climate change. 

Oddly enough, Cobb’s business acumen, referenced by some supporters to defend his appointment to the Board, is supposedly tied to his work as an investment entrepreneur. Yet, I wonder if his right-wing politics cause him to miss some larger truths about green investment opportunities

Oh, and readers might want to know about a potential economic conflict of interest. UofL is invested in Cobb's firm, Chrysalis Ventures

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