Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 21, 2013

Odds and Ends


1. Dan Drezner has thoughts on the current conflict in Mali. So does Stephen Walt. But the best quote is from Laura Seay (Twitter: @texasinafrica; her blog is here): “A tip: if you couldn’t locate Mali on a map with ease a week ago, making policy prescriptions about it now is probably a bad idea.” (H/T: Chris Blattman.)

2. A lawyer’s analysis of Bilbo’s contract in The Hobbit.

3. Tyler Cowen reviews Zero Dark Thirty. He is not impressed. See also this post by Ethan Gach over at the League: “Kathryn Bigelow Trolls Zero Dark Thirty Critics.”

4. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, universities and the IRS are looking at whether (and when) adjuncts are full-time employees and therefore must receive health benefits. Here’s Audrey Williams June in the Chronicle:

Under the new law, which takes effect in January 2014, employees who work at least a 30-hour work week must receive health benefits from their employers. Some colleges are concerned about how to tally up the hours adjuncts spend on the job to determine if they have reached that full-time status. Most adjuncts don’t receive health benefits, and the legislation appeared to pave the way for them to finally get access.

Megan McArdle thinks this will lead to to adjuncts working fewer hours (at least on the books) and teaching fewer classes per adjunct:

I suspect that it is also going to result in a fair number of adjuncts getting cut back to whatever number of courses-per-semester that the IRS deems to be indisputably “part time”. Despite spending a fair amount of time researching college costs, I still don’t understand why universities and colleges feel that they cannot afford to pay so many of their teaching staff even minimal salary and benefits. What we know is that whatever their feelings, they have been relying on adjuncts who get paid an absurdly low hourly rate, often without benefits, in exchange for the right to call themselves “professor” and continue seeking a tenure-track job.

I also find it plausible…that colleges will go to great lengths to cut down on the number of full-time-eligible adjuncts. That probably means teaching loads that cannot support even the extremely minimalist lifestyle of those who are currently adjuncting. In urban areas, part-time adjuncts can probably string together multiple gigs into something resembling a normal income, at some added cost of stress. In more rural locations where there are only one or two colleges in driving distance, that probably won’t work.

So, we could end up with even more non-tenure-track adjunct positions, with lower salaries. Lovely.

Steve Saideman also has thoughts here and here. A taste:

The IRS is now pushing universities to more accurately count the hours adjunct faculty work. Why? Because universities seem to be as scummy as some of the big businesses that are cutting back on the hours of workers to evade the requirements of Obamacare.

Of course, this should not be surprising since the proliferation of adjunct positions is in large part due to the strategies of universities to avoid paying the expenses (that would be benefits) that accrue to tenured and tenure track faculty.

5. Today is Martin Luther King Day. Many people, on my Facebook feed and elsewhere, are posting quotes from the “I Have a Dream” speech, or (less often) from other speeches. Due in no small part to my general contrariness (I like to swim orthogonal to the current), I prefer to look to the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963. It is a truly remarkable letter, one that rewards close study. Near the beginning of his correspondence to his fellow Christian ministers, Dr. King explains “why I am here in Birmingham” (all emphases added):

I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented,…

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

The Letter offers a lucid, succinct overview of the theory and practice of non-violent direct action:

You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One part of the Letter includes a list of grievances reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence, but of a different character and tenor than Jefferson’s document. The long bill of particulars operates rhetorically like steady, repeated hammer blows:

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “n—-r,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Finally, Dr. King includes a discussion of natural law and a justification of civil disobedience to unjust laws:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

These last quoted paragraphs nicely illustrate the breadth and the ecumenical nature of Dr. King’s scholarship and writing.

Over at Crooked Timber, Corey Robin has some other thoughts about the Letter.

(Imagre credit: CIA via Wikimedia Commons.)


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