Saturday, March 27, 2004

Wearing the Union Label

I also tried to go to the TAA's (Teaching Assistant Association – the graduate student labor union at UW, organized under the banner of the AFT) general membership meeting Thursday evening. It was well-attended from what I could tell. But one kind of obvious thing should have gotten my attention about the premise of the meeting – that it was a members meeting. People were lined up outside, and a woman tried to bring order to chaos by having us line up in two groups, according to our last names. That's when I realized. I asked the woman point blank about this, and she said that yes, you had to be a member to attend. But if I just got in this other line, I could sign up right then and there. I just barely overheard her say that as I walked away, eventually going home.

Why didn't I sign up, you ask? Two reasons. First, there are weird technicalities about whether I can join now, because I'm not actually in the bargaining unit until next fall. Until then, although I get some benefits like subsidized health care, I can only be a kind of proxy member. I didn't want to mess with that, or the membership fee I'd have to pay. But the second reason was more substantive, and has largely been vindicated by the TAA's behavior of late.

You might think that, given that I will soon (starting this fall) have to pay the same membership fee full members pay anyway, that I might as well join. The TAA, like all grad student unions, operates as a union-shop. In compliance with the Taft-Hartley Act, they cannot compel membership or “closed” shops. But the law allows them to have it written into the contract that all employees, members and non-members alike, pay the membership fee. The reasoning is, well, the union still acts on behalf of the non-members, and the non-members get certain benefits from the TAA's actions. “It's just as justifiable as compulsory taxation!,” they argue. (Hmm...) This also helps the TAA to encourage people to become full members when they might not otherwise bother; I received TAA propaganda making this very argument when I first arrived here. “You already pay the fee, so why not join, and play a role in decision making?” Obnoxious.

But aside from being obnoxious, why not join? Simple – I don't want to participate in illegal strikes, or be castigated by the Unionistas for choosing not to participate in one. And if there is something compelling about the TAA's claims that joining symbolizes solidarity and the like, then there is an equally compelling argument that joining morally sanctions the TAA's existence and nature. I don't necessarily object to the idea of, say, graduate students organizing on an ad hoc basis to pressure regents or other authority figures for specific grievances. But public choice theory (and personal experience) says a lot about established organizations operating in political contexts; they do not serve a purpose and “whither away,” like Marx's post-Communist State, they only demand more in terms of power and money. The TAA, in effect, operates as a permanently established special interest. But what makes it worse than that is that it's motivated by almost undiluted Marxist ideology; membership would give it extra power to wreck havoc in my professional life, and to a large extent, in my educational and personal life. I won't sanction such an organization with my voluntary membership. They can force me to pay for them, but they can't force me to like them or support them morally.

To be sure, I have thought about joining from time to time, in hopes of being a voice of reason that could moderate the TAA and make them less Marxist, and more rational. But based on events of the last few weeks, that would be futile, self-defeating gesture. I don't want to play the martyr, or get actively involved with this. Besides, the leadership cabal of the TAA has already decided they want to mount their illegal strike. Today, I saw some of the minutes from the meeting, and it looks they're planning to hold the big vote in a few weeks. I'm betting it will pass. The minutes handed out at the meeting, true to form, only contained material about why striking was a good idea, and why it was imperative to plan it, and why the negative consequences were easy to mitigate. (Here's what their website says about their meeting.) I don't get the sense that they want an open debate. They want to strike, and will serve as the vanguard of the graduate student proletariat, leading us into the strike they think will shake the regents and state government to its knees.

For what, you are probably asking? What abuses could motivate such a reaction? No, UW hasn't violated any contracts, and there are no abuses of “graduate workers” I've seen cited anywhere. You see, the leadership doesn't like the new contract the State offered them. It only increases pay by a modest 1% instead of the 5% the TAA wants, and even worse, the State wants graduates to pay (I think) $9 a month for their health insurance, instead of getting it for free, as they do now. If it's such a bad contract, why not pass it on to the members to vote down? Instead, they've decided it's worse-case scenario time, and they want to strike. Please. $9 a month is nothing when you consider how much the cost of health care is increasing for everyone. I wouldn't be surprised if the State is actually paying significantly more for this contract than it is for the previous contract, even with the extra $9. We do get free tuition, after all, and that has to cost the State something substantial considering how the price of that is going up. I'm still unclear on why graduate students should retain free health care when everyone else's costs are skyrocketing – what makes us so special so as to be free from basic economic laws? Oh, that's right – to each according to their need.

So yeah. That's why I'm not joining. Even if it's kind of useless to stop the abuses its framers wanted to stop, I suppose Taft-Hartley is better than nothing. At least this way, I can cross picket lines with greater ease, as a non-member. I only hope that the Unionistas remember their distinction between members who don't go along with the strike, and non-members who don't go a long with the union. If they treat us as scabs, I'll only be more vindicated in my decision.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Foreign Leaders for Kerry

Crude, not terribly subtle, but Kerry brought it upon himself. Quite silly and humorous.
He Who Lives By The Sword...

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, an advocate of mass murder of innocent people, is introduced to his maker. Yes, in an ideal world, the Palestinians would have allowed Israeli police to arrest him and put him on trial for war crimes. But given the situation, this was probably the only viable alternative open to the Israelis. The reaction of the Palestinian Authority, as well as most political entities in the Middle East, reveals much about how much they truly revere human life. Arafat, for his part, is calling for several days of mourning for the loss of a "prophet-martyr." Truly disgusting.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

A Pet Peeve About National Review Online...

As a libertarian, I know what to expect when I surf over to National Review Online. I'll see weird stuff about gays and religion, but otherwise I'll often find well-written and insightful commentary about politics and economics. Derbyshire's homophobia is grating, and Jonah Goldberg can be an ass, particularly when he addresses libertarian ideas he can't refute, but the thing that bothers me more than anything else is Meghan Cox Gurdon's Fever Swamp column. Archive of Fever Swamp here, the most recent Fever Swamp is here.

Mind you, I rarely read it – and when I do, it's with the same fascination people have with auto accidents. For those who don't know, Fever Swamp is little more than than Ms. Gurdon's stories about life at home, raising her little kids. She's a stay-at-home mom – nothing wrong with that. But I think what's weird is this idea that Gurdon, and NRO, think that their readers would actually care about what little Timmy did at his school play, or what cute thing little Suzy said the other day.

Yes, NRO is free, so I'm getting what I paid for. Yes, I don't have to read it, so NRO is hardly ripping me or anyone else off. But I'm thinking that they could easily have another column in the place of Fever Swamp that would actually address topics that NRO is supposed to be covering. You know, like politics and economics. Sometimes arts and culture.

I suspect that that what's behind Fever Swamp is this glorification of the stay-at-home mom and her misadventures. I postulate here, contrary to cultural conservatives and feminists, that there is nothing superior or inferior about the choice to be a stay-at-home mom. My own mom was one. But this entails that being a stay-at-home mom is about as valuable as any other vocation. So why does NRO not feature a column written by, say, an architect about interesting things he does at work? Or from a lawyer, about interesting adventures she faces as she litigates a lawsuit? Hell, why not something from a politician, even someone as lowly as a state representative?

No, of all vocations, they choose the stay-at-home mom, who rarely writes anything even remotely witty or interesting, unless you're the type who loves “America's Funniest Home Videos,” “Kids Say The Darnest Things,” or Anne Geddes photography. And I think this is why – in their eyes, the stay-at-home mom is a kind of moral ideal for women, far above the architect, attorney or scientist. So these stories she writes, for them, carry a significance and meaning above these other forms of work – at least for women. (Mere speculation here – take it only as such – but it's almost like the implicit message here is, “Us men (and the occasional exception like Kathryn Jean Lopez) do politics, economics and sometimes culture. You women do that child-rearing and caretaking thing, so this should appeal more to you.”)

This is what NRO says about Gurdon: Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist. Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family will permit. Her NRO column, "The Fever Swamp" appears weekly.

Anyway. Perhaps this is merely the same knee-jerk reaction I have against things that are so cute they are disgusting, like the aforementioned Geddes. But Geddes photography is something you have to seek out. I think I wouldn't give a tinker's dam were it not for the fact that Gurdon's column is in an inappropriate place - an online journal of ideas.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

One of my leftist friends (she's an artist) in Boston just sent me this:

> OK. I'm sending this out far and wide, knowing it will annoy some, and interest many. I wanna do something about this, and I think it's time to figure out what. Another exhibition? Performances at the DNC this summer convenient for many of us here in Boston? Ideas?
> Am working on idea for a new show-- will send that and more substantial update before April Fools.
> As for the video, This is too good and it's true. Pass it on.
> Peace,

Here's what I wrote:

Maybe I should be emailing, instead of you, but honestly, this is kind of weak. The first citation from Rummy is an expression of uncertainty, which was pretty accurate for the time it was uttered - there was a perceived threat. Some dismissed it out of hand, and others like Rummy thought there was enough to consider it within the realm of possiblity - 5-7 years down the road.

The second quotation is potentionally more troublesome, but there it's a comparative claim. Of nations on the Earth, he claimed Iraq was a more imminant threat than any other; not that it was an imminent threat simpliciter. Indeed, in the run-up before the war, Bush actually specifically said that the threat from Iraq was not imminent, and that we should go to war with them before the threat became imminent. (If you'd like, I could track that quotation down). I think the logic was basically - hit them now, pre-emptively, while it's still a cakewalk, instead of waiting 5-10 years when Iraq turns into an intractable Middle Eastern North Korea.

That said, Rummy was a little off - I'd consider North Korea more dangerous, but then, he probably could have argued that the Koreans could be contained, and that they hadn't engaged in violence since 1953. They had more potential for trouble, but they were more predictable than Iraq. I don't think I would've agreed, but there was certainly a lot of ground for that kind of argument.

So I think MoveOn needs a little sense of proportion. Using those quotations to justify "censuring", much less "impeachment," is totally myopic. Worse of all, it undermines the impact of more level-headed analyses that would argue that, on balance, the war wasn't such a hot idea. (And this is probably an issue of taste, but I was mildly offended that they ended the clip right before Rummy had a chance to explain himself. I would've liked to have seen what he said.) I mean, I have ideological issues about the role of gov't, and whether it should play Superman whenever a tin-pot dictator arises somewhere, but I have to give the people behind this war credit - I expected a bloodbath, but they handled this way better than I considered possible.

Anyway. All that said, I'd still love to see what you and your partners in crime craft in response. If any photos or anything from your proposed show end up online, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I'll post something more substantial here soon. In the meantime, for posterity, I thought I'd inject some traditional Biblical wisdom on the contentious topic of marriage. Yes, I know I'm not the first to do this, but I'm doing it anyway.

The Bible on Marriage
“Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women.”
Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5

“Marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives.”
II Sam 5:13; Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21

“A Marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed.”
Deut 22:13-21

“Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden.”
Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30

“Since marriage is for life, no government or law shall be able to permit divorce.”
Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9

“If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother’s widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law.”
Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

But Cthulhu Didn't Die For Your Sins...

Just when I thought the classic Cthulhu/Chick parody was gone forever, it's back on the web, but only until Chick's lawyers are tipped off that it's still up. Why was it removed in the first place? See here for Howard Hallis's story. (Hallis was the artist who created the parody.)

I think Hallis should have stuck to his guns and defended his fair-use rights, but I don't blame him for deciding it wasn't worth it. Here's what happened to someone else who ran into trouble with Chickie lawyers.

I think it really comes down to several points, all of which Chick fails. One, it's not like this is so propriety that he's not putting it online. If that were the case, (like if this were artwork from an issue of "Sandman"), Chick might have been worried that someone would have enjoyed the artwork without buying his tract. That's kind of absurd in a case like this - if we want to "enjoy" his artwork, we can do so for free on his own website.

The other relevant question is, would Hallis have received financial benefits from publishing Chick's artwork? I don't see how. If this were like the sort of case that motivated the original copyright laws, like if he was selling his own pirated copies of Chick's original tract or one of his own with Chick's artwork appropriated for the task, then Chick would be well within his rights to demand Hallis stop. But Hallis's parody was only available on the web, and not for pay. I can't see how its existence in any way would have affected Chick's bottom line.

In short, no harm, no foul.
The Sun Goes Down, and the World Goes Dancing

Well, except for the kids, anyway...

Couple Tie Up 1-Year-Old Child So They Can Go Out Dancing...

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Supporters of campaign finance reform, take note.

RNC tells TV stations not to run anti-Bush ads
GOP committee says's spots are illegally financed

You see, this is why those of us who opposed your proposed campaign reforms argued that these laws would violate freedom of speech. Do you understand what we meant, now? And what we meant when we argued that this would only strengthen incumbents and make it harder for those who want to defeat them?

The thing is, I agree with Ed Gillepsie here. McCain-Feingold absolutely makes's funding of these ads illegal. I suspect the next logical step for the campaign finance reformers is to mastermind some mechanism for either having the government pay for advertising, or to force TV stations to provide airtime for such ads for free. Stranger has happened.