Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Talk About Mercenary: Horowitz and Co. Strike--out--Again

One of this year's howler understatements: a hallmark characteristic of David Horowitz and company's Students for Academic Freedom is its casual relationship with the truth. No surprise, yes? This, however, marks a particularly outrageous departure from anything remotely like journalistic integrity-one that I think we ought to scream from the very tops of our ivory towers.

On December 17th SAF posted a New York Sun story about a Princeton student, Francisco Nava who was allegedly assaulted-allegedly-for his conservative beliefs. Writer Annie Karni describes the incident:

"An outcry from students and faculty at Princeton University is rattling the campus here after a student who is leading a movement to instill conservative moral values among undergraduates was physically attacked Friday, beaten, and rendered unconscious in a rare incidence of violence within the Ivy League.
The incident is prompting an outcry from conservative students and faculty who say they feel singled out by the Princeton administration and the majority of the student body, who have remained silent in the face of what many say is a politically charged attack.

A politics major from Texas who is a junior, Francisco Nava, was assaulted about two miles from campus in Princeton Township by two black-clad men who pinned him against a wall and repeatedly bashed his head against the bricks, he told the student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, in an interview."

Trouble is, the only thing true about this story is that Nava is a conservative politics major from Texas. That's right, and as I pen this, the story's still running at SAF. Here's the story from the AP wire yesterday morning, December 18th:

"A Princton University student who argued that his conservative views were not accepted on the campus confessed to fabricating an assault and sending threatening e-mail messages to himself and some friends who shared his views, authorities said Monday. Princeton Township police said that Francisco Nava was not immediately charged with any crime, but that the investigation was continuing. Nava claimed to have been assaulted Friday by two men off campus, police said. But he later confessed that scrapes and scratches on his face were self-inflicted, and that the threats were his work too, said detective Sgt. Ernie Silagyi. A spokeswoman from the Ivy League university said punishment could range from a warning to expulsion, was pending Monday."

That's Monday, December 17th, which means that the SAF folks likely knew that Nava's story was at least suspicious when they ran Karni's piece. And indeed, this pans out as well. A cursory Google search of the story reveals that it was unraveling by later Monday. Yet here we are Wednesday morning, the 19th, and not only has it not been pulled from SAF, no apology to their (however erstwhile) readers has been issued for having run it without investigating the facts it in the first place.

In fact, the whole thing's even uglier: in the Sun article, Karni reports that Nava "wrote a death threat using an anti-homosexual slur, the Web site reported this morning. Mr. Nava's roommate at Groton was a founder of the Gay-Straight Alliance, according to the Web site. ‘Evidently he did it once when he was a student at the Groton School,' a professor of jurisprudence, Robert George, confirmed to The New York Sun." Yet despite the fact that suspicion tainted Nava's story right from the beginning, it's announced on SAF as if it were a done deal: "Violence Rattles Princeton."

Here are the facts: Nava was not beaten (at least not by anyone but himself); he was not beaten unconscious; he has a history of fabricating just this sort of drama; people knew it. Honestly, what else can we infer from this other than that D-Ho and company will grab at absolutely anything in order to trash academia? That when SAF folks got wind of a possible beating of a conservative student from an Ivy League school, they became psychotically giddy at the prospect of getting to, well, beat up a big name university? They did get this much right, Nava is a conservative student; from the AP wire:

"Nava, a 23-year-old junior politics major from Bedford, Texas, found himself at the center of one campus controversy recently when he wrote a column for the student newspaper criticizing the school for giving out free condoms, which he said encouraged a dangerous "hook-up culture.""

But this hardly matters. Nava had ample opportunity for conservative political activism at Princeton. As Karni points out, "[w]ith an active Republicans Club, a pro-life club, three major Evangelical groups, and the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions that is led by Professor George, Princeton University is considered one of the Ivy League's more conservative campuses." In other words, for Nava, these opportunities weren't good enough so he faked a beating to get Princeton to stop offering free condoms. For Horowitz and company, however, the story doesn't end there. So hell-bent on destroying academia as we currently understand it, no school is off limits for a SAF attack-even those, like Princeton, who'd seem a little closer to their apparently condom-free (not to mention gay-free) vision of American higher education (not that this is necessarily true of Princeton; conservative students groups need not be composed of Horowitz-crazies).

So here's my take: A graduate of the David Horowitz School of Political Opportunism and Moral Self-Righteousness, Nava deployed a strategy worthy of his own on-line "teachers"-he lied in order to make it look like conservative students are getting a bad deal at Princeton. Scrapes, cuts, and all, he just didn't lie well enough to be convincing. But as Horowitz' bedfellows go, he's now paid his membership dues to that erstwhile brother (and sister)hood at SAF.

Lucky young man.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

New Years Resolutions, Property Taxes, and Corporate Greed

In the spirit of the coming new year, and inspired by Joe Bageant’s riotous Deer Hunting with Jesus, I’d like to suggest a holiday resolution: Let’s disabuse ourselves of one big myth that’s bedeviled us for too long, one whopper that divides our communities and threatens our children’s educations.

The myth I have in mind is that property taxes are the primary culprit for home foreclosures. This is false, and accomplishes nothing more than playing the foil for those who’d put an end to that bulwark of democracy, publicly funded education. Proposals like the School Property Tax Elimination Act of 2007 are designed to under-fund public education, the consequences of which would be felt most painfully by those who can least afford them. Districts like Benton whose teachers offer high quality education at bargain basement prices would be among the first to feel the fallout of such ill-advised and unnecessary measures—ill-advised because a boon for big business is hardly relief for the working poor; unnecessary because the more responsible culprits are not hard to find. They’re just not folks we can point to—like our neighbors.

It doesn’t take the rocket scientist to see that corporations like Exxon, Walmart, the HMOs, and the big pharmaceuticals have an open hand in our wallets. We blame the unions for demanding the expensive stuff we all want—livable wages, decent working conditions, health insurance—because the costs encourage the outsourcing of labor to places like Mexico and India. But then we resent what’s in fact the direct consequence of our failure to organize for better, namely, the very wages that insure we’ll never be more than a paycheck away from foreclosure—God forbid we get sick. We’re walking contradictions looking for someone to blame—and who better than teachers? Those unionized state employees who get to enjoy the suspicion meted out against the “book smart”? To the rejoinder that Exxon is just how free enterprise works, no it isn’t. They and others enjoy substantial government subsidies and tax breaks—all at our expense.

It’s not surprising that nationalist hate groups gain a foothold on our frazzled nerves; when your among the 47 million Americans without access to healthcare, living on the minimum wage, driving a “POS,” and working night shift for the pay differential, it’s got to be a comfort to think it’s someone else’s fault. And in some important ways, it is. The trick is to see that the fault is not your neighbor’s (unless your neighbor’s Exxon/Monsanto/Blue Cross), and that the enemies those fear-mongering “patriots” make up for you—“leftists,” liberals,” “feminists,” “gays,” “democrats,” “atheists,”—are intended to convert you from being your neighbor’s neighbor into being the neighbor whose righteous anger needs a target. Still, the property tax myth only works when it’s all stirred up by an equally mythical nostalgia, you know, the chicken-in-every-pot story. Never mind that this America never existed for many citizens. It’s still the story that makes the “haves” cling ever more tightly onto what they know they could lose to credit card debt. The “have-nots” are the ones who unionized, agitated for civil rights, and demanded equal pay for equal work. They’re the ones that nationalists like the Renew America folk vilify for taking away “our” America.

Make a New Year’s resolution: Don’t buy simple-minded hype that makes your neighbor into your enemy. Ask yourself the harder question: Where do the nickels and dimes really go? If the answer is gasoline, medicine, doctor appointments, it’s not your neighbor who’s your enemy; it’s the institutionalized greed concealed by slick propaganda like “Falling prices,” “We’re here to help,” and “Beyond Petroleum.”

Wendy Lynne Lee

600 words

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jamie Glazov's Frontpagemag Interview with Professor Daphne Patai

I wonder if Professor Daphne Patai appreciates what strange company she keeps sidling up to David Horowitz and including herself among the ignominious likes of Ann Coulter and Rick Santorum in support of Islamofascism Awareness Week (IFAW). Strange bedfellows for an academic with her credentials—especially given Horowitz’ slapdash relationship with the truth and Coulter’s unquenchable thirst for attention. For Pete’s sake, Professor Patai, it’s not academic smugness that compels my query; a few minutes of honest research makes it abundantly clear that Horowitz’ “Freedom Center” is about anything but freedom.

Don't get me wrong, I neither support nor condone shouting down or otherwise disrupting pretty much any invited speaker to a campus—even Horowitz, Coulter, or Rick Santorum—however it may be that future historians are likely to record their rants as psychotic. I can hope that the legacy of IFAW will be that campus groups will be more thoughtful about whose solicitation to speak they’ll accept. I can certainly wish that student groups, especially the Young Republicans, will see that they’ve been exploited to ends they may really not endorse, and I can hope that Horowitz’ unprepared, incoherent, and adolescent ramblings at Columbia ends his speaker tenure there. Ahmadinejad may be dead-in-the-water wrong, but he neither rambled nor whined. Horowitz did. Nevertheless, if we, the critics of Horowitz and company, wish to be taken seriously—and I think we must be—we must also encourage the rational engagement that befits us as scholars and academics. After all, we in fact stand on the side of free exchange—and that’s what makes Professor Patai’s interview with Jamie Glazov so peculiar and disappointing.

I should point out that I’m no fan of anyone’s religious fanaticism. In fact, part of what I think the Horowitz camp just doesn’t get (or to which they’re willfully blind) is that what many of those noisy protesters at the IFAW “presentations” were trying to expose is the egregious hypocrisy involved in singling out fanatical Islam as if it were the world’s only example of religiously motivated oppression and terroristic violence. This is, of course, laughably false as is amply demonstrated in the work, for example, of Joe Bageant, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett—not to mention many of the feminists Patai ignores. What makes this point even more poignant, however, is that two of the above pundits, Coulter and Santorum, are poster children for Christian Nationalists whose message is clear: Our (Christian) fanaticism is the right fanaticism and your Islamic fanaticism is the wrong fanaticism. God’s on the side of our anti-Semitic, racist, heterosexist oppression, not yours.

In her interview with Glazov, Patai asks: “Do these students not understand that radical Muslims are serious? Have they failed to notice that these Islamists act on their beliefs and kill those who do not agree with them? And that their targets include political dissenters, Jews, Christians, other Muslims, homosexuals, writers, filmmakers, women who are thought to have transgressed, apostates, critics, infidels of all kinds – the list goes on and on.” Patai criticizes what she perceives as a failure particularly of Women’s Studies academics to interrogate Islamic religious fanaticism, but she fails to ask the same questions about fanatical Christianity: “Do these students not understand that these Christian ideologues act on their beliefs and have killed those who don’t agree with them? That their targets include political dissenters, Jews, Muslims, other Christians, homosexuals, writers, filmmakers, women, apostates, and infidels of all kinds?” It’s not like we have to go back to the Inquisition or the Boxer Wars to find these examples. Coulter’s promotion of the forced conversion of Muslims to Christianity and her stunning remarks about how Christians are perfected Jews is cut of the same cloth as the Jihadist’s “striving in the way of God.” As Bageant puts it in Deer Hunting with Jesus, “The push toward theocracy and the infiltration of mainstream Protestantism by religious extremists was one of the biggest underreported political stories of the second half of the twentieth century” (p. 168). Right on Bageant; how could Patai miss this? She’s not living in the outback. She lives in Massachusetts—and has access to books and the Internet.

Am I paranoid to think that it might just be the ideological coup of the 21st century that the hysteria fomented by Horowitz and his minions serves an exceptionally effective dual purpose? First as a smokescreen to distract our attention away from the Freedom Center’s real agenda, namely, to exorcise academia of academic freedom and to substitute right-wing indoctrination for real scholarship and pedagogy? Second, to create an enemy in Islam so vile that it can be utilized as a recruiting tool for Christian Nationalists? Horowitz can point it out until the cows come home that he’s Jewish, but this fact didn’t raise a peep of protest from him over Coulter’s patently anti-Semitic remarks to Donny Deutsch—who’s also Jewish. But Maybe I’m nuts and Horowitz isn’t driven by ideology at all, just crass opportunism. In either case, Patai ought to know better than to encourage either his anti-Constitutional martyrdom or his fixated narcissism.

Patai claims to be (or has been) a feminist scholar. Fine, I take this at face value. So then how then can she ignore the wealth of feminist scholarship and criticism of religion? Many feminists are loathe to single out Islam for the special condemnation that Horowitz demands and, apparently, Patai endorses. But, as she should know, to do so would be a grotesque misrepresentation of history. As feminist scholars of religion show, there’s plenty of blame to go around, especially with respect to the oppression of women and indigenous peoples (for a partial list of these scholars please see this post). How can Patai have missed scholars like Saba Mahmood? Is it because she thinks that the only feminist scholarship worthy of the name is work that condemns in totality everything Islamic? How is this scholarship at all, and not just ideological declaration? History is vastly more complex than the “us against them” mentality Horowitz and company invite, and it’s just mystifying why Professor Patai would descend to what she knows is not merely simplistic but, in being so, false. Islam isn’t that special, it’s just a superbly convenient foil for the mission of the opposing religious fascism.

Horowitz’ aim is certainly not the bolstering of Women’s Studies programs. No, he’s quite clear: Women’s Studies is a nothing but a tool for recruiting the man-haters of the next generation’s feminists and should, as such, be eliminated. Does Patai endorse this too? Seems self-destructive, but apparently so: “As far as I can tell, there is not a great deal of teaching of a critical kind going on in women’s studies programs about Islamic fundamentalism and the particular dangers it represents, or about how Sharia operates in countries where it is enforced.” Really, Professor Patai? Or is it that a professor’s responsibility is to get her/his students to think for themselves about such religious practices—no matter whose they are—as opposed to simply telling them whom and what to condemn? Does Professor Patai really think that fanatical Isalm is the only threat to global stability? I find this hard to imagine given that religion itself is only one part of a much larger story which includes, for example, the end of Peak Oil, the growing abyss between the global wealthy and the global poor, and the daunting human population shifts portended by global climate change.

She continues: “It’s been more than ten years since I parted company from the women’s studies program at my own university, out of dismay at its narrow politics and lack of intellectual seriousness. But I still follow the field and read what academic feminists say and how they define their programs, and I participate in discussions on the Women’s Studies E-mail List (WMST-L). I can tell you that identity politics continue to prevail, and this means that everyone is supercautious about which groups may be criticized, which not, and who is entitled to make criticisms.” Really? Last time I checked, these lists were quite lively with debate. Perhaps what Professor Patai sees as “supercautious” is what I’d call mutual respect for differences of opinion—and the desire to keep the dialogue going. Perhaps, like Horowitz—though sadly—anything short of “us against them” damnation doesn’t rate for her as an adequate response to Sharia. I would, of course, love to see her evidence for this failure.

Instead what I come away with from this interview is hypocrisy. Professor Patai appears to have signed on to the Horowitzean mission to repress accounts of Western history that implicate the United States or Christianity—or men—in the manufacture of contemporary religious fanaticism. But history articulates a far more complex and nuanced vocabulary than what propaganda machines like IFAW would have us speak. The issue here is not whether feminist analyses of religious fanaticism are adequate; that’s the kind of scholarly quest Professor Patai has opted to jettison in favor of the undemanding vocabulary of “us against them.” No, the issue is how a seasoned professional could fail to see that behind the thin veil of propaganda like IFAW lay not a shred of concern for the status of women—Islamic or otherwise—but instead a vision of “how things ought to be” that puts Horowitz and Ahmadinejad in the same bed. Patai concludes the interview with a lament: “I’d like to make it clear that I still believe being a professor and scholar is a noble calling, but it will remain that only as long as we don’t turn it into politics. I’m dismayed that many academics have abandoned a commitment to their profession as anything other than a venue for their political activism.” In other words, scholarship resistant to professing the “right” politics of Horowitzean nationalism isn’t scholarship. Where’s you evidence, Professor Patai? What double speak, and how disappointing.

Wendy Lynne Lee

This blog post can also be found at:

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Postscript to the Death of the Patriot's Voice Forum

Having received word from Bravenet that the Patriot's Voice was indeed ordered to remove the slanderous posts from their forum, it now seems clear that this was the motive for Robert Runyon's decision to shut down the libel-factory. No doubt they'll scream that their first amendment rights have been violated, but just as you oughtn't to yell fire in a crowded theater, you oughtn't to make false and vicious accusations of your fellows. Freedom of expression is indeed a right--and so it is a responsibillity. Will they have learned this? Probably not. The last few forum posts were devoted to their martyrdom and victimhood (I learned to keep copies of the whole shootin' match a long time ago). How smarmy.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Death of the Patriot's Voice' Anything-but-Open Forum, and the Moral to be Drawn

On November 10th, Robert Runyon, self-declared CEO of the far-right wing Christian Identity wannabe group, the Patriot's Voice (PV), decided to call it quits on the PV-Forum. Although touted as an "open" forum for discussion of timely political topics, the actual forum was anything but. From its inception, it was clearly intended to be used as a rhetorical weapon to counter, and hopefully silence, any possible opposition to the patently anti-Semitic, gay-bashing, monumentally sexist and racist ideology they not only promoted, but insisted was what God intended for human life. Although I know of virtually no Christians who subscribe to the profoundly violent hell-fire and brimstone Christianity the PV espoused, they seemed to be certain that they had the inside track to God's mind--and perhaps they did. Trouble is, their God was nothing more than a projected invention that they aspired to impose on the struggling communities of rural Pennsylvania--prime recruiting ground for hate groups.

What Patriot's Voice members did not comprehend was that the opposition came equipped with an arsenal that they simply were not prepared to deal with, and, turns out, could not compete with, namely reason, respect for evidence, tenacity, and an investment in what education can accomplish. Indeed, I have never encountered people who--although they sought to gain community power by running for school board seats--trashed education, educators, literature, and science with such ferocity.

At first, and for several years, local folks looking for scapegoats for the depressed economies of their towns, suspicious of intellectuals, and always ready for another round of religious confirmation, bought into the PV stump speech of "property tax reform." People just didn't see that all it took was a casual trip to their website--with its celebration of Joseph McCarthy, and its page for vigillantes ready to lynch people accused of child molestation without benefit of a trial conviction--and the property tax front evaporated into the fear-mongering rhetoric of a bonafide hate group.

But then--as folks like myself and others began to challenge the PV on their facts, their assumptions, and their always ad hominem strategies--their assaults on their critics began to become more vicious, more shrill, more slanderous, and more personal. Indeed, one day an anonymous poster calling him/herself "BU (Bloomsburg University) Conservative" posted an attack on me that crossed the line from slanderous to libelous. PV-Members, predictably, alighted on this like vultures on fresh carrion--thinking that because they could access one document from my long-ago divorce on-line that they somehow magically understood the entire case. Needless to say, they didn't, but this didn't stop them from repeating the libelous claims over and over--adding their own embelished flourishes, employing loaded words like "charges," calling me all the names that have called me for years with renewed vigor. Some posters even began to level thinly veiled threats, claiming that the PV had been civil to me for long enough (ha!), but that now the "party's over " and "gloves are off."

Trouble was that at this same time they were running their most attack-dog members as school board candidates for the November 6th elections. So people were checking out their website, and my hunch is that they saw how truly malignant their "open forum" was-- a cyberspace assault rifle used against anyone who dared oppose them. They lost the elections.

Even this set-back, however, did not slow down their relentless--not to mention false--attack on my personal life. Finally I had had enough, and I sent literally hundreds of their assault posts--including the libelous ones--to their server, Bravenet. After all, their webmaster, Robert Runyon, had posted a clear set of rules in the forum's cyber-foyer which unambiguously forbade personal assault. He didn't mean a word of it, of course, and the forum ran from beginning to end on a track built of battery. Within days of my report Runyon called the forum quits. Was it just uncanny coincedence? Unlikely. Dollars to donuts, he was instructed to either enforce the rules or shut down the infamous killing grounds, and because Runyon was not likely to be able to coral his minions and cohorts into anything even resembling civil behavior, he didn't have much choice.

So, chalk one up for the first amendment. Not even the most vile of personal assault was effective in silencing me--and this is not because I'm uber-brave, or even uber-sure of myself; it's because the arguments and evidence I consistently offered to counter their bigotry were the arguments that anyone willing to use their heads instead of appealing to their fears can come up with.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Some relevant contributions to the Press Enterprise's (the regional newspaper) "30 Seconds":

11.12. Is it coincidence that within days of reporting the PV-Forum to Bravenet for possible libel, Runyon posts: “in a few short days this forum comes up for renewal and I am declining the continuance just so you pinheads will have to use other means for reason to unjustly attacking people who were and are about saving public education”? Unlikely. Or take Lysk’s “The forum was fun and we decided to end it, but we're not going away, because it's so much fun to play with bleeding heart socialist and watch them have a melt down”? More likely, they were told to follow their own rules and saw that the jig—using the Internet as a weapon to silence critics—was up. Lesson: Libel and false accusation are not “discussion.”

11.13. What do you bet that once the PV-server, Bravenet, was informed that the forum functions almost solely as a vehicle for character assassination, they told PV-Runyon to either enforce the rules, or shut it down? Runyon can’t enforce the rules without muzzling and hence alienating his fellows, especially PV-Lysk and the Hellers. So, despite a futile attempt at disclaiming responsibility and blaming others, that notorious cyberspace trashing-machine known as “the PV-forum” is no more. A first amendment victory, the message is clear: neither reason nor evidence can be trampled by slander and verbal brutality. In the end reason does always win—and with it, the only freedom that matters, that is, freedom in justice

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Islamofascism Awareness Week: Expensive, But Still the Same Old David Horowitz

Having glossed countless FrontPageMag promotional accounts of Islamofascism Awareness Week, having read David Horowitz’ War Blog on each of its wearisome days, having absorbed the big fat hype about how it was the largest conservative student demonstration ever, the unmistakable impression I have finally come away with is that the whole thing was a set-up.

Yep, Islamofascism Week is a big fat ploy to accomplish the same old Horowitz & Co. mission, namely, to assault and discredit Women’s Studies programs, humanities academics, feminists, and so-called “Leftists” in the interest of transforming academia according to a worldview shared by luminaries like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and the late, but omni-present, Joseph McCarthy.

All classic Horowitz, all very theatrical, all rather predictable—except that he deployed an armory of particularly lethal weapons this time, thereby escalating the tension in a public discourse already made shrill by an unpopular and immoral war, an energy crisis, the status of undocumented workers, looming global climate change, the failure of U.S. healthcare, the upcoming presidential elections—and the recent return of the noose.

In a way “Islamofascism Awareness Week” was a masterful work of double-speak: Deploy religious bigotry against Muslims in order to promote and legitimize a Coulter-style Christian nationalism, excoriate Women’s Studies programs for not doing a better job of unilaterally condemning the treatment of women in Islam in order to attack Women’s Studies for daring to exist at all, and last but not least, provoke a vicious anti-intellectualism in order to agitate for the surveillance and ultimate replacement of the so-called indoctrinating leftist academics with fascist ideologues masquerading as merely conservative scholars.

This was a week made for Horowitz—and all he had to do was ignore a few critical facts, for example, Coulter’s rabid anti-Semitism, or the wealth of feminist scholarship concerning the status of women in religious fundamentalisms, or the plain and simple fact—pointed out to him many times and proven beyond doubt in the Pennsylvania Hearings—that a professor’s real-life politics are not her/his classroom pedagogy.

But ignoring facts appears to be one of the things Horowitz does best, and in this he joins in spirit if not in financing the company of many smaller organizations whose modus operandi is to fear-monger, lie, and bully their way into the effective obsolescence of the Constitution. One such group, the Patriot’s Voice (, torments my small neck of the woods, Northeast Central Pennsylvania by running their members for school board, often exploiting voter apathy to win posts by write-in campaign on the vague promise to “bring accountability” back to public education.

Much like Horowitz’ appeals to “common sense,” “accountability” turns out to be code for the conversion of public education into a form of religious and nationalist indoctrination that rivals any of the theocracies of our terrorist-producing enemies. Amidst their attempts to ban books, keep students from attending Model U.N., slander their critics, and make martyrs for God of themselves, Patriot’s Voice members spout the words of their heroes—Horowitz, O’Reilly, Coulter, and McCarthy among them.

Strange it is, however, that one must strain to hear any whisper of, say, the compassion or respect for justice of a Jesus.

So Islamofascism week came and went. Some folks protesting Horowitz at Emory behaved badly, and that is indeed unfortunate because I, for one, want to hear what he has to say. How else can I formulate a response to the kind of danger his view of the world represents? How else can I come to understand the intimate relationship between organizations like Horowitz’ grotesquely misnamed Freedom Center and the Oxymoronic Patriot’s Voice? Horowitz’ strategies are, no doubt, far more media savvy—as Islamofascism week demonstrates—but his motives are no less those of thugs despite their apparent sophistication.

Like the Patriot’s Voice, Horowitz claims to represent the voiceless—oppressed college students in his case, taxpayers and the alleged victims of unionized teachers in the Patriot’s Voice case—but both in fact represent not people at all but ideologies so anathema to the very first amendment rights that protect them that I begin to wonder if, like Stephen Colbert, their intent is to satire.

I wish.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Saturday, October 20, 2007

David Horowitz, Women’s Studies, and Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

Of all the opportunities to be intellectually flabbergasted offered by David Horowitz and FrontPageMag’s ludicrously named “Islamo-fascism Awareness Week” the one that takes my cake involves Horowitz’ claim that feminists and Women’s Studies advocates have not taken seriously the status of women in Islam. Clearly Horowitz simply does not read (and has no doubt never read) Vandana Shiva, Uma Narayan, or Alison Jaggar—just to name a few. Obviously, he’s not familiar with the well-known work of environmentally oriented feminists like Karen Warren, Christine Cuomo, or even my own modest contributions to analyzing the status of women—nationally and internationally—in light of the economic, social, political, and environmental complexities that characterize it. No, what Horowitz really means is that because few feminists are willing to throw in their lot with his crusade to crucify Islam, we’re not his kind of feminists. Because we’re willing to give equal time to the analysis of the patriarchal and heterosexist practices of, say Ann Coulter’s Christianity for bigots—we aren’t even his kind of women.

The truth is that this is just Horowitz’ latest attempt to hijack the language of the so-called Left, or in this case feminism, in the service of his crusade to vilify the work of those who’d dare question the authority of, say, the military-corporate-industrial circle-jerk of the Bush administration, or the “missionary position” women are expected to fulfill as unpaid labor of every kind in the “traditional family,” or the continuing subordination of women in many denominations of the Christian Church. By turning the heat lamp on what few with any sense deny are abuses in Islam, Horowitz effectively erases the history of the Inquisition, ignores the staggering facts of corporate-sponsored labor abuses of women and children in the so-called developing world, skips over the fact that—regardless religion—women perform the vast majority of the world’s subsistence farming—often under environmental conditions so polluted and degraded by companies like Union Carbide and McDonald’s that the children they’re compelled to bear for lack of access to contraceptives starve. Nope, Horowitz doesn’t get to hijack the feminist high road—not on my watch, and not by parading willful ignorance as if it were his own special moment of enlightenment.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reasons to take a course in Critical Thinking (Or: Some Plain Truths about Fallacious Reasoning)

During the course of this series my aim is to post responses to examples of poor reasoning skills, to correct them, and to explain why the reasoning is faulty. Some of these will be situated in the context of my ongoing endeavor to expose the manipulative and bigoted reasoning of hate groups like Pennsylvania's Patriot's Voice, and some will be in response to other examples of faulty logic. The point is to illustrate not only examples of reasoning gone astray, but to show how poor critical thinking skills can lead to conclusions that perpetuate stereotypes, encourage harmful behavior, and sometimes even lead to violence. Many of the fallacies I point out can be and often are employed to extort consent from an audience without having provided them either legitimate evidence or a coherent argument.

My first example amply illustrates this point, and is taken from the Press Enterprise (Bloomsburg, PA) call-in column, 30 Seconds: (

9.10.07. Confirming voter’s wise choice to reject his Berwick primary bid, PV-Runyon demonstrates his weak grasp of basic facts. Confusing natural law for civil law, he claims that “for law to exist it must have authority.” True for alterable civil laws; false for inalterable natural laws. The former are human artifacts; the latter describe the mechanics of the material universe. Neither require a supernatural creator, and even if the latter required an original cause (also false), a physical event like Big Bang neither is nor requires supernatural deity to produce it.

The name of this fallacy is Fallacy of Equivocation: The author confuses two different meanings of a word as if there were only one, in this case "law."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Climate Change: Global Crises Demand Global Cooperation

Among the most interesting aspects of the so-called “debate” over global warming are the ideological agendas of those who would deny it as a “leftist” conspiracy for erecting a one-world government or a “communist” ploy. No evidence supports such allegations. What is clear is that the time for debate is over. Global warming is as well established a fact as any in the scientific literature, and that its current incarnation is fueled and accelerated (literally) by human-manufactured green house gases is supported by overwhelming evidence. The real issue, then, is not whether we are confronted with the potential crises that may result from global warming, but simply what on earth (again, literally) we’re going to do about it. Some suggestions:

• It’s high time we put aside the silly notion that global warming is the latest conspiracy of the “left.” Fact is, if we don’t confront this looming crisis through local, regional, national, and international cooperation we will all suffer, and those who already suffer the most—the poor, citizens of developing nations, indigenous peoples, children, women, and the elderly—will suffer at disproportionately higher rates creating political instability and demographic upheaval. Democratic decision-making about global crises must be conducted at a global level. I can think of no more important charge for the United Nations, NGOs, charitable organizations, governments, socially conscious corporations, environmental groups, and even Angelina Jolie than this one.

• It’s equally high time we abandon the idea that the “free” market is adequate to confront global warming. Indeed, the single most responsible culprit in the deterioration of the environment is unregulated corporate manufacturing. From deforestation to air and water pollution to species extinction to acid rain to resource depletion to climate change, the ultimate result of un-or inadequately regulated manufacture is, as Rachel Carson foretold way back in 1963, suicide. A lot of good our commitment to “free” exchange will do us when we’re all dead. U.S. waste, consumption, and pollution outstrips any other nation’s, and our refusal to sign Kyoto is nothing but denial of responsibility.

• Avoid the fallacy of accident: Whether or not Al Gore flies in gas-guzzling jets or is inconsistent with respect to his carbon footprint is irrelevant to whether reduction and conservation are good ideas. Just because someone does or doesn’t take her or his own advice doesn’t mean the advice is poor. None of us, in fact, can be fully consistent in our efforts, but we can make a difference. Here’s what I do: recycle everything that can be recycled; reuse what can be reused; avoid disposables; compost everything else wherever possible. Drive the least gas-guzzling vehicle that can accommodate legitimate needs (not merely wants); organize car trips, and make fewer of them; buy organic where affordable; stop eating meat; avoid herbicides, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides wherever possible; avoid the use of chemical-based household cleaning agents. Conserve water.

Sound too hard? Even if each of us committed to just one of the items on this list, it would matter. The responsibility to act to prevent environmental deterioration, restore habitat, and slow global warming falls on each of us both as individuals and as citizens of our communities, our nation, and the global community. And we are members of a global community; every purchase we make affects the web of economic and thus environmental interrelations that support our insupportable way of life. It’s no “leftist” claim to point out that the time for xenophobic nationalism is long over. The consequence of abdicating our responsibility to the environment is a future earth—without human consciousness.

Wendy Lynne Lee
593 words

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hate Groups and the Importance of Local School Board Elections in Rural Communities

I live in an incomparably beautiful, seemingly peaceful, and very rural region of Northeast Central Pennsylvania. It's the sort of place that makes it easy to imagine neighborliness at its best. Indeed, on the surface of the Summer Township carnivals, baseball games, AYSO soccer, community dinners, swimming holes, and fire hall Bingo nights, it's hard to imagine anything but a kind of pastoral scene from Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. But what I have gradually come to learn over the fifteen years I have lived and worked here is that just beneath this idyllic surface breathes a monstrous bigotry whose poisonous tentacles are distinguished only by the targets of its hatred, particularly gays, ethnic minorities, and anyone who sports an education.

How do I know this? Because the establishment of a hate group is made possible only by a soil conducive to its growth. The hate group in this case is the Patriot's Voice (The Patriot-s who, thinly disguised as a tax advocacy group, espouses a number of positions which are (a) wholly consistent with the bigoted rhetoric of the far right's Christian Identity Movement, (b) directly and explicitly connected to Stop the ACLU--a group recently censored for their harassment of a Jewish family who had secured ACLU representation to combat the violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in a public school, (c) directly and explicitly connected to the Minutemen--whose own roots trace back to the Klu Klux Klan, and (d) consistent with and celebratory of Joseph McCarthy--including his witch-hunt tactics, penchant for fabrication, name-calling, ridicule, and rhetoric of personal assault.

Little of this would really matter--other, of course, than any sensible person's moral revulsion--were the group’s members, including its founders Evy Lysk and Robert Runyon, just yammering to each other. But, sadly, such is not the case. With the stealth which has come to characterize the Christian identity Movement in places like Kansas and, more recently, Missouri, the Patriot's Voice seeks to infiltrate school boards. Masquerading as tax advocates--heroes of the working poor and the elderly--they have sought and won school board seats in at least two of the region's districts, Benton and Berwick. It's hard, moreover, to overemphasize the significance of winning school board seats in rural communities. Let's put it this way: the only other meaningful loci of power are the town counsels. That's it. Evy Lysk's tenure on the Benton School Board has included not only a sincere (if however failed) attempt to ban books from the high school library, but the exploitation of high school students attending Model United Nations at Bloomsburg University to advance her staggeringly ignorant assault on the U.N. as an organization for a globalized communist dictatorship. No less paranoid, Robert Runyon, the Patriot's Voice "CEO," claims that he will not allow personal attack on the laughably misnamed "open forum" page of the Patriot's Voice website--but in fact allows the most vicious battering I have read anywhere--so long as it's targets are the critics of Patriot's Voice positions.

As recently as yesterday evening, however, the citizens of this beautiful region took a gigantic step back from the abyss of ignorance and bigotry the Patriot's Voice epitomizes, and when I saw the local newspaper (the Press Enterprise) headline this morning I could have wept for hope. All five of the Patriot's Voice candidates for the Berwick School Board were soundly defeated--not by wide margins, mind you, but wide enough. All five, including Robert Runyon. A victory for education made all the sweeter by the sheer work and time many of us, including myself, put into exposing their real motives, and making public the viciousness of their rhetoric. It's doubly ironic, then, that as the school board election approached the most significant obstacle to a Patriot's Voice defeat was not the Patriot's Voice members, but their long-standing support by the editor of the local paper, Jim Sachetti. While Sachetti's bias against teachers is as well-established as the orbits of the Earth around the Sun, and while the disproportionately liberal newspaper space he routinely gives to Patriot's Voice members is well-known, that he would try to manipulate the elections themselves through the selective, strategically located, late, and censored printing of comments critical of Patriot's Voice positions in the Press Enterprise's call-in comment page, "Thirty Seconds," surprised even the most cynical among us. And yet this is precisely what he's done. At first I thought Mr. Sachetti might simply be inept with a computer (most of the "calls" are now posted by email). But this seems quite doubtful in that it is not consistent with his handling of "Thirty Seconds" in the past. Please consider the posts below. Each is listed in order of submission to "Thirty Seconds," and each includes the date of submission. Allowing a five day lapse time between submission and printing (Sachetti claims to refuse to print only direct threats), it doesn't take the proverbial rocket scientist to see what Sachetti has in fact done; all it takes is a cursory sifting through “Thirty Seconds”--paying perhaps special attention to the location of the comments when they do finally get printed, say directly above or below Evy Lysk's:

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 4.21.07

In what can only be described as the perfect response to my letter of 4.20.07, PV-Hooter Girl writes with all the maturity of a five year old “I don't like lesbians and I don't like atheists. That's my final answer and I'm sticking to it!” (PV Forum). Could I have asked for a better affirmation of my letter’s point that these aren’t the people we want making decisions on our school boards? I don’t see how. Hooter Girl provides an excellent snapshot of the complete PV-reasoning process: “I don’t like “x,” so “x” is bad.” Pretty sophisticated stuff, that PV-thinking. With critical thinking skills like these, no wonder Lysk and Heller insist they don’t need college educations to make decisions for YOUR kids!

30 Seconds, Response to PV candidates, 4.25.07

Funny thing about Robert Ridall and Kathleen Wells; both are running along with Evy Lysk for Benton School Director. Both are Patriot’s Voice members. But they’re either too embarrassed by their PV affiliation to tell you OR they don’t want you to know until after the election—when it’s too late to prevent them from trying to enact the PV agenda I laid out in my 4.13 letter (Well’s mention of the PV does not clarify her membership). How completely dishonest—and right out of the playbook of the Christian Identity Movement for taking over school boards. They must think we’re stupid! Vote for your kids. Vote for your elderly parents. Vote against the potential for cosly lawsuits. Reject the dishonest stealth tactics of the Patriot’s Voice.

30 Seconds, Response Lysk Letter, 4.27.07

Isn’t it just too coincidental that—just as we approach school board elections—PV-Evy Lysk alleges a scandal with respect to teacher’s children who are not entitled to attend Benton schools? Why is she making these allegations now when she claims she’s known for some time? To curry favor? Votes? Why does she think she’s above normal avenues of reporting where there has not yet been offered proof of these allegations? Why is this a story for the PE when no investigation has been completed? When did hurling accusations come to count as providing evidence? As mercenary as her childish name-calling rhetoric of her recent letter, our real question should be “What positive contribution to education has been promised by any PV-candidate?” Answer: none.

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 4.30.07

Patriot’s Voice members respond to criticism by resorting to direct threats. Here’s PV-Rose Pursel (un-edited): “patriots prevail---- wendy fails!!!
Extra, Extra---read all about it.
Wendy's flipped out and we're gonna shout it!
Losing her marbles day by day,
Wendy Lee is well on her way.
Where is she going? No one knows.
As long as we don't have to listen
to any more of her prose!
Face up to your fears and rejection.
If pills don't help, we'll try an injection.”
What is THIS if not the words of a hate group, Mr. Editor? What does “If pills don’t help, we’ll try an injection” mean to you? Yet these are the people you think qualified to be on the school boards? Open your EYES.

30 Seconds, Response to Robert Runyon, 5.1.07

Although Patriot’s Voice conspiracy entrepreneur Robert Runyon claims—sans evidence—that there’s a “nest of far left ideologues” at BU busily indoctrinating students (myself especially, “From the Desk” PV-website), he fails to acknowledge that his explicit promotion of education dominated by religious dogma is just that. What worries Runyon isn’t indoctrination; it’s that it won’t be HIS. He seems to believe that education that’s anti-science (evolution’s false) and anti-literacy (book banning) will prepare students for the world. Sure—IF education’s nothing more than the programming of soldiers to fight in some holy war of good against evil; but it’s not, and we know better. Your kids are no more soldiers than there are UFOs in the Nevada Desert—and we all know better than THIS.

30 Seconds, Response to Evy Lysk, 5.2.07

In her most recent diatribe—the usual fear-mongering paranoia about homosexual indoctrination, adolescent name-calling (I’m “silly-looking,”), and malicious (not to mention false) accusation (I “hate” Christians)—PV-Evy Lysk makes a stunning admission, apparently not realizing what this reveals about her: She uses SPIES. Her words, not mine (PV-Forum,” Hypocrisy”). She SPIES on people—especially teachers (no surprise there!)—to get dirt that she can use against them. NO KIDDING. What a superb lesson for our young adults. Why do the hard work of researching evidence when you can just SPY? Make up what you want to see? Then call it truth? Who wouldn’t want this sterling example of moral fortitude on their school board? For Pete’s sake, how on Earth can THIS be good enough for your kids?

30 Seconds, Response to Robert Runyon, 5.4.07

Among the disturbing aspects of PV-Robert Runyon’s tirade—other than his failure to distinguish high school from college, and his paranoid ramblings about “Leftists”—(PV-website, “From the Desk”) is his claim that “the views of a simple housewife are just as viable as that of a…professor.” So does that mean UFO-ology is the equivalent of physics? Astrology of Astronomy? Alchemy of chemistry? Would Runyon be as willing to consult a palm-reader as an oncologist if he thought he had cancer? I doubt it; and there’s the rub—or rather the hypocrisy. If every opinion is “viable,” why bother with education at all? OH! I forgot, opposing education in favor of Christian Identity indoctrination IS the PV goal! Unconvinced? See Evy Lysk’s promotion of Christian-only teachers (PV-website).

30 Seconds, Response to Becky Heller, 5.5.07 (censored by Mr. Sachetti)

Applause to PV-Becky Heller for her support of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s findings that the Michigan State Chapter of Young Americans for Freedom is a hate group. Applause to her for recognizing that sporting famous names (Tom Tancredo—no surprise there!) is irrelevant to whether a group sponsors hatred and bigotry. One question: Will Heller now resign from the Patriot’s Voice? Contrary to the PE-editor’s naïve claim that there are no hate groups in PA—citing the Law Center for support even though this organization only tracks large, well-known groups like the Klan, the Minutemen (among Runyon’s favs), and the Young Americans—the PV is a hate group. Thanks to Heller for clarifying this, and let me be the first to welcome her to humanity!

30 Seconds, Robert Runyon and the Minutemen, 5.6.07 (not printed as of 5.16)

Speaking of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group list, check out Robert Runyon’s advertising for the Patriot’s Voice on the Minutemen Message Board, “Yea, check out our web site, we've got a lot of documentation on the subject (the “communist” U.N.)” (Dec. 20, 2006). The SPLC regards the Minutemen as more dangerous than the Klan because they are perceived as less overtly bigoted. But, SPLC makes clear, their anti-Hispanic rhetoric is just as vile as the Klan’s. Along with anti-Semitic Stop the ACLU (PV-Lysk, regional representative) and vicious far-right “commentator” Debra Smith (PV website), the Minutemen are directly affiliated with the fascist Renew America Forum—whose symbol is the Cross OVER the American flag. Your kids deserve so much better. Vote against the Un-American Voice.

30 Seconds, Response to Hooter Girl, 5.8.07 (not printed as of 5.16)

Could it be made ANY clearer that PV-members are required to walk in ideological lockstep to the PV-tune than pretend pole-dancer Hooter Girl’s response to a PV member who dared to criticize Evy Lysk: “he needs to be read the riot act for publically defaming a fellow member” (note spelling) (PV-Forum, PV Hallowed Messenger). Disagree with the PV, and get “read the riot act”—even if you’re a member! So much for their claims to respect diversity of opinion. Can you imagine how this will translate into school board meetings—when they BLOCK VOTE? Fortunately, many in this venue are beginning to see what the PV really represent—it’s not education. Vote for your kids—and against the Un-American Voice.

30 Seconds, Response to Becky Heller, 5.9.07 (printed 5.16)

Responding to Maryann Kovalewski (PV-Forum), PV-Becky Heller demonstrates how little she knows about education. She claims that in the use of computers for instruction future teachers will allow students to write in “text-message,” a failure to “teach the basics.” She’s right, it would be. NO teacher, however, would allow this, and Heller knows it. Perhaps she’s afraid of what kids might learn on-line about the world outside Berwick. Learning to use a computer IS teaching the basics; there are no meaningful career opportunities that don’t demand these skills. But just like art and music, that’s not part of the PV-educational vision: “Teach them just enough to get them working, and they’ll never make enough money to leave.” Vote against the Anti-education Voice.

The good news, of course, is that the Patriot's Voice lost this primary election; the bad news is that we have even more convincing evidence that, in the hands of its current editor, the local newspaper has all but dissolved into a mongrel cross between an opportunistic tabloid and a quasi-libertarian propaganda machine. I don't think that Sachetti actually shares any of the Christian Identity Movement's facist ideology with the Patriot's Voice, but no matter. His objectivity is spent, and the proof is publicly available.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some Reflections on Gun Control

The moment news began to trickle in about the tragic and senseless massacre at Virginia Tech my thoughts, like those of many, turned to my own children—also in college. I cannot imagine the despair and anger the parents of the murdered V-Tech students must be experiencing. Perhaps the magnificent novelist Alice Walker (The Color Purple) puts it best when, describing the equally senseless police and FBI sponsored bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia in 1985, she writes that grief is that “unasuaugeable sadness and rage that makes the heart feel naked to the elements clawed by talons of ice.” Beautiful and sobering words—though perhaps none can fully capture the sadness and rage we all feel at this utterly senseless loss of life.

How, then, can we avoid the questions the V-Tech massacre so obviously raises? How did someone so apparently deranged and desperate gain access to guns? A young man who’d been voluntarily committed in 2005? Who sent a rambling cry for help to NBC in the two hours between shootings? Here, of course, the answers are easier to come by. Hamstrung by the powerful, well-financed, influence-packing anti-gun control arm of the National Rifle Association, meaningful gun control in the United States is all but nonexistent. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any good coming of this tragedy, but if such is possible, let us all hope it comes in the form of stronger and more enforceable gun control laws. A renewed effort to legislate and pass such laws like the recent legislation in Pennsylvania could benefit us all by making access to guns more difficult. Let me be very clear: Perhaps nothing could have prevented this tragedy. I don’t know; no one does or ever will. But what’s inescapable is the fact that it could have been made very much harder to carry out—just maybe enough to be dissuasive—had more stringent gun control laws been in place.

Part of what’s so frustrating about securing enforceable gun control in the U.S. is that, although the arguments against it are just plain indefensible, the NRA manages yet to wield influence against gun-control legislation. Here are four examples:

1. While groups like the NRA and the Minutemen would have us believe that the Second Amendment applies to private gun ownership, nothing in that amendment explicit or implied suggests any such thing. The amendment clearly refers to the rights of militias, and unless we’re comfortable with the illogic of the fallacy of division it bears no relevance to private citizens. To insist that the amendment applies to private citizens is like claiming that because a whole art exhibit is a beautiful art exhibit, every work in it is a beautiful work; but of course this is obviously faulty logic—just like insisting that because an entire militia has a right to “bear arms,” every private citizen member of it does.

2. Though hard to believe, some folks persist in the argument that since we can use a car as a weapon that—if we regulate guns—we should similarly regulate cars. This “argument” omits the crucial fact that the purposes of these two things are quite different. Cars are for driving. Guns are for killing. Like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges, this analogy only holds up if you deliberately ignore all of the dissimilarities in the comparison.

3. One commentator discussing the V-Tech tragedy on FOX news today suggested that the appropriate response was to arm professors. Resisting the temptation to simply dismiss this—given the discreditable source—I think we need merely note that the very idea of the presence of a gun in a classroom would have so chilling effect upon the project of learning that, well, what more is there to say here?

4. Some are persuaded by an argument that depends on a classic appeal to fear, namely, that if the good guys don’t have guns, only the bad ones will. But this argument fails on the evidence that clearly shows that in the course, for example, of a home burglary you are even more likely to be a victim of a shooting if there are weapons in the house. Given how generally unprepared most folks are to actually shoot a gun, they are as likely to be used against the burglary victims as are the victims likely to be in a position to defend themselves. Moreover, the remedy for this is not to be found in, say, mandatory shooting instruction since it’s simply false that those most vulnerable to home invasion—the elderly—are the same people in a position to access and use a gun with the haste necessitated by the situation. To say nothing of the potential for accidents. Far safer to have a good home alarm system and a big barky dog.

So why do such bad arguments, or arguments completely decimated by counter-evidence, manage to have such powerful influence? NRA fear-mongering (and not-so-tacitly racist) propaganda? Partly. Our John Wayne-style gun-ho (pun intended) romance with side arms? Maybe. Our irrational fear that our neighbors might be “different” from us? No doubt. Without bigotry, the NRA wouldn’t have…uh hmmmm…a shot. (Check out their use this week of anti-Semitic imagery to advertise themseves on a magazine cover).

We can be better than our history; reflection on this horrendous tragedy is an opportunity for critical reflection on the conditions that, while perhaps nothing could have prevented it, we surely have a responsibility to change. Our very creation of a democracy demonstrates that we can act in concert to make the next massacre much harder to execute. We must simply muster the collective will to “just say no” to the proliferation of more guns. A tall order, but one that our children will thank us for.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Meaning of a Philosophical LIfe

Open Letter to David Horowitz, February 24th 2007

David Horowitz’s assault on academic freedom is, among other things, about as well documented as anyone could hope. Spanning websites like The Network, FrontPageMag, and the ridiculously misleading Students for Academic Freedom, Horowitz continues his all-but-honorable pursuit of names to add to his list of “Dangerous Professors.” Indeed, perhaps this essay will be my ticket; I could only be so lucky. I can even make it easy for him: Google me, David. I published a book entitled On Marx, and I’m a feminist environmentalist vegetarian who fiercely opposes the war. Oh, and I’m queer. Think you’ve got something? It gets even better: I have never had a single student complaint about anything—including indoctrination—in nearly fifteen years, tenure, and two promotions. I’ll bet I represent practically everything you’ve rejected from your Rampart days, but the truth is that what I really represent is a crucial distinction you need to learn to make: An academic’s political life outside her or his classroom, no matter what commitments inform it, has nothing necessarily to do with in-class pedagogy. Indeed, scrounging about for desiderata like party affiliation shows even less. What your “logic” assumes is that we in the professoriate can’t tell the difference between our lives outside the classroom and inside it. How insulting. I assure you that the number of years it takes to earn a Ph.D. makes the meaning of excellent pedagogy quite clear to us. This is not to say, of course, that the academy doesn’t include some errant ideologues—much like the ones I feel sure you’d substitute for good professors. Thank goodness, then, that virtually every university, college, and junior college has policies to effectively deal with such folks, policies that don’t require self-appointed crusaders to point them out.
A case of “Horowitz-think” might be in order here: A successful graduate of the Karl Rove school of spin, Horowitz offers a supremely distorted view of the Pennsylvania Hearings on Academic Freedom topped with stories about indoctrination and student abuse at Bloomsburg University—my institution—that, if they contained a shred of truth would horrify every decent academic I know. The trouble is that he’s lying—and not just your average run-of-the-mill stretching-the-truth lying. Nope. Horowitz is more than willing to resort to total fabrication in order to advance his claim that the academy is writhing with “leftists” whose sole aim is to convert naïve students into minions of the revolution. Such is the upshot of his allegation against a Bloomsburg professor concerning an exam question about the Iraq War—except that there was no such exam question; there wasn’t even one a little bit like it. Perhaps it’s beside the point that there is no well-organized Left in the United States (again, I could only be so lucky), but isn’t it just obvious that Horowitz is making all this up in order to convince us (a) that “leftists” form a well-organized danger to democracy, and (b) that their aim is to dominate the academy, our crucibles of the future? Note that I’m not suggesting that professors don’t tend to the “left,” but let’s get real here: what good professors exemplify is that ennobling inherently liberal idea of open and progressive inquiry to whatever ends a sincere desire for the truth leads. This aspiration characterizes my entire career. In this sense, every academic whose first concern is with truth—and not just the preservation of any particular view of the world—is at least a “liberal.” And thank goodness again, for without this commitment, there’s no such thing as scholarship, inquiry, or education.
One wonders in reading his rants whether Horowitz has any real grasp of what academia is about. He talks as if education is simply the communication of static information—as if good internet skills could replace the lot of us. But what he misses—or deliberately ignores—is that university education is so much more. His motto, “teach students how to think, not what to think,” is precisely what we in fact do—without self-anointed zealots to remind us. And of course we teach our students what to think. Why? Because not only do we know more than they do, but because classrooms are not chat rooms. It is no conceit on my part to expect my students to regard me as a legitimate authority on my subject—philosophy. In fact, to doubt this without good grounds serves nothing but to disrupt their opportunity to learn. I am also not interested in making my students comfortable; indeed, discomfort with our assumptions and convictions is the very stuff of critical thinking. In fully Socratic fashion, I routinely challenge my students to examine what they believe. There are no claims that are worth our allegiance that don’t hold up under scrutiny. I don’t, moreover, waste my precious in-class time having my students cut their critical thinking teeth on claims that stand no chance of being true. Indeed, in my particular fields of expertise—philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of ecology, and feminist theory—I know what counts as a poorly structured argument and what counts as a good one; I know what credible evidence looks like. What additional assurances do you need, David? I publish in my fields, prepare students successfully for graduate school, and am respected by my peers. You bet I’m dangerous—just as are all genuine invitations to think. This, however, deserves to be applauded, not vilified.
The truth, however, is that critical thinking isn’t what Horowitz’s crusade is about at all. As his demand for the hire of “conservative” professors makes abundantly clear, his goal is to teach students a “what to think” which includes precisely the content that adorns his websites, for example, that global climate change is a myth, that women’s and gender studies programs are nothing but feminist recruitment centers, that the war in Iraq is about the spread of democracy—talk about indoctrination! The point, of course, is that maybe all of these claims are true, but at Horowitz University students wouldn’t have anything like the opportunity to critically consider whether they were true. The only critical thinking skills likely to be taught at HU are the political combat skills Horowitz himself employs, neoconservative ideological spin, propaganda, ad hominem, slippery slope, and fear-mongering. The Horowitz vision for higher education does make for an okay game of “hunt for the fallacy.” Anything else, say, the HU vision becoming a reality, should make our skin crawl.
Only one thing actually frightens me more than Horowitz’s war on higher education, and that’s faculty apathy. Horowitz has made it abundantly clear that he’s not going away. In fact, he’s counting on us to just keep taking the polite path of the intellectual who doesn’t want to get dirty trying to defend something that shouldn’t need defending. Ironic, isn’t it? Horowitz has fabricated a problem—“leftist indoctrination”—in search of a solution, and thinks that if he repeats this mantra, “the lefties are out to get you!” that after a while even we stalwart and taciturn academics will start to believe it. Surely we have better things to do than take on such idiocy. I know I do. Be that as it may, nothing less is at stake here in this made up “culture war” than the future of genuinely free and open inquiry uncompromised by the threat of McCarthy-style repression. Let’s not mince words: Horowitz is on a witch-hunt, and what’s going on is chilling. We may have won in Montana—but the vote was way too close. We certainly won in Pennsylvania, but not until after thousands of tax dollars were wasted on hearings that should never have seen the light of day. The very idea that any one of us could stand in “need” of monitoring, or that our syllabi should be subject to inspection, or that our party affiliations should make us suspicious, or that Boards of Trustees should have a say in what courses we teach or which professors deserve tenure, or that a student looking to execute a vendetta for a wholly earned failing grade is a credible witness to indoctrination, is enough to make us start surveiling ourselves. And that’s all Horowitz really needs—just enough intimidation to get us to second guess ourselves about whether to assign that text, watch that film, discuss that topic, consider that argument. At the end of this road is the death of education. Hence it’s high time we take a stand for the principle that we have earned the right to represent, academic freedom, without which there are no professors, no students, and no universities.

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA, USA 17815
1,140 words.