Category Archives: political rant

In whence I continue to rant about David Brooks and higher education

As the always lovely Michaela pointed out on my Facebook, David Brooks has a new blog on the New York Times. Oh boy! Now there are more opportunities to ramble on my own blog.

In his first blog entry, Brooks talks about distinguishing between universities, specifically those ranked best and those not perhaps the best. He claims that on personal experience, he cannot tell the difference between undergrads from difference universities or colleges:

I spend a lot of time on college campuses, and I’m not sure these distinctions have any meaning. If you put me in a room with 25 students for an hour, I couldn’t tell if they were from Harvard or Arizona State. There are smart students all over.

No doubt there are smart students all over, but if David Brooks can’t tell the difference between students from different schools, he is asking the wrong questions. If you had Rice students and University of Houston students in a room, I could tell the difference with one question: What college do you belong to?

You see, some schools can be very different from others.

But Brooks claims there is little difference between schools, relying largely on a study that demonstrates that lifelong earning has little to do with undergraduate education:

Recently Stacy Dale and Alan Kreuger came out with a study suggesting that the college you attend makes little difference when it comes to how much money you’ll earn. A self-confident student who gets a 1400 on her SATs will have the same income whether she goes to a super top university or merely a good one.

First of all, I question the accuracy and long-range meaning of the study Brooks references. Perhaps long term earning may be different, but ending up at a top school may result in a more enjoyable or prestigious job, even if the pay is the same. But to Brooks, pay seems to be what matters.

Either way, judging by what Brooks says, students and parents really shouldn’t split hairs about school rankings, because of what studies say. How ironic that David Brooks relies upon a study to make his point, when he goes on the next day to criticize not just policymaking based on studies, but ignoring more subtle life qualities that cannot be measured by income:

But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.

Indeed, let’s look at the study in his blog and ignore everything else. Except for when we shouldn’t. And let’s use income to determine that all schools have equal value, except for when we should use less tangible qualities. Which one is it?

But perhaps if Brooks were actually listening to university students (he does spend so much time on campuses) he would learn that location really does matter. The experience at Rice’s college system is different than living at the huge University of Texas.

I am reminded of a friend who planned on attending Rice, with an intent of focusing on arts. I warned her that Rice’s arts program, while impressive in its own way, was not a grand program and is basically based out of a trailer. She dismissed my claims. However, two years and one Playboy appearance later (Rice has a long history of involvement with that magazine), she transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design. Rice was not the right place for her. Location matters.

Or, for a more subtle difference, another friend was deciding between Rice and University of Washington at St. Louis. WashU had offered him more money than Rice, and thus chose that school. Given the close rankings between the two schools, certainly Brooks would support going for more money. But comparing notes, he expressed a certain regret not having gone to Rice. After all, students attended Rice because they wanted to: they wanted the small classes, college system, and general sense of unique community that didn’t exist at WashU.

Location matters.

My anecdotes are not scientific study, but according to Brooks we should not rely on merely quantifiable characteristics, so let’s just roll from here.

After all, there is a difference between Harvard and Arizona State, and if Brooks actually talked to students he would be able to discern it. Schools have their own focused agendas, specified academic focuses, and general personalities. A student’s sense of self and attitude towards the world can be shaped by going to one school over another.

Generally, students choose their own schools to a certain extent. This ensures, somewhat, that students end up where they want to be. They find schools that are perfect fits for them. But if we go by Brooks’ standard that it doesn’t matter, schools may find students who don’t fit well on campus, and may be harmed in the long run.

As Brooks himself says:

Colleges are distinguished most importantly by their cultures and personalities, not by anything that can be ranked by neat status rules.

I agree. But what is the point if people like Brooks cannot tell the difference between students?

Anyways, I’m rambling now. But in the end, location is important, and personalities are important. For undergrad. But people aren’t getting their long-term out of undergrad, they’re getting them from graduate schools. Brooks should take another look there and then claim how much ranking doesn’t matter.

I wrote a column advocating a national holiday for lawyers

Another month, another Cardozo Jurist. Like usual, I had a column. This time, I wrote about how the real defenders of liberty and freedom aren’t in the military, they’re in law school.

Of course, Andrew Sinclair had the best retort: “You know Evan, not all lawyers defend liberty. The Obama Justice Department for example.” And then he went on a rant about John Yoo.

He is right, not all lawyers dedicate themselves to universal justice. But I would argue that the legal industry overall does a better job preserving the rights and liberties of U.S. citizens than the military does. So where is our holiday?

Without further ado, “Lawyers Deserve a National Holiday.” (pdf: Mintz Cardozo lawyer holiday)

 

Did David Brooks preview his Rice University commencement speech?

New York Times columnist David Brooks is slated to be the 2011 Rice University Commencement Speaker. My own take on David Brooks is mixed. As Kyle Derr once argued, he is the only person on the New York Times opinion page who gives proper respect to the humanities. And as the saying goes: “This nation was founded by Humanists, and it will be saved by Humanists.” Then again, I think that saying may be more historically accurate if you replace the word “Humanists” with “lawyers.”

On the other hand, Brooks’ respect for the humanities often treads into the Clouds, looking upon the nation from his east-coast abode, thinking that because he once spent a week in the Red State that he knows all about how the world works, with his punditry being nothing more than bad standup: “You ever notice how Red States are like this, but Blue States are like this? And what’s the deal with public schools?”

And for a Member of the Tribe, he is far to quick to defend and support the Christian interests that threaten the Jewish community.

Indeed, it should be no surprise that I have already mocked him here, not just because he is often an awful columnist, but because he is Rice’s commencement speaker for this year. So it seems a bit odd that, as a commencement speaker, he ended his column yesterday with a jab at college commencement speakers.

In his column, Brooks discussed “The Great Stagnation,” an e-book by tyler Cowen, regretting our current American way of life in which we have massive quality of life gains that do not necessarily tie to economic gain or national growth. In describing the modern man, Brooks said:

“He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.

They don’t even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.

In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.

Jared’s other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.”

By this new standard, people focus more on their happiness and contentment with life, rather than goals of economic growth, competition and victory. In his closing jab, Brooks remarked:

“During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.”

So what, exactly, are commencement speakers supposed to say?

“Work hard and make money”

“Work like a drone and then die”

“Beat the fuck out of those Chinese”

etc…?

Brooks has given commencement speeches in the past. As far as I can tell, his message seems to have two parts. First, mocking what he sees as the foibles of liberal America. For example, in his 2007 commencement speech at Wake Forest University, Brooks wasted no time before entering one of his traditional stand-up routines about Volvos.

“They come up to the elementary schools driving Audis, Saabs and Volvos, because in certain corners it’s socially acceptable to have a luxury car so long as it comes from a country hostile to U.S. foreign policy.”

Lol David! Well, Audis are German, Volvos are Swedish, and Saab Automobile was owned by American company General Motors from 1989 until 2010. I’m not sure how Germany and Sweden are hostile to U.S. foreign policy, but maybe that was one of those anti-Europe jokes that were so popular in dictating U.S. foreign policy in the Bush years. And Saab doesn’t even belong on the list!

But yes, Brooks gave students a real knee-slapper before going on to a real message that they certainly would appreciate and use in their graduate lives: wacky names of organic foods!

“Whole Foods is one of these progressive grocery stores where all the cashiers look like they’re on loan from Amnesty International.

Actually, my favorite section is the snack food section. They couldn’t just have pretzels or potato chips—that would be vulgar. So they have these seaweed-based snacks like we get in my house, Veggie Booty With Kale. It’s for kids who come home from school and shout, “Mom, I want a snack that will help prevent colon-rectal cancer!”

Then as their children get older, the enlightened parents buy them Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, the Ice Cream with its own environmental policy. I once suggested that Ben and Jerry’s should make a pacifist toothpaste. Doesn’t kill germs. Just asks them to leave.”

More classic David Brooks stand-up! Next stop, the Live from the Apollo!

For part two, Brooks talked about how GPAs don’t matter.

“From here on out the skills you need to succeed will change. The average collegiate GPA for a self-made millionaire is 2.7. You know all those morons who sat in the back of the classrooms goofing off? In a few years you’re going to have a new name for them: Boss.”

He made the exact same joke in his commencement speech at Occidental as well:

“The average self-made millionaire in this country had a collegiate GPA of 2.75. These entrepreneurs may not be scholars, but they have the ability to perceive emerging patterns, to understand what they are good at and to work phenomenally hard to hone their capacities.

You don’t find the best lawyers or politicians or teachers with an IQ test. You find the future superstars in these fields by asking the following question: Who is friends with who in this room?”

Indeed, at Occidental, Brooks followed his patented commencement pattern, starting with ever so funny jokes about liberalism.

“You should know that I grew up as a staunch liberal. I grew up near Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and in 1965 my parents who were somewhat left took me to a Be-In in Central Park, where hippies would go just to be. As part of their being, they set a garbage can on fire and threw their wallets into it to demonstrate their liberation from money and material things. I was five and I saw a five-dollar bill on fire in the garbage can, so I ran up to it, grabbed the money, and ran away. That was sort of my first step over to the right.

I participated in the revolution of the 1960s by writing nasty things about Julie Nixon, the president’s daughter, on the chalkboard in fourth grade, and I was paddled for that. In high school I volunteered for many Democratic candidates, I had a big Hubert Humphrey poster on my wall with the caption. “Some talk change, others cause it,” because even then I knew I wanted to become the kind of person who only talks change.”

Oh man, great stuff there. The ’60s. Wacky! At least it was better than his attempts at relating to contemporary culture, with jokes about how: “I watched an entire season of “Jersey Shore,” and I have to say The Situation changed my life.”

With on point observations like that, he could write for Leno.

But the most telling is at the end of the his Occidental commencement speech, where he get to the, you know, point. He basically espoused the base idea of the historical Conservative movement, which really isn’t a bad thing. Basically, the world is far too complex to be able to understand, so we must change slowly, relying on traditions that work, and realize that rationality cannot fix everything. In a supreme oversimplification, he boils it down to the French Revolution vs. Scottish Enlightenment. However, the baby in the cake is his penultimate statement:

“I do hope you use your odyssey years to educate your emotions through travel, art, love and the occasional misbegotten hookup, and I hope that you do it by chasing deep pleasure, by finding something that deeply pleases you and chasing it wherever it leads.”

Really? Chase deep pleasure? Educate your emotions? I dunno, David Brooks 2010, I don’t think that David Brooks 2011 would agree with that.

I know that people learn and change their view about the world (ex: My first Thresher column vs. A Thresher column as an alumnus, notably part 6) but a one year turnaround is pretty big. And admittedly, Brooks’ speech at Occidental was probably largely in reaction to the school’s reputation of having an incredibly liberal student body. So maybe Brooks should tailor his speech to Rice.

First, no stupid liberal jokes or comments on the bohemian bourgeoisie. Rice is in Houston, Texas, a barely blue haze in a red state. Rice’s activism is usually expressed through Engineers Without Borders. Students are just as likely to go to Fiesta as Whole Foods. Cliche jokes about a liberal campus are ignorant at best and insulting at worst. Brooks’ columns may not be known for deep research, but at least chat with some students first.

Second, shut up about the 2.7 GPA stat. Because really? Really? After 21 years of struggling and striving to get the top grades, top SAT score, top extracurriculars, the last thing you want to hear is about how you shouldn’t have worked hard for good grades. Because you know what, you do need those good grades. A 2.7 in high school won’t get you into Rice. A 2.7 at Rice won’t get you into a good law school, or help with a good job. I don’t know where all these millionaire lawyers with 2.7 gpa are coming from. Maybe Brooks could actually cite that study.

So let Brooks answer this: How many of the 2.7 gpa bosses went to an Ivy League or have family connections. He said self-made millionaires, but I’d like to see the evidence to back it. Because for some folks, it is easy to get through life without the stats to prove prowess. But for the rest of the world, you need something besides a family name and wealthy contacts to pump for seed money. You need a resume. You need grades. You need to be impressive. And a 2.7 simply isn’t impressive.

Finally, just what is it that students should do? In 2010 Brooks said that students should “educate [their] emotions” and “chas[e] deep pleasure, by finding something that deeply pleases [them] and chasing it wherever it leads.” Then in 2011 he mocked the idea of commencement speakers telling students to “seek meaning and not money.”

So which is it: pleasure or pecuniary?

David Brooks should spend his time at Rice discussing that. He should address the real struggle of being taught, and required, to get good grades and do well on standardized tests to get somewhere in life, only to be told upon the seeming pinnacle of grade point achievement that all of it was pretty worthless if you’re an awkward nerd who can’t talk to people. And at Rice, that is an awfully large portion of the population.

After all, not all of us get lucky breaks after writing satirical works about conservative leaders. As for me, I just get asked to forward an original so they can frame it.

A David Brooks column about the Rice KTRU Sale

Yesterday, the New York Times contained an article about universities selling their radio stations, notably Rice University and KTRU. Of course, I wrote a blog thing about it, including hypotheticals about what various New York Times columnists would write about the matter. However, one very important columnist was missing.

 

Bohemian bourgeois find truth on Facebook.

 

David Brooks has a special place in this whole thing. Not only is he one of the utterly worst New York Times columnists, but he is the commencement speaker at Rice University this year. So it is only appropriate that he write a full column about the KTRU sale.

Here it is, a fake David Brooks column about the Rice University KTRU sale:

Sometimes you make stuff up.

Yesterday evening I was interviewing Rice University President David Leebron in preparation of my commencement speech there, and we were talking about the university selling the student radio station KTRU. His voice was nasal and fatigued, and he was taking those little sighs that people take when they’re frustrated with being criticized even though the criticisms don’t have any actual effect on the result.

Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”

Leebron’s tone changed. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I continued to list random names and philosophical concepts, hoping he would react to one and I could write a column about it: “C.S. Lewis, Gestalt Theory, Steven Quartz, Ewan Moontz, Friedrich Schleiermacher, bobo chic, Rick Warren…”

I went on for a bit and he stopped me at Milton Friedman.

“I generally don’t agree with his views,” President Leebron said. “For example, there is certainly such a thing as a free lunch, Rice got one by secretly selling KTRU. We get the proceeds while KTRU did all the work.”

As part of my contract with the New York Times, I’ll take this point to state a thesis that disagrees with a notable conservative icon but agrees with someone in power in a way that gets the result I wanted anyways.

Unlike 90 percent of America, I am cheering for the sale. This is widely cast as a students v. administration conflict — the powerful Board of Trustees against the ragtag KTRU community. If this were a movie, KTRU’s arguments before the FCC about localism and education would be successful, and KTRUvians would be weeping with joy.

But this is why life is not a movie. The Board is not always wrong. They do not always exploit student efforts without any discussion. The Rice administration — to the extent that they are paragons of power, which I dispute — won through hard work.

For the first time in university history, the rich and powerful work harder for student interests than the students. KTRU supporters would have gotten what they wanted if only they had worked harder, even if the university was keeping the sale secret. And even though I have never had a job besides working for various upper crust publications, I have no problem lecturing about hard work.

This lack of labor by university students explains why non-profit radio licenses are now essentially dominated by Christian religious stations and NPR.

Notice the dichotomy between the two remaining systems. Blue State NPR asks its listeners for money, while Red State Christian stations only ask their listeners to pray and be better people. Even though I was born in Toronto and have worked almost exclusively in Washington D.C. and New York City, I am an expert on the differences between Red States and Blue States. And what’s the deal with airline food?

You can look back on the history of the KTRU sale many ways. It was callous, at least, to call students lucky in any context of this secret sale. The Rice Board and President Leebron could have done something wonderful if they had engaged students and the KTRU community at the beginning. They didn’t. And it is obviously true that this secrecy played a role in the opposition to the KTRU sale.

But Neibaour wouldn’t listen to KTRU. How do I know? Because I’m on the New York Times opinion page, so I must be right. Sure, I generalize and make stuff up in a way that may sound good if you already support my positions but is utterly lacking in hard facts.

And the same could be said about Rice’s justifications for the KTRU sale. Therefore, it was only appropriate that Rice University invite me, David Brooks, to be the 2011 Commencement Speaker.

 

I contacted the FCC and my representative about the KTRU sale. Did you?

Today I finally sent an e-mail to the FCC commissioners encouraging them to block the license transfer and KTRU sale. Friends of KTRU provides a good form letter that you definitely should copy and send if you live within the KTRU broadcast area:

Dear Commissioners:

I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS).  (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).  This proposal is very definitely not in the public interest.

UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR).  Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format.  Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local voices.

KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves.  It adheres to an educational programming philosophy, and accomplishes its mission by showcasing underexposed music: artists and genres that other radio stations neglect to broadcast, either due to commercial concerns, rigid programming formats, or ignorance of the very existence of such music.  Thus, since by definition KTRU’s programming cannot be found elsewhere on Houston radio, its exit from the FM dial would leave a gaping hole in the cultural landscape of the fourth largest city in the United States.

KTRU features a number of genre-specific specialty shows that shine a light on a wide assortment of classical, jazz, rock, indie-rock, folk, electronic, experimental, reggae, hip-hop, blues, African, Indian, and other world musics.  KTRU provides the only radio outlet for the music of many of Houston’s ethnic minorities.  The balance of KTRU’s programming is comprised of its unique eclectic free-form shifts, which in the space of an hour can feature music from all these mentioned genres and more, inevitably causing listeners to adopt a more open-minded approach to musical appreciation.  In all cases, the local volunteer DJ is in charge of what gets played on air, subject to minimally constrictive playlist requirements in the case of free-form shifts.  Were KTRU to disappear from the dial, it would be a major blow to diversity on the radio, as well as to radio listeners in general.

The proposed transfer would allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community.  Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.

KTRU, on the other hand, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming.  It provides local artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the local community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.  KTRU plays an important and irreplaceable role by increasing awareness of, as well as directly participating in, the Houston music and arts scene through organizing concerts, producing and distributing compilations of live recordings, providing DJ talent for arts events, and curating stages at major local music festivals.  As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level through the college radio community.

Rice and UHS formulated and implemented this proposal in secret, with no input allowed from or notice given to the students, faculty, or alumni of either university, or community members, or the station itself.  UHS seems mostly interested in the prestige of owning two radio stations, as part of its quest to attain “Tier One” university status in Texas.  Rice apparently sees the proposal only in financial terms, wanting to dump a “declining asset” before it becomes worthless.  I don’t agree that a FM radio license is a “declining asset.”  I believe FM radio still plays a vital role in our culture, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

KTRU is truly a unique gem and an important part of the local community, and it would be to Houston’s great detriment to lose its voice.  The public interest would be best served by KTRU’s continued existence on Houston’s FM dial.  I humbly request that you stop the proposed license transfer.  Thank you for your consideration.

However, I wrote my own letter. Admittedly, I took a bit from the KTRU form letter and added my own bits. Specifically, I tried to emphasize that if there ever were a circumstance that could be treated as unique under the law, this is it.

Dear Commissioners:
My name is Evan Mintz. I am a regular Houston radio listener and I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS). (Files Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY). This proposal is not in my interest, the interest of Houston, or in the public interest.
UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR). Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format. On the other hand, KTRU provides an outlet for unique and local content that cannot be found anywhere else on public airwaves. Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local and unique voices.
While the court stated in Citizens Committee to Keep Progressive Rock v. FCC 156 App DC 16, that a majority of format changes do not diminish the diversity available, this license transfer is one of the rare circumstances where the commission should intervene. From the children’s show to MK Ultra, electronica, jazz and genetic memory, KTRU plays music that simply is not available otherwise on the public airwaves. While the commission certainly cannot guarantee that every broadcast need or interest be perfectly met on a fixed frequency 24 hours per day, as the court stated in Lakewood Broadcasting Service v FCC, 156 App DC 9, KTRU is often the only source not just for specific songs, but entire genres of music. In the fourth largest city in the United States, it is important that the commission preserve this unique source on the airwaves.
If the proposed transfer were actually to go through, it would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
If there can be any circumstance where a station is truly unique, this is it. The commission should stand up for the preservation of public interest in local and unique music. If KTRU falls, it will be the end of local and unique music on the Houston public airwaves.

 

However, I also wrote a letter to the U.S. Representative for Rice’s district: Rep. John Culberson (TX-07). Admittedly, my letter was not completely academically honest. In an attempt to appeal to Culberson’s vote to block Federal funding to NPR after the Juan Williams firing, I argued that while his vote there failed, he could succeed by blocking the transfer at hand.
This past October, National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams after he made a controversial statement about Muslims on Fox News’s “the O’Reilly Factor.” In the resulting scandal and hubbub, many Republican representatives, including your Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn, questioned NPR’s public funding. As Senator Cornyn tweeted: “Why should taxpayers subsidize NPR?” By November, Republican members of Congress attempted to roll back federal funding to NPR. However, this plan was defeated, despite your vote, in a 239-171 vote.
This should not be the end for your efforts. Currently, the University of Houston is attempting to purchase the license for the 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM. This transfer would allow the current KUHF 88.7 FM station to become a 24-hour NPR station. Such a transfer would grant a louder bullhorn to national, syndicated NPR content and silence those who live in your district.
The proposed transfer would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
On the other hand, KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves. It is, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming. It provides local, Texas artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the Houston community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.
As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level.
With this proposed transfer, NPR seeks to silence Houstonians.
I ask that you take up the fight against NPR for your Houston constituents and act to help block this license transfer (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).
Thank you very much.
However, KTRU also provides its own form letter to send to various representatives and officials.
KTRU’s letter is much more of an informational communication, encouraging politicos to simply get involved, ask questions, and bring attention to the matter.
Anyways, I am anticipating the legal decision and hopefully the appeal that will result from the FCC decision.
But even if the sale goes through, I would hope that the legal process would be burdensome enough to encourage Rice to simply bribe KTRU supporters by providing $1-2 million from the sale proceeds as seed money to establish a proper and high quality KTRU online and real world presence.

 

Growing opposition to the KTRU sale OR Know Your FCC Commissioners

 

Rachelle Chong: The Newest Face of the Save KTRU Movement?

Over the past week, there has been a spike in attention to the KTRU sale. This newfound spirit in opposition to the sale corresponds with Texas Watchdog’s release of their Open Records Request info. (KTRU has its own Open Records Request, which I wrote the first draft of.)

The info that Texas Watchdog was able to get from the University of Houston has revealed many interesting tidbits, such as the fact that it was a KTRU staffer who leaked the story, that Rice considered lying to KTRU to get info about the station, that UH and Rice actively kept KTRU references out of public meeting minutes, that there was outspoken questioning of the sale on the UH finance and administration committee that was not covered by any media outlet, that Rice had been planning a sale since about 2 years ago, and so forth.

I hope to comment on some of this later in the week.

However, one of the more interesting developments in the KTRU saga has been a newfound voice of support for keeping KTRU on the airwaves: Rachelle Chong

A former FCC commissioner cares!

Now, what makes her Tweet more important than, say, me, Evan tweeting? Well, you see Ms. Chong has some experience with the FCC — in that she was an FCC commissioner.

President Bill Clinton appointed Chong to the Federal Communications Commission, where she was the first Asian American to serve as an FCC commissioner. She is currently a Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities in California, including telecommunications.

The fact that someone with direct experience serving as an FCC commissioner shows that KTRU has a chance. Someone whose job it was to regulate license transfers expressly opposes the KTRU sale. She can be outspoken on the matter because she no longer sits on the commission. However, there is no reason to believe that current members, with similar legal training and background, do not have the same view as her towards the KTRU sale — they probably just know better than to comment on a pending matter.

In fact, the biographies of current members give reason to hope.

Julius Genchowski has the sort of background that may be sympathetic to the KTRU sale

Current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski, for example, was an Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. This sort of personal involvement in student media hints that he has the background to appreciate the unique broadcasting ability that KTRU has to offer, and may encourage him to take a second look at the transfer.

Copps has explicitly questioned consolidation at the expense of localism. This is good for KTRU.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t have student media experience — at least not listed on his Wikipedia entry. However, he does have a strong opposition to media consolidation. In fact, he has explicitly raised the spectre of “public interest” when it comes to media transfer and consolidation.

“What public interest, what new competition, is enabled by encouraging the newspaper monopoly and the broadcasting oligopoly to combine? This decision further allows the already massive television networks to buy up even more local TV stations, so that they control up to an unbelievable 80 or 90 percent of the national television audience.

Where are the blessings of localism, diversity and competition here? I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition.”

Phrases like “public interest” and “blessings of localism” are the sort of key words that will be the spearhead of a pro-KTRU legal argument. With a well-written motion to deny, Copps may see the KTRU sale as a line in the sand, a place where he could stop a purely local and unique station from becoming one of syndicated news reports and rehashed classical that gets played anyways. Maybe you should write a few letters of support for KTRU to demonstrate to Mr. Copps just how important this is. And you can do that by clicking this link right here that these words are part of.

Robert McDowell is a Republican with a soft spot for the arts.

Robert McDowell may not seem like the sort of FCC commissioner who would be sympathetic to KTRU. After all, he has spent time scaring up the ghosts of a return of the Fairness Doctrine, and that sort of paranoid attitude towards media regulation does not make him seem like the sort of guy who would stop a license transfer.

However, McDowell’s testimony in his nomination hearing before Senate painted a picture of a much more balanced thinker.

But the most interesting part of McDowell’s personal history is his former position as Chariman of the Board of the McLean Project for the Arts. The MPA has the self-proclaimed mission of:

“exhibit[ing] the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; [promoting] public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and [offering] instruction and education in the visual arts.”

Compare this to the KTRU Mission:

“The mission of KTRU as a student organization and a 50,000 watt radio station is to educate the station membership, the greater Houston community, and the students of Rice University through its progressive and eclectic programming in the spirit of the station’s non-commercial, educational license. Musically, KTRU programming will endeavor to solely feature genres and/or artists who are unexposed, or unavailable on, the Houston commercial radio dial.”

Both organizations share a dedication to public education about the arts, and bring attention to emerging and established local artists. McDowell’s experience with the MPA may give him the background and understanding necessary to sympathize with KTRU’s legal appeals and encourage him to recognize that at times, the FCC does need to operate a stronger hand on license transfers. Indeed, it is not a Democratic or Republican position, but a position of promoting local arts for the public interest.

Mignon Clyburn has experience on a family-founded newspaper, the sort of experience that creates a gut reaction against media consolidation.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is used to regulating utilities. She previously served as the chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Washington Action Committee and is also a former chair of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. However, most importantly, she spent 14 years as the publisher and general manager of The Coastal Times.

The Coastal Times had a circulation of only about 5,500 (smaller than the Rice Thresher), but her experience on the paper has given her a great respect for the First Amendment, and an attitude that is much more willing than past “prudish” FCC members to stand up for speech.

Meredith Baker (daughter-in-law of James Baker III) attended the University of Houston for law school and opposes regulation even when the goal is fostering competition. She will likely be the greatest opponent to saving KTRU.

Meredith Baker went to UH Law and opposes Net Neutrality, a sign that she is deeply opposed to any sort of FCC interference. Screw that.

 

So there are your FCC commissioners. Things may seem tough and the KTRU sale may appear inevitable. However, a quick look at your actual FCC commissioners demonstrates that the situation is not as bleak as one may think. Several members have backgrounds in local media, and some have even explicitly questioned the trend of media consolidation at the expense of local programming and uniqueness. You can help them remember the importance of local media programming and the true meaning of public interest by writing the FCC and signing onto the KTRU letter. Your voice is especially important if you live within the KTRU broadcast zone. So speak up. All you have to do to save KTRU (or at least force Rice to appeal to the D.C. Circuit) is count to three.

One

Two

Three commissioners.

And KTRU is saved.

The Anti-Defamation League, American Jews, and John Bolton’s Mustache

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League held a conference at Cardozo featuring famed mustache-haver John Bolton. I am not entirely sure why Bolton was there. He is not Jewish. According to Wikipedia, he is a Lutheran. But beyond this, he does not seem to have any actual experience concerning Judaism.

This is how most people see John Bolton

This is how the Anti-Defamation League sees John Bolton

Even ignoring my concern that ADL focuses too much on Israel rather than overarching Judaism, it seems a bit odd that the ADL would invite such a divisive political figure. I could explain why this would be a bad thing, but why say when you can show: (pdf: bolton ADL cardozo fight)

Leaving out Bolton’s actual policy positions, one cannot deny that he is a divisive political figure and a living totem of the controversial cowboy style diplomacy of the Bush administration. Touting Bolton as an ADL ally sends a message to liberal Jews (aka, most Jews) that the ADL is not a the organization for them. At Cardozo, this message was put into action when someone in the audience chewed out a young woman for expressing her difficulty reconciling liberal leanings with the conservative agents supporting Israel.

I guess you could say she was defamed to a certain extent. Irony!

Right now, the ADL is riding on its history and reputation. But scandals like this, and ADL chief Abe Foxman’s own controversial moments, risk damaging this important organization beyond repair. If the ADL keeps up like this, it will lose a generation of American Jews. And that is the actual problem (pdf: Mintz ADL column):

America is slowly losing its Jewish population. If the ADL actually cared about Judaism, it would work to create an atmosphere in the United States where young Jews feel proud of their heritage. However, pride is not exactly what one feels when the ADL condemns Borat, or Jewish settlers throw stones at IDF soldiers for protecting Palestinians. If the ADL wants to help protect Jewry in the long run, it should focus on projects that help make more Jews and keep current Jews Jewish, rather than play up divisive political projects.

Certainly Israel faces threats. But Israel has done a good job standing for itself. The ADL should perhaps worry about Jewish problems at home — the problems facing the American Jews at the ADL’s own panels.

The Lost Columns: Jews, Gays, and Paladino

The Cardozo Jurist came out yesterday. I originally wrote a column following my normal trend of addressing gay rights within the Jewish community. However, after talking with other people about it, I came to the conclusion that I’ve driven the topic into the ground. Because I have never done that before.

Furthermore, the tone of the column was just a bit too over the top. Because I have never done that before, either.

Anyways, here is the Lost Column. I’ll post the one that was actually published later.

Today is election day. As a Texan, it is hypocritical of me to criticize other states’ political systems. It is also fun and easy — the New York gubernatorial race doubleplus so.

It was only a few election cycles ago when a Cuomo was the alternative to “the homo” and Carl Paladino was a registered Democrat. Of course, barring a sudden state-wide revelation that rent is too damn high, one of the two is governor-elect by now. However, the end of the election does not mean that campaign discussion has to end as well. Notably, Paladino’s tea party rhetoric about gay marriage in an address to Orthodox Jewish leaders deserves continued discussion, especially at a Jewish institution like Cardozo.

Upon first glance, Paladino’s speech does not seem too far from expected Republican talking points: “I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option — it isn’t.”

Paladino even wisely omitted from his speech one especially nasty bit in his prepared text: “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.”

However, this idea that certain demographics can be targeted within our society as less valid or less successful than the overarching uberculture is a dangerous concept, especially for the Jewish community. In New York, Judaism may seem like a well integrated, or maybe even dominant, ingredient in our pressure cooker of a nation. But for those whose world does not end at New Jersey, things can be quite different.

Back in 2007, Ann Coulter revealed in a CNBC interview an attitude towards Judaism that one does not often hear out loud: Jews need to be “perfected” into Christians. From her perspective, much like gays, Judaism is not an equally valid or successful option.

It is easy to dismiss Ann Coulter as a washed-up pundit begging for attention. But Coulter’s rhetoric is echoed in secret throughout the nation. This past month, U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert [what is the proper style here?] explained in a Newsmax magazine column that the government functions best when it is run by Christians. According to him, Christians are “the one[s] God has ordained to run the country.” Apparently other people, Jews included, are not an equally valid and successful option.

The Jewish community may be comfortable in our self-imposed urban ghettos. We can feel praised as talking heads throw around the term “Judeo-Christian” as if it meant something. And the enemy of my enemy is my friend has kept ties close during the War on Terror. But every time a pundit rants about the War on Christmas or the nation’s Christian foundations, it is a glimpse at just how thin the protective bubble is around non-Christian religion and culture. This may not be obvious at Cardozo, but it is in the rest of America. And when the courts are done explaining that Islam is actually a religion, and gay baiting no longer gets out the vote, Judaism will still be a minority, no matter how many times someone uses the phrase “Judeo-Christian morality.”

The problem is not just antisemitism or homophobia, but rather the idea that demographics can be targeted and attacked as less valid or successful than the dominating norms,  with no support but bigotry. The Jewish community must draw a line at attitudes like Paladino’s, even after election season has finished. The same moral influence that has pushed Ann Coulter and Rick Sanchez off the air should stand with anyone who wants to attack minority groups to score points. And right now that stand is with the gay community. After all, we shared the same ovens.

 

I went to the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and all I got was this rambling blog entry

Summary!

This past weekend I attended the Comedy Central Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. For a gathering of 200,000 Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert fans, there was a severe lack of drugs.

Despite previous expectations, stereotypes about Stewart and Colbert’s targeted audience, and claims rally just being “liberals hooking up,” the crowd was distinctly older and more diverse than I had anticipated. During a jaunt on the Metro the day before the rally, we encountered a family – Ma, Pa and kids –  who had traveled to DC from central Pennsylvania. And as we checked out the sites on the mall the day before, it was difficult to count the impressive number of older couples and families wearing Stewart/Colbert paraphernalia.

In the end it was not some grand youth rally, nor some liberal love-in, nor some giant hookup fest (at least not at the rally itself, maybe at the bars that Saturday night). So then, what was it?

In the end, the rally accomplished two major goals. First, it rebutted irrational fears of Muslims. Secondly, it demonstrated that two comedians with little actual message could get more people to show up than pundit with an established, forceful message.

Now, the musical numbers were fine. And the juxtaposition of Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam playing Peace Train, followed by Ozzy Ozborne singing Crazy Train, followed by the O’Jays singing Love Train was a lot of fun. I half expected either GirlTalk to show up and start mixing, or the Coors Light Train to come through.

And we did see some funny signs and neat costumes. And the cute Indian girls next to us shared their box of donuts.

Lots of people took pictures of this sign.

In fact, there were some pretty impressive costumes.

Zoiby want balloon!

We all still have Zoidberg!

Zimbabwe!

Although she did put the miss in misdemeanor, I think that most of her crimes were actually felonies.

But amongst the signs and posters and costumes and such, Jon Stewart had some criticisms of the media and Stephen Colbert played his character. There was some commentary about the state of the nation and media when Stewart handed out his medals for acting reasonably, and Colbert handed his for fear (One of Colbert’s was an award to media entities that wouldn’t let its members come to the rally. Because no one was there to accept it, he gave it to a little girl. She was adorable).

But a continuing theme throughout the rally was one mocking and rebutting anti-Muslim sentiments. It was not obvious, nor explicitly stated. But it was there. Whether is was the applause when Father Guido Sarducci came to Islam in his list of religions, or when Kareem Abdul Jabbar showed up to teach Stephen an important lesson about judging groups by an actions of a few members, or when Yusuf Islam came out on stage to sing, there was a continuous thread of non-threatening Muslims at the rally. In fact, right next to where I was standing was an obviously Muslim family. And several of the signs at the rally were along the theme of: “Where are the moderate Muslims? Holding this sign!”

It was a good thing.

Of course, in a crowd of more than 200,000, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of the population there was Muslims, but there definitely seemed to be a concerted movement of “We Are Normal Muslims, Please Stop Being Scared of Us.”

But beyond the pro-moderate Muslims, the message that Jon Stewart attempted to send with the message is that political debates should not be fought in numbers or name calling, but actual arguments and fact-based debates. He tried to express this in his final speech. But besides getting Keith Olbermann to change his format, I do not think it will have a direct effect. Stewart got lucky once when he took people by surprise with his earnestness and honesty. But Fox News is not Crossfire. Nevertheless, I think that Stewart will get his desired result in some form, though not as a direct result of his appeal.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was attended by around 215,000 people.

I was there!

This rally came after, and in a mocking reaction to, Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor, which attracted around 87,000 people.

I'm glad someone did this

In a Democratic system, the authority to govern is derived from popular support. If one side can get more people to support it, then it will be assumed correct.

What Jon Stewart has done is raise the bar. At the beginning of his rally he joked about how the success of events like his are judged entirely by size.

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”): I think you know that the success or failure of a rally is judged by only two criteria; the intellectual coherence of the content and its correlation to the engagement -I’m just kidding. It’s color and size. We all know it’s color and size.

And while he would prefer that such events be judged otherwise, size and content are an easy solution. However, with his massive turnout Stewart has created an instant rebuttal. Whenever anyone holds a general rally to their cause, such as the tea party events over the past year or so, now the instant response can be: “But did you have more than 200,000 people? Because two comedians were able to get more than 200,000 to show up for their non-cause. Certainly if your cause has public support, you could at least match some basic cable comedians.”

Of course, this could be a bad thing as well. What applies to Tea Parties and Beck could also apply to unions and the NAACP. Perhaps this rally will cast a cloud over legitimate Democratic or liberal efforts to create a rallying call.

But at least with populism out, it does force people to find other avenues to support their causes, and Stewart’s ideal of reasonable argument is an alternative. Then again, we have had name-calling and partisan politics in the U.S. since Federalist v. Anti-Federalists. And Stewart seems to think that a 24-hour media could act as a proper check, but as Fox has shown, there are way better ways to make money.

There is also the concern that such an elimination of populist outlets, or at least reducing their power, is anti-democratic (small d). If the number of people supporting a cause is not a proper measure of the support it should be given in our society, then what is?

The answer, probably, is representation in government. Our system is established to filter the argle bargle of mob mentality into the high Senate, the low House, the protected Judiciary, and the electorally collegiate Executive. No matter how many people you can gather into a single place, that does not make policy. It is what our Constitution says, and it is the end message of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear: 200,000 people? That’s fine. Now get them to convince people to vote, or sway their representatives, or propose policy. Stewart doesn’t really intend to do much of that, besides shame people. And he already does that way better on his show, demonstrating the political and media FAILs of the day. But what policy can Tea Baggers propose? Perhaps repealing the 17th amendment, or privatizing something or other. But as Republicans have demonstrated during this election cycle, they don’t really know where they are going to cut in order to balance the budget.

And as we go into the next Congress, people will start to realize just what Stewart and Colbert’s rally has demonstrated. Gathering a bunch of people doesn’t make policy. It makes a gathering of a bunch of people. And it was a gathering that was fun for the people at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and probably will be seen as a letdown for the Tea Party once they realize that everything hasn’t changed.

Another Evan column, and a reaction from the Dean

First, thanks to Roxanna Maisel, whose line “I know lots of things, but most of them are wrong,” I stole for this column.

The Cardozo Jurist came out yesterday, and I have another column in it. Because the paper only comes out monthly, each column needs to be a real barn burner. No time to waste precious column space on pot or masturbating. I have a list of the big wheels at the law school, and each column will address one. Last month was the Dean, this month is law journals. And you can read all about it at the Jurist website! Or here. Or whatever. (pdf: Mintz oct column)

In addition to my column, the Dean wrote a response to my column from the previous issue, in which I accused him of general cowardice when it came to gay rights. Of course my column was mean, blunt and over the top. It was written by me, Evan! However, it does raise the question of whether gay rights should be viewed as a political matter or as one of civil and human rights. I think that it unequivocally should be the latter, and there is no room for compromise. A general written statement does not have the authority of a public statement, which I guess the Dean made in this letter. So I’m glad I could force him into that position, or some such.

Also, notice the redesign of the newspaper! It looks pretty darn cool. They finally bought inDesign.