Embarrassing Quaker Quote of the Week

If you were, say, the new president of a struggling small college in Flyover Carolina, you ought to be thrilled by getting a shout-out from Wendy Brown in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

I mean, The Times is, well, The Times, the national paper of record and all that. And Wendy Brown is an academic superstar (if you think I exaggerate, check out the CV & booklist on her Wikipedia page.)

Wendy Brown

She’s currently UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. Previously, she was a core faculty member in The Program for Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She has guest lectured or visited just about everywhere that counts in academe, and produced weighty books exploring the galloping decline of democracy and freedom.

But maybe, if you were the new prez of a certain Friends school, such national recognition by Prof. Brown might be a wee bit, in the current campus argot, problematic. Especially if it was like this,

“On campus, for example,” Brown said in an interview for the Timesmag’s May 6 issue, “the constant harangues about cancel culture and wokeness on the left that you get from the right keep us from seeing enormous amounts of foundation money and use of the state to try to control what is taught, to build institutes and curriculums that comport with a right-wing engine.

Guilford College, this little Quaker school in North Carolina, takes half a million dollars from a foundation in love with Ayn Rand. Every econ and business major in the college for the next 10 years had to be given a copy of [Rand’s novel] “Atlas Shrugged,” and at the center of the curriculum there had to be a course in which “Atlas Shrugged” was the required textbook.5 [Emphasis added.]

[Footnote: “In 2009, Guilford accepted a 10-year $500,000 grant from the BB&T Bank’s charitable foundation, which included the stipulation that a course titled “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism” would be taught. Students majoring in business and economics were, upon beginning their junior year, given a free copy of Rand’s novel.”]

Ahem, well yes. It’s true. Guilford was facing very tough financial times. Desperate times call for desperate measures (though looking for rich donors is an every-day-of-the-week duty of all college presidents who expect to be employed for more than a few months). And the BB&T foundation was handing out buckets of cash to colleges— with conditions.

Ayn Rand.

The condition here was hooking up with a cult philosopher-novelist whose magnum opus is a libertarian pamphlet that turned into an1100-page doorstop paean to selfishness as salvation.

Atlas Shrugged’s message comes down to a main character’s vow that, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Rand’s most famous convert was one Alan Greenspan, who proved his fanatic devotion to her creed as head of the Federal Reserve, by letting a doomed real estate bubble almost take down the whole damn world economy in 2007-8. (Way to go, Al, I’m sure Ayn was real proud.)

Alan Greenspan, housing investment specialist

Well, okay then. A college prez has gotta do what they’ve gotta do. The BB&T money was a shot in the arm, but Guilford has continued to stagger under the burdens of a big debt load and declining enrollments. Presidents were forced into several rounds of staff and faculty layoffs afterward, which torpedoed not only morale, but also, staff job numbers, and the presidents’ careers

Then COVID dang near sank the whole school; an emergency campaign raised enough last year to push the wolves back into the campus woods for the moment, and culminated in the installation of a new president, Kyle Farmbry.

Kyle Farmbry, Guilford College president

Just the other day, a thick slick college magazine from Guilford showed up in my (real, outdoors, post-in-the ground) mailbox, with Farmbry’s visage dwarfing the cover and taking up the main pages inside.

The article about him (the magazine has not yet shown up on Guilford’s website) was admiring, what you’d expect for a debut/honeymoon issue. It focused several breathless paragraphs on how much listening he’s been doing in these initial months: listening to students, staff, faculty, etc.

Farmbry said his listening stance was influenced by his being an introvert. No doubt, but given Guilford’s recent history, one suspects it also reflects the likelihood he hasn’t yet found concrete answers to two Key Questions that stumped those who occupied his office in the years since BB&T’s contractual charity coup made the college, um, unforgettable to the likes of Wendy Brown.

Those Key questions are (there will be a quiz later):

1. Where will Guilford find several hundred more students (especially those with parents who can pay its $42,000-plus annual price tag)? And

2. Where will Guilford get a bunch more new donor money? (“Bunch” here is technical shorthand for “many millions”; the other key word is “new”.)

I wish Farmbry the best in his quest; he’s running in a very crowded lane, elbowing with just about every other college prez on the continent.  Yet I think I forgot a third item in the list of key queries, namely:

3. Can he get this necessary pile of new money without again making Guilford a byword for selling out (or leasing for a decade or two) its brain and soul to cockamamie crackpots with spare cash?

This is not, pardon my platitude, an academic question. There are other rich folks circling around like vultures waiting to feast on the bones of academic roadkill. People named Koch. And Soros. And Gates. And others.

Oligarchies are like that.

But Farmbry surely knew that. He doubtless knows too that another piece of the Ayn Rand/Greenspan legacy is a baby bust that followed their big 2007 crash.  As a result, the latest reports on college enrollment are the stuff of executive acid reflux. Such as this, from the Washington Post in March:

Colleges across America face a daunting challenge: Their student head count has shrunk more than 5 percent since 2019, according to a national estimate, as debate over the value of higher education intensified during the public health crisis and economic tumult.

That’s an enrollment loss of nearly 1 million students. Some drifted out of college, while others never started. Many colleges are on an urgent quest to keep current students and recover their lost freshmen.

Continued erosion of enrollment is raising alarms
At stake are not only the education and career prospects of huge numbers of young adults, but also the financial health of regional colleges and universities. Once students leave, they often don’t return.”

So best wishes to Guilford’s new prez, and here’s hoping he can get past the ripples spreading from Wendy Brown’s untimely comment and find those well-heeled new students, plus the even some better-heeled philanthropists at loose ends.

And — come to think of it, maybe I have an idea: turns out that I actually wrote a potboiling novel too. A mystery, called Murder Among Friends. It’s available, and perhaps we could work a deal for freshmen at Guilford to get a copy and use it in a course, yes?

It’s a Quaker mystery, so the ideology it tries to peddle is one version of Friends; and it weighs in at a whole lot fewer than 1100 pages, not to mention . . . .

Oh wait. Just checked my bank statement, and I’m way short on the half mill you’d need to back it up.

Well, never mind then.

Two Weekend Bulletins: Cases and ‘Canes?

Okay, enough with all the bad news about the leaky Supreme Court, ThrillBilly elegies in Ohio, World War 2.5 in Europe, and a stock market sinking like a Russian flagship. Time for some upbeat happy news!

Um, sorry, I don’t have any.

But will you settle for some different stuff to worry about?

Like that pesky pandemic, and maybe — a possible “subtropical event”?

Well, I’ll mention them anyway.

Can we remember those giddy Good Old Days when the daily total of new Covid cases got as low as 27000? (It had been at 500,000 daily at Christmastim

Me neither, but it did, and here’s a hint: it wasn’t even six weeks ago. Yep, March 30. Take a look: Continue reading Two Weekend Bulletins: Cases and ‘Canes?

A Progressive Catholic Goes There: Against Abortion, But Supports Keeping Roe

I can relate to this article. I published one like it in a Boston alternative weekly in early January of 1973. Angry letters poured in for weeks, until January 22, when Roe v. Wade was issued; then my qualms & quibbles were instantly forgotten.

I wasn’t sorry. Since then, some of my views have evolved, while my general antipathy to most abortions remains. (More on my personal pilgrimage here.) But I’m still as staunchly against criminalization as I was 49 years ago.

Now I’m too old to draw much fire, so it was gratifying to see this piece by a young radical Catholic (if indeed she’ still identifies as Catholic), planting her flag in the columns of the National Catholic Reporter, the “loyal opposition” progressive American weekly.

Some pro-Roe adherents may not care about Chastain’s reasons, but only that she arrives at their preferred destination.

A blast from the Kavanaugh past; we didn’t get fooled, like Collins & other Fools on the Hill.

That’s a mistake. In the new struggle that’s upon us, the agonized ambiguity of many, Catholics and non-  will be a crucial arena of either progress or further setbacks. If not agreement, finding a basis for respectful coalition will be — and in truth, long have been — imperative.  This article is one  such new opportunity.

I’m thinking first here of my fellow liberal Quakers: to save our rights, we’ll have to learn & think and act outside our blue bubbles. But this sentiment applies more broadly too.

National Catholic Reporter: COMMENTARY

I’m an anti-abortion disability advocate. Overturning Roe isn’t the answer.

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

Medical instruments for a surgical abortion are seen in this photo. (CNS/Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein)

I was in high school when I first learned which of my extended family members had encouraged my mom to abort my very-much-alive disabled brother. At the time, I had just begun attending youth group, which was the first place I ever saw images of abortion. I attended my first Walk for Life. Those same youth leaders helped that same brother finally receive his sacraments of initiation, after he’d been denied them for almost a decade.

As I entered undergraduate studies at a small Catholic liberal arts school and pursued a degree in theology with an emphasis in disability, I confronted the historical reality that had galvanized me as a teenager: Abortion is implicitly eugenic. The disproportionate targeting of disabled fetuses for termination hinges on deeply violent assumptions around worthiness, rooted in capitalistic beliefs around productivity and conventional social futurity.

Put plainly? Disabled people may not learn, work, marry or procreate “normally,” and that nonnormative lifestyle will inconvenience too many people. A disabled person may experience profound pain and social exclusion.

Regardless of whether or not these things are always and everywhere true (they are not), it is equally troublesome that people who hold these beliefs around disability often don’t believe these circumstances are within their power or responsibility to change outside of abortion (they are).

Abortion was always going to be personal for me — the abortion topic always is — even when approached from different angles. One in four women will have an abortion, which includes treatments of ectopic pregnancies, tubal pregnancies and other forms of “spontaneous” abortion or miscarriage. And whether or not they personally experienced one, everyone knows someone impacted by abortion. It is this intimacy that has kindled the fire of many in the pro-life movement, including myself.

20210316T1100-NORTHERN-IRELAND-DISABILITY-1166813 resize.jpg

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

Pro-life supporters are pictured holding signs outside the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jan. 30, 3019. (CNS/Reuters/Brian Lawless)

But then, in graduate school at a large secular research university, I began to study feminist, queer and crip histories and theories of the body. I began participating in more progressive religious spaces that emphasized Catholic social teaching and needs for social reconciliation.

Being in relationship with secular, pro-abortion feminists who were learning alongside me about the systematic underresourcing of marginalized groups — while the world’s racial and medical disparities were being aired live during the COVID-19 pandemic — moved me into the place of intense nuance where I am now and that I believe undergirds a truly consistent life ethic: I am anti-abortion, but I do not think criminalizing abortions will stop them, because having access to abortions isn’t what causes them.

Things that cause abortions: lack of comprehensive sex education, inaccessible health care, violence against women, religious shame and exclusion, familial rejection or coercion, and workplace inequalities including but not limited to barriers for advancement, disparities in pay and lack of paid parental leave or child care.

Making abortion illegal before addressing these injustices is going to kill women, because women will continue to have abortions, secretively and unsafely.

For the first time that I can recall in my years of being anti-abortion, tales of the pre-Roeworld from women who lived it are being shared on a massive scale. (Many are circulating this New York Times article from January and sharing their own stories in the captions.) Social media is a flurry of back-alley horrors.

And in a post-COVID-19 society when young people are already experiencing a catastrophic mental health crisis, making abortion illegal is going to kill women in more ways than one.

Refusal to accept the reality of these dangers is resisting a nuance that is dire. You can accept the dangers of overturning Roe v. Wade are real and still be anti-abortion. I certainly am. None of these dangers changes that abortion is a deeply ableist system used to root out genetic differences based on bigoted sociocultural values. None of these facts change that I’ve seen disability-motivated abortion rhetoric devalue people at the cornerstone of my life. It is personal, but it is also necessarily systemic.

We can recognize that abortion being legal represents a certain form of public complicity in permitting a grievous sin to happen. But are we actually permitting it any less without changing the causes of abortion? To achieve the desired society in which abortion is no longer permitted, we have to create a reality where abortion is no longer caused. We are complicit in those systems, too.

We need mandatory and comprehensive sexual education and accessible health care. We need to address income inequality and mandate paid parental leave. We need to demolish the prison industrial complex and stop criminalizing the poor and marginalized. We need robust community-based postnatal care and to crack down on violence against women. We need to revolutionize the way churches approach sexuality, that we might embrace and support sexually active women in crisis, regardless of their marital status.

I am still anti-abortion. And yet, it is amazing how quickly the solidarity comes with my pro-abortion loved ones the moment I articulate these nuanced beliefs: I am anti-abortion, and I do not want it to be illegal. This solidarity will be crucial to providing a safe haven for at-risk women, if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned. We must all keep our eyes on the true culprits; we must shout about the real causes of abortion, together.

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain

Madison Chastain writes about the body, faith and culture. You can find more of her work on Instagram @maddsienicole, or on theologyforeverybody.com.

Roy Cooper for President?

I’m not in the habit of taking political advice from rightwing websites.  Never mind a site started by Tucker Carlson; or from anything else associated with the top Fox News motormouth.

But the headline below, I admit, gave me pause today. So here it is, with some comments in bold dark red.

The Daily Caller: The Democrats Only Have One Hope For 2024, And He’s Already Beaten Trump Twice
Hayden Daniel — May 3, 2022

Though it’s still over two years away, Democrats are beginning to panic over the 2024 presidential election.

Can’t argue with that.

A humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan,

— “humiliating” is YOUR word, Dude. I still give Biden points for biting that awful bullet.  Yeah, the execution sucked, and there’s other fair criticisms to be made, but Biden had the stones to do  what should have been done years ago– Continue reading Roy Cooper for President?

Sen. Bob Casey: The “Pro-Life” Democrat, Walking a Fine Line, On a Narrow Path, Down a Lonely Road, through a Minefield

Philadelphia Inquirer — May 3, 2022

by Jonathan Tamari and Max Marin

Bob Casey is one of the last ‘pro-life’ Democrats. The Supreme Court decision is going to test his views.

WASHINGTON — When the Sandy Hook school shooting rocked the country, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey changed his longtime stance on the Second Amendment, becoming a fierce advocate for stricter gun laws.

When a Supreme Court decision neared that would make same-sex marriage legal nationwide, Casey embraced the shift, abandoning his previous objections.

And when President Joe Biden took office early last year, Casey softened his stand on the Senate filibuster, suggesting he’d be open to changing the rule if it helped Democrats turn big, progressive ambitions into reality.

 

But as Casey has followed his party’s leftward trajectory over the past decade,, one key issue still set him apart from most Democrats: abortion. Casey is one of the few major Democrats left who describes himself as “pro-life.” Continue reading Sen. Bob Casey: The “Pro-Life” Democrat, Walking a Fine Line, On a Narrow Path, Down a Lonely Road, through a Minefield

Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression. Continue reading Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Supreme Court to Overthrow Roe: Then What?

“Will there be a nationwide Backlash?

The short answer: I don’t know . . . .”

I’m quoting myself above, from a blog post on December 29 of last year. In it my short answer got stretched out a bit.

Time for an update, now that Politico has surfaced a leaked draft  SCOTUS decision that would decisively and fully reverse Roe, and the later Casey decision that upheld it.

The Unknown leaker.

But before plunging into the update, let me pause for a moment to pay tribute to the (as yet) unknown leaker:

All the reporters and pundits I’ve heard and read marvel at that person’s action, which is said to be  essentially unprecedented in SCOTUS history.

My outsider’s guess is that she/he (I’ll call them Sheehy, a more dulcet pronoun) is most likely a law clerk, one of the chosen few who serve the various justices for a year each, at the presumed start of illustrious and handsomely-remunerated legal careers.

The decision draft is dated February 10. That suggests that Sheehy agonized over this action for ten weeks.

I wonder if Sheehy is familiar with Daniel Ellsberg, one of my generation’s heroes, who risked jail to copy and leak the super-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971. The Papers blew up the lies underlying the U. S. War in Vietnam, and helped lead to the disgrace and resignation of Richard Nixon. Sheehy’s action could be her cohort’s counterpart to Ellsberg’s witness. I have no doubt that Sam Alito and the other four signers will comb their columned chambers from ceiling to basement to flush out Sheehy’s identity. And in today’s surveillance culture, they have a good chance of finding out.

Will Sheehy too then face jail? Or will the SCOTUS-ites bundle the whistleblower out of town, lips locked shut with an iron NDA, to be forever unknown?

Personally I hope Sheehy gets good timing advice (and a top lawyer), and comes out at a midday press conference soon, to refocus the media spotlight back on what was disclosed. If Sheehy is a clerk, one career path will soon be decisively closed, but fame would be undying, and new career options will open.

Whatever happens, and whoever they are, Sheehy has my thanks and gratitude.

But back to the leaked decision. (The full text is at this link.) Here’s the section from my December post about backlash, which still seems relevant, and cited

“. . . two very smart women pundits whose work I take seriously, [who] made opposite predictions about this.

First, Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist.

Jennifer Rubin

For years she was reliably right wing. Trump changed all that. Rubin’s not exactly a born-again liberal now, but is vociferously pro-Roe v. Wade. And she thinks its overthrow would  be a huge political boon to Democrats, writing:

[I]f Democrats needed reason to fire up the troops before the 2022 midterm elections, this might do it. The obviously partisan court will thrust the nation into a period of turmoil, chaos and outrage over new restrictions on women’s life choices, which Republicans will seek to cement in state laws.

Every Republican on the ballot for state legislator, governor, the House or the Senate will have to defend new intrusions on women’s autonomy, including in cases of rape and incest. Given the wide and deep support for abortion rights, Republicans may come to regret appointing religious ideologues to the court.”

Turmoil, chaos & outrage” eh? Continue reading Supreme Court to Overthrow Roe: Then What?

War Notes, Monday Threefer: Hackers Attacking Russia; Ukraine’s female minesweepers; and Sketches from Ukraine’s “International Legion”

Washington Post: Hacking Russia was off-limits. The Ukraine war made it a free-for-all.

Experts anticipated a Moscow-led cyber-assault; instead, unprecedented attacks by hacktivists and criminals have wreaked havoc in Russia.

By Joseph Menn — May 1, 2022

For more than a decade, U.S. cybersecurity experts have warned about Russian hacking that increasingly uses the labor power of financially motivated criminal gangs to achieve political goals, such as strategically leaking campaign emails.

Prolific ransomware groups in the last year and a half have shut down pandemic-battered hospitals, the key fuel conduit Colonial Pipeline and schools; published sensitive documents from corporate victims; and, in one case, pledged to step up attacks on American infrastructure if Russian technology was hobbled in retribution for the invasion of Ukraine.

Yet the third month of war finds Russia, not the United States, struggling under an unprecedented hacking wave that entwines government activity, political voluntarism and criminal action.

Digital assailants have plundered the country’s personal financial data, defaced websites and handed decades of government emails to anti-secrecy activists abroad. One recent survey showed more passwords and other sensitive data from Russia were dumped onto the open Web in March than information from any other country.
The published documents include a cache from a regional office of media regulator Roskomnadzor that revealed the topics its analysts were most concerned about on social media — including antimilitarism and drug legalization — and that it was filing reports to the FSB federal intelligence service, which has been arresting some who complain about government policies. Continue reading War Notes, Monday Threefer: Hackers Attacking Russia; Ukraine’s female minesweepers; and Sketches from Ukraine’s “International Legion”

Gwynne Dyer

 

Western powers step up assistance for a confident but battered Ukraine

Two months ago, when Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine, every message from Washington or Nato about the invasion included a prominent passage saying what the western alliance would not do.

It would not send Nato troops to help Ukraine. It would give Ukraine some ‘defensive’ weapons but no ‘offensive’ ones, e.g., anti-tank missiles but no tanks.

It would, in other words, allow Ukraine to lose, but only slowly.

And under no circumstances would it do anything that gave Russia reason to fear that it might face military action by Nato.

an journalist and long-time commentator on international affairs.

OPINION: Two months ago, when Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine, every message from Washington or Nato about the invasion included a prominent passage saying what the western alliance would not do.

It would not send Nato troops to help Ukraine. It would give Ukraine some ‘defensive’ weapons but no ‘offensive’ ones, e.g., anti-tank missiles but no tanks.

It would, in other words, allow Ukraine to lose, but only slowly.

And under no circumstances would it do anything that gave Russia reason to fear that it might face military action by Nato.

How things have changed!

In the past two weeks the United States has declared that some $2 billion worth of state-of-the-art weapons are on the way to Ukraine, including ‘Switchblade’ combat drones and self-propelled howitzers.

Even Germany (which originally offered Ukraine nothing but 5,000 helmets) is sending modern anti-aircraft guns.

Rhetorically, the sky is the limit. In a press briefing at the Polish border last Monday after a quick visit to Kyiv, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said: “We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

It wasn’t even like Joe Biden’s slip of the tongue last month about regime change in Moscow.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was also on the Kyiv trip, chimed in to back Austin up: “I think the Secretary said it very well.” The official US goal is now to reduce Russia to a state so weak that it cannot credibly threaten Ukraine, and keep it there.

This presupposes, of course, that Russia has already suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Ukrainian army in the current war. It also implicitly assumes that the devastating economic sanctions that NATO and other countries have placed on Russia will continue after the war ends.

Continue reading Gwynne Dyer

Hair On Fire Report: Right Wing Ex-Judge Calls Out 2024 GOP Election Plot

By J. Michael Luttig — CNN-Wed April 27, 2022

[Emphasis added.]

(CNN) Nearly a year and a half later, surprisingly few understand what January 6 was all about.

Fewer still understand why former President Donald Trump and Republicans persist in their long-disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Much less why they are obsessed about making the 2024 race a referendum on the “stolen” election of 2020, which even they know was not stolen.

January 6 was never about a stolen election or even about actual voting fraud. It was always and only about an election that Trump lost fair and square, under legislatively promulgated election rules in a handful of swing states that he and other Republicans contend were unlawfully changed by state election officials and state courts to expand the right and opportunity to vote, largely in response to the Covid pandemic.

The Republicans’ mystifying claim to this day that Trump did, or would have, received more votes than Joe Biden in 2020 were it not for actual voting fraud, is but the shiny object that Republicans have tauntingly and disingenuously dangled before the American public for almost a year and a half now to distract attention from their far more ambitious objective.

Continue reading Hair On Fire Report: Right Wing Ex-Judge Calls Out 2024 GOP Election Plot