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August 28, 2006 [feather]
UCLA gets it

The fight to curb animal rights activists' illegal actions against animal researchers has begun.

Erin O'Connor, 7:23 AM | Permalink

August 26, 2006 [feather]

Margaret Soltan reminds us that yesterday was the anniversary of Truman Capote's death. Margaret has recently written a lively appreciation of Capote's style, parsing the opening of In Cold Blood to explain how complex and nuanced his deceptively journalistic prose was in that book; I've devoted some space to Capote (who invented a new mode of nonfiction writing with In Cold Blood), concentrating in particular on the "other" Capote--the one who wrote elegiac, semi-autobiographical stories about memory, childhood, longing, and loss.

One of my all-time favorite works of American fiction is Capote's Grass Harp, which is at once autobiographical, based on some of the stranger characters in Capote's childhood, and thoroughly embedded in American literary history--the story of a boy who runs away to a treehouse with two old ladies and finds himself floating above the cruel world on a utopian, leafy raft is a direct if largely unmarked descendant of Twain's original, and just as worthy of serious attention. A couple of representative sentences: "Dolly said that when she was a girl she'd liked to wake up winter mornings and hear her father singing as he went about the house building fires; after he was old, after he'd died, she sometimes heard his songs in the field of Indian grass. Wind, Catherine said; and Dolly told her: But the wind is us--it gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields--I've heard Papa clear as day."

Capote lost his way entirely after In Cold Blood made him spectacularly famous; he drank and drugged and ate and gossiped his way to an early, ugly death in 1984, by which time he was the human equivalent of a bloated, bitter toad. But his early works bear no relation to the late man; they are, in fact, some of the most exquisitely rendered writing about vulnerability that we have.


Erin O'Connor, 7:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 22, 2006 [feather]
Terror at UCLA

A UCLA neurobiologist has announced that he will no longer conduct animal research because the harassment and threats of animal rights groups have gone too far:

Dario Ringach, an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, decided this month to give up his research on primates because of pressure put on him, his neighborhood, and his family by the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, which seeks to stop research that harms animals.

Anti-animal research groups are trumpeting Ringach's move as a victory, while some researchers are worried that it could embolden such groups to use more extreme tactics.

Ringach's name and home phone number are posted on the Primate Freedom Project's Web site, and colleagues and UCLA officials said that Ringach was harassed by phone--his office phone number is no longer active--and e-mail, as well as through demonstrations in front of his home.

In an e-mail this month to several anti-animal research groups, Ringach wrote that "you win," and asked that the groups "please don't bother my family anymore."

The North American Animal Liberation Press Office, a resource for the media on "animal liberation actions," according to the group's Web site, posted a news release from the Animal Liberation Front, a separate group that sometimes engages in illegal activities, about Ringach's decision. The press release describes Ringach's research as torturous and "a far cry from life saving research." UCLA officials said that groups like ALF often misconstrue information, and that, in the interest of researchers' safety, the university is not releasing detailed information about projects being attacked by such groups.

Colleagues suggested that Ringach, who did not return e-mails seeking comment, was spooked by an attack on a colleague. In June, the Animal Liberation Front took credit for trying to put a Molotov cocktail on the doorstep of Lynn Fairbanks, another UCLA researcher who does experimentation on animals. The explosive was accidentally placed on the doorstep of Fairbanks's elderly neighbor's house, and did not detonate.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the incident. Fairanks said in an e-mail that the "protests against me are based on complete fabrications that, unfortunately, are believed by many of their followers." She added that she is sad that Ringach is giving up his work, because he "was making new and important advances in our knowledge about how the brain processes information."

Upon Ringach's decision to stop his research, UCLA issued a statement saying that "we all suffer when animal rights activists attempt to intimidate researchers by physically threatening and harassing them and their families, including young children." The statement added that "to be so extreme as to use violent tactics aimed at halting animal research is to take away hope from millions of people with cancer, AIDS, heart disease and hundreds of other diseases."

Jerry Vlasak, a practicing physician, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, and a former animal researcher, said that "obviously the roughly 30 non-human primates [Ringach] was killing every year would be ecstatic" with his decision to halt his work. Vlasak said that when he was an animal researcher, he published papers on his work, but didn't feel that he contributed anything important to society. As to the Molotov cocktail, Vlasak said that "force is a poor second choice, but if that's the only thing that will work ... there's certainly moral justification for that."

There are a lot of things I could say about this case, but I'll stick with the most basic thing: It's one of a growing number of similar cases happening on campuses across the country. It indicates a deeply disturbing trend in the animal rights movement toward organized violence and terror. And--here's the basic thing I want to say--this trend is passing almost unnoticed and unmarked by the very people who claim to concern themselves with higher education, academic politics, academic freedom, and so on.

InsideHigherEd.com at least covered the story. But bloggers and administrators and journalists and concerned citizens should be paying a lot more attention to the issue of animal rights activism on campus. They should be learning to understand how this movement works, studying its patterns and taking seriously its threats. And they should be doing a lot more then they are to insist that terror of this sort be recognized as such, that it not be tolerated by the law or by campuses, and that it be ended; they should be getting behind the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which would make it a crime to "harass or cause 'economic disruption' to animal researchers, suppliers, and even people who might be tangentially associated with a researcher, like, for instance, a researcher’s babysitter;" the act would also criminalize organizing campaigns of harassment or disruption.

I'd like to see the blogosphere take an interest in cases such as Ringach's, and I'd particularly like to see academic bloggers working to defend the animal research upon which we all depend--whether we eat meat or not, whether we wear leather or not, whether we approve of fur farming or not. You can love your pets and be concerned for animal welfare and even be deeply invested in scientific research being conducted in a humane way and still believe in animal research. If that describes you, you should be haunted by the behavior of groups such as the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, or the Animal Liberation Front, or even--this may surprise some readers--PETA (more on this in another post, another time). And if you are haunted, you should find a way to act.

On a different note, UCLA should be appalled that its name is being associated with the acts of a local terrorist group. The UCLA Primate Freedom Project uses UCLA's name to endorse its acts; it also uses UCLA's name in its domain name, www.uclaprimatefreedom.com. Hiding behind anonymity, the members do identify themselves as members of the UCLA community--"We are a grassroots organization comprised of UCLA students and concerned citizens of Los Angeles who are dedicated to informing the community about current research conducted on monkeys at UCLA"--and as such they affiliate their activities with the university. UCLA may not have the power to stop this group, but it could at least take steps to ensure that its name is not being used in the group's service. While one could argue that the "UCLA" in "UCLA Primate Freedom Project" refers to the group's focus on freeing the research primates at UCLA, and that as such the use of "UCLA" is descriptive rather than affiliative, the name certainly conveys the sense that the group is a part of the university, and that its work is an accepted part of the university's work. To say the least, that's not right.

UPDATE 8/26/06: Timothy Burke picks up this thread at Easily Distracted. His post and the comments of his readers are well worth a look.

Erin O'Connor, 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 9, 2006 [feather]
Simple pleasures

This post from Our Girl in Chicago struck a chord:

When the world is too much with me, I reach for Gilbert White. The eighteenth-century naturalist made 10,000 daily records of the flora and fauna, weather and harvests of his Hampshire village, Selborne. These are his notes from August 1771.

Aug. 5. Young partridgers, strong flyers. Soft showers. Swifts. Pease are hacking.
Aug. 6. Nuthatch chirps; is very loquacious at this time of the year. Large bat appears, vespertilio altivolans.
Aug. 7. Rye-harvest begins. Procured the above-mentioned specimen of the bat, a male.
Aug. 8. Rain in the night, with wind. Swifts. Sultry & moist: Cucumbers bear abundantly. Showers about. Procured a second large bat, a male.
Aug. 10. Flying ants, male & female.
Aug. 11. Heavy clouds round the horizon. Lambs play & frolick.
Aug. 16. Rain, driving rain, dry. Four swifts still.
Aug. 18. No dew, rain, rain, rain. Swans flounce & dive. Chilly & dark.
Aug. 19. Swifts abound. Swallows & martins bring out their second broods which are perchers. Thunder: wind.
Aug. 22. Bank-martins [sand-martins] bring out their second brood. Swifts. No swifts seen after this day.
Aug. 23. Young swallows & martins come out every day. Still weather. Wheat-harvest becomes pretty general.
Aug. 25. Wheat not ripe at Faringdon. Winter weather. Oats & barley ripe before wheat.
Aug. 26. Nuthatch chirps much. No swifts since 22nd.
Aug. 28. Dark, grey, & soft. People bind their wheat.
Aug. 29. Fog, sun, brisk wind. Sweet day. Wheat begins to be housed.
Aug. 30. Young Stoparolas abound. Swallows congregate in vast flocks. Wheat housed.

I really do bliss out reading these journals. The above, for me, is a story, a poem, and a picture all at once, minimally wordy but maximally expressive, piquing every sense.

All true. I would add that there is a special relationship between the words here--minimal, sharp, observant but not effusive, descriptive but not lingering or self-conscious--and the experience they describe, which is not only essentially non-verbal, but elementally impersonal. The pleasure evoked by these descriptions is not a linguistic pleasure, or even a particularly thoughtful one, though it is a knowledgeable and aware one. You might call it a modest pleasure, or at least one that is not in the least ego-centric. There is no self in White's entries, though there is an outlook; he reduces himself to a pair of eyes and impartially records what they see. As OGIC notes, there is a type of bliss involved in such simple acts of registry, one that arises from the erasure of self--however momentary--they imply.

Donegal does something similar for me. Here's a White-like description of my yesterday afternoon: Warm wind & mist. Crows and starlings swoop. Barley bent and gold.

Every day is different, even on the same walks in the same lanes. The sky is a face (I think Charlotte Bronte once observed that), and the hedges, fields, and herds are always changing, always new. You can walk until you forget yourself, which is a very fine and necessary and increasingly rare thing to do.

Erin O'Connor, 1:04 PM | Permalink

August 8, 2006 [feather]
Teaching history

At ACTA Online, an open thread on teaching U.S. history. Stop by and post your thoughts.

Erin O'Connor, 3:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 7, 2006 [feather]

Very interesting idea from the Wikipedia 2006 conference:

Piotr Konieczny, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, recommended that professors require students to create or edit Wikipedia articles as a classroom exercise. By turning students into Wikipedia editors, he argued, professors could encourage collaborative scholarship and alleviate the tedium of solitary paper-writing.

The professors might also be doing the Web site a favor, Mr. Konieczny said: "Perhaps having students all around the world contribute to Wikipedia is what we need to sustain its exponential growth."

This was actually an idea some students in my spring course on biography spontaneously proposed. I thought it was a really intriguing idea, and it's interesting to see student brainstorms about interesting writing assignments dovetail with those of teachers. If any reader-teachers out there have tried this as an assignment, do record your impressions in the comments.

Erin O'Connor, 6:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

August 4, 2006 [feather]
Cutback as feedback

As Kevin Barrett continues to publicize his crackpot theories and the University of Wisconsin continues to defend, albeit grudgingly, his academic freedom, the Ozaukee County Board has quietly but decisively launched a punitive campaign against the University of Wisconsin system:

PORT WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Ozaukee County Board has voted to cut funding for next year's University of Wisconsin-Extension program by the amount paid a University of Wisconsin-Madison lecturer who contends that the U.S. government orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The move to cut $8,427 from the program was approved 18-11 Wednesday, and board member Joseph Sopko of Belgium - who co-authored the resolution - said he planned to contact all 71 other county boards to urge them to adopt the same resolution.

"I might have a chance in 70 of them. I don't know about Dane County," said Sopko, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard and returned in September from a two-month stint in Afghanistan.

The move concerns part-time UW lecturer Kevin Barrett. University officials decided last month after reviewing his records and course plans that he would be allowed to teach a course on Islam.

David Giroux, spokesman for UW-Extension in Madison, said the resolution was aimed at the wrong target.

"The only people who will be harmed by this kind of cut in Ozaukee County or any other county will be our local 4-H kids, local farmers, local families, local businesses, local communities," he said.

The budget cuts may be misguided, and they may harm all the wrong people in all the wrong places. But as a guerilla legislative tactic, that's not necessarily a bad (read: ineffectual) thing. The cuts make palpable the price taxpayers have paid to enable Barrett to teach--which in turn drives home the outrage UW has committed on the public's dime. UW has yet to articulate a coherent plan for preventing future Barretts from finding their way into its classrooms. It needs to do so.

Erin O'Connor, 8:17 AM | Permalink