Academia and activism
Re: "Expelling academia's crackpots," Opinion, July 30
Although I disagree with his characterization of the 9/11 victims as "little Eichmanns," Ward Churchill should be defended against the "little McCarthys." According to Gregory Rodriguez, it was not enough for the University of Colorado to expel Churchill after a prolonged and open-ended fishing expedition. Better to do it because his ideas happen to be outside the political mainstream. In academia, as in the media, only those political views that fail to conform to today's sedate, bipartisan centrism are branded as "ideological." Meanwhile, the thought police of the Democratic and Republican establishment get to foment political witch hunts while pretending that they somehow stand above ideology. Rodriguez complains about the "presence of activists posing as scholars on college campuses." We are left to wonder about the activists posing as journalists in the media.
Emanuele SaccarelliSan DiegoThe writer is an assistant professor of political science at San Diego State University.
Rodriguez proposes a radical solution to a small, old problem. Academic fraud has a rich history. The appropriate response to these problems is to refute them. This is the path that conservatives took in law schools through the Federalist Society. The remedies that conservatives seek in response to their concerns in colleges are quite different. They are promoting the closure of entire departments and starting groups in many universities to intimidate liberal professors. They never mention conservative crackpots. Once this infrastructure is in place, it is hard to control. This is a small problem that doesn't require such a drastic, dangerous solution.
Robert Lee HotchkissSan Diego
As a creature of the left, I wholeheartedly agree with Rodriguez, except on one point. I fail to see what's left-wing about identity politics, because it breaks up a natural working-class constituency into competing groups. The sooner the left abandons identity politics, the sooner it will have a mass following.
Charles BerezinLos Angeles
If Rodriguez is right that we shouldn't tolerate "shoddy professors who can't sort fact from ideology . . . particularly at taxpayer expense," I have a more important question: Why are we taxpayers continuing to tolerate a U.S. president who obviously can't differentiate between fact and ideology?
ACLU's stance on objects of worship
Re "A safety hazard or special treatment?" July 30
The Times misrepresented the ACLU's position with regard to prayer rugs. The ACLU believes that the state should not pay for religious symbols or objects of worship, including prayer rugs, microphones to broadcast the call to prayer, rosaries or crucifixes, but it can -- under limited and appropriate circumstances -- pay for items that genuinely are designed to protect health and safety. In fact, this issue would be simpler if the government were providing prayer rugs, which have a clear religious purpose. Instead, the government is building foot baths, which are not inherently religious: They are not blessed, cannot be desecrated and are open to everyone for any purpose.
Not every government expenditure to promote safety is unconstitutional simply because it has an incidental benefit to worshipers. For example, when the pope visited Hamtramck 10 years ago, the ACLU of Michigan did not oppose the use of city funds for security because the motive and effect was to ensure the pope's safety, not to promote Christianity.
Kary L. MossExecutive director, ACLU of MichiganDetroit
Interpreting the 2nd Amendment
Re "Gun control under fire," editorial, July 30
Although gun violence is a deplorable aspect of our society, a narrow reading of the 2nd Amendment that would allow gun bans would not prevent even a fraction of the crime or injuries caused by guns, despite assertions to that effect in your editorial. For the clearest evidence to the contrary, simply take a look at the effectiveness of the law at issue: Gun crime is no less a danger in Washington now than it was before the law. This should not surprise anyone. Criminals who would be willing to use guns to commit crimes would pay just as little respect to laws about gun ownership as they do to the other laws they break.
Your editorial endorsing the collective interpretation of the 2nd Amendment appears to be sound, because the word "people" is not plural for "person" but refers to a collective body of persons. The authors of the Bill of Rights understood this syntactic distinction because they used "persons" in the 4th Amendment when referring to individual citizens. But the 2nd Amendment does not limit how the "people" may keep and bear arms, just as the 1st Amendment does not limit "the right of the people peaceably to assemble." Advocating the collective interpretation to limit gun ownership means the same argument could be made to limit peaceable assembly to organized groups sanctioned by the state. I would not own a gun now, but I would like access to remain open to my fellow "persons" and me, should the government ever become tyrannical. We pay a price in public safety for our gun rights, but perhaps our legal ability to arm ourselves quickly is what has helped us to remain "free" thus far.
It's hardly a radical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to strike down the District of Columbia's draconian gun laws when more than 40 states have adopted shall-issue or may-issue concealed weapons permits, which give nonfelons and mentally healthy individuals the right to protect family or property. It is intellectually dishonest to state that the dominant interpretation of "people" is collective. If The Times doesn't like guns, why doesn't it advocate amending the Constitution? There are clear procedures to do just that.
Michael C. RostAltadena
Words of warning
Re "Don't count out Malthus," Opinion, July 30
I suspect Niall Ferguson's well-reasoned commentary regarding the Earth's ultimate inability to sustain unrestrained population growth will, as usual, be ignored. Our religious leaders and politicians regard population growth as natural, inevitable and exempt from interference. That attitude, along with our free market economy that depends on expanding markets, make any political steps toward reducing population growth inconceivable.
Ralph G. FisherSanta Barbara
It is true that demographer and economist Thomas Malthus, barring interplanetary travel or an agricultural revolution, ultimately will be right. To argue, however, that the population predictions of 2050 are undeniably beyond the threshold of sustainability is foolish. Ferguson recommends re-reading Malthus, but perhaps he would do well to read Ester Boserup, who postulates that it is population that determines agricultural production and not vice versa. It is curious that, despite repeatedly faulty presage, from the Club of Rome's forecast of mass famine by the 21st century to the myriad journalists and intellectuals who claim expertise in matters of sustainable development today, a great level of negativity persists. The next generation of mankind is far more innovative than the current, aging generation may believe, a motif that has been repeated throughout history.
Mark D. SugiLos Angeles
Ferguson writes: "Some people worry about peak oil -- when we reach the peak of petroleum production. I worry about peak grain." Ferguson should be worried about peak oil, too, because those two concepts are inextricably entwined. Those like Malthus who made dire predictions about overpopulation were derided because their calculations didn't come to pass. Instead of hundreds of millions of starving people, we merely had a few million, and that was owed more to geopolitical problems of food distribution than to the ability to farm. The difference was our newfound ability to use petrochemicals to make fertilizers that increased crop yields worldwide. But once peak oil arrives and the price of these fertilizers doubles and triples, what will happen? A Malthusian scenario is indeed in our future, and it isn't going to be pretty.
Paul ScottSanta Monica
Limited voting or civics lessons?
Re "Way too dumb to vote," Opinion, July 31
I was surprised to see Jonah Goldberg suggest that it would be a good idea for the government to place more restrictions on who can vote. I would've expected that, as a conservative, he would be more skeptical about giving this kind of responsibility to government.
There is an obvious point to be made: There is no guarantee that being familiar with cloture and other topics will cause voters to make more objective decisions. After all, wealthy people know a lot about taxes and are almost always in favor of lowering them.
Given a bit of realism about people's motivations, it would be an astoundingly bad idea for government to try to decide who should vote. Goldberg offers vague speculation about the benefits of limiting voting, but this is just as unconvincing as the "hoary cliches" he criticizes. He would do better to remember Winston Churchill's remark that "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
Kurt SmithLeiden, Netherlands
Goldberg should be commended for advocating for a more informed electorate. But let's take his logic one step further: civics tests for elected and appointed officials. This might, perhaps, prevent the installation of an attorney general, secretary of State and secretary of Defense -- not to mention the election of a president and vice president -- who are unaware of the limits of executive privilege; aren't up to date on presidential powers under the Constitution; aren't familiar with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; can't intelligently discuss the narrow scope of legal warrantless wiretapping; or aren't acquainted with our perjury laws. If the voting privilege should be reserved to those of us who take the time to understand basic civics, so too should the privilege of serving in government.
J. David PedrazaBloomfield Hills, Mich.
Re "L.A. official steered work to relatives," July 28
No-bid contracts? Where does [Victor] Taracena think he is? Halliburton?
Bev MorseManhattan Beach