23 October 2007

Wonk Market

What? A place where wonks go to date? No, it's a politically-active farmer's market, naturally.
A message from FRESHFARM Markets (the organizers of the DuPont Circle
farmers market):

Where the 2007 Farm Bill Stands at This Time

In an effort to keep you updated on the Farm Bill, we wanted to let
you know that after months of negotiations, the Senate Committee on
will be debating and amending the Farm Bill tomorrow
morning (Wednesday, October 24 at 10:00 am ). There are some wins for
local, sustainable, organic food and farming, but there are also some
things still in jeopardy or underfunded. Two national organizations -
The Community Food Security Coalition and the Sustainable Agriculture
- recently put out updates with summaries of what is in the
current draft and these can be found respectively at [here] and [here].

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has also just released an Action
alert on amendments that are likely to come up tomorrow and we
encourage you to review the information and take action. The action
alert can be accessed at: [here]

FRESHFARM Markets supports all components of the Farm Bill that
promote sustainable agriculture and the continued livelihood of small
and mid-sized farmers and producers. The current Senate Farm Bill
contains many provisions that benefit farmers markets and consumers;
we want to make our customers aware of ways that they can have an
impact on the Farm Bill and their food system.
I love this town.

01 October 2007

Civility versus Practicality

It doesn't take much for me to feel completely behind the times. I recently got an email from my buddy Sushil regarding Iran, Columbia University, and whole group of Iranian academics (whose identities I've been unable to find). It took me quite a while to figure out what went on. Let's see if I can summarize.

On 24 September Iranian President M. Ahmadinejad was invited by Columbia University to speak on their campus during his recent visit to the US. President of Columbia U., L. Bollinger, during his introduction of Ahmadinejad, made many pointed comments and questions about the behavior of Ahmadinejad and the current Iranian administration. In response, Ahmadinejad gave his prepared remarks and half-answered questions from Bollinger and Columbia students. Inter alia, he mentioned some offense taken at such harsh treatment for a guest of the university.

The next day, a group of Iranian academics issued an open letter to Bollinger, taking offense at Ahmadinejad's inhospitable treatment, and including several pointed questions for Bollinger.


Having (finally) read through Bollinger's comments as well as Ahmadinejad's speech and Q&A, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with the Iranians' letter in response. Bollinger probably shouldn't have been as pointed in his opening comments:
I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.
but given the forum constraints and those on Ahmadinejad's time, I think the timing of the comments before Ahmadinejad's speech was reasonable. The content and questions in Bollinger's speech to Ahmadinejad were also quite reasonable and relevant, given that it was a university president talking to a head of state. The head of state (Ahmadinejad) should be expected to answer for the actions of his government, especially those actions during his term in office.

Ahmadinejad's response to questions from Bollinger and others was fairly dodgy:
QUESTION: Mr. President, another student asks -- Iranian women are now denied basic human rights and your government has imposed draconian punishments, including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Freedoms in Iran are genuine, true freedoms. Iranian people are free. Women in Iran enjoy the highest levels of freedom.

We have two deputy -- two vice presidents that are female, at the highest levels of specialty, specialized fields. In our parliament and our government and our universities, they're present. In our biotechnological fields, our technological fields, there are hundreds of women scientists that are active -- in the political realm as well.

It's not -- it's wrong for some governments, when they disagree with another government, to, sort of, try to spread lies that distort the full truth.

Our nation is free. It has the highest level of participation in elections, in Iran. Eighty percent, ninety percent of the people turn out for votes during the elections, half of which, over half of which are women. So how can we say that women are not free? Is that the entire truth?

But as for the executions, I'd like to raise two questions. If someone comes and establishes a network for illicit drug trafficking that affects the youth in Iran, Turkey, Europe, the United States, by introducing these illicit drugs and destroys them, would you ever reward them?

People who lead the lives -- cause the deterioration of the lives of hundreds of millions of youth around the world, including in Iran, can we have any sympathy to them? Don't you have capital punishment in the United States? You do, too.


AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Iran, too, there's capital punishment for illicit drug traffickers, for people who violated the rights of people. If somebody takes up a gun, goes into a house, kills a group of people there, and then tries to take ransom, how would you confront them in Iran -- or in the United States? Would you reward them? Can a physician allow microbes symbolically speaking to spread across a nation?

We have laws. People who violate the public rights of the people by using guns, killing people, creating insecurity, sells drugs, distribute drugs at a high level are sentenced to execution in Iran.

And some of these punishments, very few, are carried in the public eye, before the public eye. It's a law, based on democratic principles. You use injections and microbes to kill these people, and they, they're executed or they're hung. But the end result is killing.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the question isn't about criminal and drug smugglers. The question was about sexual preference and women.


AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country.


We don't have that in our country.


AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.


But, as for women, maybe you think that being a woman is a crime. It's not a crime to be a woman.

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran. In Iran, every family who is given a girl -- is given -- in every Iranian family who has a girl, they are 10 times happier than having a son. Women are respected more than men are.

They are exempt from many responsibilities. Many of the legal responsibilities rest on the shoulders of men in our society because of the respect, culturally given, to women, to the future mothers. In Iranian culture, men and sons and girls constantly kiss the hands of their mothers as a sign of respect, respect for women. And we are proud of this culture.
The response letter to Bollinger makes a classic logical fallacy (which I call monolithicity, because I don't know the real word). That is, it treats all of America as one unit, so instead of addressing questions regarding US Government behavior to the US Government, it addresses them to an American university president (Bollinger):
You asked the president approximately ten questions. Allow us to ask you ten of our own questions in the hope that your response will help clear the atmosphere of misunderstanding and distrust between our two countries and reveal the truth.

1- Why did the US media put you under so much pressure to prevent Mr. Ahmadinejad from delivering his speech at Columbia University? And why have American TV networks been broadcasting hours of news reports insulting our president while refusing to allow him the opportunity to respond? Is this not against the principle of freedom of speech?

2- Why, in 1953, did the US administration overthrow the Iran's national government under Dr Mohammad Mosaddegh and go on to support the Shah's dictatorship?

3- Why did the US support the blood-thirsty dictator Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iraqi-imposed war on Iran, considering his reckless use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers defending their land and even against his own people?

4- Why is the US putting pressure on the government elected by the majority of Palestinians in Gaza instead of officially recognizing it? And why does it oppose Iran 's proposal to resolve the 60-year-old Palestinian issue through a general referendum?
Just because the Bush administration has committed (is committing) atrocities doesn't make Iran's (ongoing) human rights violations any more justified. The vast majority (9 out of 10, I think) of their questions should go to the Bush administration, not to Bollinger.

Was Bollinger rude? Yeah, probably. But the balance of power still favored the head of state versus the university president. Those of us outside of power should never hesitate to speak truth to power for fear of seeming rude. There are bounds of civility, but Bollinger did not break them.