Thursday, February 17, 2005

Three Easy Pieces

February 17, 2005

The Pentagon is planning a TV channel. I'm not making this up. Pentagon TV will be in the living rooms of DishNetwork's 11 million American subscribers, 24/7, as a "public service" intended to inform and entertain. It will include information on strategic operations and pieces on the everyday lives of military personnel (reminiscent of Stalinism and Jude Law's character in "Enemy at the Gates.") This is scarier than just the establishment of an official American propaganda mouthpiece. This is indicative of an expectation of prolonged, violent conflict, about how the American viewpoint must be tightly controlled. The Pentagon calls this "restricting and directing the flow of information." I call it the beginning of the end of free press.

Don't get me wrong, the Pentagon channel may fizzle and die very quickly, less watched than even C-Span2 or the NASA channel (both of which DishNetwork cheerily pumps into my family's living room back home, also as a public service.) The precedent of the channel's creation alone, however, is truly terrifying. America now has an official government news source. It is emphatically NOT the job of the Pentagon to make the American populace aware of its activity; it IS the emphatic duty of the Pentagon to keep track of its activities and make its records available to the public (as national security permits, of course, though such claims can be highly suspect.) Countries like Libya and Iran and North Korea have official news outlets, government papers, and military TV channels, NOT AMERICA! Government organizations shouldn't be concerned with their public image to begin with. They are organs of society, not brand names with a stock price to worry about.

As is this university. The state legislature has wisely determined that a higher quality Louisiana college grad makes a Louisiana college diploma more valuable, and as such they have required Louisiana public universities to raise the bar a little in terms of admissions. NSU has deftly dodged this fiscal bullet by exploiting a loophole: community colleges aren't affected by the change. NSU has therefore brought the Bossier Parish Community College to Natchitoches, under the auspices of which an incoming student can duck the academic requirements and then, after a single semester of satisfactory coursework, transfer to NSU, thus ensuring that we don't lose any delicious tuition money. In spite of this betrayal of the public good to fiscal concern, the University has further frozen all news hires for fear that enrollment will drop. This means applicants for several positions that will certainly be filled (including the position Fraser Snowden, NSU's senior professor of philosophy, will shortly be vacating) will not be notified of the University's intent to hire for weeks to come. Meanwhile, ideal candidates are likely to take a more definite offer delivered sooner. Where is the logic in a blanket hiring freeze when some positions absolutely must be filled and excellent candidates have already been identified? Perhaps instead of funding a loophole fix, the administration should concentrate on making itself an institution that will attract students who meet the new requirements - which includes STAFFING THE UNIVERSITY!

Which brings me to my final and most incidental rant: I saw a religious license plate on the front of a University maintenance vehicle last week. You can look for it yourself; it's a small beige truck, toolboxes and racks on the sides, with a state license plate on the back that says "public" above the number 154898. I object to the religious reference, even if the maintenance worker who drives that truck paid for the plate himself, even if he puts it on every morning and takes it home with him at night. It's not as though it's a simple cross pin on his lapel or an Ichthyus (more commonly known as the "Jesus fish") on his personal vehicle; that truck was purchased with public funds, serves the public interest, and has the seal of a public university on its doors. This is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state, not that I expect a state that still gets away with mandatory student prayer at mandatory pep rallies for all-but-mandatory high school football games to fix the problem.

Fridays, 91.7 FM from 8:00-10:00 AM to hear me rant. Visit for some tasty reading and contact me at to shoot your mouth off. WARNING: I shoot back.


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