Thursday, January 23, 2003

printing goes organic
Okay, how cool is this?

An excerpt: "Three-dimensional tubes of living tissue have been printed using modified desktop printers filled with suspensions of cells instead of ink. The work is a first step towards printing complex tissues or even entire organs."

Of course, the stock market has caught wind of this sort of thing already. That leads to more sobering thoughts after the initial "damn, is this ever neat" reaction. Like, for example, how much further will this technology entrench the notion of treating biology as intellectual property? Or, supposing it proved possible to adapt it to, say, agricultural uses -- how much would it contribute to the uncontrolled and unplanned release of bio-engineered organisms into nature?

All things worth thinking about, and necessary to think about.

Still, though -- is that ever amazing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

he'll huff, and he'll puff, and he'll blow concordia down
Sorry for the long silence. I've been doing most of my posting over the last little while on Stand Down. Since I've had my fill of yakking about the pros and cons of various antiwar groups and about the recent (very successful) protests -- to which Calgary added a very modest but very encouraging side note -- I thought I'd come back and have a look in my mailbox.

And what do I find but a screed about the row between the CSU and Hillel? From a prof at my alma mater, U of C, no less. David Bercuson, Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and a history prof at the University of Calgary, sent this message out to his mailing list, obviously intending it to be as public as possible, so I see no harm in posting it here.

Before I get to the letter, though, what is it exactly that we're talking about?

Well, we're talking about this. The Concordia Student Union apparently discovered that Hillel was distributing an IDF recruitment flyer from one of their club tables. According to one councillor, the flyer was for the Nahal brigade, whose specific role is to create and defend West Bank settlements. If that charge is true, and no-one from Hillel appears to dispute it, then Hillel was breaking this Federal law along with the Fourth Geneva Convention. They were, in other words, abusing their club privileges in a pretty objectionable way.

That much seems clear enough, but the waters got muddier when the CSU tried to call Hillel to account. At this point, plenty of petty interpersonal conflicts seem to come into play, along with a long history of obnoxious conflicts between Hillel and Palestinian groups on campus. No doubt that history influenced the swiftness of the CSU's decision, amid accusations from Hillel that their suspension of privileges came "without notice" and was insulting, especially for an organization that represents an often-oppressed minority group. The whole thing smells like a group of people who are simply, fundamentally, sick of each other.

Problematically, the CSU suspension seems to have been justified not with reference to Hillel's use of their club privileges to break a Federal law (a much stronger case, in my opinion), but with reference to Concordia's ban on distributing racist hate literature -- a way of framing the issue that was bound to be inflammatory. Ironically, they might actually have thought they were doing Hillel a favour here -- one would expect that the penalty for violating the school charter is rather less steep than one for breaking a Federal law -- but unsurprisingly, Hillel didn't see it that way.

To make matters worse, the CSU then attempted a compromise, offering to reinstate Hillel if they signed an "anti-racism pact" that basically pledged them never to do anything like this again. Again, the "pact" was inflammatory because it apparently included the IDF as a racist organization -- something which the UN and many human rights organizations would likely support as functionally accurate, but which relatively few of the people involved could reasonably be expected to accept. The result was that Hillel walked out of the meeting and launched a lawsuit and a letter-writing campaign.

Apparently, matters remain there. I have to say that, on the strength of the initial allegation, Hillel doesn't seem to have much of a leg to stand on. However clumsily the CSU handled this, abusing one's club privileges by breaking Federal law is, shall we say, not cricket. Expecting your University to look the other way while you do so, no matter what minority group you represent, is beyond ridiculous. Even setting the larger moral issues (and issues with international law) of supporting the Israeli occupation aside, it's hard to see how Hillel is going to make a case that they had a right to continue using their club privileges to recruit for Nahal. (Maybe they're not going to argue this? Maybe they're going to argue over the way the incident was handled? But given that they can't dispute that they broke the law, wouldn't this strike a judge as mere quibbling, and of a particularly self-destructive sort?)

On, at any rate, to Bercuson's letter. In his preface to the mailing list, he misleadingly claims that Hillel have been "banned" from CSU activities (at the time he was writing the letter, they had been suspended pending investigation of the charge; it wasn't a unilateral and irrevocable banning of the organization and there has been no such action since). He also says "I want as many people as I know to be aware of this outrageous act of Anti-Semitism because Hillel is a JEWISH student organization, not an Israeli one," and calls the incident "an act that brings to mind Germany in the 1930s." The letter then states:

"To Frederick Lowy, Rector, Concordia University: I will be mailing to you next week my 1966 diploma, my honorary degree, and my 1966 silver medal. I was once immensely proud of my associations with SGWU [Sir George William University, which joined with Loyola University to form Concordia] and Concordia. Now these items are symbols of shame. Of course my fundamental objection is to the gang of Hitler Jugend who control the Student Union at your university. But I am equally disturbed at the complete failure of you and your board to take any action against that gang other than to quote rules about how student unions are constituted.

"Normal rules apply in situations of normal behaviour. When a gang such as the CSU moves to destroy a university from within, action must be taken. I don't care if you have to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to disbar this bunch because at least then you will be seen to be taking a stand to defend the values upon which Canadian universities must be based. I will also be circulating this letter as widely as I can to everyone I know in the media as well as academia so that the harsh might of public inquiry will be made to shine brightly into the dark corners of what was once an institution to be proud of." [emphases mine]

Now, the reader might have noticed this all sounds more than a little over-the-top when one looks at the actual incident. The CSU, after all, was basically suspending Hillel's club privileges for an illegal act that Hillel did not deny. Does that really sound like the act of a "gang of Hitler Jugend" or "Germany in the 1930s"? Is it "destroy[ing] a university from within" to expect its clubs not to break the law? Do "the values upon which Canadian universities must be based" include the right of certain groups to break the law at will? Looking at the case, it's hard to see what Bercuson's point could be.

My guess is that this overheated rhetoric is really about baggage -- namely, the assumption (energetically promoted by the Likud and the Israeli far right) that any attack on Israel is by definition anti-Semitism and that any attempt to interfere with Israel's "self-defense" -- including, presumably, recruiting for its armed forces any way you can -- is by definition an attack on Israel. That line has proved persuasive to many; after all, no-one can dispute that there are genuinely anti-Semitic organizations in the world who wish Israel, and Jews generally, ill. On the other hand, it has failed to persuade a broad cross-section of world opinion and an increasing number of Jews and Israelis, who aren't much impressed by Israel's actions in the Occupied Territories and view the occupation itself as fundamentally indefensible in every sense.

Speaking strictly about popular discourse in the States, Max Sawicky (a Jewish economist at the EPI in Washington) puts it well: "Jews in the U.S. are much too narrowly informed of what goes on in the Middle East, and particularly so with respect to political debates in Israel. The result is a solid, politically sophisticated, and influential core of support for fundamentally awful policies in Israel and the U.S." The statement could apply to North America more generally. The antidote, as usual, is a wider base of information. To that end, Max's links on kosher News Jews can Use are a good place to start.