So, I've been pretty quiet lately. I think I'm suffering from "Blogger's Fatigue", otherwise known as the "Hey, look at how interesting the off-line world is!" syndrome. I've been walking around Hamilton a lot, reading a number of great books, and spending time with my girls. Each time that I come back on-line, it seems a little less interesting.
Part of it was my (characteristic) high expectations and the (inevitable) let-down of reality. The Internet was, ideally, a place where like-minded people could meet each other and find a world of people like themselves. But, the thing is, the world itself is not made up of people like ourselves, and that's what's interesting, and wonderful, about it. I often have better conversations with friends and family and strangers than I do on-line. People who are like me find me on-line, and we find that we agree about a lot of things. But, when everyone agrees with you, you don't really grow in any way.
Of course, here comes the big disclaimer (fine print: Rufus is totally full of shit), because, dear readers, I indeed met my wife on the Internet. I couldn't possibly suggest that there's nothing real about Internet relationships because we have the deepest, most meaningful relationship in my life. But, I'd be a fool to say that it wasn't a lot better when we met off-line. However, without the net, a Virginia boy and a Canadian girl would never have met.
Without letters, my grandfather and grandmother would never have met. He was in the Pacific as a radio operator on a submarine, and she was a girl who knew somebody who knew somebody, who knew somebody who had a son who was fighting overseas and needed a pen-pal. Through the written word, they got to know each other and fell in love, and the rest is history.
So, I can't begrudge on-line communities, but here's the rub- they're not the same as real communities. Oh, of course, they meet the criteria of being "people within a society who share the same interests". That is accepting that they often are not within the same society. But, they're more akin to "the sci-fi community" than to "the Downtown community". They are not, by definition, social.
And there is something intellectually and spiritually unhealthy about a lack of the social dimension. This need to shut out the world is depressing. I have students who have the I-Pod going whenever they are in public situations, and the cell-phone going whenever they want a break from the I-Pod. Narrowcasting one's life is not liberating, or enriching, or rewarding- it is none of the things, in fact, that technology's hagiographers promised. Notice how many cell phone adverts promise that they will bring people together, while widespread cell phone use actually hollows out the public sphere of social interaction. I remember when I was 21 picking up a girl on the subway line- is this even possible anymore?
And do we all need to have a court, replete with courtiers to flatter and agree with us? Have you ever looked into just how stupid the aristocracy actually was? There's something about talking on-line that seems akin to talking to oneself. You hope to find the give-and-take of active intellectual debate. But, how rare it actually is here! You start finding that most people come here to get away from the give-and-take of social reality. They blog from their bully pulpits and read on-line news sites that agree with them. The intellectual immaturity of many Bloganderthals is an open secret at this point, but where exactly has everyone else gone?
And is there anything intellectually engaging about the world being "at your fingertips"? Isn't that a bit depressing? Imagine if Dorothy had been able to Google "Oz", and so had never wanted to leave Kansas. Imagine if you taught children all day, many of whom seem to have no real interest in ever going anywhere, or searching for anything. "What's the point?" Curiosity should burn. It should drive you further onward. Faust would have never gone on-line.
The world should be explored, not accessed.
Imagine that you saw the Internet Generation's almost total inability to read and understand a document of more than 200 words displayed in front of you every single day, while being constantly told that this thing is "a learning tool". Or that you saw the consensus effect of like-mindless individuals sharing a spiraling paranoia while being told that this is a "communication tool". McLuhann once said that we make our tools, and then they make us.
And yet, the joys of the Internet include getting to hear about the lives of interesting and warm-hearted people like Daisy, and Brett and Hiromi, and Simon, and Rae, and Becky, and, of course, my wife. I love getting to learn about bird migration, and the inner workings of the human body and the Coptic bibles. And, sadly, while I do spend less time here, I don't think I could really go "cold turkey" professionally or personally. Grad student madness will go on... Perhaps a little less frequently.
But, the thing is, the machine goes where I want it to go... And so it never goes anywhere truly unexpected. I've tried, time and again, to replicate on-line the experience of finding a beguiling and mysterious book in a used book store. And it never really happens. Oh, that isn't to say that I ever expected to find a kick-ass Chicago librarian, or an intellectually engaged panty-loving couple from Texas (for God's sake!) or a beautiful and brilliant woman from Canada (for God's sake!) who totally changed my life. But, I can account for how I found those things. I can't account for how I fell in love with a little overactive cat. Or how I discovered a Convenience/ Novelties store down the street from me (Not to mention "Blades & Things"!). Or, the feeling of rain on my face. Or even the smell of coffee. Is it possible to describe the smell of coffee? The accidental poetry of the Internet seems a lot harder to find after three years here. Yet, I find it within seconds just looking out my window.
I think I need the mysterious and ineffable back in my life. I think I need the tactile, and the surprising things, and even those empty pauses in which nothing happens, or at least, nothing that I can explain. I think I need to be lost and confused and engaged and present again. The point of everything I've ever written about the death of curiosity is this:
We need to wander, and err, and get lost to be truly human.
And so I do.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
So, I've been pretty quiet lately. I think I'm suffering from "Blogger's Fatigue", otherwise known as the "Hey, look at how interesting the off-line world is!" syndrome. I've been walking around Hamilton a lot, reading a number of great books, and spending time with my girls. Each time that I come back on-line, it seems a little less interesting.
I see a trend here...
"Three days before Christmas, a Palo Heights woman got quite a shock when she opened a package that arrived for her at home."
The box contained an animal's bloody head.
Palos Heights police believe it was a prank but are continuing their investigation.
Kelly, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a vegan and does not eat any animal products. Her best friend and boyfriend also are vegans, and many of their friends are vegetarians.
'I've been asking all my friends, and I don't know anybody who would do something like this," she said. "My friends would all know that I take being a vegan seriously and wouldn't find it funny.' "
Okay, so most likely some frat boys are laughing about their prank, and the very smallness of their spirits. But, maybe, just maybe, we're witnessing some sort of new Christmas tradition here? The giving of the meat? To symbolize Christ's Uncle Lou who was a butcher?
For those of you who also collect news stories about pranks:
"A 14-year old girl who received a new Apple iPod opened the sealed box and found raw mystery meat inside, according to a Local 6 News report."
Rachel Cambra purchased a new high-tech iPod for her daughter as a gift this week. When she opened the sealed box, the device was missing and in its place was a piece of raw meat, the report said.
Cambra said the box was sealed and that it didn't appear to have been tampered with when she brought it home from the Honolulu Wal-Mart where she works.
An investigation found that a former employee apparently tampered with a shipment of iPods and put the meat into several packages."
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Couvade: imitation by the father of many of the concomitants of childbirth, at the time of his wife's parturition. The father may retire into seclusion as well as observe various taboos and restrictions. One explanation for this custom is that the father and mother of a newborn both have to be cautious and avoid foods and activities that might, through supernatural means, bring harm to themselves or the child. Another explanation contends that the father simulates the wife's activities in order to focus evil spirits on him rather than her. A third reasoning is that the father asserts his paternity by appearing to take part in the delivery. Indigenous South Americans, such as those of the Guianas, the Caribs, the Arawakan Guayapé, and the Northwestern and Central Gê of E Brazil, believe that the child has a stronger supernatural bond with the father than with the mother and use the couvade to reinforce this bond. In extreme forms of couvade, the man may mimic the pain and process of childbirth and expect his wife to wait on him in the following days. The practice has been noted since antiquity, in such widely dispersed places as Africa, China, Japan, India, among native populations of North and South America, and among the Basques of France and Spain.
Possible origin: "But, when the man learned that his seed produced the young, he had a violent revulsion of pride. Sometimes he considered woman only the nursery, the hothouse of his child. From such an idea came the curious relic of custom called 'couvade'..."
-Emma Hawkridge, The Wisdom Tree, 1945.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Ah, so apparently the Little Red Book kid was lying.
NEW BEDFORD -- The UMass Dartmouth student who claimed to have been visited by Homeland Security agents over his request for "The Little Red Book" by Mao Zedong has admitted to making up the entire story. The 22-year-old student tearfully admitted he made the story up to his history professor, Dr. Brian Glyn Williams, and his parents, after being confronted with the inconsistencies in his account.
It's a relief really. There was something too stupid about the idea of investigating a student for reading a widely-available Marxist text.
In the days after its initial reporting on Dec. 17 in The Standard-Times, the story had become an international phenomenon on the Internet.
Sorry about going along with that. Let's face it- the idea of the government being concerned about a decades-old bit of Maoist tripe is a lot less likely than a student lying to cover his ass.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Friday, December 23, 2005
Here's Wil Wheaton worrying about the Borg who has replaced his father. Apparently, dear old Dad screamed at him during holiday supper for opposing the death penalty...
"The thing is, though, I know better than to bring up politics with my dad. Ever since he started listening to talk radio for hours out of the day, he's slowly lost his ability to objectively look at the facts and draw his own conclusions. If Rush, Hannity, Dennis Prager or O'Reilly say it, my dad believes it as surely as he believes anything. Thanks to this abdication of rational thinking, both of my parents completely bought into the Swift Boat liars, still believe that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11, and recently decided to move to Montana, which my mother described as "the real America" to me and my siblings."
It's funny- I've had both lefties and right-wingers in my family get mad at me when I shared my thoughts with them. But, the ditto heads in the family are the funniest. We'll get together for family functions and they'll start needling my sister because she's the flaming hippie. I get it too sometimes because, although I keep my opinions to myself, I am an academic and so, de facto, a bleedingheartcommiepinkofag. But, it never bugs me because they're so obvious about it.
Me: So, what's new with you?
Conservative relative: Oh, I've got a great new way to raise money for the state. We're going to execute Jane Fonda and I'll auction off the chance to throw the switch on that traitor bitch.
Me: Yeah, well, after watching Monster-in-Law, I'll probably join you.
The thing is, they just want someone to take the bait. It's the old bully routine- keep trying to get someone upset, and then act shocked if they respond.
Conservative relative: Hey, Rufus! I want to punch Hilary Clinton in the face!
Me: Yeah, great. Can you pass me the butter first?
I have a relative who'll bring out these cassette tapes of him reading a book of slave stories in this exaggerated Steppinfetchit voice, and play those for "big laffs". Or, he'll bring out these polaroids of dead black kids from when he worked on the subway line and make "histerical" racist jokes about them. Haw-haw!! Get it?! If you don't, they jump all over you about how "sensitive" and "bleeding heart" you are.
But, here's the punchline- these same macho Rush Limbaugh loving relatives cry like little pussy brats if the greeters at Target don't say 'Merry Christmas' to them. They've stopped talking to my sister because, get this, she worked with the peace corps in Thailand and once said that she didn't think the WTO was doing much good there. Oh, the horror! I mean, they freak out and loose their shit over the dumbest things. Like most bullies, they're total cowards when anyone responds to them.
You get this from a lot of Bloganderthals- this mentality that we must be strong at all times, but if some junior anarchist in Berkeley writes "America suxxx" on the Internet, they run around screaming like Chicken Little. Oh, no!! The world is falling apart!! Noam Chomsky wrote another lousy book!!! Academics are brainwashing our kids!! The Dixie Chicks don't like the President!! Soylent Green is people!! I think I wet my pants!!
It's as if their ideas are so poorly formed and second-hand that they can't hear someone else's thoughts on anything. Honestly, I think the left and the right are both completely nuts in this country. But, at least my flaming hippie relatives will hear you out if you disagree with them, which I often do. But, then, they've got real guts. They're men and women of steel- pure grit I tell you! The ditto heads in the family... total wimps.
It is somewhat surprising, in these current Intelligent Design debates, that no professor has yet referred to the works of David Hume. Hume dealt with very similar arguments in his work on natural religion, some 230 years ago, contradicting the idea that Intelligent Design proponents are simply dressing up creationism- actually, they're repeating the old "house builder" argument. To wit- if you found a house in the woods, you would naturally think that someone had built it. So, why wouldn't you think that God constructed the universe? Isaac Newton, for example, believed in the existence of an intelligent designer.
Hume sets up the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion as a conversation between three thinkers: Cleanthes- a theist advocate of Natural Religion, Demea- a more rationalist theist, and Philo- who questions the other two and who is often taken to represent Hume's own view.
One of Hume's main targets is the "anthropomorphism" of those who compare creation to the work of a man. If nature seems, to us, akin to the work of a man, how can we tell that this isn't just our way of understanding it, a sort of projection?
Moreover, if God is the cause of the universe, then what is the cause of God? Here, he argues against the ontological argument- every effect has a cause, and there is an ultimate cause instead of an endless chain of causes. The characters argue that one can't know if God is the ultimate cause, or the material world is the ultimate cause, or alas, if there really is an endless chain of causes.
The increasing understanding of how complex the universe actually is makes it increasingly hard to relate its creation to that of a craftsman. Moreover, the universe does not resemble a watch (here referencing William Paley's "universal watchmaker" argument) so much as an animal or a vegetable. In that case, it could have grown like vegetation. This seems ridiculous, but how does the "vegetation" argument differ from the "reason" argument, when ultimately, we have little empirical evidence of either?
"To say that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter."
It's hard to tell if Hume is an athiest, or an agnostic, but he seems to take a conservative approach to God- there probably is a God, but we can never know through empirical means, and thus Theism, atheism, and Diesm are all suspect. Human reason really cannot explain ultimate causes, which actually is an argument against both scientists making conjectures about metaphysics and theologians injecting metaphysics into empirical studies. Both approaches suggest a supreme human arrogance.
The Pang Brothers remake their superb horror film with a strikingly different story of ghosts, reincarnation and karma. Yes, that's right- this is a Buddhist horror film, and it works surprisingly well. What it means is that the main character can see ghosts- one of which wants to crawl into her womb and be reincarnated as her unborn child- and she has to learn to let go of her fears and accept that death and reincarnation and suffering are parts of life. So, she has to accept all the freaky things happening around her and end her desire to be safe. It is actually very Buddhist.
My only complaint is that I never understand why it is that characters in these movies can see ghosts that they know nobody else can see, yet they keep freaking out in public. After the second time, you'd think they would want to keep it to themselves, but oh, no- freakout city!
Otherwise, the visuals are chilling, the pace is fast, and the idea of a Buddhist horror film, while rendered a bit literally, works surprisingly well.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
The Intelligent Design debate is also pretty sad for what it says about the general public's knowledge of science. But, I still think that some of the blame must be shared by postmodernism itself. When the local Science Center is doing an exhibit on how "science" has been used as a tool of oppression throughout history, you know that Foucault has filtered down.
The website really does no justice to how postmodern the exhibit really is.
"Take a quiz to determine if your gender affects your point of view..."
In the actual exhibit is a display that demonstrates how scientists have supported the patriarchy by arguing that gender affects perception.
"Step inside a box equal in size to the spaces that confined Africans on slave ships. Learn about the attitudes that led to conditions like these..."
In the actual exhibit, you hear a recording about how scientists, with their racial theories, supported slavery.
You also get to learn about sterotypes, biases, and prejudices and how science has supported them. No surprise then that a large part of the exhibit deals with Nazi science with absolutely no distinction made between Mengele and your local biologist. That's the real po-mo rub of the thing- the exhibit doesn't explain why racists were pseudoscientists. It just smears all "science" with the same "sexist", "racist", "Nazi" brush. It's the same tired old argument- "How can you take scientific objectivity seriously when Nazis called themselves scientists?!"
Should we really be surprised then when the general public sees science as "biased" and "corrupt"?
Moreover, when you try to reduce scientific inquiry to the expression of a particular "point of view" how can you be shocked that the general public wants their "point of view" to be given equal time? There are good arguments against teaching ID in science classes, but the sad irony is that it took a Republican, Bush-appointed Judge to make them.
Again, I think that keeping God out of the science lab is better for Him than the lab. Here's someone who agrees with me.
"(Troubling) is the efforts to put God on the same level as science. The spiritual realm cannot be defined, or proven, by natural laws. That is why the concept of faith is so important in all religions. I have faith that God exists and he is the Creator of the universe, and I have personal experiences that prove my faith. But I can’t prove it to you, nor is it my commission to do so. I can only demonstrate my faith to you and allow you to experience God yourself."
Well, the intelligent design ruling is in, and ID has lost. Seems like a bit of a Pyrrhic victory though. There's something sad about science becoming the criteria for legitimate belief. Seems like the Christians would want to avoid it somehow. Why should all human thought have to be quantified by technicians? What will happen to the uncanny when it has to be proved by science? To quote the master:
"Religions die when they are proved to be true."
Remember how our cat Lola was camped out in front of the washing machine for the last month? Well, she has finally caught the mouse under the washing machine. I can't say I'm not proud of her- it's always nice to see a house cat get to be a cat and do what she's meant to do. I knew she had it in her.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Karl Marx is a bit too earnest for my tastes- too puritanical and dogmatic. Besides, dialectical materialism is really just a sort of mysticism dressed up as science- sort of the intelligent design of its day. Now I can appreciate the thought of Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue, who wrote the pamphlet The Right to be Lazy. As Bob Black once said: "Workers of the world, relax!"
From the "Well... an undergraduate actually using interlibrary loan is pretty suspicious..." File:
"A senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth was interrogated last month by Department of Homeland Security officials because he tried to borrow from a campus library an unabridged version of The Little Red Book, which centers on Mao Tse-Tung’s views of Communism."
Wait, are we still worried about commies? What are they going to do? Aggressively and wantonly publish unreadable newspapers?
"The 21-year-old student, who wishes to remain anonymous, was searching for primary texts to complete a paper for a class in Williams’s department on fascism and totalitarianism."
So, a blow against academic freedom, and a blow for irony, then?
I've gotten an email from David Horowitz and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture asking for money to put this ad in University newspapers. I have no money, especially at this time of year, and I'm not sure why it's important to give money to help advertise a website anyway. So, I'll post it here and people can go check out the site. Again, I'm not sure what's so "conservative" about encouraging young people to distrust and resent out-of-hand the only authority figures that many of them encounter on a daily basis. Nor have I met even one Ward Churchill in seven years of higher education. But, I'm still not sure that Horowitz isn't out to reform the left instead of burying it. In fact, I sort of suspect that he yearns to return to the left. Stranger things have happened.
Here is Astroprof complaining about bad student excuses. The stories are pretty amusing, I guess. But, I have to be honest, I'm uncomfortable about so many teachers putting their "aren't my kids lousy?" stories up on the Internet. It seems fairly hostile. I mean, we've all had students do some dumb things, but so what! They are 17 years old, after all. I can't imagine how I would feel at 18, if I went on the Internet and heard some professor bitching about something stupid that their student had done, and recognized myself in the story.
But, more importantly, shouldn't the common courtesy and manners that we want to instill in these kids be based in some sort of mutual respect? What does it say to the students when our contempt for them, even if it is based in a deep disappointment, is so thinly veiled?
Okay, here's Dr. Christopher Phelps discussing the literacy crisis:
"Neither right nor left has yet come to terms with the crisis of literacy and its impact on higher education. The higher education program of liberals revolves around access and diversity, laudable aims that do not speak to intellectual standards. Conservatives, for their part, are prone to wild fantasies about totalitarian leftist domination of the campuses. They cannot imagine a failure even more troubling than indoctrination — the inability of students to assimilate information at all, whether delivered from a perspective of the left or the right."
I agree that neither left nor right has the solution. But, he forgets that other conservative solution- namely, running the university like it was a struggling corporation- has been disasterous as well. Oh, and let's not leave No Child Left Behind out of the equation here. So, they're not "left behind" in High Schools, but they can't read when they get to University? As for the fantasies of totalitarian domination- I agree that those people know nothing about the university, but let's not forget the effect of conservatives teaching their kids to enter the University resenting professors out of hand for their profession- and thus, adding to a cultural distrust and resentment of intellectuals.
Where the conservatives are right though is that it is astounding that a university student can get a degree in English Lit, and come out knowing feminist theory by rote, but not be able to read English Literature. It's a scandal.
As for the left, let's not suggest that race-based admissions quotas haven't helped to push down standards as well. There are schools where black students are admitted with SAT scores as much as 22% lower than their white counterparts- I went to one, in fact. Let's not pretend that this is helping matters.
"How can human thought, sustained for generations through the culture of the book, be preserved in the epoch of television and the computer?"
Oh, how happy I am that we can start blaming the Internet like we do television! It's been absolutely disasterous for intellectual development in spite of all the promises.
"How can a university system dedicated to the public trust and now badly eroded by market forces carry out its civic and intellectual mission without compromising its integrity?"
I think perhaps we need a New New School.
"These questions cry out for answers if we are to stem a tide of semi-literacy that imports nothing less than the erosion of the American mind."
Yes, thanks, we know.
Okey, well, here's the shocking news that every higher educator seems to be sweating over- the Department of Education has completed its National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
According to Inside Higher Education:
"Not only does it find that the average literacy of college educated Americans declined significantly from 1992 to 2003, but it also reveals that just 25 percent of college graduates — and only 31 percent of those with at least some graduate studies — scored high enough on the tests to be deemed 'proficient' from a literacy standpoint, which the government defines as 'using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.'"
Pretty terrible, eh?
Monday, December 19, 2005
Apparently, for an editorialist at the libertarian Cato Institute, the invisible hand of the market has not been so invisible. "Doug Bandow, who writes a syndicated column for Copley News Service, told BusinessWeek Online that he had accepted money from lobbyist Jack Abramoff for writing between 12 and 24 articles over a period of years, beginning in the mid '90s."
"It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it," Bandow said from a California hospital, where he's recovering from recent knee surgery.
Actually, it was 12 to 24 lapses of judgement on his part. Oh, well. It's not as if I lost my deep and abiding respect for the Cato Institute here.
A documentary that follows the pattern established by The People Vs. Larry Flint of positing the pornographer as Patrick Henry: a revolutionary front line in the battle for free expression. Of course, The People Vs. Larry Flint had the inimitable Woody Harrelson, the Will Rogers of the marijuana set, in the title role, while this movie has the 1970s pornographers themselves, in their 50s and seeming like the members of the local rotary club. Something is naturally lost in the translation, but the tone is the same; plenty of pictures of giggling, voluptuous babes performing sex acts to electric guitar renditions of the national anthem, while the narrator, Dennis Hopper, asks us all to remember a bygone era when rebellion was still fun.
But, of course, there was something to rebel against back them. One can hardly imagine a film like Deep Throat raising a stir, or even an eyebrow today. It's as if Marlon Brando's famous cinematic response to the question 'What are you rebelling against?': namely 'Whaddya got?' was answered with a shrugged, 'Not much, actually'. The culture wars are over- capital won.
This is where the documentary goes a bit wrong; it's easy to take potshots at Charles Keating and the religious right- their humorlessness sets them up as the perfect straight men. It's similarly easy to poke fun at the 1970s Second Wave of feminism: women who were conivnced that their husbands wanted to rape them and strategically fought off these assaults by making themselves insufferable. But, the film also questions the commercialization of porn and tries to establish Gerard Damiano, the director of Deep Throat as somehow above all of this- the last of a breed of true artists. It's hard to buy this if you've actually seen Deep Throat- Damiano is less an auteur than a merdeur: the film is pure crap. And this isn't from a moral standpoint- it's just a terribly shot and stupidly written film- you can be offended by Deep Throat from an amoral standpoint if you have the slightest bit of belief in film as an artistic medium.
But, it's so much less, too, because it's not even remotely erotic. Considering that sex is the emotional core of most adults' lives, there's something tragic about how porn renders it so banal- capital seems to encourage obsessive thought, but not deep thought on any subject. Porn is the factory process applied to sex, and as such, it saps the spirit a little in each film.
And so, it seems less likely that Damiano was a true creative genius on the forefront of a sexual revolution and more likely that he was just a guy who said to himself: "Hey, I know a goil that can really give head- I could make a movie of that and get stinking rich!" The government's persecution of the film made it more successful than anyone could have imagined, but let's not try to convince ourselves that Damiano was anything but a former hairdresser who shouldn't have quit his day job. So, it's hugely entertaining to hear people like Camille Paglia, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal discuss the cultural dust up over Deep Throat (and Dick Cavett is quite funny: appropriately enough, he was also in Cocksucker Blues), but it would have been priceless to hear one person say: "Well, you know, Deep Throat is aptly titled: it really does suck!"
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Are Colleges failing? Well, of course they are.
Derek Bok claims that the solutions are all there, but professors are too stuck in the mud to try them. Basically, he's another one of these "active learning" people. The argument is that lectures were fine and dandy ten years ago, but today's students are doing terribly. So, we need to try something new. According to researchers, that something new is "active learning". To quote Bok:
Further studies indicate that problem-based discussion, group study, and other forms of active learning produce greater gains in critical thinking than lectures, yet the lecture format is still the standard in most college classes, especially in large universities.
You know, some of us have actually tried these "active learning techniques", or as I like to call them "Hey kids! Why don't you teach each other this stuff and I'll go collect a paycheck!" methods, and then finding that they don't really work any better, in fact, the kids actually seem to learn a lot less. No, according to Bok, we'd all see the brilliance of this Next Big Thing if only we weren't so... wait for it, "conservative".
Freshly minted PhDs typically teach the way their favorite professors taught. This pattern introduces a strong conservative bias into college instruction, a bias reinforced by the tendency of many faculties to regard the choice of teaching methods as the exclusive prerogative of individual professors rather than a fit subject for collective deliberation.
There's something terrible about teaching the way our professors taught? So, what we should be saying is: "Hey, all that lecturing and close reading shit was great three years ago, but times change old man! This is a new world, and today's students enjoy hanging out and talking about clothes a hell of a lot more than they like your crazy, old-fashioned pedagogy!"
Of course, the problem couldn't be that the administrations see their schools as a "business" that is getting bad feedback from the "customers", while students see intellectual persuits as being beneath them somehow. Nope, the problem is that professors aren't ready to cave to this mentality quite yet. No point in returning to the old ways when the new ones haven't yet had their chance to fail.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Ah, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A group of 40 people dressed in Santa Claus outfits, many of them drunk, went on a rampage through Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, robbing stores, assaulting security guards and urinating from highway overpasses, police said Sunday.
The rampage, dubbed "Santarchy," began early Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars from an overpass, said Auckland Central Police spokesman Noreen Hegarty.
She said the men then rushed through a central city park, overturning garbage containers, throwing bottles at passing cars and spraying graffiti on office buildings.
The remaining Santas entered another downtown convenience store and carried off beer and soft drinks.
"They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves," store owner Changa Manakynda said.
Alex Dyer, a spokesman for the group, said Santarchy was a worldwide movement designed to protest the commercialization of Christmas.
(Yes, let's bring Christmas back to what it was all about in the first place- pissing off highway overpasses with the ones we love!)
Okay, here's something from the Ethics and Public Policy Center about Tom Wolfe's book I am Charlotte Simmons, something I've been looking forward to having time to read. Anyway, the editorial is halfway annoying; but since it deals with University students and the role of the professoriat, I figured I would take part in that venerable blogging tradition known as "bitching about something that nobody else cares about".
So, the editorial starts off telling us that none of the critics really got the book, man, which is highly likely. Then it tells us that one brave soul understood its chilling message- John Derbyshire.
As John Derbyshire wrote in National Review, I Am Charlotte Simmons is a reminder of the “darker side” of recent discoveries in the human sciences, especially in neuroscience and genetics. At stake is the “metaphysic” which provides sense and direction to our lives, including the complicated encounter between men and women. The novel invites us to ask: Is love possible in the age of neuroscience? Or have we unmasked human beings only to discover that love is an illusion?
So far, so good. But, then the authors reach for that laziest canard in the conservative canon...
The university, like American and Western society as a whole, was transformed by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Grounded in an uncompromising individualism of personal choice, the sexual revolution established the legitimacy of casual, pleasure-seeking sex, independent of procreation, family, and even affection. The story of Charlotte Simmons explores the consequences of this momentous change in human behavior and association. Wolfe helps us see that there is no free lunch: In giving full rein to our biological impulses, there is a toll to pay in human longing and human happiness.
It's all the fault of THE SIXTIES!!! Again. We're only a paragraph in and they're pulling the "I don't really want to think about the roots of the social problem I'm writing about, so I'll just blame it on the sixties" garbage. You know where this is going, of course.
Charlotte’s experiences at the fictional Dupont University shed light on these questions, as the ambitious girl from backwater North Carolina is transformed by her sophisticated and salacious surroundings. Far from being the path to higher civilization and refinement of character, Dupont is a toxic impediment to the yearning for higher things, built on a dogmatic denial that higher civilization and refinement of character are even possible.
Except for in my classes. And actually, the classes of at least half the profs I know. But, sure, yeah, dogmatic denial. Duuude...
The individual still seeks status and recognition. But the marks of distinction are all too often inebriation, “hooking up,” expertise at sarcasm (“sarc one,” “sarc two,” and “sarc three”), and insouciance toward matters intellectual and moral.
Sounds about right. We get a lot of kids who are fiercely anti-intellectual, seemingly free of human emotions and derisive towards anything and everything decent or raising in life. So, we agree there. And then, there's this...
As students learn about and fall into this new ethic, the university not only fails to stand in opposition, it accelerates the process. Dupont, that composite of Duke, Stanford, Yale, and the University of Michigan, corrupts the promising young Charlotte. For revealing this disturbing truth, the author has been reviled by those who are thereby revealed.
Yep, it's our fault. Yet again. We're trying to make kids immoral. Forget about a pop culture that valorizes sociopaths, parents that just don't have the time to parent and middle management that wants to turn the university into another warehouse for anti-intellectuals; it's our fault because we "accelerate the process". And how do we do that?
The modern university, as Wolfe portrays it, denies that there are truthful distinctions between higher and lower; it teaches that the soul is not real, and that perfection of the soul is thus a thing of the past.
In other words, it's exactly like the university of the conservative imagination. How lucky.
The setting of I Am Charlotte Simmons is truly “postmodern”—a world dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience, a world which has jettisoned the moral imagination of the past. Not only is God dead, but so is reason, once understood as the characteristic that distinguishes man from the rest of nature.
"Dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience"? Excuse me? We are dogmatically enslaved to Nietzsche? Couldn't these people have tried harder? Maybe pinned it on "French philosophy"? And do they have any idea how opposed to neuroscience many humanities profs are, or how uninterested in Nietzsche just about everyone is these days?
This dogma of soullessness is the sub-text for the entire novel. The administration, faculty, students, athletes, and fans are so immersed in this postmodern world that they cannot imagine anything else.
Please, find me one athlete who is reading Nietzsche right now! Find me more than a handful of undergrads who don't just think that Nietzsche was one of the Seven Dwarves. A "dogma of sollessness"? Who are these people and where do they teach?
Look, I know that there are plenty of profs who scoff in the face of God. But, who are these people to argue that kids come into the university morally confused after a steady diet of parental neglect, economic isolation and hip-hop songs that have two major storylines: a) "Shoot tha' fuckin' nigga in the head!" and b) "Girls, let's cocktease 'em for money!" and then get morally corrupted by professors? We're supposed to heal the wounds of a toxic culture, which incidentally speaks only in the language of capital? But instead, we're all reading Nietzsche?
Friday, December 16, 2005
So, I write some drivel about being indignant about dying and I discover that Bob Odenkirk has done it better. Here's his very funny parody of angry editorialists:
I’VE HAD IT! * WITH BOB ODENKIRK
(Bob Odenkirk began his career as half of the quibbling editorial team of “Stossel and Odenkirk”at the Andy Rooney Institute For Disembodied Crabbery.)
I’ve had it with Death! What’s the deal? Does everything I love have to die? Including me? Puh-lease!!
A few weeks ago I was talking to a good friend at one of these chain restaurants that has suddenly decided to serve “healthy” food. We were having a genial conversation about many things; the ingredients of canned tuna, the extensive legal documents you sign when you rent a carpet cleaner, the lines at the airport and movie theatre. Two months later I got a call from this same friend’s wife. He had died! Kaput! No more! What gives?!
I wouldn’t mind if my friend’s wife had called to tell me he was on vacation. He certainly deserved one (although he would have had to put up with those tiny pillows on airplanes!). After all, if he was on vacation he would eventually return, right? Then we could have talked, and continued our relationship. But he died! So now, no more talking, no more phone calls, no more nothing!
My friend’s wife started yammering about how he died. Some swiftly moving disease. She started telling me the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and finally the big down--into the ground (although he was cremated and his ashes tossed from a boat…why does the ocean have to be so big?!?!). This long tale wasted more of my life-time, bringing me nearer to my own expiration date.
It’s not that I want to live forever. It’s just that I don’t want other people living after I am dead! It diminishes the value of my life! It mocks and trivializes everything I care about for other people to carry on without me!
I think people should all be allowed to live to 100. That’s a nice round number. It’s more than 80, but less than 120. Who wants to live to be 120, anyways? It’s too long! In fact, the number 120 is a bit too big anyways. Would you like to eat 120 marshmallows? I bet even the person who loves marshmallows most would agree that 120 marshmallows is too many marshmallows. I think 10 is about the top number for enjoying marshmallows in one sitting.
We should all live to be 100 then the world should end. Then, it’s not like you died, it’s like you lived forever! Because if the world ends, then there’s no more people left living and mocking you by their non-absence! But of course, that’s impossible to arrange because we all weren’t born on the same day! And whose fault is that? Our mothers!
I’m fed up! Who’s with me?!
Since I'm tired of the news, I think I'll talk about something personal.
I'm quite afraid of death. Actually, no, it's not afraid. I'm quite indignant about death. It's terribly unfair really. My cat has no idea that she will die one day, and she's all the better for it. Why should we know? Why should we have been given this magnificent higher intelligence simply to carry around with us this burden? How do we carry on without going insane anyway? We have a brief instant to wander around and smell flowers and look up at the sun, and then it's done, and we're gone. And we may cease to exist.
And it's not that I think of death as the end. But, I don't know one way or the other, and that's maddening too. If it is the end, all of this is terribly pointless. But, what could possibly be next? Heaven? The wheel of reincarnation? Somehow, that seems worse.
And I wonder if other people think about it? Do my students ever think about dying? Or my idiot landlord? Are they indignant too? How much happier our lives would be if we didn't know! Or would we just become boring? Sometimes, I'll watch some moronic television program and I'll think to myself, "Shit! That was an hour!" Why the fuck do we care about such stupid things if we're stuck with mortality? And how do we ever absorb that fact?
Here's a lucid and heartbreaking article from Time about how it is that so many grades get inflated in universities and how the business model of education is, once again, killing actual education.
"The deception involved telling the students what they wanted to hear and praising them however much they foundered. At evaluation time, they would be pleased enough by their 'success' that they would return the praise. Teaching, in such a light, amounted to flattery. Submitting students to the rigors of learning seemed only to incur the wrath of many of them, which entered the record as my teacherly shortcoming."
You too can raise children whose academic performance is as high as that of Asians!
Again, I'm just not seeing this major difference with my students- they all work at about the same level.
And, good Lord, am I ever sick of talking about "levels" and "marks" and "grades"!
This quarterly review mentality is a sickness.
Imagine an entire generation of children who will grow up with a bottom line mentality.
Imagine an entire generation that will learn that life is suffering, learning is suffering and that the only measure of your worth is a mark on a piece of paper.
Mark my words- the next generation of brilliant writers, authors, and thinkers will be people that have dropped out of school and escaped the Bottom Line Regime.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Here is a brilliant article on that sociological type known as the radical loser, and how they can become suicide bombers.
I think that we all need to reconsider how we respond to suicide bombers. There seem to be two common Western responses to these bombers and both are fairly unsatisfactory. To illustrate, I'm going to link to this Iranian cartoon on suicide bombing. Most people will agree that, as misguided as our response to suicide bombings is, it is not as pathological as a culture that seems to celebrate suicide bombers. But, I use the cartoon, and specifically the messages in response to it as a means to illustrate two types of response:
1) Suicide bombing as "resistance". "you have to realize that from these people's perspective, it's an issue of justice. Family members are murdered in this story (and in real life), and so, I think it's a bit disingenous to ignore the fact that these people have no other recourse for justice, other than taking it into their own hands. Unfortunate, but not barbaric. "
This doesn't really work as an explanation because it ignores the hateful irrationality of the act. These people have "no other recourse" than what would seem to be the most psychotic one imaginable? Consider how many suicide bombers target civilians, and not just civilians, but children. How exactly is slaughtering civilian children, in the Iraqi case potentially on your own side, a last possible resort? From a tactical standpoint, every other recourse I can think of would be better suited to "resistance" than sending a young person to blow up your own civilians, thereby turning them against your cause.
The only logical motivation for these attacks would seem to be to instill fear in those civilians- to commit such an irrational and vicious act that civilians will be terrified. It seems more like a supposed military coup than anything else- like a guerrila group that slaughters entire villages to cow the populace. I think it's supposed to seem irrational and meaningless to us, and even evil. This is indeed how losers have always gained power over others- the irrational and pathological act conveys power. My guess, and I think it's the logical one, is that these people don't want to resist a foreign power so much as instill themselves as a sort of military dictatorship.
2) So, Suicide bombers as "evil" seems to miss the point as well. It makes them out to be somehow more powerful than they really are. It does their work for them. These aren't members of some totalitarian world power- these are scattered handfuls of losers. Perhaps the proper response would be to point out how pathetic it is to murder children. Or, as horrible as this sounds, to ridicule them. I think these are the same sort of alienated wimps who have always tried to scare the rest of us into obeying their will. What we need to remember is that they can't possibly win.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I'm going to suggest something crazy... Since I've posted countless essays in which people in English Literature departments moan about what has happened to Lit departments. And since most of them are crying that lit crit needs to return to an engagement with aesthetics and close readings and all of the enriching activities that it has abandoned... Why not show us the way? Instead of writing all these essays about how lit critics need to do X... why not do X? Isn't that more logical?
See what I mean? Here is yet another essay on why literature departments and theory are both dead. It's been about a week.
Alas, it is touching though...
"Literary criticism no longer aims to appreciate aesthetics — to study how human beings respond to art. Do you get dizzy when you look at a Turner painting of a storm at sea? Do certain buildings make you feel insignificant while others make you feel just the right size? Without understanding that intensely physical reaction, scholarship about the arts can no longer enlarge the soul."
Indeed! The Romantics were right- society shrinks the soul, and art, approaching a force of nature, enlarges it!
"Theory is too devoted to challenging meaning. It is nihilistic. It robs us of ever finding out what an author or text is saying. But it was not the theorists who declared war on art, with their philosophy and their left-wing politics. It was the literary critics who put in their place a no-nonsense business, a legalistic parsing of meaning that masks a deep contempt for what a text is or might be to us."
How about this: the last place that should be worried about 'the bottom line' is a humanities department. Where is Walter Pater when we need him?
Leihigh University students in Bethlehem Penn, found themselves "grappling with the news" that their Sophomore Class President has been arrested for robbing a bank. He's the son of a minister and private school graduate and frat brother, so blah-blah-blah- nobody can believe it. It's not like he's black or something. Here are students getting the vapors...
"I didn't believe it when I first heard it,"
"It's by far the most interesting story we've ever encountered here,"
"You have to think of how much he had going for him _ class president, studying at Lehigh," said Steve A. Juisti, 19, a sophomore civil engineering student from Upper Darby. "You have to question his reasoning, obviously. The big question is why."
Because he wanted money? I'm sorry, why exactly is being spoiled by your parents supposed to make you more deeply moral than other people? So, anyway, Fratty McFrat-frat is going to be picking up trash by the highway for the state for a few weeks before heading off to corporate America and we're all deeply shocked.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
"Christmas, as we know it, is a symbol, a recognition, a flower on the altar, a bow in passing. It says a tiny yes to the dream, it sings a little song. In lighting our small red candles, in giving our paltry gifts, we pay a slight tribute, not only to the infinite spirit of love typified by the great hero whose birth we celebrate, but to all the lesser heroes who have been strongly inspired by the beauty of his life and the triumphant tragedy of his death. We turn from our familiar paths to pause a moment at a shrine heaped with noble treasures; a shrine where, to the end of time, the spirit of man will receive and carry away a richer treasure than anything he can bring."
Who is this charming fellow? He's Gigantopithecus blacki, and according to a researcher from our local McMaster University, he lived in China some 30,000 years ago. So, theoretically, the people who lived in the Chinese river valleys may have run into this nine-foot tall ape while foraging for food. It's unlikely that they would have sat down for dinner together though.
Who is this? Would you believe it's Domitianus, who was Emperor for... a few days? It's a crazy story actually...
"During the chaos and confusion of the third century A.D., amid widespread disease, famine, and barbarian invasions, a brazen upstart seizes control of a breakaway state within the Roman Empire. He proclaims himself emperor only to disappear days later, his life and story lost, save for only the briefest of remarks in two fragmentary and unreliable sources. Then, an amateur treasure hunter scanning the green fields of Oxfordshire with a metal detector chances upon a small clay pot filled with more than 5,000 ancient Roman coins. A British Museum archaeologist brushing away centuries of corrosion and carefully picking apart bronze and silver pieces, discovers one exceedingly strange coin. Among the thousands of unremarkable ones, this coin carries an unfamiliar bearded face, a perplexing name, Domitianus, and most strikingly, the three letters IMP, short for imperator, or emperor."
But, it continues...
"Suddenly, the hunt was on for another coin, this one found not buried in the ground, but buried in the archives of a small provincial museum in southern France. The French coin, dug up in 1900, was deemed worthless at the time, a modern counterfeit depicting what was surely a made up emperor. Amazingly, the portrait on the supposed fake matches the strange coin in the British Museum, as does the image on the reverse side. Small characteristic markings provide the final confirmation; both coins had been struck from the same die or stamp. The French coin is not a fake, and the bearded man, not an imposter, but a lost emperor."
So, this then is one of Britain's forgotten emperors.
"Domitianus was only one of a string of short-lived usurpers, who claimed imperial power before the breakaway state was reincorporated in A.D. 274. The rebel emperors differed from their Roman counterparts in a number of significant ways. None of the Gallic rulers had been confirmed by the Roman Senate, a formality that was still regarded as a necessary step to laying claim to the Empire. As a result, they had a precarious relationship with the official Roman emperor. At best, the Roman emperor ignored the Gallic usurper, content to have him fight off barbarians and manage unruly local tribes. At worst, the two emperors clashed head on in violent battles that pitched Roman against Roman. It is unlikely that Domitianus would have ever seen Rome, or even the Italian peninsula; the common Roman citizen probably knew as much about him as we do today, that is, almost nothing. The self-proclaimed "emperors" were not considered to be emperors at all by most of the citizens; in fact, the Romans had a separate name for men like Domitianus, tyrannus, meaning anyone who had come to power illegitimately. Though the word did not necessarily carry the pejorative meaning of its English cognate, tyrant, rulers like Domitianus were clearly viewed as inherently different from men like Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian, two of the emperors who ruled at Rome during the period."
So, now you know.
The Awareness Depot in Florida offers a number of rubber bracelets that can be bought in bulk to promote awareness of any number of diseases and social issues. Capitalizing on the yellow 'awareness bracelets' that Lance Armstrong sold to raise awareness of testicular cancer, it is now possible to buy bracelets publicizing anything one can imagine. The Awareness Depot actually has a page listing what all of these colors mean. For instance:
Blue: 'Education' is blue, but so is child abuse, which can be confusing. Do you support education, or oppose child abuse? Further confusing things, 'water quality' is blue, which makes sense. But, what if you support good water, but are okay with child abuse? Reye's Syndrome and arthritis are also blue, making the whole thing hopelessly confused. But, honestly, how many people are there tubthumping for arthritis awareness these days?
Light Blue: Tsunami Tragedy Awareness is light blue, which is good. Not a lot of people have heard of tsunamis. Gerd is also light blue. No doubt the gerd, or acid reflux, sufferers are going to be pissed about that. Eating disorders are also light blue, so you're covered if you can't eat, or if you can eat, but get heartburn. Pro-choice is light blue, and apparently they want to cover their bases because they also sell pro-life bracelets. Luckily those are white, because it would be embarrassing to wear the wrong one.
Orange: Cultural Diversity is orange, ostensibly because it's too difficult to make a multi-colored bracelet. Interestingly enough, self-injury is also orange- Samuel Huntington will love that connection. So is hunger actually. One would suspect that the truly hungry aren't spending $5.00 on a rubber bracelet anyway.
Black: Gang prevention is black, which seems a bit inappropriate. Similarly, domestic violence probably shouldn't be purple.
Burgundy: Headache awareness is Burgundy. But, who exactly is unaware of headaches?
Purple: Colitis is purple- that is probably for the best. Cancer and lupus are also purple. So is animal abuse, and strangely so is 'foster care'.
Yellow: Equality is yellow, but so is suicide. I guess that's okay- I'm thinking that people who support equality don't really support suicide. Bladder cancer is yellow, which seems classy. Amber Alert is yellow, but shouldn't it be amber? It does go with missing children, which is also yellow.
Green: Environmental awareness is green, which is appropriate, although perhaps mass-produced rubber tchotchkes might be less so. Depression and kidney problems are green. Shouldn't depression be blue? Also, Genocide in Sudan and Eye Injury are green, spanning the distance from the profound to the trivial.
They also have ribbons and stickers, if you're not inclined to bracelets. Also, a lovely rhinestone American flag for those shoppers who have no idea what to get James Brown for Christmas. And, yes, they have lots of crosses, including one emblazoned with the Biblical verse "Got Jesus?" Unfortunately, there is nothing for diarrhea awareness, but there is a 'Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness' bracelet.
It seems like it's impossible to escape awareness at this point. Every month, there's someone or other trying to make you aware of something or other. Seemingly, there are groups whose entire purpose at this point is to raise awareness of some social problem. And, far be it from me to criticize branding social problems instead of solving them... But, can I offer an opposing viewpoint?
1. When did middle class white people get to be so damned arrogant that they think that their having heard of a problem is a major step towards fixing that problem? Are we really so self-righteous as to think that our 'awareness' of a disease is an accomplishment in itself? We don't have to work to fix problems at all anymore- it's enough that we've heard of them?
2. Isn't 'raising awareness' as an end in itself really a way of saying, "Hey, you fix the problem!" Does 'AIDS' really need publicity? And, if so, does the publicity really alleviate anything?
3. Is there, perhaps, any benefit to unawareness? Should we really be burdened with some sort of total awareness, in which we spend our lives thinking about every social ill imaginable? Are we so terrible if we're more aware of art, beauty and our own families than colitis?
4. Isn't there something softly totalitarian about this idea that our consciousness must at all times be politicized? What exactly is the problem with people who aren't up on the news? Can't I buy a car or truck or hamburger without it being a political statement? Am I the only one who's sick of hearing what people think about every social problem or current event? Doesn't anyone have a life of their own to talk about anymore? How about art nouveau awareness? Or flirting awareness? Maybe a cuddling awareness bracelet? What about dancing awareness?
What about awareness of one's own life or one's own surroundings? Is it really so hard to just be present anymore?
Saturday, December 10, 2005
The other day I was in Buffalo for a few days, and thinking about returning to my little house in Ontario, with my little cat, and my beautiful wife, and I realized that, if I had to think about what Heaven would be like, for me, it would be this.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Sunni clerics have issued an appeal for the release of the kidnapped Christian peacekeepers in Iraq. This is, of course, good news. It's also interesting sociologically because it shows a community returning to a normal social hierarchy. The clerics are, of course, performing their religious duties, but these are also their civic duties. The next step would be to issue strict condemnations of the terrorists. But, and I'm not sure if people realize this, the public statement is a sign that authority, legitimate and local authority, is returning. So, it is good news. Sadly, it will likely fail... but, it will require the kidnappers to go against a growing, legitimate, native authority.
"The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials." -In the NYTimes today.
Please, please, please, tell me again how torture is 'just good policy' from a pragmatic position. I'd love to hear it.
Thank goodness! Lots of people have been saying that the left needs to improve itself greatly, to move past the Rousseauian psychodramas that have increasingly characterized it since the 1960s, a pose that seems to translate perpetually as "Well, we have no hope of ever changing anything, but at least we can be satisfied with ourselves for having troubled law and order, however slightly."
Now, someone else has said all of the same things. Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter have written Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became a Consumer Culture. Apparently, they blame the "transformative left" for turning away from actual political work in favor of a self-satisfied pose that amounts to little more than another "consumer choice". To quote the article, amusingly written by conservatives who don't know what to make of liberals who get that protest culture is self-defeating and narcissistic:
"The answer requires distinguishing the ameliorative Left from the transformative Left. Heath and Potter want to build the former as an intellectual and political force. To do so they must show that the latter is not a viable alternative, just a bad joke."
To quote myself: "They don't want to change the world, so much as to pretend that they don't live there." In Oregon, I saw this mentality played out- every store seemed to praise us for our "compassionate" consumer choices. "This soap is 100% organic- you are making a very important choice!" I was literally told at one point that I should be proud of myself for buying some damned thing. Wow! So, political change just requires more shopping? We can overcome the problems of consumerism by consuming more? Awesome! I decided then that Hell is a place where you are endlessly and meaninglessly praised for doing nothing.
As the authors put it: "The hippies did not sell out. Hippie ideology and yuppie ideology are one and the same." Precisely. Let's throw in the punks for good measure. Buy, buy, buy... but do so in an "aware" way- opt out of the political process, and opt into consumer culture.
I think most lefties are deathly afraid of being called "cultural conservatives". For me, I've decided that it's impossible to be a teacher and not be a cultural conservative, at least in the sense of wanting to preserve the higher aspects of culture from the flood of lower aspects. We have to be elitist in that we have to understand why Dostoevsky is worth saving and John Grisham is not.But, we also need to get past this idea that the social order is irredemable and oppressive, when quite often it is just the opposite. To quote the authors being quoted:
"[The] only way we are able to go about our business in society is by trusting other people…. One way in which people establish the requisite trust is by demonstrating their willingness to play by the rules in small symbolic ways. This is the core function of courtesy and good manners." At one point Heath and Potter say to their allies on the Left, "[We] really need to stop worrying so much about fascism. What our society needs is more rules, not fewer."
Exactly. What we need is a leftism rooted in civic participation, not in endless attempts to "transgress" authority that is largely illusory at this point. We need to take part in the system- I would love to see young kids wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with John Kennedy instead of a proto-fascist like Che.
Ultimately, as the right slouches into the future, the left needs to reorganize in a way that abandons both angry ever-losers like Howard Dean and wannabe-Republicans like the Clintons. The right is falling apart, but the left is not able to enter the fray in any serious way. Remember the disaster of the Carter presidency? Reagan was able to capitalize on that because he had a coherent, if ultimately unworkable, vision. The left doesn't. Which is why we need people like this working on the problem.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Here's a pretty funny critical smack-down of the Black Eyed Peas song "My Hump", which the author describes as a song so awful it hurts the mind. Here, in our house, critical reception has been mixed. I think it's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Claire believes that the band is trying to be funny. No doubt. But, so is Saved by the Bell. Also, "lovely lady lumps" isn't very sexy because it reminds me of cancer.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I guess I spoke too soon about protesters flinging feces...
According to Indy Media:
"A recruiting center in Toledo was targeted in the early hours, having its windows smashed, a bucket of shit was then thrown in."
The protest group responsible is entitled "War is shit" an offshoot, no doubt, of the earlier group "Fire is Bad".
As the historian, I could, you know, warn about resorting to mob violence as a way of fighting a much better armed administration that seems to be blurring the lines between just war and martial law as it is. Say something like: "If you're willing to give up on polite discourse, and turn instead to violence, please remember that your opponents already have a 'monopoly on legitimate force' as it is, and all you have is a bucket of feces with which to defend yourselves."
But, there's something about the childishness of these groups that suggests to me that they expect to be protected- that they expect to be cared for even by the Powers that Be. There's a sort of deeper authoritarianism to them... They expect to be forever powerless, but nevertheless protected by authority. This is more like a child pitching a tantrum to get attention from its parents. They accept authority and their own lack of authority. They accept Daddy, so long as he acknowledges them every once and a while. They never want to have any authority in society. They just want authority to pay attention to them.
This is no match for true authoritarians. In fact, it is what legitimizes them. This is bullshit.
Here are Seattle Central Community College students surrounding a military recruiter back in February. Apparently, the mob then "hurled insults and water bottles, according to witnesses, forcing the recruiters to flee under the protection of campus security officers." Dandy.
The school has tried to atone for the situation by demanding that a campus anti-war group, who denies any involvement with the mob scene, write an apology letter. I'm not sure if the group would be expected to apologize for the apparent lack of security on campus. Or, should they apologize for everyone who opposes the war? The school has since realized that this idea was pretty stupid and backed down.
Should the school support "free speech"? Sure. Should that include mob violence? Of course not. But, it is deeply sad that college students have the chance to express themselves and this is all they are capable of. How long until they are demanding their right to fling their own feces?
As for the recruiters being on campus, I don't really understand why campuses should allow so much hucksterism in the first place. Why should the school bookstores put adverts in with the books? Why should the "food courts" have so many booths hawking sneakers and radio stations? Why should the athletes play sports in the "Nike Stadium"? Why should university-based science research be funded by companies like Pepsi or Nutrasweet?
I'm not convinced that "federal funds" should entitle the government access to student's email addresses, for example. But, I'm also not convinced that the problem isn't that we've allowed the money changers into the temple of learning. If you build a mall in the place of a university, it's hard to kick out one particular store.
Actually, that last article was in response to this one, by Judith Halberstam, which also argues that English as a profession is dead. This argument is a bit stranger, and for me, less convincing.
I propose that the discipline is dead, that we willingly killed it and that we now decide as serious scholars and committed intellectuals what should replace it in this new world of anti-intellectual backlash and religious fundamentalism.
Um, okay. It is dead, and it was killed. What's that about replacing it?
While we may all continue doing what we do — reading closely, looking for patterns and disturbances of patterns within cultural manifestations, determining the complex and fractal relations between cultural production and hegemonies —
Notice how she assumes that this is what we do... We're all politicizng literature apparently. No need to reconsider that.
once we call it something other than “English,” (like cultural studies, critical theory, theory and culture, etc.) it will neither look the same nor mean the same thing and nor will it occupy the same place in relation to the humanities in general, or within administrative plans for down-sizing;
So, we trick the numbers crunchers by changing the name? "Hey Joe! Remember how we were going to cut out the English department to make more room for that new wing of the Business School? Well, I can't find 'English' on this map? There's something called 'Critical Theory and Culture' where it used to be! Well, that sounds much more important than 'Comp. Lit'!"
it will also, I propose, be better equipped to meet the inevitable demands (which already began to surface after the last election) for an end to liberal bias on college campuses and so on.
And so on. Just change the name. Don't question whether sniffing out hegemonies is really the point of humanist study. Just change the name. That'll fool them.
Her other big plan to resurrect English lit? Well, she agrees with Gayatri Spivak, who wrote The Death of a Profession, which sadly, was not a confession of her own part in the murder.
while Spivak’s investment in the “close reading” and formalism betrays the elitist investments of her proposals for reinvention, I urge a consideration of non-elitist forms of knowledge production upon the otherwise brilliant formulations of The Death of a Discipline.
So, her big solution, and I wish I was making this up, is to focus less on "elitist" close reading (elitist because it is difficult) and replace that with plot summaries, which are apparently not elitist because, generally, even the dumbest students can do them.
I'm glad people are dealing with the problem. But, as Ms Soletan pointed out, most Western literature is already somewhat religious, and when it is not, often belies the deep soul hurt of a loss of religion. For an English lit professor to see her profession as the first line of defense against "religious fundamentalism" gets at the problem. But, never mind that! Just jump ship! The profession is dead, and we killed it, and now it's on to the next thing!
Here is a very strong article about the surprisingly quick decline of American English departments. I can't really disagree with much- the article details why I went into History and gave up my dreams of being an English Lit grad student. Let's just say that it has been a long, sad decline from Northrop Frye to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
My favorite line:
"Humanistic education is a slow process of assimilation, without any clear real-world point to it."
As it should be. I agree with her that English departments have largely abandoned their traditional role- the close reading of texts with questions of truth, beauty, transcendence and spirituality in mind- and that a shocking number of English professors even display outright hostility to literature. She has identified the problems within the profession, even if this sort of criticism is the current version of picking off very large fish in very small barrels with a high-powered rifle.
When the yearly wringing of hands comes around, people who criticize the profession tend to make the same argument- the humanities are deeply corrupted, lost and confused, and if only it wasn't, all those students who would love to study art and literature closely would. But, how many students are there in today's world who really care more about "lit" than about "getting lit"? Or about "getting rich"? I think these arguments tend to put all the onus on the profession and forget how deeply Philistine this culture has become; and not only deeply Philistine, but fiercely proud of its philistinism.
We should be proud that humanistic study has no clear real-world point to it, and the author clearly is. Instead of trying to make the humanities another arena for "social justice" or whatever it is this week, we should defend the fact that we are here largely to cultivate the self. Humanistic education is raising, and can spiritually deepen the individual. Again, I think that she understands this.
The reason that Philistines like David Horowitz want to micromanage the university is that they feel themselves on an equal level with the Philistines within the university- and they are. In a sense, Horowitz has preserved his New Left contempt for authority as such in his current New Right contempt for authority on the left. But, the reason that he has weight in the current debate is that the Northrop Fryes are all dead, or perhaps in hiding. Academia is a monastic profession, and when it becomes worldly it opens the gates to the barbarians. Why shouldn't we exist solely to make suburban kids think they're smarter than they are? Why is this any less appropriate than teaching English literature as a way to "overthrow the patriarchy"? If we shove the dominant culture, with its love of one damned simplicity after another, why should we cry "McCarthyism" when they shove back?
I'm not convinced that Horowitz is trying to stop our cultural decline into barbarism... in fact, I suspect that he is accelerating it. And, actually, I'm not convinced that anything will stop it at this point. The march of the technocrats and consumers goes on, crushing anything raising in life with an eye fixed on the bottom line. It's sad that academics, the stewards of culture, are so willing to gut their own professions and help out in this looting, but perhaps it doesn't matter what the rats do as the ship sinks. Perhaps, there only need to be a few of us to preserve the sacred knowledge of the past for the future generations of non-barbarians.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
For the occasional problems we all have teaching... I can't think of anything that could compare to showing up at your office to find two students having sex there! And then they yell at you to leave! Perhaps the funniest thing I've read today. Talk about the barbarian invasions!
With all the gloomy things I've talked about lately, I should mention the remarkable woman who came and talked to our seminar today- Alison DesForges is the author of Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, which is the most authoritative study yet written on the Rwandan Genocide. It is so authoritative, in fact, that she is often called as an expert witness in the genocide trials. She testified last about 12 days ago.
Our discussion focused on the differences between writing a history of genocide and a history of anything else. We were very lucky to hear her talk, so I give my notes from her discussion:
History of genocide is a history and a description of a crime.
It has been declared a crime by international law.
Hutu general in 1994: "Our children will know what Tutsis are only by reading the textbooks."
The consequences of identifying the actors responsible is much more serious than in any other sort of history. Naming names is much more serious.
The obligation to accuracy is always our responsibility, but here it can mean the difference in people's lives. We cannot falsely accuse someone of genocide.
Which persons testimony will be regarded as credible?
What sort of questions are there as to their motivations? The ultimate question of motivations is emerging in Rwanda where the guilty are claiming that they thought they were protecting their country against a treacherous fifth column.
What if they were acting with other than genocidal intent?
Hutu Defense: This country was under attack.
Guerillas were attacking the legitimate military
There was a real, or imagined, fifth column
In writing a history of genocide, it is much harder to gain accurate information. There is a deliberate attempt to falsify the story here. There are innocent lapses of memory, and then there are also intentional fabrications.
A historian cannot be subjective in the same way as a fingerprint analyst can- we have to be subjective to make our decisions. Sometimes, courts have trouble with this.
Monday, December 05, 2005
According to Salon, "America Can't Take it Anymore" with regards to the administration's torture policies. What they mean is that soldiers, CIA members and politicians are taking the administration to task on this. Not that your average American literally cannot take it anymore because they're so angry about torture.
Here in Buffalo, the people I see everyday really can't take it anymore! They are mad as hell about the Bills losing season and can't take it anymore! Also, they can't take the cold weather anymore and there's still three months to go! And, they definitely can't take the long lines at the mall anymore! The students can't take the parking situation, and they're at the point where they can't take the studying either.
As for torture?
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Woke up to snow again. It's not too bad yet, but I find that it starts to get really annoying around February. I'm from Virginia originally, where "the middle of winter" is a Tuesday and "the end of winter" is a Friday. I'm not yet used to Canada. Lola loves the snow, but then again, she's a born Canuck. Brrrrrr!
Saturday, December 03, 2005
The University of Kansas has decided to cancel a class dedicated to debunking intelligent design. It was offered by a religious studies professor who had childishly sent an email to students: "in which he referred to religious conservatives as 'fundies' and said a course depicting intelligent design as mythology would be a 'nice slap in their big fat face.'"
I think the university is quite right here. There's just something deeply inappropriate about using a classroom to make a political point. The university should be a mental and spiritual refuge from the larger society, a port of call that provides intellectual refuge from stormier seas; it should steer clear of the larger society's political drivel as much as possible. Ideological certainty is not compatible with the objective search for truth.
I do believe that religious studies should be discussing intelligent design, or at least the larger relationship between science and religion. But, not as an attempt to tubthump the party line.
Are you in a cult? Here are some "warning signs of cult activity" from a deprogramming center. Attached I've included quotes from members of two of the largest cults in America. Please, get your loved ones help!
1. Decreased contact with loved ones.
"Still, I'm wondering whether I can ever feel the same way about the close friend my husband and I might have named as guardian for our daughter. Possessed of a brilliant intellect and a gentle soul, he is also a rabid Republican not-so-slightly to the right of Karl Rove. We stopped speaking to him last July after an ugly kitchen-table debate erupted about the war in Iraq."
2. Difficulty in communicating with your loved one.
"So, my advice for Thanksgiving? Don't get into a discussion at all. You will be attacked, put on the defensive and your serious agenda will be ignored in favor of the pop-politics of the moment, all anti-conservatism."
3. Increased hostility.
I wouldn't vote for (a conservative) if you peeled off all my toenails with a pair of pliers then ran hot piano wire through both of my eyes. I fight their nasty little destructive hateful dark agenda with every fiber of my being, every day of my life.
"A time ago there was a type of people called traitors, they were killed in various ways for betraying their nation and helping the enemy, now they are simply called liberals and are allowed to speak their lies freely... these liberals must be taken care of or they will take everyone down with them."
4. Loss of sense of humor.
"Why aren't conservatives funny? Because all of their ideological leaders are pompous blowhards with bad haircuts? Because they're stupid?"
5. Dramatic drop in grades or performance at job.
"But the dynamic of the class had been changed. From that day forward, John spoke up often, sometimes loudly, sometimes out of turn. He had begun to conceive of himself as the only countervailing conservative voice in a classroom full of liberal-left think-alikes, and he occasionally spoke as if he were entitled to reply to every other student's comment -- in a class of 17."
6. Sudden change in dating or friendships.
"I would NEVER consider dating or marrying someone who was not a liberal or progressive."
7. Glassy stare in his/ her eyes, seems "spaced out" or not quite there.
"Walking me to my car (he insisted), Tom, who works for a construction conglomerate, reaches for a favorite metaphor to describe George Bush: linoleum. "You know: Usually you get a microfilm of the color, and if you drop a plate on it you discover it's an ugly-looking floor. Then linoleum came out—the pattern goes through the entire one-eighth of material. You can drop a plate on it, and the color is true all the way down!"
His face glows. He gets a far-off look in his eyes. That's his Bush."
8. The group expects more or less exclusive devotion or focus on its leader, its practices, or its beliefs.
"Indeed, the more deeply conservatives loathe Mr. Clinton, the more thoroughly persuaded liberals are that he is their soulmate and protector."
"I watched the debates and I like what I see/ you Mr. President are the man God intended you to be./ You are leading us to do everything that’s right/ it was the enemy not you initiated this fight."
9. Honorable persons outside the group are overtly or subtly dismissed.
"John McCain- War Criminal."
"I don't know if (Murtha is) a coward, but he certainly is a traitor and a liar."
10. The group promises that extreme devotion yields extreme rewards.
If you are "conservative," and live by conservative principles, you may very well be choosing life over death. If you live by "liberal" principles, however, you may really be choosing death.
11. Nonmembers are seen as subnormal.
"Liberals are subhuman scum."
"Republicans are retarded."
12. The group functions as if right and wrong are defined by what furthers or inhibits the interests of the group.
"I have this vision of the time when God led the Jews out of bondage, in Exodus.....may we not also be seeing God deliveirng us and leading us all out of the self-imposed slavery of the liberal/commie politicians/"leaders'"?
13. The world according to the group is defined in sharp, black-or-white categories.
"Howard Dean has suggested that Republicans are "evil." That they are "corrupt." He called them "brain-dead" during a stop in Toronto."
"Click here: PROOF THAT LIBERALS HATE MANKIND!!!!!!"
"No one can argue that the liberals agenda does not closely parallel that of evil. "
Please call 1-800-POLITICAL-ZOMBIES to help a loved one be deprogrammed. They may already be Demo-krishnas or Hari-publicans. They may already have squandered all their money on badly-written books by Sean Hannity or Michael Moore, or even be mindlessly repeating quotes from those very books as we speak! For the love of God! They may even have a blog by this point!
GET HELP TODAY!!
(Please forward to "at risk" friends and family)