Saturday, September 29, 2007


Bitter Laughter continues to turn its eye to the topic of academic freedom.

And today's Inside Higher Education has a really startling piece about Ahmadinejad's speech at NYU which says as much about the state of American politics as it does about academic freedom.

What Ought Whom You Invite to Speak

It’s fair to say that Columbia University has heard more than an earful over its decision to offer a speaking platform this week to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reaction ranged widely, with many condemning the university for inviting the controversial leader, others praising Columbia’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, for sternly rebuking the Iranian president while he looked on, and some doing both. Opinions flowed freely.

On Wednesday, one vehement critic, with a prominent platform of his own, went a large step further. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Californian who is also a longshot candidate (to be generous) for the Republican nomination for president, introduced legislation that would “prohibit federal grants to or contracts with Columbia University.” The text of the legislation — which college officials called “unprecedented” — was not yet available on any government Web sites.
Of course, this legislation isn't going anywhere. But the very fact that anybody in politics would think of penalizing an institution for promoting dialogue is simply asinine. Look at the much-watched video of Ahmadinejad responding to the question of gay rights. Is the bitter laughter of the crowd not amazingly powerful manifestation of the dialogical spirit?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Creative Thinking

Like a lot of people, I neglect the magazines I subscribe to. When I do read them, I am usually reminded why I subscribe.

And this month's Harper's has a truly great article that offers a novel way by which we the people can stop this war: a general strike.

Of all the various depredations of the Bush regime, none has been so thorough as its plundering of hope. Iraq will recover sooner. What was supposed to have been the crux of our foreign policy—a shock-and-awe tutorial on the utter futility of any opposition to the whims of American power—has achieved its greatest and perhaps its only lasting success in the American soul. You will want to cite the exceptions, the lunch-hour protests against the war, the dinner-party ejaculations of dissent, though you might also want to ask what substantive difference they bear to grousing about the weather or even to raging against the dying of the light—that is, to any ritualized complaint against forces universally acknowledged as unalterable. Bush is no longer the name of a president so much as the abbreviation of a proverb, something between Murphy’s Law and tomorrow’s fatal inducement to drink and be merry today.

If someone were to suggest, for example, that we begin a general strike on Election Day, November 6, 2007, for the sole purpose of removing this regime from power, how readily and with what well-practiced assurance would you find yourself producing the words “It won’t do any good”? Plausible and even courageous in the mouth of a patient who knows he’s going to die, the sentiment fits equally well in the heart of a citizen-ry that believes it is already dead.

What I really like about this article, too, is that Garret Keizer is finely attuned to the way in which we have become inured to this war such that "normal life" continues apace while Blackwater (and our army, too, let's not forget) shoots people down in the street.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3 months until Chrismas

It's never too early to start shopping. I, personally, am already making my list.

I'm not in the habit of asking for things I don't think I deserve, and, well, I deserve this.

The BBC is already on top of this sure-to-delight item:

A former US intercontinental ballistic missile base - with a network of underground tunnels and silos, but no nuclear warheads - is on sale on eBay for $1.5m (£750,000, 1.06m euros).

Located in a remote corner of Washington state and still ringed by its original barbed-wire-topped fence, the 56-acre site is being marketed as a "gorgeous" property and potential resort.

If you know me (or even if you don't), please consider buying this for me. If you do, I'll have you over to play laser tag.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In the news

  • A flaming object has fallen out of the sky in Peru and is making people ill.
  • Yet another fringe benefit for those who will not immediately perish from global warming: the receding ice has opened up the Northwest Passage.
  • And, yes, we do live a police state. As I understand it, it's not technically illegal to ask John Kerry a question, but you will be tazed if you go over your allotted time. Yet the latest installment of my favorite youtube video genre, "police go crazy and taze the shit out of a good citizen." Via the Lede.

By the way, does anybody happen to know what happened to the cops who savagely tazed the UCLA student last January?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pure Joy

Once again Samuel Beckett proves his enduring populism and relevance across social milieus (most specifically here, across the generations).

I give you, Beckett for Babies.

Via the biggest baby of them all, Gerry Canavan.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Know Your Rights

Don't you just love those non-binding UN votes?

From Al Jazeera:

UN adopts indigenous rights bill

The UN General Assembly has adopted a declaration of rights for indigenous peoples despite opposition from several developed states.
The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand said it gave excessive property and legal powers to indigenous peoples.
This has been on Bush's radar-screen for awhile.

And just for good measure, a little Clash to brighten your day:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Academic Freedom Part II: The Revenge

And just so there's no doubt in anybody's mind that academic freedom is a real issue with real consequences for delimiting what is sayable--and thus thinkable--I give you another link from today's LA Times.

Chemerinsky says UC Irvine rescinds offer to become law school dean

The constitutional scholar says university officials told him the deal was off to head the new school because he was too 'politically controversial.' Just days after he signed a contract to become the first dean of UC Irvine's new law school, Erwin Chemerinsky was told this week that the deal was off because he was too "politically controversial."

Chemerinsky said in an interview today that UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake had flown to North Carolina on Tuesday and told him at a hotel near the airport that that he did not realize the extent to which there were "conservatives out to get me."
Great. Now administrators are so worried about coming under the watchful eye of Gestapo that they're self-censoring and hiring to please the academic police. That's just great.

Thanks to Bill, Monu and Andy for the various links.

Academic Freedom and the Media

The web is abuzz with chatter about academic freedom today.

John Leo at the Washington Post hates all left wing radical professors in the humanities, and champions the work of groups that monitor their efforts to indoctrinate the youth.

A curtain has been drawn around the academy, inside of which the protection of certain favored ideas trumps intellectual exchange and the search for truth.
I am reluctant to quote any more of the piece than this because it's little more than an advertisement for a group that monitors intellectual discourse for signs of partisanship. But his position is clear enough: the hate-mongering professors in the ivory tower hate America and will do anything to enforce and spread their leftist ideology.

Michael Bérubé isn't so sure. In an article at Inside Higher Education, Bérubé discusses how wrong this view of the academy is. He's part of a group entitled the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which has drafted a statement on “Freedom in the Classroom" about the nature of classroom discussions in higher education and intellectual freedom:

The statement takes up the right’s four most prominent complaints about professors’ classroom demeanor: “(1) instructors ‘indoctrinate’ rather than educate; (2) instructors fail fairly to present conflicting views on contentious subjects, thereby depriving students of educationally essential ‘diversity’ or ‘balance’; (3) instructors are intolerant of students’ religious, political, or socioeconomic views, thereby creating a hostile atmosphere inimical to learning; and (4) instructors persistently interject material, especially of a political or ideological character, irrelevant to the subject of instruction.” In its discussion of “indoctrination,” for example, the statement argues that: “It is not indoctrination for an economist to say to his students that in his view the creation of markets is the most effective means for promoting growth in underdeveloped nations, or for a biologist to assert his belief that evolution occurs through punctuated equilibriums rather than through continuous processes. Indoctrination occurs only when instructors dogmatically insist on the truth of such propositions by refusing to accord their students the opportunity to contest them. Vigorously to assert a proposition or a viewpoint, however controversial, is to engage in argumentation and discussion — an engagement that lies at the core of academic freedom.”

This, too, should go without saying — but because it doesn’t, conservative ideologues (whose names are just at the tip of my tongue) have been able to mount campaigns against individual professors and entire campuses based on the most specious of assumptions. In North Carolina, for instance, a group calling itself the Committee for a Better North Carolina complained bitterly that the University of North Carolina had assigned Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed to incoming students. Do such people really need to be told, in the words of the AAUP statement, that “it is fundamental error to assume that the assignment of teaching materials constitutes their endorsement”? Do we really need to explain in so many words that “classroom discussion of Nickel and Dimed in North Carolina could have been conducted in a spirit of critical evaluation, or in an effort to understand the book in the tradition of American muckraking, or in an effort to provoke students to ask deeper questions about their own ideas of poverty and class”? Yes and yes.
This Bérubé piece is excellent, and a much needed reminder (for me) about the coming show-down between legislators and academics about the nature of higher education. Additionally, it is potent reminder of the way the media portrays us in the academy--as craven hippies whose sole aim is to indoctrinate the weak-mined fools that enter our classrooms with the foul excrescence of Communist ideology.

I suppose it's never occurred to the talking heads that the worst place to indoctrinate people is college, and the best is preschool. It's not a coincidence, after all, that every American child learns the pledge of allegiance at age 4.

[By the way, the academy was scrutinized in the 1980s by a group called Truth in Academia (I think) for questioning the justice of the American war on Nicaragua. Some things never change.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's Tuesday again

It's 9/11, and the internet is wide awake.

Gary Kamiya over at is thinking about "the real lessons" of 9/11. This is a good piece because it takes the long view of how 9/11 has been used for political ends, places it in historical perspective, and incisively articulates the sense of determinism that has characterized post-9/11 foreign policy.
Petraeus' evaluation can only be "anxiously awaited" by people who are still anxiously waiting for Godot. We know what will happen next because we've been watching this movie for eight months. Gen. Petraeus, Bush's mighty-me, will insist that we're making guarded progress. Bush, whose keen grasp of military reality is reflected in his recent boast that "we're kicking ass" in Iraq, will promise that he will reassess the situation in April. The Democrats will flail their puny arms, the zombie Republicans will keep following orders, and the troops will stay.
. . .

Sept. 11 is a totemic date for the Bush administration. It justifies everything, explains everything, ends all argument. It is the crime that must be eternally punished, the wound that can never heal, the moral high ground that can never be taken. is laying off the 9/11 story and examining the new bin Laden video, "before it is forgotten in the coming debate on Gen. David Petraeus' Iraq report." This piece is slightly alarmist; Anne Applebaum worries that al-Qaida's new turn in public relations could seduce westerners, the consequences of which, she says, would be horrific.
Real or fake, the message might still hint at the direction in which al-Qaida propaganda, or at least al-Qaida propaganda designed for the Western market, is now heading. In a recent Slate piece, Reza Aslan eloquently described how the organization's list of alleged "grievances"—which now include global warming, corporate capitalism, and African poverty, as well as the American bases in Saudi Arabia—weave "local and global resentments into a single anti-American narrative, the overarching aim of which is to form a collective identity across borders and nationalities." But the narrative clearly isn't meant for only the Arab world. On the contrary, perhaps it's time to take the main message seriously: Clearly, al-Qaida's long-term goal is to convert Americans and other Westerners to its extreme version of Islam.
See yesterday's post on the new bin Laden video here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Rich

This might be the single most masterfully written piece of preeminence these eyes of have ever seen.

Then again, it could be satire. But my very inability to decide whether this is the author's real opinion or not makes the true nature of the author's intent sort of irrelevant.

Lessons that Michael Lewis has learned from the subprime mortgage fiasco.

1) The poor are "masters of public relations."

2) "Poor people don't respect other people's money in the way money deserves to be respected."

3) He has "grown out of touch with `poor culture.'"

[This point is really beautiful. Lewis wonders--in a public forum, mind you--if his distance from 'poor culture' began when he "stopped flying commercial" or when he "gave up the bleacher seats and got the suite." Yes, we all feel very sorry for you and the downturn the market has taken.]

4) "Our society is really, really hostile to success. At the same time it's shockingly indulgent of poor people."

[In this point, Lewis strains to veer his column away from farce. He proposes a 'solution' to the problem: give the poor work. "Some of these poor people must have skills. The ones that don't could be trained to do some of the less skilled labor -- say, working as clowns at rich kids' birthday parties."]

5) "I think it's time we all become more realistic about letting the poor anywhere near Wall Street."

Via Feministe!

God Bless the Internet

A severely underrated movie, RAD is one of my all time favorite 80s movies. This film nearly departed my memory altogether. Thank you internet gods!

(The trailer is actually less than 2 minutes and worth every second of it.)

And for the world's most radical 1980s prom scene, see here.

Two Minutes Hate

You may have missed it, but Emmanuel Goldstein Osama bin Laden released a video statement on Friday. The New York Times covered it for about half a second. It was his first such statement in three years. And apart from some speculations about the video itself (rather than the message) and some chatter about whether or not Osama dies his beard, there was virtually no media coverage of it.

For those who might possibly be interested in hearing what Osama bin Laden has to say, in his own words, check out the video here. (It seems the Ministry of Information has been here: the video hardly to be found on the internet and the transcript seems to no longer be available from Fox. I am hosting the transcript on my webspace here.)

I was struck by the decidedly communist tone he takes here, as well as the sense of religious tolerance for Judaism that is advanced in lockstep with the usual Islamic evangelism. As before, Osama bin Laden proves himself to be a close observer of American life (he even references the mortgage woes of the last month). What seems to me more important than anything, however, is not the message itself, but the utter disregard this country shows for the views of our ostensible enemy. Aren't we waging wars against this man? And yet there seems to be some kind of anxiety--even fear--about listening to what he has to say. Two years ago when I taught 1984, I realized that not a single person in my class knew what Osama bin Laden really wanted--what his grievances were, what his ideology looks like, etc. All they knew was that he was inimical to "us," and that he was the enemy. "Enmity" is mightily empty category, and a dangerous one at that, if you refuse to allow it to have content.

And that's exactly what bin Laden is for Americans, an enemy without content. The fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden is not isomorphic with himself. That is, "Osama bin Laden," as that name is understood in this country, is a simulacrum of the actual man. We do not need to listen to what he has to say because we know what he is -- after all, he is our creation. He represents for us something to fight against, the implement against which we sharpen our knives and define ourselves. His words are not relevant since they communicate a version of himself that does not square with our understanding of him. Why would we both listen or give credence to his video musings?

The real education is not, I think, in bin Laden's message itself. There we will find his version of a PR campaign; the video is a well rehearsed statement of ideology designed to appeal to as wide a swath of people as possible. The real meaning behind the video lies in the void in which it is submitted. Osama bin Laden's attempts to publish himself are denied, and "enmity" remains an empty category that we can fill with content when and where it is convenient.

Friday, September 7, 2007

It's Booker Time

The Booker Prize folks have released their short list for this year's prize. And the list looks a lot like it did in the last few years--filled with authors with small reputations and tiny distributions, and one Goliath to lend the crew legitimacy. This reminds me, in fact, of the list two years ago, when John Banville's excellent novel The Sea took the prize, even though only about 3,300 copies of it had been sold.

Here's this year's list:

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
Some people have been angry about the prize's turn away from Big Names, but I welcome it. I can't say I all that happy about seeing Ian McEwan on the list again. It sometimes seems like the giants of English publishing get on the list just because of who they are, as when Rushdie's book Shalimar the Clown made its way onto the long list in 2005. In any event, I look forward to reading one or two of these books in the next year.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 3

I know the standard objection people make about Glory -- that its anti-racist content is somewhat less effective (even contradicted) by writer's desire to narrate the story of black soldiers in the American Civil War ifrom the perspective of their white commander. But it's a good movie. Matthew Broderick rounds out the 1980s with grandeur.

IMDB has a rather more dramatic trailer here.

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 2

And the trailer for another fine Matthew Broderick 80s movie, Project X. This one gives rather too much of the plot away, I think.

Matthew Broderick, Pt. 1

In homage to Gerry Canavan's motto this week, "The only winning move is not to play," I offer the trailer to the wonderful 1983 Matthew Broderick film, War Games.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


I have just seen the future, and it's a cleaner, happier, toilet paper-free time. It looks parodicly blissful, almost like the promo for Life Extension in Vanilla Sky.