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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Special year-end-wrapup extravaganza!

That’s right, folks, this blog is officially signing off for 2004.  Today the family and I leave for Janet’s extended-family haunts in Connecticut; from there we go to the Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia, which for me will be just chock full of so many quotidian, soul-sucking professional tasks that I might as well be attending the International Insurance Adjusters’ Convention in lovely downtown Omaha.  (I serve on the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee and the Executive Council.  Don’t ask.  Don’t even think of asking.) And then we come back to little State College on New Year’s Eve.  Woo hoo!

So I’ll have to wish everyone a Merry Secular Solstice and Happy Pagan New Year now.  Let’s go to the wrapup!


It appears that this relentlessly annoying blog will wind up with something like 640,000 visitors in its first year of existence.  Not that I’m counting!  Honestly, I do appreciate your stopping by, and I want especially to thank Chris R., Chris C. (awesome hemp beret ballad, dude), Romy B., tc, jw, Bean, Sian, Roxanne, Mitchell, PZ, Dr. Wu, Carol, Doghouse, thehim, Ms. Not Together, random, Riggsveda, Terence, Librarian, Bellatrys, Glenn, Idelber, Emily, Amardeep, Wendy, Uncle Kvetch, Jonathan, Barry, and all my regular commenters (yes, you too, Jorge and the two Daniels– my apologies if I missed anyone) for being the very best on the web.  If I have one regret about this damn blog, it’s that I was too damn timid and/or stupid to turn on comments until May 10.  My loss.

One brief maintenance note: I learned recently that some conference organizers had been trying– and failing– to get in touch with me for a couple of weeks via the email address “michael at michaelberube.com.” Apparently, that address has not worked since this blog’s near-fatal crash on November 1.  So if anyone’s been sending me mail at that address and I haven’t replied, it’s because I never got it.  (As most of my correspondents can attest, I usually respond to email pretty quickly.  Not because I’m especially conscientious, mind you, but just because I get all weird and antsy when I have more than 30 messages in my “in” box.)


On the home front, the second half of 2004 consisted of a Series of Unfortunate Events, the most recent of which involved our new oven bursting into flames about two weeks ago.  (Now who says that male academic bloggers don’t write about such things?) It turns out that we have mice– very tiny, very cute, and now (I hope) very dead mice– and that they had been stealing Lucy the Dog’s dog food and storing it under the oven floor, where it had been slowly fired into something resembling a volcanic-rock serving platter.  Our kitchen and pantry are now dotted with “glue boards,” but after one mouse inexplicably escaped from a glue board, the exterminator (after saying, “I’ve never seen that in all my years etc.”) gave us what can only be described as little glue pits into which the mice were supposed to fall face first and suffocate.  Alas, the mice fell into the glue pits sideways, expiring slowly and in great rodent-soul terror as they struggled vainly to free their doomed little bodies from the devices before one of the Bérubés– and you can just guess which one of us was assigned this job– showed up to deposit them, pit, body, soul and all, in a plastic bag and take them out to the trash.

On a happier note, Jamie is doing well in sixth grade, and seems to be the class’s resident expert on sharks.  Nick is home from Washington University in St. Louis, and we are pleased to report that he did not grow a goatee while at college.  The boys continue to rock.


Recently a reader wrote to me– really and truly, I’m not making this up for once– and asked me when, if ever, I would get around to reporting on the NHL lockout.  I told him I couldn’t say anything that King Kaufman hadn’t already said better, but that I would be happy to update everyone on my own career– at least until DirecTV offers me a package that includes reruns of the Rangers’ 1993-94 season!  Ordinarily, as part of my Secret Other Life as a forward in the Nittany Hockey League, I play about 25-30 games a semester with my A-league team, the Centre County Misfits (CCM) and my B-league team, the Capitals (in other words, 50-60 games in a season that runs from September through April).  But thanks to our long Series of Unfortunate Events, together with Janet’s and my various academic travels, this fall I have played a mere eight games with each team.  In my four years in the NHL, this is an all-time low, and if I hadn’t played a game this past Saturday morning and two games on Sunday night, my all-time low would have been even lower.

In those sixteen games, however, I have helped CCM go 8-0 and the Capitals go 6-1-1, while scoring 12 goals and 6 assists with CCM and 17 goals, 12 assists with the Caps (who don’t really need me, having gone 14-1-2 overall).  The strangest thing is that despite my sadly diminished playing time, I actually have a semester-long goal-scoring streak in both leagues, having put the puck in the net in all eight games in both leagues thus far (my longest streak in the A league, before this, was a mere four games).  The A-league stats are reassuring, because the A-league talent gets pretty serious. Those 12 goals exceed my A-league total for all of last year, when I played 25 games and wound up with 11 goals and 8 assists– a severe dropoff from the really-not-bad 29 goals in 31 games of the 2002-03 season, a dropoff that was so dispiriting as to make me wonder whether my A-league days might be over.  (Especially since the only reason I broke 10 for the year was that I scored three in a late-season game against a weak backup goaltender.) And I have no penalty minutes in either league, so if the real NHL decides to make its many trophies available to the Nittany Hockey League in the 2004-05 season, I’m in the running for the Lady Byng.  What am I saying?  Nobody cares about the Lady Byng.  It’s much more important that in Sunday night’s doubleheader, I scored two as the Capitals defeated their archrivals, the Flatliners, 10-6, and then, mildly exhausted, scored two more as CCM beat their archrivals, the Geohabs, 4-1.  Not that I’m counting!

Of course, as ancient hockey superstition has it, scoring streaks end the minute you blog about them.  Remember what happened to Newsy Lalonde in the 1921-22 season, after four consecutive years of exceeding a goal a game– all because of his damn blog!  But it’s OK with me if the streak doesn’t survive the new year.  You know what they say– I’m just happy to be playing.  And besides, players who focus too much on scoring wind up neglecting the very things that make scoring opportunities possible– good conditioning, good forechecking, good passing.  So in 2005, I’m going to concentrate on being a better all-around player . . . and specifically on making sure that I get open for that first outlet pass out of our zone and don’t turn it over in neutral ice.  I don’t usually turn the puck over anywhere– except on the outlet pass, which I sometimes have trouble handling.  This bothers me no end, and so it must stop.


I’m still plugging away at Liberal Arts, my book about what liberal-left college professors like me actually do for a living (and why every good citizen should help us defend academic freedom from the radical right’s attacks!).  Although the October 30 deadline has come and gone, I’ve been working steadily, ignoring the blog (and everything else) for the past week while completing a 15,000-word chapter.  I don’t know yet if the chapter is any good– it has to sit on the windowsill and cool for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll have a long review essay coming out in the Nation the week after next or thereabouts.  I wrote it in June, but you know how these things go– and my first draft needed some serious work in July.  The subject is affirmative action, as addressed by four more-or-less recent books.  If I recall correctly, I parse the books carefully and conclude that affirmative action is complex.  No doubt the essay will draw some fire from critics who will insist, No It Isn’t.  To which I will surely reply, Oh Yes It Is.

Res Publica

I was going to remark on the fact that Bush was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year just as events in Iraq became grisly beyond belief, but I decided that would be a cheap shot.  This blog does not take cheap shots!  This blog feels the Bush Administration’s pain for all who have lost their lives in this vitally necessary conflict, and throbs to the administration’s heartfelt desires to let the Iraqi people breathe free in elections that will doubtless bring a renaissance of political sweetness and light to the very cradle of civilization itself.  I was particularly moved by Bush’s earnest, unscripted, almost spiritual testimony on behalf of Donald Rumsfeld at his press conference on Monday.  For those of you who haven’t consulted the transcript, I have an excerpt of it here:

QUESTION: I’d like to go back to Secretary Rumsfeld. You talked about the big-picture elements of the secretary’s job, but did you find it offensive that he didn’t take the time to personally sign condolence letters to the families of troops killed in Iraq? And if so, why is that an offense that you’re willing to overlook?

BUSH:  Listen, I know how– I know Secretary Rumsfeld’s heart. I know how much he cares for the troops.  And I also know this.  No one knows what it’s like to be to the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes.  No one knows what it’s like to be hated, to be fated to telling only lies.  But Secretary Rumsfeld’s dreams– they aren’t as empty as his conscience seems to be.  I have heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm’s way. And he’s a good, decent man. He’s a caring fellow.

QUESTION: Exactly how caring can he be, if he’s not even signing condolence letters and he’s never admitted making a single mistake with regard to this fraudulent and obviously worse-than-counterproductive war?

BUSH: Listen– let me finish! and get that wire out of my back, goddammit!– no one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings like Secretary Rumsfeld does.  No one bites back as hard on their anger– none of his pain and woe can show through.  But, as I said before, the Secretary’s dreams are not as empty as his conscience seems to be.  He has hours, only lonely.  His love is vengeance that’s never free.  And no, I don’t really know what that last sentence means, and as I said before, I’m not going to negotiate with myself about it.  Or with you– it wouldn’t be right, it’s not the holiday spirit.  Thank you very much.

Happy second term, everyone!  Happy 2005!  And thanks again!

Posted by Michael on 12/22 at 04:21 AM
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Friday, December 17, 2004

Merry &%@*ing Christmas!

They warned me this would happen back when I was in boot camp at Focus on the Family, but I didn’t believe them.  “You will need to gird your loins for the attack on Christmas,” they said.  ”Jacob Grinchstein and all his liberal friends in the media, the banks, and the intelligentsia are gearing up for an all-out assault on our Christian nation.  First they came after Mel Gibson, and now they’re planning to take the Baby Jesus away from us.”

“Oh, come on,” I said at the time.  “Next you’ll be telling me that they use the Baby Jesus’ blood to make matzohs.”

“No, they don’t do that anymore,” I was told.  “Today they’re much more indirect and insidious-- they’re forbidding us even to say the word ‘Christmas,’ and they’re forcing your kid to sing ‘dreidel dreidel dreidel’ and make menorahs in your public school.  Then when we call them on it, they hide behind Santa and start singing contentless ‘holiday’ music like ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’”

“I dunno,” I said, still skeptical.  “I mean, I’m pretty much surrounded by Christmas stuff everywhere I go, full of Jesus this and Jesus that.  Jamie’s last ‘holiday’ concert included things like ‘Angels We Have Heard on High,’ there are creches on every church lawn, and that ‘Peanuts’ special is downright evangelical.  And now that you bring it up, I have to say I don’t really understand why you folks feel so persecuted all the time.  You’re always complaining that you’re not allowed to testify to your religious faith in public, when in fact, as Richard Rorty put it in his essay on Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief, an atheist can’t get elected to any office higher than that of dogcatcher in this country.” Well, that was just about the last thing I said to anybody at Focus on the Family!  They don’t even like to hear the name of Richard Rorty out there, much less a citation of one of his atheist arguments.

And now here I am back in Pennsylvania, one month later, forced to admit that they were right and I was wrong.  Christmas is under attack, and loyal Americans must fight to save it!  It’s time to remind the infidels and agnostics that the mother-lovin’ Prince of Peace can kick their asses all the way to Gehenna!  So this Christ-Mas season, get in the face of some pushy, hook-nosed anti-Christmas agitator near you, and say, ‘Merry My-God-Became-Flesh-And-Yours-Didn’t-Day, you un-American slimeball.  Why don’t you just take your little ‘civil liberties’ someplace else.’”

Oh, and while I’m on the subject, I just finished Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. A fine, vividly rendered narrative of strong leadership in a time of national crisis!  It reminded me of the theme song to All in the Family, especially the line, “Mister, we could use a man like Charles Lindbergh again.” Fortunately, we’ve got one!

Posted by Michael on 12/17 at 07:03 AM
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Wednesday, December 15, 2004


An imaginary reader writes in to say, “Michael, how come you haven’t done any self-promotion lately?  You used to excel at it, but now you’re all caught up in ‘this humble blog’ nonsense.  We miss the days when you used to walk around Penn State with a sandwich board advertising your latest essay, signing people up to receive free offprints and photocopies.”

Well, I.R., you have a point.  After all, this book has been out for weeks now, and I haven’t even mentioned that mine is the volume’s closing essay.  I apologize.

And let’s not forget that nominations for the 2004 Koufax Awards-- as Chris Bowers puts it, “the only blogosphere award that matters"-- are now open.  Since this shamelessly self-promoting blog debuted on January 7 of this year, we’re still officially a “new” blog, though judging from the nominations so far, we expect to lose badly to James Wolcott in this and perhaps a couple of other categories as well.  But if you’re so inclined, please stop by and nominate me in the “best liberal-left hockey blogging during an NHL lockout-- new blogs” category.  I think I should have that one sewn up.

The Chairman of the Red Party thanks you.

Posted by Michael on 12/15 at 02:53 AM
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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A coalition of me

If yesterday’s Medea-Benjamin-inspired post-without-comment had been a contest (and it wasn’t), Robert Young would have won it (see the comments thread).  But here’s my version:

MANY OF US IN THE GREEN PARTY made a tremendous compromise by campaigning in swing states for such a miserable standard-bearer for the progressive movement as John Kerry. Well, I’ve had it. As George Bush says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”

Admittedly, it is not clear from this nose-pinching paragraph just which Green camp Ms. Benjamin belongs to.  As you’ll recall, there are two options here:  (a) Ms. Benjamin is unaware of the extent to which the Bush crowd consists of kleptomaniac Contra-funding retreads, neo-segregationists associated with Confederate outlets like Southern Partisan magazine and the Council of Conservative Citizens, and Christian fundamentalist jihadists who believe themselves to be the instruments of God; or (b) she is sublimely indifferent to the fact that the Bush crowd consists of kleptomaniac Contra-funding retreads, neo-segregationists associated with Confederate outlets like Southern Partisan magazine and the Council of Conservative Citizens, and Christian fundamentalist jihadists who believe themselves to be the instruments of God.  I’m going with (a), on the basis of Ms. Benjamin’s remark in April 2003, “I’m stunned by how extremist the Bush presidency has become on foreign policy. We never could have predicted this.”

But I could be wrong—Ms. Benjamin could be working with option (b).  The point remains that in making the tremendous compromise of working for the most liberal Democratic nominee since McGovern, Ms. Benjamin had to hold her nose so tightly that she only had one free hand with which to register new voters in Ohio.  And despite her willingness to sacrifice her principles for an unworthy cause, that noxious Kerry fellow went ahead and lost anyway.  So now Ms. Benjamin feels burned, tricked.  Never again!

For those of you willing to keep wading in the muddy waters of the Democratic Party, all power to you. I plan to work with the Greens to get more Green candidates elected to local office.

Face it, the Democrats are hopeless.  Especially in Ms. Benjamin’s part of the country, where the only sane option is to build a third-party alternative to the corporate duopoly.  Take Gavin Newsom, for instance—a corporate sellout if there ever was one.  Just as Kerry failed to endorse gay marriage, instead supporting “civil unions” that fail to meet my personal standard for social justice, so too did Mayor Newsom stop short of promoting a truly liberatory sexual economy.  Yes, he permitted gay marriage.  But he only permitted it for gay and lesbian couples who already wanted to marry. He never once opened his mouth on the subject of arranged gay marriages, fearing that this would provoke a “backlash” among heterosexuals who would find themselves in same-sex couples without their consent.  Well, I’ve had it.  I’m not trusting any local Democrats ever again.

Seriously, folks, I have no problem with Greens getting elected to local offices.  In the Bay Area, in Madison, in Seattle, in Cambridge, they make fine alderpersons and deputy comptrollers.  The problem since 1996 has been that the Greens keep running candidates for national office even though on the national scale, they’re a boutique party at best.  Now, I was a member of the New Party for almost as long as it existed, and the New Party (a) stayed local and (b) advocated fusion ballots.  For the same reasons, the Working Families Party in New York deserves the support of anyone left of the Democrats.  But until the Greens get serious about the kind of electoral reforms that would make their party meaningful (and no, instant runoff voting doesn’t count), I can’t take them seriously, and neither should you.

Let’s stop the infighting, though.  Dems, Greens and other progressives must not only respect one another’s choices, we must start using these different “inside-outside” strategies to our collective advantage. A strategically placed Green/progressive pull could conceivably prevent a suicidal Democratic lurch to the right.

I just love “let’s stop the infighting.” First a middle-finger salute, then a kissoff, then a hug.  First “I’ll never work for a Democrat again”—regardless of whether it’s Joe Lieberman or Russ Feingold—and then an appeal to “our collective advantage.” And what’s with the “strategically placed pull”?  What are we talking about, moving a heavy piece of furniture?  Is there any context, in actual electoral politics, where this makes sense?  How exactly does a left-wing breakoff from the Democrats keep the Democrats from lurching right?  How exactly would Green candidates add to progressive Democratic candidates’ vote totals in states that don’t allow fusion ballots?  It’s no wonder Ms. Benjamin has to be vague here.  But all the same, I suppose we should be ready to pull when she gives the word.  Strategically, of course.

Finally, the most significant problem with this post-2004 strategy for progressives is that, like Gavin Newsom, it doesn’t go far enough.  This blog will not make the same mistake!  I hereby announce my candidacy for Senate in 2006, to try and unseat Senator Rick “Man-on-Dog” Santorum.  But I will not work with the parties of the corporate triopoly!  In the past I have been burned by Democrats and Greens alike, and as a matter of principle, it is intolerable for me to spend time talking with people less progressive than I am.  I will therefore run for Senate under the banner of the Red Party, which I have just founded in this very sentence, and which will promote a coalition politics for a progressive future—forming multiple, pragmatic, fluid coalitions with people who believe exactly what I believe, and for all the right reasons.

The initial meeting of the Red Party will be held in my study at 9:00 tomorrow night.  I hope to see me there.

Posted by Michael on 12/14 at 08:12 AM
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Monday, December 13, 2004

Noted without comment

It’s a brand new feature on this suddenly reticent blog:  I post it today, I don’t say anything about it until tomorrow!  From the Nation‘s post-election forum, “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” the words of Code Pink and Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin:

MANY OF US IN THE GREEN PARTY made a tremendous compromise by campaigning in swing states for such a miserable standard-bearer for the progressive movement as John Kerry. Well, I’ve had it. As George Bush says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me--you can’t get fooled again.”

For those of you willing to keep wading in the muddy waters of the Democratic Party, all power to you. I plan to work with the Greens to get more Green candidates elected to local office.

Let’s stop the infighting, though.  Dems, Greens and other progressives must not only respect one another’s choices, we must start using these different “inside-outside” strategies to our collective advantage. A strategically placed Green/progressive pull could conceivably prevent a suicidal Democratic lurch to the right.

More on this tremendous compromise tomorrow!

Posted by Michael on 12/13 at 03:06 AM
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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Keeping conservatives out of academe

A friend writes to say, “So how come you haven’t said anything about all these post-election reports on the ‘liberal domination’ of universities?  Don’t you know that this is going to be one of the Right’s next offensives in the culture wars, as evidenced by the House of Representatives’ vote to revise the Higher Education Act of 1958 so as to provide direct federal ‘oversight’ of international-studies programs and individual scholars, not to mention David Horowitz’s ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ and the attempt to get state legislatures to compel all academic departments to hire for ‘ideological diversity’?”

Well, yes, I do know about all this.  In fact, folks, I’m writing a book about it.  So get off my case.  I’ve even read Brian Leiter (twice!), Juan Cole, and (back in August) The Blue Bunny of Battle (the artist formerly known as the Pink Bunny of Battle) on the subject, all of whom are really smart and all of whom have pretty much said what needs saying.

But the immediate reason why I haven’t posted anything on the subject is that I’ve been too damn busy making sure that my department doesn’t hire any conservatives this year.  We have two positions open in Rhetoric; we’re interviewing candidates at the MLA in late December, of course, and we’ll be conducting campus visits in the first five or six weeks of the new year.  I’m not on the search committees, but I am the ad hoc political advisor to those committees, and it’s my job to screen all the application letters and writing samples to make sure that no conservatives sneak through.  And it’s hard work.  It’s hard, hard work.

First of all, you have to understand that there are literally thousands of politically conservative Ph.D. candidates in the field of English language and literature, just as there are untold thousands of political conservatives applying for academic jobs in the visual arts, in special education, and in philosophy.  Over the last ten years, we’ve tried to head them off at the pass by telling them that graduate school involves anywhere from five to ten years of rigorous study culminating in the production of a 300-page work of original research, and that when they’ve completed all that while living hand-to-mouth on stipends or taking out student loans, then they get to go on the academic job market with the knowledge that they have about a one-in-three chance of landing a tenure-track job and making somewhere in the high 40s.  But they just won’t listen.  These bright young twenty-something conservatives just will not be deterred from the pursuit of scholarship in the arts and humanities, and they’ve been clogging our graduate schools to the point at which we’ve simply had to institute hiring quotas to keep them from joining the professorial ranks and eventually overrunning us.

So don’t believe any of my liberal and leftist colleagues when they say (a) they never inquire into the voting records of prospective job candidates, (b) they don’t believe that a candidate’s voting record is a reliable predictor of, say, his position on the Habermas-Lyotard debate or her understanding of the intersection of postcolonial theory and eighteenth-century studies, or (c) they can’t tell the candidate’s politics from the application materials alone.  Of course a professor’s voting record is important, of course it’s a reliable index of his or her intellectual interests, and of course you can tell from the application materials.  Take for example the candidate who claims to be studying “the rhetoric of individual agency and national identity in discourses of republicanism in post-Revolutionary America.” The word “republicanism” is the tipoff, folks, and so that dossier goes right in the circular file.  Or take the letter of application that says, “my work concerns the emergence of the ideology of the domestic ‘subject’ in early Victorian England.” The code word there is “emergence,” and if you have to ask why, you ain’t never gonna know.  86’d.

Sometimes it’s not so easy as this, though-- sometimes you need to hold the paper itself up to the light and check for the watermark.  But most of the time, the conservatives give themselves away long before the interview stage.  And that’s why liberals dominate departments like mine.

Next topic:  how my liberal friends in the theater industry are keeping conservatives out of off-Broadway productions of The Music Man!

Posted by Michael on 12/08 at 10:18 AM
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