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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Discover the matrix reloaded

When last we heard from David Horowitz, he was still sputtering with incoherent rage at the drubbing administered to him and his enterprise by the readers of this humble but precision-tuned blog.  “Stalinist bullies making fun of me gorphnox fleggh hack hack hack,” Horowitz pointed out.  “In league with Islamofascist shlaffnak bleacchoch spizzle fleck.” For, not content with having demonstrated that Horowitz is a sorry old fraud who makes stuff up and then complains that he isn’t given the intellectual respect he considers his birthright, the readers of this blog—and, yes, many, many other fine bloggers as well—set out over the past four days to cast their votes in his silly “online poll” and elect me “America’s Worstest Ever Professor.”

This enterprise had not one but two goals.  The first, of course, was to elect me “America’s Worstest Ever Professor.” The second, and yet even more important, was to demonstrate that FrontPage.com’s online poll was just as shoddy and half-assed as everything else David Horowitz does.  I mean, it’s the year 2006, folks, and they still had no idea how to prevent people from bombarding an online poll with tens of thousands of votes per hour from one IP address.

So Thursday and Friday of last week were much fun for Horowitz mockers everywhere, as this lively thread suggests.  By Thursday night, Sadly, No! reader Ron Mexico could chortle, “Hah!  That poll is well and truly freeped.” He was right, of course, but the freepin’ fun went on right through the weekend, and by Sunday night the tally stood as follows:

Michael Berube, Penn State University: 233238
John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, Eugene:  106393
Norman Finkelstein, De Paul University:  50852
Eric Foner, Columbia University:  40323
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:  32756
Gregory Dawes, North Carolina State University:  14448
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, City University of New York:  13332
Jose Angel Gutierrez, University of Texas, Arlington: 13225
Bell Hooks, City University of New York:  12693
Gayle Rubin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor:  12191
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University:  12131
Timothy Shortell, Brooklyn College:  11380
Jerry Lembcke , Holy Cross College: 11154
Ward Churchill, University of Colorado: 8470
Sam Richards, Penn State University: 5340
Alison Jaggar, University of Colorado, Boulder:  3743

Those were the top sixteen.  They were followed in turn by nine more professors in quadruple digits:

Angela Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz:  3536
Robert Jensen, University of Texas, Austin:  3259
Melissa Gilbert, Temple University: 3174
Howard Zinn, Boston University:  2079
Juan Cole, University of Michigan:  2075
Sasan Fayazmanesh, Cal State University, Fresno:  1698
Larry Estrada, Western Washington University:  1313
Victor Navasky, Columbia University:  1059
Gil Anidjar, Columbia University: 1049

Now, I didn’t get these figures from a snapshot; I wish I had.  I got them from a Google cache of Sunday night’s tally—a cache that has since disappeared.  And if anyone out there does have a snapshot, you can confirm the following Amazing Facts: on Monday, the numbers underwent a seismic shift.  The redoubtable Noam Chomsky rocketed out of fifth place into second, picking up almost 150,000 votes in one day, and Greg Dawes shot from last place into fourth, thanks to the heroic efforts of one single voter.  Foner fell to sixth.  There was even some speculation that Chomsky would overtake me at the 300,000 mark. . . .

Was I worried about losing my lead?  Not really.  All along, I thought this poll was simply the Dangerous Professors’ Regular Season, and that next month the top sixteen would square off for Dangerous Professors’ Playoffs.  March Madness, baby!  There’s nothing like it!  So I was more worried about who the sixteenth seed would be.  As you can see, there was a significant dropoff from Jerry Lembcke in the 12 spot (with 11,154 votes) down to Alison Jaggar at 16 (with 3,743), with three other professors within plausible striking distance ("on the bubble,” as we say in the business).  I actually don’t match up well against Jaggar, Davis, or Jensen, and I feared becoming the first number one seed Dangerous Professor ever to lose to a sixteen.  Imagine the shame!  Outpolling Jaggar or Jensen by a factor of one hundred and then bowing out in the opening round.  If you’re a San Jose Sharks fan, you know it can be done: the bottom-seeded Sharks knocked off first-seed Detroit in 1993-94 and first-seed St. Louis in 1999-2000, both times in seven games.  Could a Dangerous Professor from Santa Cruz pull off a similar upset in 2006?

Well, just as things were getting interesting, the doughty crew of the U.S.S. Horowitz put the kabosh on the whole party, wiping the slate clean yesterday at about 2 pm Pacific.  Many readers have urged me to lobby for a whole new round of ballot-stuffing, and rumor has it that one enterprising soul has even posted a revised ballot-stuffing script somewhere in this thread, though I cannot verify this personally.  But in all honesty, I can’t find it in myself to ask anyone to go back to FrontPage yet again.  Once (or, in some cases, ten or twenty thousand times) was more than enough.  Quite apart from all the “New Video Shows Hillary Killed Vincent Foster with her Bare Hands” lunacy to which innocent readers are exposed when they show up to vote, there’s the simple fact that FrontPage is, aesthetically speaking, the single ugliest website on the entire Internets.  I mean, what’s with the soggy brown-and-yellow motif, anyway?  Were all the attractive color schemes taken by the time the FrontPage people learned how to do web design?  Or did Horowitz himself say, “listen, boys, I think we need to come up with a look that says rot and decay”?

But after FrontPage wiped out those stunning vote totals (about 750,000 votes in all), two funny things happened.  First, Horowitz and Company learned that FrontPage does not actually get 200,000 readers a day, as the previous numbers might have led them to believe.  As of 2 pm eastern time today, in fact, they’ve only received about two thousand votes in all.

Second, two-thirds of those new votes are for me!

Michael Berube, Penn State University: 1386
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 55
Ward Churchill, University of Colorado: 53
Howard Zinn, Boston University: 19
Juan Cole, University of Michigan: 18
Cornel West, Princeton: 13
David Barash, University of Washington: 13
Nicholas De Genova, Columbia University: 12
Norman Finkelstein, De Paul University: 12
Peter Kirstein, Saint Xavier University: 12
Sami al-Arian, University of South Florida: 11
Joseph Massad, Columbia University: 10

I’d be flattered by this, but frankly, folks, I’m beginning to think that we’re Horowitz’s only readers in the whole world. 

(It’s good to see that they’re still listing individual professors under the heading “School” and their institutions under “Professor.” And they’re still spelling Berkeley “Berkelyl.” Plus ça change!)

And yet, and yet: that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the effort to point out just what kind of intellectual impostor David Horowitz really is.  (Here comes the serious part of today’s post!)

In today’s Daily Collegian, published right here at Penn State, there’s an article about Horowitz’s book.  For that article, a Collegian staffer contacted the Sorry Old Fraud himself, and here’s what he told her:

Horowitz said his process for fact checking involves researching the topic, publishing it and then printing corrections if errors are pointed out. He added that no errors have been pointed out in the book.

Oops!  Turns out that this is a bad time to be peddling that particular line.  Because just yesterday, the New York Sun, that well-known liberal Stalinist rag, pointed out that Horowitz’s entry on Eric Foner has, uh, errors:

A professor of American history, Eric Foner, whom Mr. Horowitz describes as an “apologist for American Communism,” said in an e-mail, “Mr. Horowitz’s ‘chapter’ on me is full of errors, beginning with the long quote with which he opens, which was written by someone else, not me. This is a fair example of the reliability of his work. But to get into a debate about Horowitz is a waste of time, and accords his attacks a legitimacy they do not deserve.”

Mr. Horowitz attributes to Mr. Foner a statement by the late author and journalist, Paul Foot, from a collection of responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Now it’s time for a fun guessing game! How do you think David Horowitz responded to this article in the New York Sun?  (You may choose more than one.)

(a) by denouncing the New York Sun as a well-known liberal Stalinist rag;

(b) by screaming, “gorphnox fleggh hack hack hack in league with Islamofascist shlaffnak bleacchoch spizzle fleck”;

(c) by taking stock of what he has become, undergoing a profound crisis of conscience, and re-joining the Black Panther Party;

(d) by apologizing to Professor Foner, to all fifteen readers of FrontPage, and to Oprah Winfrey;

(e) by blaming his staff for the mistake;

(f) by trying to claim that Professor Foner, in pointing out the error, did something dishonest.

If you guessed (e) and (f), congratulations!  You Are Right.

Here’s David Horowitz to explain:

the 101 profiles were the work of thirty researchers. In these circumstances, juxtaposing a quote—which is clearly what happened—is not too difficult a possibility to imagine. The Foner quote and the Foot quote appeared in sequence on a page in the London Review of Books which was referenced in The Professors, and during the many revisions of the manuscript that’s how the error was made.

Hmmm, wait a second.  Let me figure this out.

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Could You Pass 8th Grade Math?

Cool!  I passed eighth-grade math.  OK, let’s see now.  Thirty researchers, 101 profiles: that’s approximately 3.367 profiles per “reseacher.” Only 3.367 profiles per “researcher.” And they couldn’t spot a bonehead mistake like attributing the wrong text to the wrong person?  Holy Jesús Arrabal, people, was this book slapped together overnight?

Now, let’s take a brief moment to note that Eric Foner’s remarks, in that London Review of Books symposium, were perfectly sane.  In fact, his last two paragraphs (scrolling required) are looking better and better with time:

It is amazing how cavalierly some members of the Administration as well as the media talk about ‘unleashing’ the FBI and CIA and curtailing American liberties in the fight against terrorism. A former director of the FBI called for Americans to embrace Burke’s idea of ‘ordered liberty’ and abandon our obsession with individual rights—the very principles that supposedly set us apart from evil-doers in the outside world.

One remarkable result of the crisis has been the Bush Administration’s sudden transformation from isolationists to internationalists. An Administration that for months disdained world opinion on issues like global warming, missile defence, and global arms sales now finds itself trying to construct an international coalition. Already, newspapers are reporting that our European allies are unenthusiastic about the prospect of an open-ended war against the Islamic world. Americans reluctant to embark on an armed ‘crusade’ to rid the world of evil are now relying on our allies to impose some restraint on the White House.

OK, so that’s Eric Foner, Dangerous Leftist who Pisses Off David Horowitz by Saying Perfectly Reasonable Things.  But never mind sane people like him.  Let’s return to the insane.  Here’s Horowitz, one last time:

I think a fair minded reader will agree that the actual Foner quote provides an even stronger support for the claim I make about Foner in the text, than the Foot quote which was erroneously substituted for it. (That it was my intention to cite the authentic quote will be evident to anyone familiar with my book Unholy Alliance where it is cited as Foner’s reaction to 9/11.) In other words, the error in my book is an inconsequential one and does not affect the accuracy of its portrait of Professor Foner. Readers can judge themselves whether this is a reason for dismissing my work as Foner advises. And they can judge his honesty by the same measure.

Shorter David Horowitz:  It was my intention to cite the authentic quote.  The profiles were the work of thirty researchers.  In those circumstances, juxtaposing a quote is not too difficult a possibility to imagine. The error is an inconsequential one.  Therefore, Eric Foner is dishonest.

It’s really amazing, isn’t it?  Every time you think Horowitz can’t do or say anything more self-undermining, he outdoes himself.  Every single damn time.

The really funny/sad thing is that Horowitz isn’t just any old wingnut.  He’s a wingnut who wants to be a college professor. He truly believes that the academy hasn’t given him his due as a “historian.” He wants the faculty to invite him to campus, at $5000 a pop.  He wants his books to be taken seriously and reviewed respectfully.  But it’s as if he can’t help himself—he just keeps pulling stunts like this, and every time he’s called on them, he counterattacks, whining all the while about the mean and nasty liberals who are “smearing” him. 

And so David Horowitz does not get to lead the glamorous life of a Dangerous Professor.  He has to settle for being a rich Scaife-funded wingnut who goes around blaming “liberal bias” for the fact that UC - Berkeley’s journalism school chose Orville Schell as their dean over a “qualified conservative” candidate . . . a candidate who just happens to be Michael Savage.  Yep, that’s David Horowitz, Wannabe Serious Intellectual Historian, spitting on decent people like Eric Foner and carrying water for lunatics like Michael Savage.  We do like to have our fun here on this intermittently snarky and saccharine blog, I know, but we have to acknowledge that there’s some real pathos here, too.

OK!  Enough acknowledgement of pathos.  I’ll be back tomorrow with news of some kind.

Posted by Michael on 02/28 at 01:53 PM
Horowitz • (106) Comments • (2) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, February 27, 2006


I’ve begun to worry that my posts on Jamie are sometimes too saccharine.  I do feel a compulsion to narrate his skills and his triumphs—in volleyball, basketball, and in the all-important sport of shark-identifying—and there should be no mystery as to why.  By and large, people don’t understand children with Down syndrome unless they know one personally.  They find it hard to believe how aware, how present Jamie is.  They think of mental retardation, and they imagine that people with mental retardation just aren’t fully there in the sense that you and I are, and that (recursively) people with mental retardation are by definition unaware that (a) they have intellectual disabilities and that (b) people treat them according to how those people perceive (a).  And as long as that’s the case—for the foreseeable future, I’d say—there’s an obvious and palpable need for parents like me to tell the world that my Jamie knows all the state capitals, and, just as crucially, takes great pride in the fact that he knows all the state capitals; that he knows the difference between a mako shark and a goblin shark, and, just as crucially, that he loves knowing the difference between a mako shark and a goblin shark; or that he remembers every single one of his teachers and babysitters over the years, and, just as crucially, loves correlating them with the year 1994 in which he was three, or the year 1998 when he was seven, or the year 2004 when he was thirteen, and so on.

But just as Jamie is self-aware about his accomplishments and his talents, he’s also self-aware about his limitations.  It’s increasingly obvious to him that he has trouble doing things that other kids find routine, and, being human and all, he sometimes finds this frustrating.  (At the same time, and probably for the same reason, he’s exceptionally disability-aware.  He understands that children use wheelchairs, or have trouble talking, or are deaf or blind; he understands that this remarkable young man has a developmental disability that does not prevent him from hitting six three-pointers in the space of four minutes.) Last year, for example, Jamie learned to his dismay that he lacked the hand-eye coordination for one important task in his Harry Potter computer game, and when he saw his father complete the task easily (his father, foolishly enough, thought he was helping out), he refused to play the game for weeks afterward.  Thankfully, Jamie got over that moment, and is once again an avid Harry Potter player; but I noticed that the next time we came upon that task, and he earned a score higher than mine, he doubled over and rubbed his hands in glee, saying, “I did it better than you!” Since then I’ve been careful to note—and to remind him of—all the things he does better than I do.

Still, I do not want to give the impression that I never lose my patience with him.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a patient person; in fact, some people who know me are amazed that I have the patience to be the parent of a child with a disability.  “That’s part of the dynamic,” I once said to a friend who remarked on my utter inability to suffer fools gladly.  “I have only a fixed amount of patience.  Jamie gets 95 percent of it.  The rest of you have to make do with the couple of drops left over.” Jamie can be as stubborn as any other teenager, and when he gets obsessed with something—like, say, the question of where his Freedy Johnston CD is—he’s capable of asking the same question thirty or forty times.  When that happens, Janet and I have to walk a fine line: letting him know, on the one hand, that this behavior is unacceptable, and reassuring him, on the other, that we are not angry with him.

When Janet was teaching in Ireland for a month during the summer of 2003 (and Nick went along, as a student), I took Jamie with me on four weekend trips to four different cities.  In preparation for these adventures, I taught Jamie a couple of words that he could use to describe his behavior while we were on the road.  The positive ones were mature, patient, independent, and observant.  Whenever he showed himself capable of mastering a new skill—putting his clothes on, changing his own CDs, microwaving pizza (that one is a story in itself)—I told him that he was becoming more independent, which means doing it all . . . by . . . “myself,” Jamie would add, beaming.  The one negative term I taught him was “relentless.” “When you say the same thing again and again and again,” I said, “that is relentless.  You don’t want to be relentless.” Since then, Janet has updated this, teaching Jamie the more obscure but more accurate term perseverating.  When Jamie gets into one of his obsessive-repeating jags, Janet will say, “Listen to yourself.  You’re perseverating.  Now you need to think about what you’re saying, and control yourself.” The effect of this is always astonishing.  First, Jamie denies it:  “I am not perseverating,” he will say with some vehemence.  Then he will stop perseverating.

One day about two years ago, I chided Jamie for asking me about gum ten or twelve times as we were coming home from swimming.  (He doesn’t chew gum; he simply has a fascination with it.) I told him he had to stop perseverating, and of course he got pouty, and of course then he stopped.  On the drive back home, I unconsciously began to whistle the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back,” and Jamie told me to stop whistling.  A few seconds later, I started again, just as unconsciously as before.  “Michael!” Jamie exclaimed from the back seat.  “You are perseverating.” And he was right.  So I stopped.  But not before laughing and telling him that he was becoming very mature and observant.  (Not to mention very wiseass!  And no, I didn’t mention it.)

More recently, Jamie has noticed that sometimes when I reach the limit of my patience, I sigh.  “What’s that noise?” he once asked.  “You go ‘ahhhhh.’” I told him it was a sigh, and that people sigh when they are sad or lonely or tired, and that I was tired because he was fussing about putting on a jacket before going outside.  This made him extremely curious about what kinds of things do and don’t induce sighing, and by the time we went to Ontario for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society conference last May, we had developed a whole discourse around it.  (We had also, not coincidentally, begun to develop a discourse about what I will and will not say about him in public.  I told Jamie that I would be speaking about him to a large roomful of people—he’s familiar with that phenomenon—and that one of the stories I would tell would be the story of the pizza in the microwave.  Jamie was a little uncomfortable with that, but I assured him that it was a good story about how he learned to become more independent.  However, I wanted to know if I could also tell the story of the day he was sad, or whether it was private; he told me it was private, and I promised him I would not tell that story in Ontario, or anywhere else.  So you won’t hear it here, either.) When we got to Detroit, we learned that our flight to Waterloo was delayed by almost two hours.  Now, I’m not very good at hanging around airports with nothing to do, and neither is Jamie.  We’re just not patient or mature enough for that kind of thing.  After no more than a few minutes, Jamie got bored, so I promised him that he could play Harry Potter on my laptop if I could find an outlet to plug into.  This turned out to be far more difficult than it should have been (partly because the dang C concourse was being renovated), and as we snooped around for an outlet, Jamie started to fuss, and then to fuss some more, whereupon I turned and glared down at him to let him know he was just this far from crossing the line.

“Michael?” he asked, bright-eyed and mischievous.  “Are you gonna sigh?”

Ahem.  That was observant, and I told him so.  But, of course, I did not sigh.  Instead, I asked him if he was being a wise guy, and he told me I was being a wise guy, and we did Bugs Bunny schtick for a few minutes. 

And then we waited patiently for our delayed plane, sighing together and playing Harry Potter.

Posted by Michael on 02/27 at 01:54 PM
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Friday, February 24, 2006

Fun and yet somehow . . . arbitrary

All right, I know we’ve been having altogether too much fun on this grimly irreverent blog this week, but honestly, it’s not my fault.  I’m merely sitting here in my study doing my taxes and getting ready for the momentous month of March (I’ll explain its momentousness next week), and the fun just keeps on coming my way.

Today the fun comes my way thanks to the fine work of Dean Esmay.  To follow the sinuous Trail of Fun, you have to go back to this past Sunday’s post, in which I wrote of Michael Crichton’s meeting with President Bush in 2004.  Allow me, dear readers, to refresh your memory of the final two paragraphs of that post:

Curiously, however, Christian conservatives have also expressed concern.  “The president met with Michael Crichton for an hour and they never discussed the dangers of genetic research?  That’s an outrage,” said the Rev. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.  “While we understand that the president needs to stay informed about global-warming charlatans, sexually predatory women and dangerous talking gorillas, we strongly believe that he should take a stand against scientific research conducted by atheistic madmen.  The president needs to reassure Christians that the Culture of Life® will not be threatened by genetically engineered dinosaurs, human-animal hybrids, or deranged robots with Yul Brynner’s face.”

Toxic, rapidly-reproducing crystalline organisms from outer space could not be reached for comment.

Well, it appears that Mr. Esmay learned about Christians’ objections to the Crichton-Bush Summit, and here’s what he had to say:

Michael Bérubé notes that environmentalists and Christian groups are alarmed that President Bush met and chatted with author Michael Crichton at the White House. I’m not surprised to see some Christian groups unhappy with the President—despite paranoid claims to the contrary, he’s no lock-step fundamentalist and never has been—but I’m amused that some people don’t like the idea that the President might actually think for himself or question scientific authority.

You’re amused?  Perhaps so, Mr. Esmay, but I believe I can assure you that your amusement is but a paltry thing when set next to the richly textured layers of our amusement.

Now, here’s why Dean champions the President’s bold questioning of scientific authority:

because so much science these days is funded by the U.S. government (i.e. the taxpayers) it is outright obscene to suggest that scientists shouldn’t answer to our elected leaders. You do not have a right to demand billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, then slap a label on your chest and say, “We are scientists! You are not allowed to question us! Just give us your money and accept whatever we tell you!”

Well said, my boy!  Those stuffed-shirt scientists think they know so much, and just like the media elite, they never stop to ask what real people think.  And no one understands their barbaric jargon anyway!  Just look at the contempt with which they treat ordinary folks who want their tax dollars to fund the Noonan Institute for Empathic Communication with Magic Dolphins, or the Very Scientific Discovery Institute for the Discovery that Adam and Eve Rode Dinosaurs to Church, or, indeed, the Esmay Center for Speculating that AIDS is Caused by Toxic, Rapidly-Reproducing Crystalline Organisms From Outer Space.

No wonder they hate it when the President thinks for himself.  And no wonder Christian groups are also upset with him!


Whew, what a week.  Thanks to all 158,884 of you for choosing me as America’s Worst Professor® in the past 36 hours!  I will strive to be worthy of the honor, and I pledge to you that I will always historicize.

But for now, it’s Friday, and that means it’s time to be Arbitrary.  This week’s post on the mysterious Tristero got me thinking about that famous scene in The Crying of Lot 49 in which Mucho Maas tells his wife Oedipa that he can hear, in the ambient Muzak of a restaurant, seventeen violins . . . one of which has an E string a few cycles sharp.  Mucho, of course, has been getting acquainted with the effects of Dr. Hofmann’s important discovery, and this strictly law-abiding blog does not encourage you to follow in his footsteps.

However, this pointlessly curious blog would like to ask you all to share your Strangest Muzak Experience.  Here’s mine.  Norfolk International Airport, December 1980, “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” I am not making this up.  I wouldn’t know how—after all, it’s not like I’m Thomas Pynchon or Michael Crichton or somebody.

Posted by Michael on 02/24 at 02:33 PM
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Study finds bias on American campuses

WASHINGTON—A new study has found pervasive bias in American colleges and universities, researchers at the American Enterprise Institute announced today.

“Based on our analysis of professors’ financial contributions to political campaigns,” said AEI Senior Fellow for Bias Karl Zinsmeister, “we conclude that American campuses are basically one-party nations—except that such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies.”

The Zinsmeister study, conducted over ten months at nearly forty universities across the nation, found that in a hypothetical race for the Presidency of the Whole World, professors in the humanities and social sciences would give over six times as much money to Jean-François Lyotard as to Jürgen Habermas.  In some fields, such as English and Comparative Literature, the ratio was over eleven to one.

“These are the definitive findings we’ve been looking for,” said Stanley Rothman, a neutral observer who just happened to be stopping by.  “In the past, liberal professors have complained that our studies of party registration and political affiliation were flawed because they didn’t capture something they called ‘nuance.’ For example, we’d find that eighty percent of the professors in a sociology department were Democrats, and we’d take that to the press, knowing that Howard Kurtz and George Will would jump all over it.  But then it would turn out that among those Democrats, some were ‘symbolic interactionists’ and some were ‘functionalists’ and they’d go on about Durkheim or William Julius Wilson and a whole bunch of things we didn’t know or care about.  The same thing would happen in anthropology and literature and history and philosophy—time after time, we’d find that these sneaky liberals had all kinds of different intellectual commitments and research specialties, and everything got messy and complicated.  But now we’ve got the bastards at last.  These Lyotard-loving liberals can run, but they can’t hide.”

Robert Lichter, a fair and balanced observer of the media, agreed.  “This study is simply devastating,” he said from his office at the Center for the Fair and Balanced Observation of the Media.  “What we see is that professors prefer Lyotardian ‘paralogy’ to Habermasian ‘communicative action’ by a factor of six to one.  This constitutes a nearly universal and yet deeply paradoxical consensus for the Lyotardian claim that consensus is ‘terror.’ And this means, in turn, that American professors support terror, as researchers at the Coulter Institute have shown as well.”

Critics of the AEI study were initially unsure how to respond to the findings.  “The Zinsmeister study is basically a sophisticated form of cherry-picking,” said one irrelevant, nit-picking liberal.  “They’ve focused almost entirely on Lyotard-friendly territory like the University of California at Irvine, and they’ve completely ignored the work of feminist Habermasians like Seyla Benhabib.  This study says more about the biases of the study itself than about American college professors.”

When asked to respond to such criticism, Zinsmeister replied, “I have no idea what this irrelevant, nit-picking liberal is talking about.  All I know is that we’ve found irrefutable evidence of bias.  Again.”

Posted by Michael on 02/23 at 01:06 PM
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Citius, altius, fortius

Even though I love the Koufax Awards dearly, and the good people who host them, I thought I should wait until all the Koufax categories were compiled and announced before saying anything about the nominations this humble and yet relentlessly self-promoting blog has received.  So far, I’ve been entered in the lists for Best Writing, Most Humorous Blog (oh, get out), Most Humorous Post (double get out!), Best Series (for my posts about Jamie, which I really ought to collect into a real series one of these days), Best Blog (hah!  in my dreams—no, actually, not even in my dreams), and (my heart flutters) Best Post, in which I have five nominations.  Actually, four nominations, because one of those nominations is for John McGowan’s soul-harrowing post, “The Rhetorics of Violence.” So here’s a raising of the traditional liberal-elite glass of pinot grigio to John!  Kudos, my friend.

When I started blogging two years ago, it didn’t take me long to realize that the Koufaxes are critical to the self-representation of the left hemisphere of the blogosphere.  They bring attention to all kinds of emergent blogs, particularly in the “Best New Blog” and “Blog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition” categories.  And it’s a sad-but-good commentary on the growth of Left Blogistan that the Koufaxes have lately become too unwieldy for Wampum to handle.  Let me put it this way: in 2002, there were 15,000 blogs.  Now there are almost 30 million.  Four years ago, the medium was dominated by manic libertarians (finally!  a medium of Total Freedom in which I can vent at will!  Truly this is the Paradise of which Robert Heinlein and George Gilder spake!) and manic warbloggers (finally! a medium in which I can rebel against the Forces that Be and pledge my undying devotion to Dear Leader without once acknowledging the contradiction, because blogs move at the speed of incoherent thought!).  Today . . . well, let’s just say that today things are vastly different.  Thousands upon thousands of good liberal-left writers compete for our attention, and the good people at Wampum have their hands full as they sort through all the smart, snappy, craftily-composed blogs whose paws face to the south.  So please, if you can, help them defray the cost of the Koufaxes today. 

But I’m writing tonight about another competition entirely—a competition at once more trivial and more momentous.  Shortly after 9 pm Wednesday evening, in the comments to my previous post, the incorrigible Scott Eric Kaufman informed me that FrontPage.com, the website run by the Person Who Shall Not Be Designated By His First Initial and a Drastic Truncation of His Surname, is conducting an online poll to determine the very worst professor in America.  You may recall that I was outraged, outraged that He Who Shall Not Be Designated had not ranked his “101 or 100 or 102 Most Dangerous Professors” in the order of the danger they pose to the Republic; but now, friends, you and I have a unique opportunity to redress a grave wrong.  Please vote for me as America’s Worst Professor, if you have the time and inclination.  Right now I’m leading Eve Sedgwick by the slimmest of margins, and as you know, I have no Diebold apparatus to fall back upon.  But don’t worry about ballot-stuffing!  This is FrontPage.com, people—a website whose unofficial (and yet universally acknowledged) motto is “Sloppiness R Us.” There are no limits, no limits at all, on the number of votes you can cast from one IP address.  So stop by FrontPage today, and vote for me as America’s Worst Professor.  I thank you, and all that is good and holy thanks you.

And then go back to Wampum, if you would be so kind, and toss them another ten bucks for good measure.  You’ll be glad you did—and America’s Possibly Worst Professor will be glad you did.

Posted by Michael on 02/23 at 12:02 AM
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rambling midweek post with no point at all

Warning:  Harry Potter spoiler alerts for everyone who hasn’t read The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince.

Over the weekend I saw two movies.  With Janet, Brokeback Mountain, which was every bit as good as I’d hoped and better (full review on request, time permitting), and, with Jamie, the Disney dog-hero film Eight Below, which was not nearly so bad as I’d feared.  (If you combine the two films, you get Eight Below Brokeback Mountain, a heartwarming and inspiring tale of gay malamutes and huskies fighting for survival in the Antarctic.) Two dogs die, by the way.  Just so you know.  Jamie, however, is now quite mature enough to handle narrative representations of death, having dealt with the death of Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and (just within the past month) the quite horrifying death of Dumbledore in Half-Blood Prince.

As it happened, Jamie and I saw Eight Below after the cold front had swept through Pennsylvania; it may have been 59 degrees last Thursday (and it was—I wouldn’t lie about such a thing), but when we got out of the movie at 5 on Saturday, it was about 15 degrees, and the wind was brisk and bitter.  “Zip up your puffy jacket,” I told him.  “It’s like the Antarctic out here.”

“It’s not like the Antarctic,” replied Jamie, sensibly enough.

“No, that’s true,” I admitted.  “The Antarctic would be 50 below zero.  It’s not quite that cold in Pennsylvania.”

“Not fifty,” Jamie said.  “Zero.”

“No, fifty below zero,” I repeated, whereupon he said “not fifty, zero,” and this went on for a few rounds before I realized that Jamie wasn’t grasping the concept of temperatures below zero—or the concept of negative numbers in general.  And why should he, I wonder?  Let’s all switch to the Kelvin system now.  It makes no damn sense to have temperature scales that have a zero, then lots of numbers under zero, then an “absolute” zero, as if to say, “OK, we really mean zero this time.” Sure, it would be weird thinking of 300 degrees as a nice warm day (that would be 27 C or 80.6 F), but we’d get used to it.

I was reminded of an exchange I had with Nick when he was almost four, and we lived in wind-swept Illinois.  Our first winter in Champaign, Janet and I cautioned him as we were putting him to bed that it was going to be extremely cold the next day, with a high of five below zero.

Nick was aghast.  “There’s gonna be no world?”

And that memory led me, in turn, to think of a conversation I’d had with Jamie just before putting him to bed one night.  After wishing him sweet dreams, I asked whether he ever had any dreams in which he finds himself flying.

He was near sleep, but the question snapped him to attention.  He raised his head off the pillow, turned to me, and said, chidingly, “Michael!  That’s impossible!”

Which is true, of course.  But not so weird as five below zero.

Posted by Michael on 02/22 at 04:41 PM
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