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Sunday, February 29, 2004

I wish my brother George was here

Last week-- on February 26, to be exact-- the Penn State Young Americans for Freedom sponsored a talk by one Reginald Jones, entitled “Betrayal:  Sold Out by the Civil Rights Movement.” The YAF flyers posted on the Penn State campus promised that Jones would deliver the home truths that “your liberazi professors won’t tell you.”

Now, you can check out the Penn State YAF speakers series for yourself-- a pretty high-priced lineup, all told, which is something you might want to keep in mind next time the local wingnuts complain that the campus right doesn’t have enough money to counterbalance all those far-left lectures by Katie Couric.  I took particular delight in the YAF’s description of Suzanne Fields’s talk in 2000-- “As she explained, the title of her speech poked fun at the stuttering of actor and effeminate male, Hugh Grant.” That seems like something the liberal campus community really needs to hear more about.

But I have a more specific question about Reginald Jones’s talk.  What, precisely, is a “liberazi” professor?  Are the Young Americans for Freedom suggesting that campus liberals are close kin to Nazis, or-- as I have reason to suspect-- are they saying that we dress in sparkles and sequins, capes and furs?  That we drive outrageous cars and have a thing about huge rings and candelabras?

Write to the Liberace Foundation today and let them know that people like Reginald Jones are slandering a great American culture hero by associating him with the anti-American campus left.

Posted by Michael on 02/29 at 04:05 AM
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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Nader goes over the edge

I received an email today that just made me furious:

RICHARD NADER’S SUMMER DOOWOP REUNION XV
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES ARENA
MEADOWLANDS
Saturday, June 19 at 7:00 pm
Tickets: $50, $40, $35, $30

Starring: The Duprees - “Have You Heard”
Kenny Vance and the Planotones - “Looking For An Echo”
Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge - “Sixteen Candles”
Larry Chance and the Earls - “Remember”
The Teenagers - “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”
The Dubs - “Could This Be Magic”
Special Guest Star: Gary Puckett - “Woman Woman”

Don’t miss the exciting summer tradition of DooWop memories as Richard Nader’s Summer DooWop Reunion returns to Continental Airlines Arena. The fun starts with a tailgate party outside the arena beginning at 3:00 PM. There will also be a 1950’s and 60’s classic car display, outdoor a-cappella stage from 4:30 to 6:30 PM and autographs and pictures with the artists as they visit the outside party before the concert.

I can’t believe he’s doing this again-- after practically everyone asked him not to.  Not only will this draw thousands of people and all kinds of press attention away from John Kerry’s “Summer Rhythm and Blues / Roots Rock Reunion” in Boston that week, but it betrays Nader’s own history of consumer advocacy and progressive activism in the doo-wop sector.  I mean, come on, Gary Puckett?  Gary Puckett is about as doo-wop as the Monkees.  Are these the depths to which Nader has sunk?  What’s next, Paul Revere and the Raiders?

And why do this in New Jersey?  Because it’s a “safe state” that can’t possibly be picked up by George Bush’s “Country Celebration Featuring Toby Keith”?  Think again, people.  New Jersey is completely up for grabs-- I hear they’re even having ska, twelvetone, and Latin jazz festivals this summer.  Nader’s “doo-wop reunion” is sheer opportunism, and doesn’t deserve a single progressive’s support.

Gary Puckett, indeed.

Posted by Michael on 02/24 at 02:12 PM
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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Letters, we get letters

Hundreds of well-wishers have written in to say,

Michael!  Get a grip!  Stop arguing with people about conservatives in academe already!  Stop helping right-wing nuts pretend that bright young conservatives are trying desperately to get into graduate programs in the arts and humanities so that they can study for five to ten years in the hopes of completing a doctorate and going out into a job market that employs only half of all new Ph.D.s-- and only half of those in tenure-track jobs!  Seriously, Michael, we know that liberals are overrepresented in the arts and humanities.  They’re also overrepresented among public-school special-ed teachers and cast members of Off-Broadway plays, for goodness’ sake!  Do we really have to have a full-scale national investigation into “liberal bias” in those fields, too?  Enough about this tired subject!  We need to hear more about how your hockey season is going-- that’s the reason we stop by your blog!

I have to say it’s a little weird getting hundreds of letters like this. Anyway, my season in the B league is going well.  My team, the Capitals, is 19-8-2; I’ve played in 21 of those games, and I’m second on the team with 38 goals and 20 assists (bettering the 55 points I scored in the B league last year, with about ten games left to play).

My A season is hardly worth mentioning-- let’s just say that I have not been able to bring my A game to the A league.  So far, six goals, four assists, and three injuries (leg, thumb, shoulder-- still recovering from the shoulder thing as I write), down from 29 goals last year.  I can play hurt at the B level, but not at A, at least not well.  I’ll try to salvage something from that season before the semester ends, though.

In the pros, it looks like the two teams I care about will be watching the playoffs on TV.  The New York Rangers, having put together what might be the strangest assemblage of underachievers, head cases, and defensive-lapse specialists the NHL has ever seen, won’t even make it close this year. However, my signed copy of Rod Gilbert’s autobiography remains as dear to me as ever, sitting on its shelf next to Gerald Eskenazi’s A Year on Ice, a lively record of the Rangers’ 1969-70 season and a fine companion piece to the late Dave DeBusschere’s journal of the Knicks’ championship that season, The Open Man.  Meanwhile, out in St. Louis, the Blues are fading fast without key defensemen Barret Jackman (season-ending injury) and Al MacInnis (career-ending injury).  When I taught at the U of Illinois I used to catch a Blues game or two each year, and then when they became serious contenders in 2000 and 2001 I drove down for some playoff games as well-- including their double-overtime win in game three of the 2001 conference finals against Colorado (the only game they won in that series).  Now it looks like the Blues aren’t going to be getting back to that level anytime soon.

I will check out the New Jersey Devils next week, though-- I’m going to their game against Atlanta on Friday the 27th.  Last May I caught their 1-0 victory over Ottawa in game three of the Eastern finals, picking up a ninth-row seat via Ticketmaster the day before the game.  Great team, the Devils, and a great hockey organization.  Too bad they play in a swamp and no one comes to see them.  Maybe they can move to Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn along with the Nets.  After all, Brooklyn could use a team whose name is associated with evil incarnate.

Posted by Michael on 02/21 at 11:42 AM
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Saturday, February 14, 2004

Stuart Hall interlude

No time for blogging this weekend-- I’ve got to write my talk for the MLA “Disability Studies and the University” conference at Emory University (March 5-7, so register right now), and so I can’t follow up on the world-historical question of whether major media are running with (or even bothering to investigate) the story that a former AP reporter’s parents think that John Kerry may have been attracted to their daughter.

In the meantime, some words to live by from Stuart Hall’s brilliant 1983 lecture, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists.” The political context is the British Left’s failure to anticipate or understand Thatcherism’s appeal for the very people it was screwing; in the following passage, Hall offers one of his most stinging rebukes to neo-Leninist Leftists who think that the masses will flock to their cause once the “objective conditions” of their society are sufficiently draconian.  Adapt to your local circumstances as you see fit-- and pass the word along to anyone you know who still thinks that all we need is another four years of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft-Wolfowitz-Rove in order for tens of millions of Americans to see the virtues of Green/ Socialist/ Anti-Imperialist/ Vegan politics:

“The traditional escape clause for classical marxism . . . is the recourse to ‘false consciousness.’ The popular classes, we must suppose, have been ideologically duped by the dominant classes, using what The German Ideology calls their ‘monopoly over the means of mental production.’ The masses, therefore, have been temporarily ensnared, against their real material interests and position in the structure of social relations, to live their relation to their real conditions of material existence through an imposed but ‘false’ structure of illusions.  The traditional expectation on the Left, founded on this premise, would therefore be that, as real material factors begin once more to exert their effect, the cobwebs of illusion would be dispelled, ‘reality’ would be transferred directly into working-class heads, the scales would fall from workers’ eyes, and Minerva’s Owl-- the great denouement promised by the Communist Manifesto, as the socialization of labor progressively created the conditions for mass solidarity and enlightenment-- would take wing at last (even if timed to arrive approximately 150 years too late).

“This explanation has to deal with the surprising fact that mass unemployment has taken a much longer time than predicted to percolate mass consciousness [Hall was writing at a time when unemployment in the UK had reached three million, even after analysts had predicted mass uprisings and riots once the number of unemployed reached two million]; the unemployed, who might have been expected to pierce the veil of illusion first, are still by no means automatic mass converts to laborism, let alone socialism; and the lessons that can be drawn from the fact of unemployment turn out to be less monolithic and predictable, less determined by strict material factors, more variable than supposed.  The same fact can be read or made sense of in different ways, depending on the ideological perspective employed.  Mass unemployment can be interpreted as a scandalous indictment of the system; or as a sign of Britain’s underlying economic weakness about which mere governments-- Left or Right-- can do very little; or as acceptable because ‘there is no alternative’ that is not more disastrous for the economy; or indeed-- within the sociomasochistic perspective that sometimes appears to be a peculiarly strong feature of British ideology-- as the required measure of suffering that guarantees the remedy will work eventually because it hurts so much (the Britain-is-best-when-backed-to-the-wall syndrome)! . . .

“It is a highly unstable theory about the world which has to assume that vast numbers of ordinary people, mentally equipped in much the same way as you or I, can simply be thoroughly and systematically duped into misrecognizing entirely where their real interests lie.  Even less acceptable is the position that, whereas ‘they’-- the masses-- are the dupes of history, ‘we’-- the privileged-- are somehow without a trace of illusion and can see, transitively, right through into the truth, the essence, of a situation.  Yet it is a fact that, though there are people willing enough to deploy the false consciousness explanation to account for the illusory behavior of others, there are very few who are ever willing to own up that they are themselves living in false consciousness!  It seems to be (like corruption by pornography) a state always reserved for others.”

-- from Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (U of Illinois Press, 1988), pp. 43-44.  Assigned (along with no fewer than nine other essays by Hall) in my current seminar, “What Was Cultural Studies?”

Posted by Michael on 02/14 at 08:08 AM
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Monday, February 09, 2004

In surprise move, Al-Qaeda endorses Bush

SOMEWHERE NEAR KANDAHAR, Afghanistan-- An anonymous Al-Qaeda official today announced that the shadowy terrorist organization would support George Bush against any of his Democratic rivals in 2004.  “Ordinarily we do not endorse American presidential candidates,” said the official, “especially so early in your primary season before California and New York have weighed in.  But we felt we could not ignore the challenge issued by your Rush Limbaugh and echoed on the following day by his subaltern, your James Lileks.”

On his February 4 radio show, Limbaugh had asked, “which candidate do you think Al-Qaeda might root for in this election, John Kerry (should he be the Democratic nominee), or George W. Bush?” As blogger “No More Mister Nice Blog” pointed out, Lileks wrote, “who do you think Al Qaeda wants to win the election?” on the following day.

“It is a fair question,” said the anonymous Al-Qaeda official, “and we are very flattered.  No one had ever asked us for our opinion about American presidential contests before now.  But we must say that Bush is the man for us, without a doubt.  At first we were not sure.  After America defeated the Taliban in 2001, we had no friendly government to support us, and we feared that Bush would pursue us further.  But we are most pleased to see that he has instead listened to your Richard Perle and your Richard Cheney, and undertaken this most foolish war and occupation in Iraq.  Quite honestly, we were on the ropes there for a while.  The membership drive was sputtering, and our pledge week on Public Islamist Radio was not going so well either, even though we offered our listeners ‘Osama Lives!’ tote bags for a nominal contribution.  But now, thanks to your diverting war in Iraq, we have all the recruits we will need for quite some time.”

The official also noted that the Bush Administration’s propensity for alienating American allies played a key role in Al-Qaeda’s endorsement.  “We could not have hoped for more,” he said.  “It is hard to imagine how one man could do so much damage to America’s intelligence credibility and international reputation in just the two and a half years since the French said they were all Americans now.  But never mind France and Germany-- today, even Canada and Turkey are not returning American phone calls.  It is a glorious thing to see, far better than we could have expected in our final days in the caves of Tora Bora.”

The Al-Qaeda official hastened to point out that his organization’s endorsement of Bush did not amount to an attack on John Kerry, the likely Democratic nominee.  “We do have our reservations about Kerry,” said the official.  “He is not a credible opponent of your ‘special interests,’ and he sometimes appears very aloof from your people.  Also there is the question of whether he is using your Botox in order to appear more photogenic.  So we have never been able to get ‘fired up’ about him one way or the other.  Still, he is very strong in foreign policy and can very likely rebuild some of your damaged alliances.  We have no worries on that score about George Bush.”

In a related development, a broad alliance of Islamist terror organizations and Shi’ite clerics is expected to endorse President Bush’s opposition to gay marriage by early next week.

Posted by Michael on 02/09 at 07:35 AM
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Thursday, February 05, 2004

I give all liberals a bad name

Two months ago I published an essay about how I dealt with a disruptive conservative student in one of my undergraduate honors seminars. This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran three letters in response to my essay. Two of them, I was pleased to see, were beautifully self-undermining. But one of them held my attention.  Before you read it, keep in mind that (a) I gave this conservative student an A for the course, (b) I repeatedly prevented other students from ganging up on him, and (c) I explicitly described him like so: “He was forceful, intelligent, and articulate. Sometimes he was witty, and he was always knowledgeable about cyberpunk and postmodern science fiction. Often, however, he was obstreperous and out of bounds.” OK, now here’s the letter:

To the Editor:

Although I, too, consider myself a liberal, I was dismayed by Michael Bérubé’s essay. Rather than debunking the argument that university campuses are biased against conservative students, Bérubé actually lends credibility to this notion.

Unfortunately, Bérubé assumes a self-righteous, holier-than-thou persona that grates on people’s nerves and gives all liberals a bad name. He characterizes himself as the patient, long-suffering professor forced to make “reasonable accommodations for students whose standards of ‘reasonableness’ are significantly different” from his. ... In striking contrast, anyone who disagrees with Bérubé is characterized far less charitably.  Accuracy in Academia is a “slightly nutty group.” David Horowitz is “exaggerating hysterically.” Stanley Kurtz’s position is “paranoid.” ...

Which brings me to “John,” described as “a large white student,” who made the semester so uncomfortable for everyone in the class. Bérubé makes “John” sound like a difficult student. Very likely he was. Yet I have to wonder whether a student who behaved the same way but reinforced the professor’s beliefs would also have been considered “out of bounds.” Moreover, would this article have been possible if it had been based on a conservative student who was not so outspoken? Are all conservatives exaggerating, hysterical, paranoid, and obstreperous? This is what the article seems to imply. . .

Dana Zimbleman
Assistant Professor of English
Jefferson College
Hillsboro, Mo.

Let me paraphrase this letter, if I may-- I received about 50 or 60 just like it back in December, and all of them accused me of vilifying “anyone who disagrees with me”:

I consider myself a liberal, but honestly, I’m far more concerned that Michael Bérubé said that David Horowitz was “exaggerating hysterically” than that Bérubé’s student interrupted his class in order to defend the Japanese-American internment camps created during World War II. When Bérubé’s student said that the internments were justified, yes, Bérubé treated him with respect while disagreeing with him and trying to bring the class discussion back to the novel at hand. But when Bérubé calls Horowitz “hysterical,” I fear that he calls into question the very standards of reason he is invoking!  Indeed, he is giving all liberals a bad name!  I have to think that if the student were a different kind of student, this article would have been very different as well!

My reply to this kind of disingenuousness is basically . . . how shall I put this? --grow up. As for Hysterical Horowitz, I was talking about Horowitz’s claim that “99 percent of all commencement speakers are Democrats, liberals, or Greens.” That claim is right on the bottom of this page of Horowitz’s FrontPage online magazine, and it’s based on his Center for the Study of Popular Culture’s “study” of 32 campuses (there are 3500 colleges in the United States). The campuses chosen by the CSPC are places like Amherst, Berkeley, Brown, Oberlin, Smith, Wellesley, and Wesleyan; and David’s list of “liberals” includes (I am not making this up) Cokie Roberts, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, Claire Shipman, Judy Woodruff, and Thomas Friedman, whereas speakers like Helmut Kohl are listed as “neutral.” If I say that this list represents a wingnut’s view of the world, am I being unfair?  (Also see David’s “executive summary,” entitled “One Last, Leftist Lecture”-- yes, that’s right, leftist indoctrination at the hands of Katie Couric and Anna Quindlen, in a commencement address, no less.) Seriously, this is kind of stuff you see from people who go around complaining that cookbooks are full of liberal bias because they so often say “season liberally” instead of “season conservatively” or “use a liberal dash of salt” instead of “hoard your salt conservatively, as Hayek advises.”

Really, people, if “99 percent of all commencement speakers are Democrats, liberals or Greens” is not an hysterical exaggeration, the phrase has no meaning.

But more important, over the past two months I’ve come to realize that something very funny is going on here.  Either (this is option A) there are some conservatives out there who sincerely have no idea how nutty and vile some of their number really are (don’t worry, I have an example coming right up), or (this would be option B) there’s actually something like a coordinated two-step program at work, whereby nutty and/or vile far-right wingnuts say X, and then people like me call them on it, and then right behind the wingnuts come these sober voices of reason tsk-tsking that anyone would call conservatives “nutty” and “vile,” and wondering whether this out-of-control leftist anger is going to tear apart the country.

For example.  Over at the National Review Online, John Derbyshire has come up with a fun new game, making up lists of “dead villains” he and his readers would like to exhume and hang.  You know, digging up dead bodies and hanging them-- “gibbeting a corpse,” they call it, as was done with Oliver Cromwell some years ago.  Hey kids, it’s not a foul, ghoulish, neo-medieval exercise, it’s the hip new conservative meme!

And guess who these people are joking about?  Leading the nominations are are Lyndon Johnson, Edward Said, Walter Duranty, Pierre Trudeau, and Margaret Mead.  No, I am not making this up, either.  Derbyshire also reproduces one reader’s list that includes a number of former Supreme Court justices, including Thurgood Marshall, although he doesn’t say whether his reader would like to burn and castrate the corpse of Marshall as well as hanging him (fie on this McCarthyite “political correctness” that doesn’t permit us to speak openly of lynching dead Negroes!)

OK, so I’ll take the bait, as I’ve taken it before: yes, Reed Irvine, the founder of Accuracy in Academia, is indeed slightly nutty.  David Horowitz’s claim about commencement speakers is indeed an hysterical exaggeration.  Stanley Kurtz’s testimony to Congress last summer, in which he claimed that Title VI area-studies programs are dominated by the work of Edward Said, does indeed rely on a paranoid logic.  And, last but not least, John Derbyshire’s little gibbeting-fantasy is completely @#%&ing deranged.  I hope I’m not giving all liberals a bad name in saying that Derbyshire is completely @#%&ing deranged, because I think it’s pretty obvious that Derbyshire is completely @#%&ing deranged.

Now I’ll get another fifty or sixty letters about how I claim to uphold “standards of reason” but I have a terrible habit of slandering and denigrating anyone who disagrees with me.  Bring ‘em on, folks.  Also, don’t forget to claim that I have suggested that all conservatives are mentally ill!

Posted by Michael on 02/05 at 03:57 PM
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