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Monday, May 10, 2004

Suggestion box

Over the weekend—around 3 pm Sunday afternoon, to be exact—this little website welcomed its 100,000th visitor since opening on January 7.  (Whoever you were, I apologize for not having a banner screaming “You Are A Winner!  Click Here for Your Prize!") Now, I still have a complicated relation to these metasystems of measurement.  On the one hand, as I’ve said before, I think it’s a terrible waste of time to keep track of these blog accessories (partly because it’s so seductive), and part of me just doesn’t want to care about the traffic-recording devices.  On the other hand, I obviously care enough to have registered with that Truth Laid Bear ecosystem, and I’m just driven and competitive enough to complain about it.  I mean, come on—I’m a rodent?  I’m behind John Bruce ("In the Shadow of Mt. Hollywood") in the rankings even though I have ten times as many visitors as he does (and rightly so, I might add)?  What’s up with that?  How can I be only number 1169 (up from the low 1700’s, but still) when I’ve been getting over 1000 visitors/day?  I demand ecosystem justice!!

Besides, I am not a rodent—I AM A MAN! (Or at least maybe a mammal or a marsupial of some kind.)

Oops, sorry about that.  Got carried away.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who’s told me about the tracking system over at Technorati, and special thanks to Tom Burka for (a) explaining to me that N. Z. Bear tracks only the sites that have registered with him, and (b) confirming, in what he calls a “reverse denial,” that he might very well have said the things I said he might very well have said about the current satire crisis.

But now I have a question.  My semester’s finally over, and I have a couple of small things to finish off (review essay, reading page proofs) before I begin writing Liberal Arts: What Really Happens Inside the Classroom and Why and The Left at War.  And, having been quite encouraged by the site traffic so far (and most of my reader email), I’ve decided that I’m going to keep up this blog for the summer.  So I’m asking for reader feedback. 

What kind of things would you—or do you already—like to read here?  What would you like to see more of?  Less of?  None of?

Here are some of the many options you can choose from (or make up your own!):

___ More hockey blogging!  There is a profound shortage of academic hockey bloggers, and we need them more than ever for the final two rounds of the playoffs!

___ Less irony!  We come here to find out what you’re really saying in your annoying little New York Times Magazine essays about SATs and grade inflation, not to get still more deferrals and demurrals from you!

___ More irony!  The site should be more Wildean, not less!  After all, as Lord Henry says in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.”

___ More on Kerry!  Your silence speaks volumes—you know he’s really not what you wanted!  Tell us what you think of this election beyond the simple and overwhelming need to defeat Bush!

___ More hockey!  Explain why the NHL playoffs are so much better than the NBA—we know it in our bones, but we’d like to see the reasons written out!  Most of all, we need play-by-play accounts of your own games!

___ More about Jamie!  We loved the bit about his first turn on the go-carts, and we’re really waiting for you to write more stuff about Jamie’s life and disability issues in general!

___ More on academe and its foibles!  Don’t let the online discussion of academic literary study be dominated by cranks and curmudgeons—tell us more about the business from someone who actually enjoys it!  And go ahead and be ironic whenever you want to!

___ More on politics!  Never mind academe and its foibles—that’s your day job!  Give us your take on the events of the day, like those left-progressive bloggers and journalists you read whenever you’re not reading and teaching literature and cultural studies!

___ More cultural studies!  The Raymond Williams interlude and the Stuart Hall interlude—that’s what we like!  In fact, just transcribe entire passages from the British tradition—never mind your commentary!

___ More Onion-esque satirical items!  You know, like “Conservatives denounce gay marriage, Mars mission,” and “For a full and complete investigation.” That’s what we’re here for—not your ponderous maunderings about the state of the union!

___ New pix!  The family pix you have up here are two or three years old, and you yourself aren’t even making eye contact with us!

___ More hockey, dammit!  How many times do we have to ask?

For this post, comments open.  Be constructive or be deleted.

Posted by Michael on 05/10 at 07:25 AM
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So now Senator Palpatine—I mean, Lieberman—speaks up on Abu Ghraib. From Friday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“Mr. Secretary, the behavior by Americans at the prison in Iraq is, as we all acknowledge, immoral, intolerable and un-American. It deserves the apology that you have given today and that have been given by others in high positions in our government and our military.

“I cannot help but say, however, that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq working to liberate Iraq and protect our security have never apologized.

“And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never received an apology from anybody.”

Now, I won’t dwell on the utter fatuousness of this justification for the rape, torture, and murder of random Iraqis—every other sane person already has. In fact, even people who have infinitely more tolerance for Lieberman than I do have reeled in disgust at this one. On Friday Josh Marshall, for example, called it “Ugly, pandering, a display of the cheapest tendencies of the man.”

But Marshall also wrote, “For Mr. Responsibility and Morality, what a disappointment. He can take a lesson not only from John McCain but from Lindsey Graham too.”

And that’s what I’d like to discuss: even to call this latest performance a “disappointment” is to invest Senator Palpatine with a gravitas he has never deserved.

For Abu Ghraib presents us with a real moral crisis, and by “real” I mean “as opposed to the moral crisis posed by oral sex in the Oval Office.” (Which, by the way, was sleazy and colossally stupid, though not quite unconstitutional. For the record, I oppose oral sex in the Oval Office, and I promise to work to stop it whenever it occurs. But I mention this only because Lieberman’s denunciation of Clinton from the Senate floor is what got him a spot on the Gore ticket and a shot at national prominence in the first place.) To put this another way: this is the worst military and geopolitical scandal in a generation, and anyone who doesn’t realize it just isn’t worth taking seriously—about this or anything else.

Lieberman, for his part, has always struck me as a member of the religious right dressed up as a “New Democrat.” He’s very concerned about “moral” issues like violence in video games, and he’s sad that discussions of God and spirituality have been banished from the public sphere (to which I always reply, exactly what public sphere do you inhabit? As Richard Rorty once put it, an atheist can’t get elected to any office higher than that of dogcatcher in this country). And let’s not forget his important partnership with Lynne Cheney as co-director of the right-wing Association of College Trustees and Alumni and his consistent pattern of alignment with wingnut conservatives in the culture wars.

But now here comes a profound moral crisis that goes to the heart of American legitimacy, and Senator Palpatine here takes time out to tell us—he “cannot help but say”—that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib are offset by terrible things they’ve done since September 11 (where “they” means “A-rabs in general").

That’s it for Joe, folks. I propose that the man doesn’t have a shred of “moral” credibility left.

Now, some of you will doubtless say, “Michael, you’re being a bit hasty on this one—surely there will be more moral crises over the next twenty or thirty years, and we should wait to see how Lieberman responds to them, and maybe he’ll do better, and then we should take the average over his entire life.” But some of you would be wrong. Joe doesn’t get any more chances. He’s done. He’s used up his last vial of Joe-mentum. You need never take him seriously again, on any question whatsoever. The next time he gets up and drones on about the soul-corroding aspects of Grand Theft Auto III, you can say, yes, Joe, tell it to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib. Or if you want to get meta-ironic with him, you can say in a lugubrious baritone, with deeply furrowed brow, “Grand Theft Auto III contains deeply disturbing images of violence, yes, but I cannot help but say that those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, have never apologized for bringing their disturbing images of violence to our television screens.”

But first, let’s retire this man from public life.  People of Connecticut, rise up—you have nothing to lose but your sanctimonious fraud.

Posted by Michael on 05/10 at 04:46 AM
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Friday, May 07, 2004

Brief pause for day job

I gave a final exam this morning, returned all my undergraduate essays, and am now reading exams almost as frantically as students wrote them.  There’s no allowance for the Grading Avoidance Phenomenon with exams-- over half my class is made up of graduating seniors, and these grades have to be turned in within 48 hours by means of an electronic grade-submission system.  Penn State professors have to log in with a SecureID six-digit code that changes every ten seconds.  I am not making this up.  It’s a little like a cross between The Paper Chase and Mission Impossible (cue Lalo Schifrin theme here).

So I don’t have any time today to answer the burning question of whether the responses to Abu Ghraib from Limbaugh, Hannity and company are actually aiding and abetting our worst enemies.  For the answer to that question, check back and see this weekend’s posting, “Limbaugh, Hannity and Company:  Aiding and Abetting our Worst Enemies.”

Posted by Michael on 05/07 at 10:11 AM
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Thursday, May 06, 2004

It’s not like it’s the Pledge of Allegiance

Last night the dinner conversation turned, as it will these days, to Abu Ghraib, and Janet asked me (I’m paraphrasing from memory-- we don’t tape our dinner conversations), where is the Christian Right on this?  I mean, this is literally obscene-- these pictures, these scenes of rape and humiliation, these are obscenities.  Has the Christian Right said anything at all, a single word of shock or outrage?

I had to admit that the question hadn’t even occurred to me.  Abu Ghraib just doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that motivates moral panics on the Christian Right.  After all, as Janet and I came to realize,

-- Janet Jackson’s breast was not exposed at Abu Ghraib;

-- no one was performing abortions at Abu Ghraib;

-- Abu Ghraib does not permit same-sex marriage;

-- the soldiers at Abu Ghraib did not hold up any signs expressing a belief in evolution.

We rejected the more sinister possibility that there’s some hardcore fundamentalist interpretation of a passage in Leviticus or Deuteronomy according to which it actually pleases the Lord when you stack naked heathen into human pyramids.  But we’re keeping an open mind on this, at least until we hear from Biblical scholars Roy Moore and Tom DeLay.

Posted by Michael on 05/06 at 01:56 AM
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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Wingnuts induce satire crisis

INSULT-UPON-INJURY, New York (AP)-- Conservative commentators have induced a “satire crisis” for liberal and progressive bloggers in recent days, producing a stream of remarks so bizarre and unhinged that the blogosphere’s sharpest wits are at a loss to respond, according to a statement released today by the newly-formed Association of Flabbergasted Liberals.

“It started, as it always does, with Rush Limbaugh,” noted an AFL spokesman.  “First he said that the torture and rape at Abu Ghraib was nothing more than you’d see at a Britney Spears or Madonna concert, or maybe Lincoln Center, and now he’s saying that it was just a bunch of people ‘having a good time.’ What can you do with that?  Look at Ezra Klein over at Pandagon-- all he can do is say he’s speechless at this stuff.  It’s all any of us can do.  Seriously, Limbaugh can work himself into a froth about Bill Clinton transferring some people out of the White House travel office, but when he’s faced with systemic human rights atrocities-- and not just any atrocities, mind you, but really vile atrocities involving innocent Iraqi civilians, women, and children, atrocities that will damage irreparably America’s moral standing and foster rabid anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab world, as even the most delusional neoconservative in the PNAC house knows by now-- first he associates them with Lincoln Center liberals and then he calls them ‘a good time’?

“But it doesn’t end with Rush,” the spokesman added, on condition that he not be identified as one of the left blogosphere’s many anonymous pundits.  “Take Linda Chavez’s recent argument that Abu Ghraib is to be blamed on women in the military.  Did you know that that one column killed six Daily Show jokes that were already in production?  What are we going to do now, blame Abu Ghraib on gay marriages in Massachusetts?”

The strain has been felt most severely at Tom Burka’s site, “Opinions You Should Have,” as Burka works overtime to try to stay ahead of the massive right-wing mental collapse.  “It’s like trying to outrun a tsunami,” Burka might have said if I had interviewed him.  “Yesterday I posted a story about Bush blaming Clinton for prisoner abuse in Iraq.  But I’m well aware that before too long, someone in the Bush administration will have basically cribbed my work line for line-- particularly the line,

“President Clinton’s failure to act directly caused the horrors we have discovered today,” Bush continued. “If President Clinton had invaded Iraq when he should have, this would never have happened.”

“I just know that’s going to be the centerpiece of Bush’s campaign by the middle of next week.  Honestly, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up.”

Burka’s remarks were seconded by would-be satirists everywhere, one of whom tried to find a silver lining in the crisis:  “sure, it hurts being outdone by one’s enemies,” he admitted.  “But on the other hand, it’s not a bad thing watching wingnuts’ heads explode.  And maybe after a month or two of serial wingnut explosions, most reasonable people will have finally realized that the right-wing media consists of fools, toadies, and moral reprobates.  Now, if only that jackass Ted Rall would shut the hell up, we could be in decent shape around here.”


Unedited Rush:

“Folks, these torture pictures with the women torturers, I mean Marv Albert looking at those pictures would say, ‘Hey, that doesn’t look so bad.’ You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don’t know if it’s just me but it looks like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it’s just me.”

Posted by Michael on 05/05 at 01:18 PM
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Put him in the cornfield

Yesterday I was grading papers—honest!—in Penn State’s HUB-Robeson student center when I looked up at one of the ubiquitous CNN feeds and learned that L. Paul Bremer had retracted his February 2001 remarks about the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 inattention to terrorism.  You remember those remarks:

“What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this,”’ said Bremer at a McCormick Tribune Foundation conference on terrorism on February 26, 2001.

(By the way, no one seems to have noticed that Bremer was actually quite wrong about this.  On the afternoon of 9/11, they didn’t say, “Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this.” They said, “now, how can we tie this to Saddam Hussein?")

On Sunday, however, Bremer released a statement that said, in part:

“Criticism of the new administration . . . was unfair. President Bush had just been sworn into office and could not reasonably be held responsible for the Federal Government’s inaction over the preceding 7 months.

“I regret any suggestion to the contrary. In fact, I have since learned that President Bush had shared some of these frustrations, and had initiated a more direct and comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism consistent with the threats outlined in the National Commission report.

“I am strongly supportive and grateful for the President’s leadership and strategy in combating terrorism and protecting American national security throughout his first term in office.”

And sitting there in the HUB, I thought to myself, where have I seen this show before?  No, not the one with John DiIulio.  The one written by Jerome Bixby and adapted by Rod Serling.  It’s called “It’s a Good Life,” and it involves a young boy (played by Billy Mumy) with psychic powers.  He’s managed to isolate his town of Peaksville, Ohio from the rest of the world, and he demands that the adults entertain him and—at all costs—keep thinking happy good thoughts.  Occasionally an adult will express some alarm about some aspect of the child’s regime, but will be compelled immediately to think good thoughts and tell the child that it was a good thing—a real good thing he done when he took control of the town.  People who fail to toe the line get put “in the cornfield,” and at one point an older man has a bit too much to drink, complains openly about the child, and is transformed into a hideous jack-in-the-box (and then banished to the cornfield).

So I went around the rest of the day thinking happy good thoughts.  It’s a good thing we invaded Iraq—a real good thing.  Richard Clarke is a bad man.  We’re gonna put him in the cornfield with Paul O’Neill and Joseph Wilson.  Paul Bremer better keep thinking happy thoughts or we’re gonna turn him into a jack-in-the-box just like we did with . . . and then it occurred to me, has anyone seen Colin Powell lately?

Posted by Michael on 05/04 at 02:05 AM
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