Monday, January 31, 2005
Education Secretary Demands Removal of Vermont from Nation’s Textbooks
Washington, January 31– Following on her protest last week against a PBS cartoon character’s visit to Vermont, where he encounters a lesbian couple, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced at a press conference today that her department was not engaged in a “trivial” or “merely symbolic” campaign against a children’s television program.
“Buster Bunny is not the problem,” said Spellings. “Though I note with some dismay that Buster travels the country accompanied only by his father because his parents are divorced, and I do not see why our children should be subjected to yet another glamorization of the divorce lifestyle. No, the problem is Vermont itself. It is Vermont to which I object. Christians everywhere should be outraged that it was represented in this children’s program.”
Spellings proceeded to unveil the Department of Education’s proposed map of the “forty-nine God-fearing United States,” with the “territory of Vermont” represented by a lightly shaded area. “Until such time as Vermont sees fit to rejoin the rest of the nation in condemning gay ‘civil unions,’” Spellings said, reading from a prepared statement, “we propose that Vermont be visually expelled from the heterosexual Union. We further propose that the nation’s students be instructed that Vermont is no longer a real state, and that they will not be responsible for remembering its capital, which is not only obscure but French-sounding as well.”
Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization, had warm praise for Spellings. “Parents don’t want their children homosexualized in the name of ‘education,’” Knight said. “Mrs. Spellings has given notice that left-wing lobbies will have to find other ways to peddle their pansexual propaganda. Let’s hope that other leaders in federal and state agencies find a backbone thanks to her courageous example.”
Focus on the Family director James Dobson also endorsed Spellings’ decision, saying that “it kills a lot of birds with one stone” by taking a strong stand against gay rights while eliminating “three or four really bothersome figures” from American politics. “We’ve long known that ‘Vermont’ is basically just a code word for the gay agenda,” Dobson said, “and it’s about time our nation’s leaders eliminated Vermont, just as we at Focus on the Family have eliminated other homosexual code words like ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance.’”
“But I’m not sure about letting Buster Bunny off quite so easily,” Dobson added, remarking that “Postcards from Buster” is a spinoff from the popular “Arthur” series, and that “Arthur,” too, has been active in promoting homosexuality. “The whole show just looks queer to me,” Dobson said. “We can’t even tell exactly what kind of animal Arthur is supposed to be, never mind that other strange character Binky. If that’s not some kind of queer-identity thing going on there, I don’t know one when I see one! And don’t get me started on that reggae-flavored theme song, which might as well come right out and say ‘smoke marijuana, boys and girls, if you want to be ‘cool.’ In every respect, ‘Arthur’ is the poster child for the depravity of public television.”
Hey Kids! Here’s a Fun Game. One of the quotes in this post is real and Not Made Up At All. See if you can find it! Here’s a hint– it involves people having sex with pans!
Friday, January 28, 2005
Mister Answer Man: Special ‘Fancy Dress’ Edition!
Dear Mister Answer Man: What in the world is going on in Alexander Cockburn’s latest column for the Nation? You know, the one where he gets all bent out of shape at people who criticized Prince Harry for wearing that Nazi armband, complaining that “some jerk snapped Harry” at what was, after all, a “Colonialists and Natives” party? The one where he says “the Afrika Korps uniform was a nice idea and a lot more original than putting some shoeblack on his face and going as a native”? And where he gets all impatient about those bothersome Jews and their little obsessions: “Of course, the leaders of major Jewish organizations have had a field day, broadcasting their shock and dismay on an hourly basis and telling Harry to jog round the Auschwitz perimeter another couple of times. Moral reprobation from these folk about fancy dress looks threadbare in an age when Israeli soldiers force a Palestinian to play his violin at a border crossing.” And that’s just the coherent part of the column! The second half turns out to be a rambling, free-association mess featuring writing like this: “Actually, Rommel was outgeneraled by the matrons who ruled over matters of hygiene at the schools attended by the British officer class. How well I remember the matron at my own school, Heatherdown, who used to line us little boys up and then clasp our testicles in her chill hand and demand that we cough. . . . It was these matrons, so I was recently reminded by Mark Harrison in the Christmas issue of Oxford Today, who instilled in British officers the importance of hygiene. In the Western Desert of Egypt in 1942, Harrison writes in his essay ‘Medicine and Victory,’ because of ‘proper waste management’ the British Army ‘enjoyed a marked and consistent advantage over their opponents, as sickness rates were 50-70 per cent lower than in the German forces. By the time of the climactic battle of El Alamein, the Afrika Korps carried the burden of 9,954 sick out of a total strength of 52,000.’ Out of 10,000, the Panzer division had slightly less than 4,000 men fit to fight. All this gives fresh resonance to the phrase ‘dirty Germans.’”
This doesn’t make a shred of sense, Mister Answer Man! What’s happening? Has Cockburn finally come completely unglued? –J. M. LePen, La Trinité-sur-Mer
Mister Answer Man replies: Mister Answer Man questions the motive behind your question. In fact, Mister Answer Man does not even believe this is a real letter from a real reader! Mister Answer Man thinks it’s pretty damn obvious what’s going on with Alexander Cockburn’s latest column for the Nation, and he doubts that anyone really needs to ask. Though he admits that the Rommel- Heatherdown-matrons- testicle-clasping- British- hygiene segue came as a bit of a surprise!
Of course, Mister Answer Man still insists that a great deal of criticism of the state of Israel is perfectly legitimate, and that anyone who believes in the ideal of universal human rights (that is, as opposed to people who just blather on about them on Inauguration Day and then spend the rest of the month backtracking) and with the legitimacy of the United Nations should be concerned about Israel’s history of human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories and its dismissal of U.N. resolutions. Mister Answer Man rejects the simple and opportunistic equation between criticism of Likud and actual anti-Semitism! (Mister Answer Man has also sharply criticized Arafat and the Second Intifada, too. Mister Answer Man doesn’t romanticize either party in this conflict.) But that one violin-playing Palestinian aside, Cockburn’s column isn’t really about the state of Israel, now, is it. It’s about his exasperation at whiny Jews who get all riled up about a little swastika here and a little Holocaust reminder there. On the very week of the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, no less. No, there isn’t much ambiguity about this one– the stench rising from Cockburn’s column is unmistakable.
As a longtime Nation Associate and occasional Nation contributor, Mister Answer Man is sad to see swill like this in its pages. In fact, Mister Answer Man thinks it’s bad for the left. Mister Answer Man wonders whether it might not be a good idea to let poor Cockburn spend his declining years and powers mumbling ominously to himself in the pages of Counterpunch, or, better yet, perhaps, Post Concussion Syndrome, the official journal of far-left intellectuals who have taken a few too many blows to the head.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Mister Answer Man: Special Sports Edition!
Dear Mister Answer Man: How come you taught at the University of Illinois for twelve years but you haven’t said anything about the fact that the Illini are undefeated this year and have been ranked #1 in both polls since December? --D. Brown, Urbana
Mister Answer Man replies: College basketball has never been my strong suit. I almost won one of those March Madness betting pools fifteen years ago, but that was the year I determined all my picks after the Sweet Sixteen by coin toss. (True! I was the only person in the pool who picked UNLV that year, but I finished fourth nonetheless.) But I do have something of a connection to the Illini. When I arrived in Champaign for my campus visit, sixteen years ago this month, I was informed by two basketball fans on the English Department faculty that they were foregoing the Illinois-Michigan game in order to have dinner with me that evening. “Is Illinois-Michigan a big game, then?” I asked. Deadpan, one of them replied, “Well, when the number two team in the country plays the number six team, yes, many people would consider that a big game.” “No kidding,” I gushed, “you’re number six?” There was a three-second silence. “No,” he replied, “we’re number two.”
Remember this anecdote, ye hapless academic job candidates! I was so embarrassed I spent the next few weeks learning all about the Flying Illini– Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Steve Bardo and company. The Illini went to the Final Four that year, and some commentators thought they could win it all– but they lost in the semifinal 83-81 to Michigan, thanks to one of those clever Michigan freshmen pushing off Anderson in the final seconds, picking up a key offensive rebound, and putting it home. I think you could call that a big game.
So I’ve been watching from afar this year, waiting for last night’s game against Wisconsin, where the Badgers had won 38 straight . . . until the Illini erased an eight-point deficit with twelve minutes to go, pulling away 75-65! And I played a crucial role, turning on the television with the score 56-48 Badgers, watching the Illini clamber back and take a 61-58 lead on Jack Ingram’s surprise pair of threes. Then I got too nervous to watch, and channel-surfed for five minutes; when I came back the Badgers were up 64-61. Quickly sensing the pattern at work, I watched the rest of the game, and the Illini practically ran the table. By the final buzzer, then, the tally was this:
Me not watching: Wisconsin 62, Illinois 48
Me watching: Illinois 27, Wisconsin 3
I think any sports fan knows what I’m talking about here (and it’s much worse when your team can’t win unless you don’t watch). Go Illini.
Dear Mister Answer Man: Do you have any words of wisdom about the Super Bowl? Can the Eagles win without Terrell Owens? —T. Brady, Foxboro
Mister Answer Man replies: Yes, and no. Owens first: clearly, the thing to do is to fit him with a futuristic liquid-metal-alloy ankle. He doesn’t actually have to catch any passes– all he has to do is get out there in the secondary and make the Patriots worry about him. This gives all the other receivers a couple of yards more space. And they will need it. Otherwise, we will all suffer through the dreary spectacle of yet another parochial, tedious Boston-area celebration of trivial matters like sports victories.
But as long as we’re talking about Super Bowls, I would just like to point out after all these years that Scott Norwood’s famous “wide right” FG attempt in 1991 has become so undeservedly infamous that it has obscured a truly terrific game, in which the Giants, thanks in part to well-over-their-heads performances by Ottis Anderson and Jeff Hostetler, managed to hold on to the ball for forty minutes and actually outgain the faster and more talented Bills offense. Now that was a game worth celebrating.
Besides, and this is more important (particularly in the light of the Jets’ Doug Brien’s pair of last-minute misses in Pittsburgh two weeks ago), everyone should finally, really, once and for all, get off Norwood’s case. I mean, sure, the long-suffering people of Buffalo have a complex about these things, I understand that, and the 1991 Super Bowl was as close as they got. But as I was saying to my son in the course of dropping him off at the airport two weeks ago (the airport drive being the time in which fathers and sons discuss the truly important things in life), people must be smoking crack if they think of 47-yarders, on grass, as gimmes. “Do you know the longest field goal ever hit at Heinz Field?” Nick asked me. “Nope,” I said. To which Nick replied, “Forty-six. And Brien was kicking on a windy day. It’s amazing he hit the upright at all.” Quite true! The real question is why he was sent out there to attempt the unprecedented in the first place. “Someone ought to do a little research on this,” Nick continued. “How many times has someone made a kick from over 45 yards, on grass, to win a playoff game?” (Note that this leaves out-- deliberately-- Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning 48-yarder off the carpet in New Orleans in 2002.)
“Good question,” I said, deciding that maybe some of my readers would do the research on this instead of me. “And why don’t Buffalo fans say to themselves, ‘Holy Mother of Moloch, we took it all the way down to the Giants’ 30 in about a minute, and gave ourselves a 40-60 shot at an amazing final-drive comeback? Instead, all we hear is this nonsense about how Norwood is ‘the biggest sports goat of all time.’ Please.”
This humble blog therefore declares 2005 to be Scott Norwood Amnesty Year. Let there be no analogies, in the next ten days, between Norwood and Bill Buckner or Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams or Donnie Moore or Ralph Branca or Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters or Arnold Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open. Personally, I hate it when people compare Norwood to Arnold Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open. This sort of thing has got to stop.
Dear Mister Answer Man: You’re awfully fond of telling us that your hockey team is doing well and you’re scoring this, that and the other critical goal. Don’t you have any stories about screwing up and losing, like Arnold Palmer in the 1966 U.S. Open, when he lost a seven-stroke lead with nine holes to play? --R. Turek, Calgary
Mister Answer Man replies: Why, yes! What a timely question. Just this past Sunday night, my A-league team, CCM, played the Blues, and jumped out to a 3-0 lead (I scored the second goal). Then the Blues picked up a fluke goal on what was either a badly-timed defensive change or a hideous neutral-zone turnover on our part; then they scored a real goal; then they scored a lucky goal that deflected off our defenseman’s stick, and before we knew it we were tied 3-3. With ninety seconds left, though, I took my final shift, and my line peppered the Blues’ goaltender as if we were on a power play. The puck never left their zone, and with about thirty seconds left I picked up a beautiful pass from behind the net that gave me a point-blank shot all alone. I was going to Win the Game and Be a Hero! I tried to go low far side, but the goalie did the butterfly splits and got a pad on it; I reached for the rebound, got it, but couldn’t shoot high enough, burying it in the goalie’s left pad a second and then a third time before getting hammered. When I picked myself up off the ice I saw the Blues hustling out of the zone with the puck; I hauled my sorry carcass after them, checking the clock, thinking that fifteen seconds wouldn’t be enough for them to mount a real rush. And I managed to wind up only an arm’s length from their center as he picked up a weird bounce off our defenseman’s shin pads and put the puck over our stunned goalie’s shoulder with three seconds to play.
Did I lose the game for us? Well, let’s put it this way: had I made that little chip shot, which really should have been a gimme, there wouldn’t have been any last-second Blues rush down ice, now, would there. There would have been a perfunctory face-off at center ice with fifteen or twenty seconds left, and the score 4-3 CCM. So as far as I’m concerned, I am the biggest sports goat of all time.
Dear Mister Answer Man: How are you doing in the Koufax voting? --D. Drysdale, Los Angeles
Mister Answer Man replies: Like Scorsese at the Oscars, man! Six nominations so far, heading pretty clearly for six decisive shutouts from the finals. Details later!
Monday, January 24, 2005
Mister Answer Man
You’ve got questions, Mister Answer Man has answers. That’s one of the reasons his name is Mister Answer Man! Let’s go to the mailbag.
Dear Mister Answer Man: In his defense of Harvard president Larry Summers, Steven Pinker responded to the question, “Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?” with some exasperation: “Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.” President Summers had mentioned, in support of the hypothesis that genetic differences between men and women might play some part in explaining the dearth of women in the sciences, his attempt to practice “gender-neutral” parenting by giving his daughter two trucks, only to find that she named them “daddy truck” and “baby truck,” almost as if they were dolls. Did Summers’ citation of his daugher and her trucks meet scientific criteria for “some degree of rigor”? —V. Solanas, New York
Mister Answer Man replies: Yes. The “Two Trucks Test” has long been recognized as a legitimate —and singularly revealing—research experiment by those who are wise in the ways of science. In some circles it is as widely used, as a pedagogical tool, as the famous lightbulb-and-two-apertures demonstration of the quantum nature of electromagnetic radiation. Additionally, one can discover a young girl’s aptitude for the sciences by weighing her in relation to the two trucks: the law of the conservation of matter proves that if a girl weighs the same as a truck, she is made of wood, and therefore unlikely to become a scientist or engineer.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I am confused about the correct usage of the term “bait and switch.” Specifically, I am unclear as to how Paul Batura of Focus on the Family can object to a SpongeBob SquarePants video on “tolerance” as “a classic bait and switch.” In a bait and switch, doesn’t something have to be switched for something else? Or is it possible, given Dr. Dobson’s well-documented obsession with physical punishments for small children, that “bait and switch” has a special meaning for Focus on the Family employees? —D.P. Schreber, Dresden
Mister Answer Man replies: You have no basis for confusion; Mr. Batura is using the phrase correctly. What Focus on the Family is objecting to is the fact that songwriter Nile Rodgers created a music video ostensibly to teach schoolchildren about multiculturalism and inclusiveness, but, through characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, is actually helping to spread the homosexual agenda to our children. The “bait,” then, is the promise that the video promotes tolerance. Christian conservatives have nothing against tolerance; they have long argued, for example, that liberals should be more tolerant of Christian conservatives. However, they draw the line at tolerating individuals whose lifestyles are in conflict with God’s word. It is literally a sin to “tolerate” people who, in satiating their own lusts, have chosen eternal damnation. Therein lies the “switch.” Therefore, Dr. Dobson and his group are correct to complain that an apparently innocuous music video about “tolerance” is secretly suggesting that we should tolerate not only groups who deserve tolerance but also animated gay male sponges who often hold hands with their male sidekicks.
Dear Mister Answer Man: In your recent essay on affirmative action in the Nation, you wrote, “it’s hard to imagine how any researcher could wonder aloud why white guys, who’d once competed for college placements, jobs and promotions with about 44 percent of the population, might resist policies that put them in competition with the other 60 percent.” Is this a mistake? Or is there some reason you wanted those numbers not to add up? —W. Connerly, Sacramento
Mister Answer Man replies: That is a very good question. A fact-checker from the Nation asked me, just before the issue went to press, if I could be more specific than “about 40 percent of the population.” So I checked the 1960 U.S. Census—the last national census before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the first Executive Orders mandating affirmative action—and found that precisely 43.8 percent of the U.S. population consisted of white men. I accordingly changed “about 40 percent” to “about 44 percent.” But I did not change “the other 60 percent” to “the other 56 percent,” because, as it happens, the total number of people in the United States in 1960 amounted to 104 percent of the population.
Thanks for your questions, everyone! I’ll be back later with more answers.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Inaugural address transcript (exclusive!)
During the 2004 campaign, many of us on the liberal left realized that the election was-- and, around the world, would surely be regarded as-- a referendum on torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. The Daily Brew put it best, in a classic post that began like so:
Whether Republicans like it or not, if George Bush is elected in the fall, the entire world will view the election as American approval of the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. It might not be fair, it might not be reasonable, but it is nevertheless reality.
Apologies, prosecutions, firings and courts martial will not be enough to expunge the stain this scandal has placed on the honor of the United States. The pictures are simply too graphic. The abuses are simply too horrible. If George Bush is elected President, the entire world will view the election, at a minimum, as tacit approval of these events.
Well, let it not be said that George Bush walked away from this argument! I didn’t listen to his Second Inaugural Address yesterday-- I had more important things to do, like cleaning up after a sick dog-- but I got a hold of the transcript this morning, and I have to give the man credit: when he takes a stand on something, he does not back down. If there’s torture on his watch, he’s not going to blink it away. On the contrary. These excerpts alone should put some steel in your spine:
There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment and expose the pretensions of tyrants. And that is the force of human torture.
America’s influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in torture’s cause.
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of torture—though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of torture ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Torture will come to those who love it.
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world: When you stand for torture, we will stand with you.
We have essential work at home—the unfinished work of American torture. In a world moving toward torture, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of torture.
From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, the issues and questions before our country are many. From the viewpoint of centuries, the questions that come to us are narrowed and few. Did our generation advance the cause of torture?
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of torture. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction set by torture and the author of torture.
America, in this young century, proclaims torture throughout all the world and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength—tested, but not weary—we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of torture.
May God bless you, and may he watch over the United States of America.
Interestingly, this was not the first time an inaugural address mentioned torture. As Presidential historian Joseph Ellis pointed out, that distinction belongs to William Henry Harrison, for his famous (though muttered) closing line, “By Heaven, I wish I could torture the scoundrel who scheduled this thing outdoors.” But it is very clearly the most emphatic and ringing endorsement of torture in our history.
Well, we can’t accuse the guy of hypocrisy now. This is one straight shooter we’re dealing with, folks. What you see is what you get! And my guess is that you’ll probably get it in a sensitive area.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Women barred from Harvard presidency by “genetic predisposition,” study finds
CAMBRIDGE, MA (AP)-- Researchers unveiled today a startling new study that suggests women are “extremely unlikely” to become president of Harvard University, and that women’s “distinctive genetic makeup” plays “a decisive role” in preventing them from becoming top-level administrators at the nation’s oldest college.
“Traditionally, presidents of Harvard have been men,” said Harvard geneticist Charles Kinbote, the study’s designer and principal investigator. “Now, after almost 400 years, we know why. To coin a phrase, it’s in the genes.”
According to Kinbote, the presidency of Harvard University requires a unique array of talents and dispositions which, statistically, only a small handful of women possess. “For one thing,” noted Kinbote, “it has long been one of the president’s tasks to deny tenure to promising female scholars-- personally, without stated cause, and after a department, a college, and a battery of external referees has approved her. My study shows that the X chromosome contains material that, in combination with another X chromosome, inhibits a person’s ability to do this.”
Men are also more adept than women at mentally rotating three-dimensional shapes on aptitude tests, Kinbote added. “You’d be surprised how often a university president needs to do this, and at Harvard the pressure is especially intense.” Kinbote estimated that the president of Harvard spends roughly one-quarter of the working day mentally rotating complex, hypothetical three-dimensional shapes, “and that’s not even counting all the time he needs to try to figure out why women aren’t as skilled at abstract mathematical thought.”
The X chromosome also seems to play a role in suppressing the ability to make fatuous remarks in public forums. “If you want to be president of Harvard,” Kinbote said, “you have to be willing to get up there and just let it fly, no matter what the facts are and no matter what the consequences may be. Not just in off-the-cuff remarks-- anybody can do that-- but in carefully considered, prepared statements. It appears that once again, the X chromosome works, when paired with another X, as an inhibiting factor in all but a tiny fraction of the female population.” That tiny fraction, Kinbote suggested, would be the subject of a subsequent study into the biochemical basis of Coulter Syndrome.