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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Around the cornu

Juan Cole’s astonishing serial demolition of Jonah Goldberg is one of the most lopsided, embarrassing exchanges I have ever seen in any medium.  I mean, the most corrupt state gaming commission in the entire sport of boxing would be appalled.  What is there to say about a leading right-wing pundit who’s too stupid even to pretend to have read a book about Iraq, and too stupid to know when to crawl back into his Corner, sniff the smelling salts, and have his trainer toss in the towel?  And remember, this isn’t any old Clownhall wannabe we’re talking about-- this is the editor-at-large-or-extra-large of the joint founded by William F. Buckley Jr., who, for all his many faults, actually read books and could even decline cornu in his younger days.

The rumor is that Jonah is changing the name of his blog from “The Goldberg File” to “Totally Uninformed Comment” as a permanent rebuke to Professor Cole’s out-of-touch liberal-elite insistence that people who declaim about Iraq in American mass media should know something about the subject at hand.  “The thing he challenged or alleged was simply my unworthy stature to have an opinion,” writes Jonah.  “Let me spell it out again: I think Cole is the sort of bullying professor most of us have encountered in one way or another.” No doubt this is quite true, if “most of us” means “wealthy, pampered, entitled right-wing know-nothings who behave in class as if our opinion is as good as anyone else’s because, you know, because everyone has a right to their opinion and shouldn’t be ‘bullied’ by professors with expertise.” And I’m pretty sure Jonah is the sort of student most of us have encountered in one way or another, too.

Meanwhile, over at David Corn’s place, I find that Mark Crispin Miller seems to have passed along to his friends some very strange Internet material alleging that Corn is a mole or a space alien of some kind, and David is justifiably pissed.  Well, you know how it is, David-- you say a few smart, pointed things about some neo-Stalinists here and some 9/11 conspiracy theorists there, and before you know it, you’re being denounced for your “excessive skepticism.” Look on the bright side:  you weren’t accused of deviationism.  Besides, you have to admit that the charges have some merit:  the American hard left was doing just fine until you criticized it, and now they’re in all kinds of trouble, and it’s pretty much your fault.  The only problem, as I see it, is figuring out whether the folks claiming that you’re a mole are themselves moles.  Personally, this sort of thing keeps me up at night, which is why I prefer to distance myself from those who distance themselves from those whose distance themselves from those who claim that those who claim that independent lefties like you and me are moles are moles.

And speaking of the Monty Python wing of the left, this humble blog has nothing useful to say on the subject of Ward Churchill.  The smartest, most thoughtful post on the subject by far is Timothy Burke’s; Digby and Kevin Drum have also weighed in with élan and eloquence.  Having never heard of Churchill until last week (!), I don’t think I bear any responsibility for the man’s writings on September 11.  All I can say is that there really is no question that academic freedom was devised precisely to cover people like this:  they may be horse’s asses, sure, but the capacious blanket of academic freedom covers even the largest horse’s ass when he speaks on matters in his field, and no one disputes that Churchill had staked out this terrain well in advance of September 11.  But don’t take it from me; take it from a distinguished intellectual who abandoned the left in the course of his illustrious career.

The qualified teacher, whose qualifications may be inferred from his acquisition of tenure, has the right honestly to reach, and hold, and proclaim any conclusion in the field of his competence.  In other words, academic freedom carries with it the right to heresy as well as the right to restate and defend the traditional views.  This takes in considerable ground.  If a teacher in honest pursuit of an inquiry or argument comes to a conclusion that appears fascist or communist or racist or what-not in the eyes of others, once he has been certified as professionally competent in the eyes of his peers, then those who believe in academic freedom must defend his right to be wrong--if they consider him wrong--whatever their orthodoxy may be.  (36)

That’s Sidney Hook, from his 1970 book Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy.  There’s much to admire in this passage– not least the fact that so few right-wingers would second it today.  But what’s truly remarkable about it is that Hook used this rationale, at the time, to defend a young, impolitic Marxist named Eugene Genovese, who had recently made public his support of the Viet Cong– and, as Hook notes, had become immediately infamous for doing so:  because New Jersey’s Democratic governor rightly refused to fire Genovese from Rutgers on the grounds of aiding and abetting the enemy, the Republican gubernatorial candidate “focused his entire campaign on the issue of Genovese’s right to teach” (42).  Perhaps there’s a lesson here for the good people of Colorado.  Yes, I’m sure there is.

So I’m not going to get involved in the Monty Python Left’s latest parsings of Churchill’s self-defense, namely (as Churchill now writes), that he meant the “’little Eichmanns’ characterization” to apply “only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by.” In other words, the dead working class and the dead kids were all right by us; it’s only the dead who were actively aiding and abetting the project of American Empire who deserve our condemnation.  I’ve read a number of these parsings in the past week, and they tend to run something like this: What about the cheesemakers?  Are they exempt, along with the janitors and firemen? No, the cheesemakers were far from innocent– as were the WTC dairy producers in general.  They may have been “very little Eichmanns” as opposed to “little Eichmanns,” but they were nonetheless comparable on some scale to the technicians of the Holocaust. What about the accounting department on the 82nd floor of the south tower?  Were they guilty? Yes, guilty as sin.  The 82nd floor was an especially imperialist floor, even if the photocopy room could more accurately be described as “quasi-crypto-imperialist” rather than nakedly “neo-imperialist.” But what about the Holocaust analogy?  Were these people really the moral equals of Eichmann? No, Professor Churchill did not say they were “like Eichmann.” Please do not take his words out of context.  He said they were “little Eichmanns,” which is quite another matter, as it implies a difference of scale.  Please see the cheesemakers, above.

All this Churchill-justifying nonsense merely confirms the Faux News view of the left, and threatens to make Ward Churchill into precisely the left icon he never was.  I have another idea.  Let’s defend Churchill’s academic freedom to say morally obnoxious things, dismiss his actual claims about the WTC dead as being too shallow for serious discussion, and then ask the American right what it thinks of National Review editor Rich Lowry’s proposal for how the United States should respond to September 11:

You can’t turn on the TV without hearing some expert say that our enemies in the current conflict are elusive, that finding targets to punish and bomb and raze will be difficult or impossible. Nonsense.

We know the states that harbor our enemies. If only Osama bin Laden and his 50 closest advisers and followers die in the next couple of weeks, President Bush will have failed in a great military and moral challenge of his presidency.

The American response should be closer to something along these lines: identifying the one or two nations most closely associated with our enemies, giving them 24-hours notice to evacuate their capitals (in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible), then systematically destroying every significant piece of military, financial, and political infrastructure in those cities.

Yes, you read that right– this plan is in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible.  And you gotta love that “nonsense” about our enemies being elusive.

OK, folks, over to you.  Posting will be light (once or twice a week) through the end of the month– I’ve got a book to finish, and I’m just this far from done.

Posted by Michael on 02/08 at 09:17 PM
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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Mister Answer Man:  Super Bowl edition!

Dear Mister Answer Man: My wife and I are arguing about the Super Bowl.  I say the Eagles have a chance because they’re loose and relaxed, and that they won’t have the “just happy to be here” syndrome of so many teams who get to the big game after years of disappointment.  She says that there’s no such thing as “team psychology,” that it all comes down to coaching and execution, and that Belichick is just that much more creative and versatile than Reid.  Who’s right? – B. Cowher

Mister Answer Man replies: Apparently neither of you understand football.  Forget “team psychology.” Forget “coaching and execution.” The really important thing, in big games, is the uniform.  A Super Bowl champion has to have a very tough, very masculine uniform.  The Eagles have done themselves a favor by adding black to their color scheme since the last time they were in a Super Bowl, when their flat-green-and-silver was no match for the far more serious silver and black of the Raiders.  Also, they have a very angry eagle logo now, and they’ve moved to a darker, more iridescent green that Mister Answer Man thinks is pretty cool.  So they have a much better chance now than they did 24 years ago.  But New England has that dark blue (also iridescent) and silver with those Very Stern Numbers, not to mention a harsh, streamlined Patriot logo instead of that geeky eighteenth-century guy in a three-point stance.  When you compare these Patriot jerseys to the old red-and-white-with-one-blue-shoulder-stripe scheme of the 1970s and 1980s, you realize why this crew has been to three Super Bowls in the past decade, winning two, while the old Patriots, who dressed like the local high school junior varsity, played like the junior varsity in the only Super Bowl they fluked themselves into in 1986, losing 46-10 to a team with a much more deadly uniform.  Once you understand all that, you realize you’re looking at a 27-21 New England victory this Sunday.

Dear Mister Answer Man: Does this explain why some teams suddenly do well after changing uniform designs?  I’m thinking, of course, of the Broncos and Buccaneers. – M. Shanahan

Mister Answer Man replies: Why, yes.  There really is no other explanation.  After all, the Broncos lost four Super Bowls– each one more embarrassingly badly than the one before– wearing a flat orange as their primary home color, along with a flat blue helmet with a big D with a horse inside it; they switched to deep blue jerseys, got themselves a new very angry horsehead, and promptly won back-to-back championships.  The poor Tampa Bay Buccaneers, of course, dressed up like pieces of Brach’s hard candy for twenty years, wearing a lovely, fetching salmon-red-white home jersey that just screamed, “come and sack my quarterback– I won’t mind.” In a brilliant design decision that turned the franchise around, they redid the entire uniform from scratch, devising a dynamic electric-red-orange-and-silver-with-black-piping uniform complete with a cool new pirate flag.  The result?  Can you say “Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers”?  The phrase was literally not pronounceable in English in the 1980s.  And don’t forget Houston!  The old Oilers played for years in home jerseys of periwinkle and white with persimmon piping.  Very nice, very attractive, very creative.  But Super Bowl champions do not wear periwinkle; in fact, periwinkle doesn’t even make it into the Super Bowl.  It was a good idea for them to move to Nashville and call themselves the Titans; more important, it was a better idea to make their dominant home color a midnight blue.  Guess what?  They promptly went to the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, they kept that wussy lighter blue for their shoulder accents and bordering.  Had they chosen a more masculine secondary color, Kevin Dyson would’ve found the end zone on that final play in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Even minor details like numbers can make a difference.  Take the 1970s Steelers and their traditional “block” jersey numbers: four Super Bowls.  Take the contemporary Steelers with the identical jerseys but with new, narrow sans-serif numbers: zero Super Bowls and lots of losses in the AFC championship game.  Enough said.

Dear Mister Answer Man: Wow.  I never thought of this before.  Is it true for all team sports? – S. Bowman

Mister Answer Man replies: No, only the manly ones.  Baseball players can wear pretty much anything.  But there was no way, for instance, that the Pittsburgh Penguins were ever going to go anywhere wearing baby blue.  Not even with Mario Lemieux.  But lo, you put the Penguins in black and gold, and they win back-to-back Stanley Cups even though their name is still the Penguins.  Similarly, the Québec Nordiques of the mid-1990s were a formidable team; in the shortened regular season of 1995, they actually led the Eastern Conference in points, but bowed out to the number eight seed Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.  The next year, with the same lineup, playing as the Colorado Avalanche, they won the Cup.  Why?  Because you can’t ask hockey players to dress up in sprightly blue jerseys with fringed fleurs-de-lis and expect them to win championships, that’s why.  In fact, my research shows that the fleur-de-lis, in and of itself, is the single most enervating thing you can put on a jersey.  The New Orleans Saints have great colors, but they’re wearing a Frenchy flowery thing on their heads, so it’s really no mystery why they spend January watching the playoffs on TV.  If they could just keep the jerseys, lose the “Saints” motif, and maybe rename themselves the Devils, they’d give themselves half a shot.

Dear Mister Answer Man: Give me a break already.  How do you explain the great Dolphins teams of the early 1970s? – N. Buoniconti

Mister Answer Man replies: Yes, OK, there have been two measly exceptions to the rule over the last forty years, so give me a break already.  The Dolphins managed to win consecutive Super Bowls wearing beautiful aquamarine-and-orange jerseys that the Fab Five themselves could not improve on.  Likewise, the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl in purple uniforms with cute rounded and tapered sans-serif numbers; yes, they had nasty black helmets, but still– purple jerseys, cute numbers, and a “literary” team name to boot.  The lesson here is clear: occasionally, teams with pretty jerseys can win it all.  But they’d better have a brutal, crushing defense or they’ll wind up like those fleur-de-lis Saints . . . or those teal Jaguars.  Really: men in teal.  What were they thinking?

Again, hockey has its weird exceptions as well.  The 1981-82 Vancouver Canucks sneaked into the Stanley Cup finals sporting mustard-colored grade-B science-fiction uniforms.  Then again, they got swept in four.  Twelve years later, when they had the sense to wear good hard masculine black jerseys, they took the series to seven.

Dear Mister Answer Man:  Can your theory explain the phenomenon of the Buffalo Bills?  Even as they lost four straight Super Bowls, they had royal blue jerseys, a stylin’ logo, and traditional block numbers.  What were they doing wrong? – M. Levy

Mister Answer Man replies: The problem with the Buffalo Bills was not their uniforms.  Their uniforms were fine, and more than worthy of a Super Bowl, as was their breathtaking hurry-up offense.  The problem with the Buffalo Bills was that they came from Buffalo.  I’m sorry to say it, because I’m fond of the city, but let’s be honest– you could put black and silver and a pirate guy with an eyepatch on the Bills and they still wouldn’t win a championship.  And now that they’ve got those shiny metallic jerseys with matching pants, they’re an utterly lost cause. Remember, matching pants always look like pajamas.  And no one wants to see pajamas in the playoffs.

Mister Answer Man thanks you for all your questions on this important subject!  Mister Answer Man is rooting for the Eagles, mind you, but he knows you can’t fight against elemental forces of nature like color schemes.

Posted by Michael on 02/05 at 10:40 AM
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Friday, February 04, 2005

Senate confirms Gonzales, 60-36

Me:  Hey, check this out, Janet, three-eighths of the Senate opposes the nomination of a torture-justifying hack to the highest law-enforcement position in the United States!  You can say the glass is five-eighths empty if you want, but me, I’m looking on the bright side!

Janet:  Yeah, what the hell, it’s only torture.  It’s not like he didn’t pay taxes on a nanny or something.

Posted by Michael on 02/04 at 11:29 AM
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

They’re gonna put me in the movies

They’re gonna make a big star out of me. . . .

Well, maybe not.  The movie won’t be out until the end of the year, and I have no way of knowing whether I’ll really be in it.  But the other day I heard about a feature-length film called “Brainwashing 101,” and thinking oh come on, there’s no way to make a screenplay out of that Ben Shapiro book, is there, I checked out their website.

And discovered to my surprise that the two nice men who came to my house and interviewed me last year about this time, who gave their names as Evan Coyne Maloney and Stuart Browning of On the Fence Films, are actually, in real life, Evan Coyne Maloney and Stuart Browning of On the Fence Films

They said they were independent filmmakers traveling the country making a movie about campus controversies, allegations of liberal bias, and such things, and so naturally I thought, “aha!  independent filmmakers!  this means they must be men of the left– no doubt they also run a local food co-op and teach yoga and meditation classes at the People’s Center for Peace and Composting in their spare time.” I thought I would talk to them for a while about David Horowitz’s evil right-wing schemes, and then ask them for recycling tips, like, for example, can I include the hard-plastic orange juice containers with the soft-plastic gallon jugs of cider and the plastic-coated paper clips?

And so, dear readers, lulled into a false sense of complacency, I told them all our secrets about how we keep conservatives off the arts and humanities faculty and brainwash our students into becoming members of the Church of Chomsky!  What a fool I was, what a trusting fool!

Actually that’s not true.  They did indeed interview me, but I didn’t assume anything about them one way or the other; they didn’t ask any slanted or leading questions, and they were entirely pleasant throughout the hour-or-so interview.  I stumbled verbally a couple of times (once in the first ten minutes, when I was recapping Paul de Man’s argument about the closing couplet of Yeats’s “Among Schoolchildren”– weird, no?  but they asked me what deconstruction was and where it came from, and I was completely unprepared to do my Intro to Decon bit), but so far as I recall, I didn’t say anything outrageous or colossally stupid.  I’ve gone over my mental notes, and I don’t believe I said

– that the people who died in the World Trade Center were “little Eichmanns”
– that ROTC students are babykillers
– that anyone who blows up the Pentagon has my vote
– that fighters for global justice have no choice but to support the Iraqi resistance,

so I have a sinking feeling that I’m just not the kind of lunatic academic leftist the folks behind “Brainwashing 101” are looking for.  And why would conservatives and libertarians be looking for lunatic academic leftists?  Because LALs have become, in the past three years, one of the right’s most reliable recruiting devices, that’s why.  (Which reminds me: a hearty parenthetical thank you to Big Max for slapping down the Wingnutty Professor’s efforts to make Ward Churchill the poster boy for the American Left.) Eerily, just as the PNAC-inspired war in Iraq has swelled the ranks of al-Qaeda recruits instead of peeling away moderate Muslims from Islamist fanatics, so too do the far-left campus blowhards swell the ranks of Bush voters instead of peeling away centrists and independents from the radical neocon/theocon right.  Coincidence– or symbiosis?  This humble blog is not sure.

All the same, my “Brainwashed” interview might not be wholly useless.  I think my twenty-minute exposition on the relation between deconstruction and queer theory could make for a thrilling theater experience, so I implore Messrs. Maloney and Browning not to leave that segment on their cutting-room floor.  I think it screams “Golden Globe,” I really do.  And finally, though I don’t usually go around telling libertarians what to do– it makes them behave so wild and nasty!– I have to say that in my ideal universe, libertarians would not go around complaining that “Curriculums have been transformed to meet the demands of various ‘victim groups’ with politicized area studies such as Women’s Studies, African American Studies, and Queer Studies - while the Western Canon, that body of literature and art thought to consist of the best that has been thought, written and otherwise expressed has been partially jettisoned in an attempt to rid the curriculum of the influence of ‘dead white males.’” In my ideal universe, libertarians would support the right of faculty in the arts and humanities to be just as queer, black, and feminist as they wanna be, and they would be a bit more hesitant about championing undergraduates who wear hoods and blackface on Halloween.  And, of course, they would not get so hysterical and hyperbolic about a little curriculum revision here and there.  Or, at least, if they were serious fans of the Western Canon they invoke, they would insist that the Plato-to-Nietzsche, Beowulf-to-Virginia Woolf surveys be required of the nation’s business and engineering majors as well as the left-leaning art-and-literature students who actually care about such things.  I think that would be great.  I personally love dead white males, and hope to become one myself someday!

Posted by Michael on 02/02 at 10:01 PM
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