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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two completely unrelated things

Thing one:  it appears there’s reason to believe that Gary Farber was right all along about the Cheney Administration’s illegal data-mining.  Back on January 2 of this year, which is like Chinese Year 34 in blog time, Gary argued that

if you’re doing a multiplexdata-mining pattern analysis on tens of thousands or more people, shifting by possibly tens of thousands of people per day, or more, you can’t get warrants. It’s not humanly possible.

Which, as I keep explaining, only makes the threat exponentially larger than most non-tech oriented left/lib/progressives seem to understand, with this antediluvian focus on “wiretaps” and “why can’t you get a FISA warrant?” That’s a question that was entirely sensible when we all asked it last month. It’s long been answered and answered and answered and answered.

It’s far greater reason for Congress to get the truth out, and possibly impeach, then simple wire-tapping.

So go show Gary some love today.

Thing two:  it appears that I owe an apology to David Horowitz.  It turns out that there really are a few dangerous, crackpot college professors running around in the United States.  Like, for instance, Arthur Butz, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University and world-class Holocaust denier.  According to today’s Inside Higher Ed, picking up a report from the Chicago Tribune,

Butz had come to the aid of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been under fire for his assertions that the Holocaust is a myth. In recent interviews with the Iranian press, the Tribune reported that Butz said of the Iranian president and his views on the Holocaust: “I congratulate him on becoming the first head of state to speak out clearly on these issues and regret only that it was not a Western head of state.”

But wait a second—Butz isn’t on Horowitz’s “Dangerous Professors” list.  Golly, that seems strange!  Why would that be?  Perhaps for the same reason that Horowitz includes crackpot City College professor Leonard Jeffries but not crackpot City College professor Michael Levin (about whom you can learn a thing or two here if you scroll down a bit, or you could consult William H. Tucker’s book on the Pioneer Fund, The Funding of Scientific Racism, which points out that “As a recipient of the fund’s support, Levin conducted no research but focused primarily on criminality, maintaining that blacks were genetically incapable of abiding by ‘white [behavioral] norms’ and even suggesting that ‘free will’ may be ‘correlated with race.’ As a consequence, he proposed a number of blatantly unconstitutional measures, including ‘searches of black males under circumstances in which searching white males would be impermissible,’ treatment of ‘blacks as adult offenders at an earlier age than whites,’ ‘race-based punishment schedules,’ and the requirement for ‘black males to ride in specially patrolled cars’ on the subway").

Oh, well.  Never mind about that apology, then. 

Posted by Michael on 02/08 at 07:51 AM
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Gonzales explains “electronic surveillance” remarks

Special to Pajamaline Media

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, widely ridiculed for yesterday’s statement that “President Washington, President Lincoln, President Wilson, President Roosevelt have all authorized electronic surveillance on a far broader scale” than that undertaken by President Bush, explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee today that George Washington’s “time” “machine” allowed him to travel backwards from 1790 to 1777 and reverse the colonists’ almost certain defeat at the hands of the British during the bleakest winter of the Revolutionary War.

Jabbing the air with “quotation” marks each time he uttered the words “time” and “machine,” Gonzales insisted that there was no other explanation for the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

“The Americans were outmanned, underfed, and barely clothed,” Gonzales noted, “and they were fighting one of the most powerful nations in the world.  If not for Washington’s bold decision to bypass FISA and develop his ‘time’ ‘machine,’ we might all be speaking British to this very day.”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R - Alabama) underscored Gonzales’s statement, saying, “I am extremely disturbed by those Democrats and those members of the media who suggest that the father of our country was some kind of criminal, just because he wanted to defeat the enemy.”

Sessions proceeded to ask Gonzales about Abraham Lincoln’s use of electronics, and whether Lincoln might have used illegal methods in the conduct of “the war of Northern aggression.”

Gonzales replied that Lincoln had, indeed, ignored FISA during the Civil War.  “Thanks to the development of his ‘laser’ in late 1863,” Gonzales said, once again making broad, exaggerated “quotation” gestures with his hands, “Lincoln was able to overcome the South’s early military victories and win the war.  You don’t think William T. Sherman caused all that destruction by himself, do you?” Gonzales proceeded to explain that Lincoln’s laser was the result of a special project undertaken by Secretary of War Alan Parsons, and that its secret code name during the war was, accordingly, “the Alan Parsons Project.”

Injecting a moment of drama into the proceedings, Lindsey Graham (R - South Carolina) suddenly ran from the chamber in tears, vowing “revenge” against General Sherman and “laser-toting Yankees everywhere.”

When the committee returned to business, Russ Feingold (D - Wisconsin) interrogated Gonzales repeatedly about Lincoln’s laser, suggesting that “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” was not invented until 1958, when Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes published the paper “Infrared and Optical Masers” in the journal Physical Review

“That much is true,” said Gonzales.  “But thanks to President Eisenhower’s wise decision to use Washington’s ‘time’ ‘machine’ in 1959, he was able to skirt messy, bureaucratic Congressional oversight in order to deliver the ‘laser’ to Abraham Lincoln just in the nick of time.  And that’s the kind of crisp, time-travelling decision-making power the President needs today.”

Pajamaline Media extra: The Editors have the graphics.

Posted by Michael on 02/07 at 01:03 PM
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Monday, February 06, 2006

Warning!  Warning!  Danger!  Danger!

At least two readers want to know how I feel about being named one of the 101 most dangerous professors in America by some guy named David Horowitz.  “Congratulations, Michael!” writes my mysterious friend Tristero, in the course of dubbing me the Keith Richards of academe.  “No false modesty now, you’ve earned it.”

But listen, everyone, I don’t care about these accolades and awards.  False modesty made me what I am today, and I’m certainly not going to change now.  Look, if I went around thinking I’m an emperor just because some wingnut with a website lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

Besides, truth be told, this “101 most dangerous professors” thing is a complete sham.  It’s a travesty.  It’s an outrage, I say, an utter outrage.

First of all, Horowitz didn’t even bother to rank us.  In his promotional email for the book (sent to me last week by the invaluable Rick Perlstein, but you can read the whole thing at Gisela’s corner), Horowitz catalogues some of the reprobates and miscreants I’m in with:

At Cal State-Long Beach:  Ron Karenga is a Professor and Chairman of the Black Studies Department. He’s also a convicted torturer and inventor of Kwanzaa. [Emphasis in original.]

Hold the phone!  He’s a what? You’re thinking, “golly, isn’t that a little like saying ‘he’s an arsonist and the creator of Grandparents’ Day?’” Well, yes, it does sound a little odd.  But remember, dear friends, that most of David’s readership thinks torture is just fine.  Kwanzaa, however—that’s downright un-American.

Moving right along:

At Brandeis University: Robert Reich is a Professor of Social and Economic Policy. He was Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary and is a multi-millionaire. That doesn’t keep from [sic] telling his students that the U.S. has “fallen under the sway of radical conservatives who, by the malicious application of intolerant moral precepts, intended to secure the ‘reign of the rich’ at the expense of most Americans.’”

Seriously, folks.  There’s no way I’m in the same league with former U.S. Secretaries of Labor who go around saying true things.  (Apparently Reich is also a traitor to his class.  Hang ‘im high, David!) In fact, I happen to know that until I got myself this here blog and began driving David into spittle-flecked frenzies, I wasn’t even in the upper quartile of the country’s most dangerous academics.  Although when I have my pruning knife I’m in the top twenty.  Or so say some of the local flora.

OK, so that’s one obvious reason The Professors is an outrage.  Here’s another.  According to my contacts at the American Association of University Professors, only 23 of the 101 are members of the AAUP.  What the hell is the matter with the other 78 of you?  Consider this your wakeup call, people!

Last but not least, the “book” is apparently just a bunch of reprints of David’s “Discover the Networks” pages.  You probably remember what mine looks like.  It’s pretty feeble stuff, really.  Here’s how it works.  I write something like this, from an old essay on postmodernism:

There really are some remarkably salient differences between the prewar and the postwar world, between the financial crash of ‘29 and the computer crash of ‘87, the phonograph and the Internet. Though some critics prefer 1945 and some prefer 1973 as postmodernism’s Year One, there seems to be a fitful consensus that something like postmodernity does indeed exist—and that it involves the incomplete, deeply contested globalization and digitalization of capitalism.

Postmodernism, in this sense, is based on an electronic global economy and what David Harvey, the geographer and cultural critic, famously calls “the regime of flexible accumulation”—by which he means a world in which part-time labor, adjunct professors, and just-in-time production lines supersede the Fordist logic of modernism, in which laborers were assured wages high enough to allow them to buy the products they made. The important question for cultural critics, then, is also an old question—how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations.

And David summarizes it like so:

Believes in teaching literature so as to bring about “economic transformations.”

At least he’s succinct!  Or I write something like this, opening a review essay in the journal American Literary History:

Four new books on the state of the academy, and not one of them elaborates a line of argument that bisects any of the others.  One gets the eerie feeling that this kind of intellectual noncoincidence is no coincidence, that one could review 20 new books on the state of the academy (if one could take the necessary time away from one’s “normal” academic work) and discover the same result:  the contemporary university is so amorphous that it can be described as the research wing of the corporate economy, the final resting place of the New Left, the last best hope for critical thinking, the engine room of global technological advance, the agent of secularization and the advance of reason, the training ground for the labor force, the conservatives’ strongest bastion of antifeminist education, the progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right, the natural home of intellectual isolates, the natural home of goosestepping groupthinkers, and the locus of postmodern skepticism and fragmentation.  Perhaps Clark Kerr, whose influence on David Damrosch and Bill Readings seems to me one of the few common threads in the books under review, put it best when he remarked, in a phrase as felicitous as it is cynical:  “I have sometimes thought of [the university] as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”

And David summarizes it like so:

In a 1998 essay called “The Abuses of the University,” Professor Berube described the university as “the final resting place of the New Left,” and the “progressives’ only bulwark against the New Right.” Critics of this definition—in particular those who failed to regard “feminist or queer theory as a legitimate area of scholarship”—were only perpetuating “ignorance and injustice,” he wrote.

Now, I could dilate endlessly on the random-access technique by which Horowitz cut and pasted those last two phrases into his account of me (they occur near the end of the essay, and have nothing to do with each other), but I think you get the point by now.  Horowitz can be a fairly clever guy when he wants to be, but here he’s not even trying.  This is genuinely stupid stuff.  I mean, Michelle Malkin quality stupid.  Personally, I’m disappointed.

Still, there’s one little thing about The Professors that bears closer attention.  It’s the front cover blurb by Laura Ingraham: “A thoroughly enjoyable and useful guide to the worst of the worst in the hallowed halls of academia.”

The worst of the worst?  I have to say that’s kind of harsh, coming from someone like Ingraham.  I mean, this is the woman who, as editor of the Dartmouth Review and comrade-in-arms of Dinesh D’Souza, sent a henchman to tape meetings of the campus Gay Students Alliance, then mailed copies of the tapes to GSA members’ parents—and published the transcripts (along with some of GSA members’ stolen documents and personal letters) in the Review.  As Dudley Clendinen reported at the time (“Conservative Paper Stirs Dartmouth,” New York Times, May 30, 1982), “one student named, according to his friends, became severely depressed and talked repeatedly of suicide.  The grandfather of another who had not found the courage to tell his family of his homosexuality learned about his grandson when he got his copy of The Review in the mail.” Of course, Ingraham pulled that little stunt long before she became a regular feature of the liberal media—before she was hired by CBS (!) and MSNBC and became a talk-radio star.  But still, even though I believe in teaching literature so as to bring about economic transformations, I can’t say that I’ve ever jeopardized the life or the safety of another human being.  I’m not that dangerous, after all.

Posted by Michael on 02/06 at 09:27 AM
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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Steelers by 7

As veteran readers of this blog will remember, last year I predicted that the Patriots would beat the Eagles 27-21 simply because they had more masculine uniforms.  This year I’ll spare you the full-dress uniform analysis, but I do want to note that no Super Bowl champion has ever worn jerseys and pants of the same color.  Yes, the Seahawks have ditched the Pacific green-and-blue motif that has doomed West Coast franchises for decades (Oakland Seals to the green-and-blue courtesy phone!), replacing it with a much meaner, metallic bluish-grey color scheme.  But football players whose jerseys and pants are the same color inevitably look like they’re playing in their pajamas.  (This blog welcomes all pajamas jokes in comments.) The pajamas factor will more than offset the fact that the Steelers have unwisely abandoned the very masculine block numbers of the 70s for the sans-serif, slightly italic numbers they now wear, and thus, by the laws of science, the result of today’s game will be Steelers 31, Seahawks 24.

Speaking of science:  those of you who couldn’t care less about football should check out [Tristero-at-]Digby today.  No, not that post, this one.  You know, between Judith Shulevitz’s “When Cosmologies Collide” two weeks ago and Dick Teresi’s illiterate “The Stars Can’t Help It” today, it’s beginning to look as if someone at the Times Book Review has decided to complement Tuesday’s “Science Times” with a Sunday “Anti-Science Times.” I think that’s called “objectivity.”

Posted by Michael on 02/05 at 09:58 AM
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Friday, February 03, 2006

The real state of the union

Enough about the Ramones already.  I just wanted to finish out the week by acknowledging that Glenn Greenwald is entirely right about this, both with regard to Ms. Sheehan herself and with regard to the swarm of vultures that have descended upon her.  (Greenwald’s Update II is particularly pungent, and appropriately so.) He’s also right about this ancillary phenomenon, as well.  In fact, he’s almost always right!  He’s like the anti-Powerline in that respect.  It’s eerie.

Posted by Michael on 02/03 at 05:54 PM
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Dee Dee and me

All right, I admit it, the fix was in from the start.  The Ramones won not only because they are, in fact, the country’s greatest rock and roll band, but also because my college-era band opened for them in 1982.  So there.

The exact date was April 14, 1982, and the venue was Wollman Auditorium, nestled in the southwest corner of the campus of Columbia University.  My band was Normal Men, generally New Wavey folks influenced by Elvis Costello, Roxy Music, Au Pairs, ABC, Echo and the Bunnymen and such.  It was our first major gig after six or seven well-received one-set wonders in the hothouse environment of fraternity gigs and lit-mag benefits that made up Columbia’s large and intense music scene.  The crowd was about 900 or 1000, or another power of ten beyond anything we’d seen before.  And, I’m happy to say, we rocked the house.

So after we broke down and began loading out, I ran into Dee Dee on the stairs, gave him the shock-of-recognition stare, said, “hey, you’re Dee Dee Ramone.” Whereupon he said, “you’re in the opening band, right?” I think I may have been carrying equipment at the time, but even if I wasn’t, my skinny tie (yes, dear friends, I was indeed wearing a skinny tie—a yellow one at that) would have identified me.

“Uh, yeah,” I wittily replied.

“How’d you guys do?” he asked.  This, I thought, was really above and beyond nice.

“Good, I think,” I managed to say, “we got two encores—the first one real, you know, the second one kind of a family-and-friends encore. . . .”

He actually brightened, and said, “wow, two encores, that’s great,” quite encouragingly, without faux surprise or condescension or anything.  At which point I thought it was incumbent on me, since this famous and influential rock star person had expressed some apparently real enthusiasm for our meaningless little opening set, to say something about his band and what it had meant to me, so, before the pause got too awkward, I said, “Um, can I just say, like, I think you guys changed pop music.”

Dee Dee’s eyebrows shot up.  “Really?” he said, as if no one had ever volunteered such a sentiment before.

“No shit,” I said, for having said the obvious, “I mean, your stuff came out when we were all sitting around listening to Boston and Steve Miller and shit, and, uh, it was like another world.  I mean, you know, punk just wouldn’t have happened without you.” I should have added that I was actually from Queens and knew whereof I spoke, but I didn’t have the presence of mind.  Anyway, he seemed sincerely touched, said, “wow, well, thanks a lot, man,” or something to that effect, to which I said, “no problem, you know, thank you,” because the truth behind this exchange, or at least one of the truths behind this exchange, was that I was already feeling stupid and guilty for talking to one of the Ramones as if they were already a museum artifact.  But he shook my hand and wished me luck, and I said, “have a great set,” and that was that.

Now, the reason I felt guilty about this is that by 1982, most of us hip and wannabe-hip kids at Columbia already spoke of the Ramones that way anyway.  Like yes, their first four records ripped the fabric of our lives and all, but c’mon, everyone jumped off the bandwagon after End of the Century, and that was already three years in the past, and the Ramones were fairly predictable stuff by that point.  And yeah, in one way it was cool beyond belief to open for them, but then again, the only reason they were playing Columbia was that they weren’t so huge an act that they couldn’t do so.  To wit: the year before, 1981, there was a rumor that the Clash were going to play the same place, Wollman Auditorium, but the gig was scrapped because there was no way that the school could handle the scalpers and the off-campus madness.  Later that year, of course, the Clash played their epic seventeen-show gig at Bond’s at 45th and Bway, and the crush and the buzz of that scene convinced everybody at Columbia that they were right not to have tried to squeeze the Clash onto campus.  The Ramones, by contrast, were a safer bet, and people were already speaking of them as if the spring concert were up between them and Chuck Berry.  Opening for them was a plum awarded to us by Columbia’s Band-Booking Powers That Be, and therefore a form of recognition that we had arrived locally, but it wasn’t even on the same scale of cool as the opening gig played by the Ex-Husbands, Columbia’s official coolest band during 1980-81 (they took over the mantle from the Casuals, who held the coveted distinction in 1978-79).  The Husbands, after all, had opened for Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers at Trax on 72nd Street, for goodness’ sake (and had gotten an encore, too).  And the Casuals, for their part, had played some similarly prestigious thing at Max’s Kansas City, though I forget who the headliner was.  Compared to those gigs (and I assure you that nearly everyone in the local music scene gauged themselves by those gigs), the Ramones at Wollman was minor-league.  Or so people said at the time.

Back then, I participated in that discourse too, knowing as well as anyone of my age and level of pop-cultural capital that the Ramones were basically done.  But at the same time I still thought it was a fabulous opening gig, one about which I was pretty much scared witless.  Nothing like screwing up in front of 900 people, you know, let alone in front of some of punk’s biggest Culture Heroes.  I remember wearing two sets of wristbands and repeatedly spraying my hands with antiperspirant during the set to make them sticky so I wouldn’t drop any sticks.  (Some of our songs were quite fast, and required crisp, precise drumming.  But I apologize for contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer.) And everything I said to Dee Dee was, of course, completely true.  I just felt very weird at the time talking to him as if he were already historical—which, however, he was.  But, in retrospect, he was already historical in the good sense, and he did seem genuinely pleased to be running into some college kid backstage who would say so.

I wouldn’t go into this level of detail except that, well, things have gotten distorted with time.  1982 is so very long ago that it sounds much cooler now than it was at the time to be opening for the Ramones—almost as if I’d been on the same bill with them at CBGB in 1976.  And people who came to punk late ("late" now meaning not “by way of Hüsker Dü in 1984” but “by way of Nirvana in 1991") are thus more impressed with this tidbit than they should be.  Ditto for my actual performances at CBGB in 1981-83, all five of them, none of which occurred on a night better than a Wednesday and none of which featured Dee Dee and his band. . . .

Brief epilogue: Dave Terhune, Normal Men’s lead singer and songwriter, now helps lead this talented bunch of losers as they rock various venues in New York, while guitar-and-sax man Larry Gallagher released his first CD about two and a half years ago; he also put in a few years with Joey Cheezhee and the Velveeta Underground.  Me, the last time I played in front of people was at Larry’s wedding.

But now I have the kind of story that 44-year-old guys tell themselves (and whoever else will listen) as they slip into their bathrobes and sit down with a nice cup of green tea.  Gabba gabba hey, everyone, and may Dee Dee and his mates rest in peace.

Posted by Michael on 02/03 at 03:00 PM
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