Home | Away

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What kind of transhuman are you?

In our ongoing effort to bring you commentary on last week’s Internets badinage this week, this blog would like to devise one of those “which Shakespearean character/ American city/ question of Summa Theologica are you” quizzes.  Unfortunately, because we have no idea how to do this, we’ll have to settle for a standard multiple-choice format.  So, then.  What kind of transhuman are you?

image

You’re the latest generation of the Nexus-6!  It takes hundreds of Voight-Kampff questions to distinguish you from a real human, and you have serious femme fatale hair.  On the other hand, you are portrayed by Sean Young, and that can’t be a good thing, because she herself is a replicant—and not a particularly stable one.

image

You’re Robocop!  You love saying “Dead or alive, you are coming with me,” and you gamely oppose the entire Paul Verhoeven crew of malefactors and miscreants.  On the other hand, you live in Detroit.

image

You’re Darth Vader!  Your breathing noises are really cool, and you accessorize well.  On the other hand, you have to appear in no fewer than three prequels, and recite some of the worst dialogue ever written in English.

image

You’re Steve Austin!  You are compatible with both Farrah Fawcett and Lindsay Wagner, which must be some kind of late-70s TV exacta.  On the other hand, technologically speaking, you are the transhuman equivalent of Pong.

image

You’re Molly from Neuromancer!  You help to inaugurate the entire genre of cyberpunk.  On the other hand, you’re partly responsible for the entire genre of cyberpunk.

image

Oh, now that’s not right.

Posted by Michael on 06/28 at 11:43 AM
(88) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, June 26, 2006

Against blogofascism

Jamie and I are guests at this exclusive resort, having been invited to an ultrasecret DLC conference as a result of last Thursday’s post.  We got in at 1 am last night—that is, 4 am “our” time.  We flew from Pittsburgh to Seattle, realizing as we did so that we were doing the Super Bowl cities, got in a half hour late, waited a half hour for our bags, got caught in Seattle traffic at 10 pm on a Sunday, searched vainly for this place in the darkness, and so forth.  This morning I learned that for the first time in my life, I packed mismatching dress shoes.  But that’s all right!  Evan Bayh tells me I’ll be welcome anyway.  Besides, they expect bloggers to wear sneakers.

Speaking of bloggers and the DLC: it has come to my attention that people out there, especially those of you who don’t wash very often, have been doing the unthinkable—insulting Lee Siegel.  Just because he called attention, in his characteristically measured and sagacious manner, to the populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction one finds on blogs.  I mean, really.  All Siegel did was describe the blogosphere as “hard fascism with a Microsoft face,” and people started calling him names!

“Moron"; “Wanker” (a favorite blogofascist insult, maybe because of the similarity between the most strident blogging and masturbating); and “Asshole” have been the three most common polemical gambits. A reactor even had the gall to refer to me as a “conservative.”

Ouch!  I hate it when reactors go nuclear.  And as you all know, this blog doesn’t like it when you crude blogoIslamofascists call people “morons.” (About “wanker” we remain agnostic, and we note that Siegel responds to the insult by accusing his critics of . . . wanking!) So I’m here to say that this kind of thing really has to stop.  Now.

Seriously: people should not call Lee Siegel names.  Remember, Lee Siegel is one of the most fatuous and self-regarding writers in the English-speaking world, and as such, he is ripe for parody.  Why, from Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert to the Witty Leftists of blogofascism, Siegel has been flailing at people considerably more talented than he for months now.  Occasionally he reminds his critics, whom he suavely calls “pissants,” that

I was writing for magazines like Dissent, The Nation, and Radical History Review while you were still worrying whether it was safe to walk around the Upper West Side at night. (Maybe you still do.)

That is so street.  Why, it positively reeks of authenticity!  It is at once leftish and dangeral—a potent combination in any neighborhood.

So please, please don’t get angry at Lee Siegel.  Don’t descend to angry name-calling.  Instead, use the hard Microfascisoft power of the blogofascisphere to parody him!  It’s more fun, and, most important, it’s more sophisticated.  And though, as you well know, this blog is loath to repeat itself, quote itself, or repeat itself, we’ll repost our Siegel parody from early March just to get things started.  Take it away, parody Lee!

***

Hello, everyone!  Many thanks to Michael for letting me sit in today while he basks in the Pacific Northwest with the captains of industry.  I’ve decided to take to the blogosphere again because it’s come to my attention that there are some people who still haven’t responded adequately to my February 27 essay on Jon Stewart in The New Republic.  It’s available online to subscribers, but I hear that the good people at LBO-Talk have made the full text available on their listserv.  Please read the entire thing right now.  It is critical to the future of comedy in our country.  It takes the form of an open letter to Stewart on the occasion of his hosting of the Academy Awards, and it begins,

Dear Jon Stewart,

As the entire world knows, you’ll be hosting the Oscars this coming Sunday for the first time.

On this august occasion, please allow me to appeal to you as someone who wants to be a fan but hasn’t been able to enjoy you so far. Please allow me to appeal to you as a public service. You of all people know from public service, since you are the very man who has enlisted comedy in the cause of civic clarity. I can’t imagine that what I say will make a difference to you—if you even happen to read this. No matter. Like you, I have a job to do.

First, note my “humility trope” at the end of this passage.  Despite the fact that I am a very important reviewer writing for the house journal of the National Center for Unearned Self-Importance, I say it is “no matter” whether you read my work.  But don’t fall for that little rhetorical feint—it is simply a measure of my craftiness as a writer.  For, in fact, it is critical that my words make a difference to you.  Jon, you have failed to win me over despite my desire to approve of you, and that should concern you.  It should concern all of us.  As I explain later in the essay,

I love comedians who make humor out of current events, out of bad or stupid politics. But the best of them work the stuff into wit. You just point, taunt, make faces. You say something “sucks,” and that’s the joke. You say “sucks” a lot.

Jon, I think the reason you’ve settled into this gross-out expedience is that you think, or you’ve been told, that the young audiences you supposedly draw aren’t up to more sophisticated bits. For one thing, I think you’re selling short the number of people in the magical demographic who have fine senses of humor. For another, I don’t think your audience is that focused on politics anyway. They just like to see people in authority, no matter whether they’re good or bad, torn down. It doesn’t matter whether the deconstruction is funny or not so long as it seems to humiliate the subject. So pretty soon, and especially when politics changes, you’re going to have to rethink your role as the Howdy-Doody Orwell. More importantly, when the chickens come home to roost—yes, the deficit spending on the war—and people start to want comedy with true creative-destructive substance; when they start to crave comic maturity rather than resigning themselves to pandering puerility, you’re going to be in trouble.

Yes, you read that correctly, Jon.  I think you’re condescending to your audience . . . but, you know, that’s my job.  You’re selling short the number of people who have fine senses of humor, whereas I’m quite sure that they’re not very sophisticated politically, and that’s why they’ve resigned themselves to pandering puerility.  But not for long!  Not after they hear from me.

By the way, I have a question for Michael Bérubé’s regular readers: honestly, what did you all think of the “Howdy-Doody Orwell” line?  Pretty good, huh?  When I typed that, I cried, “yes!  Lee Siegel, you have done it again!”

I slay me sometimes.

Now, I admit that every now and then, I’m a party of one in that regard.  No matter.  When I find myself in the critical minority, I know that our nation is deep in the throes of a profound cultural crisis.  For instance, when I informed the world that Eyes Wide Shut was “one of the most moving, playful, and complex movies I have ever seen,” I didn’t simply disagree with everyone else who saw the film.  Rather, I made my disagreement into a Gravely Pessimistic Cultural Statement About Our Entire Culture:

I realized that something that had been stirring around in the depths of the culture had risen to the surface.  After years of vindictive, leveling memoirs of artistic figures; after countless novels, plays, films, paintings, and installations constructed to address one social issue or another; after dozens of books have been published proclaiming the importance of the “great books” and “humanist ideas” to such a point of inflation that the effect was to bury the specificity of great books and of original ideas—after the storm of all this self-indulgence had passed, a new cultural reality had taken shape. Our official arbiters of culture have lost the gift of being able to comprehend a work of art that does not reflect their immediate experience; they have become afraid of genuine art. Art-phobia is now the dominant sensibility of the official culture, and art-phobia annihilated Stanley Kubrick’s autumnal work.

As you can see, I know art.  And I know playful!  So please, Jon Stewart, fans of Jon Stewart, and readers of this blog, take my words to heart.  Read them, repeat them, live them.  For your own good, and for the good of all humanity.  Thank you.

***

OK, everyone, have at it.  But don’t lose your focus and start talking about other things!  Lee says that happens all the time in blog comments; in fact, he says it’s related to the whole fanatifascistic phenomenon. “The blogosphere’s fanaticism,” he writes, “is, in many ways, the triumph of a lack of focus.” So . . . uh . . . what was I saying?  Oh yes. Meat is Hitler!

(Many thanks to an enterprising—and very focused—commenter on this thread.)

Posted by Michael on 06/26 at 11:54 AM
(73) Comments • (3007) TrackbacksPermalink

Friday, June 23, 2006

ABF Friday:  Personal freedom edition!

As residents of Steeler Nation (and denizens of the Motorcycle Municipality) are well aware, about two weeks ago Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had some car trouble.  Which is to say, his motorcycle struck a car, apparently as the car made a turn across his path, as all too many cars are wont to do, and Ben went flying.  Now, he’s kind of a mess, but reasonably all right, very lucky to be alive and in possession of his faculties:

Roethlisberger underwent seven hours of surgery after a motorcycle crash near the 10th Street Bridge on Monday morning. He remained in serious but stable condition on Tuesday morning.

According to a police source, Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw, broke his left sinus cavity, suffered a 9-inch laceration to the back of his head, lost many teeth and has injuries to his knees from hitting the pavement.

Roethlisberger rides a Suzuki Hayabusa, which, they tell me, is a kind of powerful bike.  Actually, the fastest street bike in the world, capable of speeds around 200 mph.  And it’s not like Terry Bradshaw didn’t warn him about this last year:

As the interview ended, Bradshaw walked off, muttering, “I can’t believe he’s riding that motorcycle. Stupidest thing I ever heard of.”

Bradshaw speaks from experience. As a young quarterback, he was told by team owner Dan Rooney to keep his Corvette off the road and in the garage—and he says he obeyed.

If Roethlisberger’s willing to listen to reason, Bradshaw thinks he’ll do the same.

Well, now that he’s all banged up, Ben says he’s going to listen to reason.  Look, if I were the Steelers QB, and Terry Bradshaw told me to wait ‘til I retire before I ride my supersport bike, I’d wait ‘til I retire.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that cyclists should wear helmets.  Janet (who, as many of you know, is a former R.N.) reports that she and her intensive-care colleagues used to call motorcycles “donorcycles”: that was mordant ICU-speak, referring to the fact that young men (they’re almost all men) who ride bikes helmetless wind up being organ donors.  And in general, I think it’s a good idea for people to try to prevent profound, life-changing and severely-debilitating injuries if they can.  (I say this as a hockey player whose helmet includes a full-face wire mesh, and who remembers how strenuously the players fought against the helmet rule, back in the day.)

But Roethlisberger’s crash got me thinking.  In central Pennsylvania, we have approximately elevenzillion bikers who hit the roads every spring, enjoying the beautiful, winding mountain roads, and many of them wear nothing more than bandanas.  Our mandatory-helmet law was repealed in 2003, and we’re not alone: a number of states have done likewise, construing motorcycle helmets as a matter of personal taste and personal freedom rather than as a basic safety matter.

You can just imagine how “liberals” fare in that debate.

And strange as it may sound, I think liberals have gotten an exceptionally hard time over things like this.  I mean, only the full-blown crazies really believe that liberals and progressives are objectively pro-terrorist, and certainly no one in the general public cares one way or the other what liberals have to say about Slobodan Milosevic.  But when it comes to these personal-freedom issues, well, they hit people where they live, so to speak.

In other words, in the precincts where I’ve been living for the past seventeen years (Champaign, Illinois and State College, Pennsylvania), “liberalism” is often associated not with gay marriage or with jolly Friday night American-flag bonfires but with People Who Think They Know What’s Good For You.  Smoking bans?  Pah—damn liberals.  Seat belt laws?  Fussy liberals.  Gun control?  Mother#%@&ing latte-drinking liberals!

The really difficult thing is that this perception of liberalism isn’t completely inaccurate.  When I lived in Illinois I was treated to the southernmost reaches of the upper-Midwest phenomenon I call “Lutheran Liberalism.” It’s smart, civic-minded, well-meaning, do-gooding, and by gum, it will stop your car and put you properly in your seat belt, young man, for your good and the good of your entire family.  It’s no mystery to me, for example, that the MacKinnon/Dworkin pornography ban was passed in two cities in the 1980s: in Indianapolis in 1986, with the help of the Christian right, and in Minneapolis in 1983, with the help of the Lutheran Liberals.

Now, of course most of this perception of liberals is phantasmic.  As we know, the last Democratic presidential nominee was required to shoot a goose to prove that he could be worthy of the White House, and because Kerry was actually mocked by Cheney himself for his hunting, it’s clear that the 2008 Democratic nominee will actually have to shoot someone in the face.  Still, I can’t deny that there really are some liberals out there who think it’s simply a terrible thing to own a gun, an even worse thing to shoot one, and a completely unthinkable thing to shoot another living being (especially in the face).  Don’t tell me this is a caricature, folks.  Remember, I teach at a university, I am a paid-up member of the Pinot Grigio Liberal Elite, and I know whereof I speak:  these are some of my colleagues I’m talking about.  Most liberals simply want decent gun laws that prevent felons from buying arsenals at gun shows, and that prevent gun dealers from selling automatic weapons and armor-piercing bullets.  And most liberals (myself included) don’t understand why saying so produces such paroxysms of rage on the right.  But now that I live among (and play hockey with) hunters, I realize that ordinary gun owners can sense tsk-tsking disapproval of guns even if there’s only a part per million of the stuff in the atmosphere.  As Digby would say (and has said quite compellingly), it’s a matter of cultural identity, and hunters know when people are taking a nose-pinching relation to their cultural identity.  So do bikers.

Same thing with smoking bans.  I was a smoker from 1979 to 1990, and have been smoke-free for sixteen years, but I have none of the zeal of the convert: I couldn’t care less whether people are smoking around me, and I do care when liberals are seen as people who want to flick cigarettes right out of people’s mouths.  But I gradually decided to support smoking bans in bars after hearing from some friendly bartenders and wait staff about what it’s like to breathe fumes for eight hours.  (To give the eastern half of my state its due:  please feel free to debate Philly’s new law, exempting “local taverns.” I’ve heard good arguments pro and con.)

Likewise, there are some very pure liberal precincts in which people are not permitted to eat bacon cheeseburgers within twenty feet of another person.  OK, maybe I made that one up.  But you know what I mean.

The thing that completely flummoxes me is gambling.  You’re not going to believe this, but I don’t know what I think about it.  Really!  I am in a state of perpetual epistemological crisis.  I think it’s awful that states encourage what is, for some people, a grievous addiction, and for some reason I’m skeptical that gambling revenues really go to support education and elder care.  (On philosophical grounds, all the worse if they do.) On the other hand, if people want to play the slots, or the lottery, or the horses, let ‘em!  It’s no business of mine.  Any industry that drains Charles Barkley and Bill Bennett of millions of dollars can’t be all bad.  Besides, personally, I like playing roulette in casinos.  I don’t play at the Barkley-Bennett rates—I usually play five bucks on the numbers and five on the periphery (red/black, odd/even, etc.), in the spirit of Austin Powers, who, deciding to stay with a hand of five in a game of blackjack, toothily explained, “I too like to live dangerously.” The most I’ve won is $80.  The most I’ve lost is $75, and I promise you I’m going to return to Mohegan Sun someday and win it back.

Mohegan Sun.  Ah, there’s another thorny issue right there.

My point is that for helmetless “freedom"-lovers everywhere, liberals sometimes come off as Podsnaps.  Nine times out of ten, it’s quite unfair: after all, we’re the ones who brought you the idea of workplace safety, the innovation of flame-retardant children’s pajamas, the life-saving devices known as car seats, and the radical notion of manufactured food that’s safe to eat.  (We also brought you the weekend and the eight-hour day, though those have since been taken back.) The libertarian right, by contrast, often uses the “motorcycle freedom” argument as a cover for their much larger argument that food manufacturers should be able to go ahead and make hot dogs out of severed human thumbs, and let “the market” decide whether people want to eat ‘em.  Ditto for auto manufacturers, toxic-waste producers, building contractors, bond traders, and absolutely everybody else.  There’s no reason, they say, to let a bunch of maimed or scammed or dead consumers stand in the way of dynamism and growth!

So here’s today’s Arbitrary But Fun question: which of these freedom fights is worth fighting over, and which aren’t, and why?  Me, I don’t care if people own guns.  I wish bikers would wear helmets.  They can smoke in most places, they can gamble a bit, and they can eat what they like.  But I’m in favor of unpoisoned food and safe cars and houses and workplaces and industries.  How about you?

Posted by Michael on 06/23 at 01:14 PM
(100) Comments • (2) TrackbacksPermalink

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A simple request

My friend Danny Postel, senior editor of OpenDemocracy, calls my attention to this recent interview with Noam Chomsky in the New Statesman.  Specifically, to this passage:

“Remember, the Milosevic Tribunal began with Kosovo, right in the middle of the US-British bombing in late ‘99 . . . Now if you take a look at that indictment, with a single exception, every charge was for crimes after the bombing.

“There’s a reason for that. The bombing was undertaken with the anticipation explicit [that] it was going to lead to large-scale atrocities in response. As it did. Now there were terrible atrocities, but they were after the bombings. In fact, if you look at the British parliamentary inquiry, they actually reached the astonishing conclusion that, until January 1999, most of the crimes committed in Kosovo were attributed to the KLA guerrillas.

“So later they added charges [against Milosevic] about the Balkans, but it wasn’t going to be an easy case to make. The worst crime was Srebrenica but, unfortunately for the International Tribunal, there was an intensive investigation by the Dutch government, which was primarily responsible—their troops were there—and what they concluded was that not only did Milosevic not order it, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it. So it was going to be pretty hard to make that charge stick.”

OK, this kind of thing really has to stop.  Now.

For three reasons: one, because it is a pack of lies, and as a wise man once said, the job of the intellectual is to tell the truth and expose lies.

Two, because the defend-Milosevic crew has been getting more and more outlandish and bizarre every year, and, like unto loony LaRouchies, they have sometimes been discovered messing with legitimate progressive organizations.  If real progressives don’t speak out on this, it won’t be long before we’ll be hearing that poor Slobodan cried bitter tears of sorrow when he heard about the massacre of Srebrenica, even though it never really happened in the first place.  And, insult upon injury, we’ll be hearing about this from so-called “leftists.”

Three, because of Chomsky’s unique stature as the go-to dissident American intellectual in interviews like this, which gives these extraordinary claims the stamp of respectability for one wing of the left.  If Chomsky were to refuse to sign on to this nonsense, the defend-Milosevic crew would consist primarily of third-rate party apparatchiks like Ed Herman and Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti, with their little “Srebrenica Denial Research Group”, churning out regular attacks on what Johnstone calls the “Srebrenica mourning cult,” and we could place them on the shelf next to the handful of people who have spent the last decade and a half muttering to themselves darkly about how the Trilateral Commission teamed up with the Rothschilds and Queen Elizabeth to spread lies about their man Slobodan, who was only trying to carry on the socialist project in a brutal neoliberal world. 

For the record: at first I opposed NATO war in the Balkans—and then, as I learned more about the conflict (and, crucially, as I heard more from the people I’ve named above, particularly Johnstone, who eventually convinced me that she was, on a charitable reading, insane), I decided that people like Ian Williams and Danny Postel were to be trusted, and people like Herman and Johnstone were not.  From Williams’ review of a collection of essays edited by Tariq Ali:

Opposition to a war can unite the strangest people. In the USA, opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosova united on the same platforms isolationist Republican conservatives, pacifists, Serb nationalists, Stalinists and Trotskyists who both thought that Miloševic was the last living socialist, and a lot of people who thought that anything that the US did was wrong. . . .

There were, it has to be said, some honourable exceptions, who realized that Belgrade’s treatment of the Kosovars was insupportable, but felt that the cure was worse than the ailment. Some thought that the KLA should be helped in their war of liberation, but that there should be no foreign intervention. Indeed, even many vociferous supporters of intervention were worried about the international legal implications of taking action without UN approval, and also about the form of the intervention. High-level bombing increased risks of civilian casualties in order to save politically inconvenient military casualties for the US, and the refusal until the final stages to consider ground troops, almost certainly prolonged the war and allowed Belgrade to go ahead with its atrocities. . . .

It is clear that the US was dragged unwillingly and half-heartedly into the Balkans, and that on this occasion it was European leaders who dragged it in. It is also true that if the US had made a credible threat of action at any time almost from the shelling of Vukovar onwards, let alone in Kosova, it would have stopped Miloševic in his tracks. Indeed the US position has consistently been the very reverse of Teddy Roosevelt’s: it has been to shout loudly and to carry a light-weight olive branch rather than a big stick. The strident Madeleine Albright cries ‘wolf’ again and again abroad, while Clinton and the Congress at home worry about the political costs of a single casualty. . . .

Some contributors, correctly, accuse Clinton and other Western leaders of hypocrisy. ‘Where were they in Rwanda, in Turkish Kurdistan, in East Timor?’, they want to know. I want to know what they think should be done when war criminals carry out ethnic cleansing? Should they be allowed to carry on because Russia wants the freedom to commit mayhem in Chechnya, protected by its veto? Should the American use of the veto to protect Israel exonerate Russia and inhibit anybody else from ever attempting to intervene?

. . . The intervention was indeed carried out ineptly. The diplomacy beforehand was totally inadequate. The US is indeed a very bad global citizen. All this is true. But war criminals should not be allowed impunity.

As they say on blogs, read the whole thing.  And then read this for good measure, because Williams really deserves a far wider readership among liberals and progressives.

But you know, you don’t have to have supported war in the Balkans to know what’s wrong with the defend-Milosevic crew. Bill Weinberg didn’t support that war, but he’s still properly outraged at Ed Herman’s post-Balkans project of clearing good Slobodan’s name (and check out Weinberg’s demolitions of Herman’s apologetics in comments).  And Eric Gordy’s devastating response to Johnstone is worth a good long look, too, not least for the incredibly detailed exchange with Marko Attila Hoare in comments.  The best single source on the strange culture of the Milosevic cult is Balkan Witness (edited by Roger Lippman), which offers, among other things, an extensive (though quite depressing) compilation of essays on the history of war-crimes deniers and apologists for Milosevic.

There are otherwise intelligent people who believe that Chomsky’s remarks on the Balkans, echoing and echoed by Herman, Johnstone, Parenti and company, constitute the properly “left” or “progressive” position on the matter.  Quite apart from the profound moral incoherence this entails, requiring such leftists and progressives to engage in the most extraordinary circumlocutions and ideological contortions, it also licenses all kinds of ancillary mischief in its wake, like this vile piece of work from a book I’ve seen advertised on a number of liberal and progressive blogs.  So I have a simple request.  Whether you supported war in Kosovo or opposed it, please, please let’s leave the Milosevic apologetics and the war-crimes denials to the fascists. 

***

UPDATE, June 22Dennis Perrin, who’s smart enough to know better, accuses me of practicing “guilt by association” in linking Chomsky to Herman, Johnstone, and Parenti.  Please see comment 58 for my preternaturally patient rebuttal of this charge.  Dennis also asks, searchingly, “Why Serbia? Why now, when Milosevic is dead, the matter is pretty much at rest, whatever one thinks of it, and there are other, more pressing issues to deal with (I’m thinking here of that Iraq thing)?” and answers, “Who the fuck really knows.” Can anyone help out Dennis on this one, say, by directing him to the June 19, 2006 dateline of the New Statesman article?  Perhaps we can get him to ask Professor Chomsky this question.  At least we are reassured that Ed Herman is “a very soft-spoken, polite guy”!  Not at all the kind of person who would accuse longtime lefty Bill Weinberg of employing a rightwing smear tactic, or who would decidate years of his life to arguing that only a couple of hundred people died in Srebrenica.  As for the rest of Perrin’s remarks about me, they are beneath him—or should be.

UPDATE, June 23Ah, Dennis, Dennis, I didn’t answer the points in your first post because you didn’t actually make any.  But thanks for reading all the comments here, and responding to them on your blog.  It’s a shame you don’t permit comments yourself.  Anyway, I honestly don’t want to argue with you, personally, about people you consider your friends.  I just want to let you know that when you write, “I suspect that [Berube] also believes that, far from being ‘horrified,’ Slobo was gleeful about the carnage, perhaps dancing a jig when the first casualty figures rolled in,” you’re quite wrong.  I don’t care what Slobo felt.  I do, however, object to anyone who tries to minimize his role in Srebrenica and the eight long years of ethnic cleansing prior to the Kosovo war, for precisely the same reason I would object to anyone who tries to claim that Bush and Rumsfeld do not, in the end, have command authority for what happens in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.  Whenever someone says, “not only did Bush not order torture, but he had no knowledge of it. And he was horrified when he heard about it,” I consider him or her a Bush apologist—or, at the very least, someone who provides cover for Bush apologists.  Wouldn’t you?

Posted by Michael on 06/22 at 09:17 AM
(122) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sports and psychology roundup

First, congratulations to the Carolina Hurricanes, and especially all their deserving veterans: Rod Brind’Amour, Glen Wesley, Doug Weight, Bret Hedican, Mark Recchi, Ray Whitney, and goal-scorers Aaron Ward, Frantisek Kaberle, and Justin Williams.  Also special extra bonus cheers to rookie Cam Ward, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP, and Erik Cole, for coming back from a mother-lovin’ broken neck to play the final two games of the series.  Meanwhile, much love and respect to the Oilers of Edmonton, who rallied admirably behind a backup goaltender when no one gave them a chance to win.  “No one,” by the way, includes me: after Dwayne Roloson went down in game one, and Jussi Markkanen Ty Conklin (sorry, Jussi!) misplayed a puck with 30 seconds left in that game to give Carolina a highly improbable comeback win (down 3-0 with 23 minutes left), and then the Oilers came out like an already-beaten team in game two and got thrashed 5-0, I advised my friends in North Carolina to watch games three and four on their tele-vision sets, because the series (I assured them, with a great assurance) would not be returning to their hot and humid region.

So I was wrong.

But I hope some of you were watching game seven, because it was thrilling from start to finish.  Really!  Even the opening faceoff was fun!  The Hurricanes got many props from announcers Emrick and Davidson for coming out hitting, and they did indeed come out hitting; more important, however (and I still don’t understand why I haven’t been picked up as a freelance color commentator), they came out shooting.  In game five, they came out for the third period with the score tied 3-3 . . . and put all of two shots on net. In the overtime, they managed two fewer shots than that.  In game six, they passed many pucks around the perimeter many times, and wound up with seven shots after two periods.  (At one point they were being outshot 21-3.  It was embarrassing.) Last night, they opened with four quick shots, one of which went in.  Lo!  Sometimes that happens when you shoot the puck on the net.  About every tenth or eleventh time, on average.

I could recap the entire game, but you don’t want me to do that, and besides, there’s something else I want to ask about.

Let’s go back for a moment to the final hour of the U.S. Open on Sunday.  Much has been made of Phil Mickelson’s epochal collapse on the final hole; on this very blog, for instance, commenter Gary remarks,

the Vandeveldian drama was so sweet.  I can’t possibly be the only person who truly, deeply enjoyed seeing that stupid, self-satisfied grin wiped from Phil Mickelson’s fleshy face as he hit terrible shot after terrible shot on the 18th hole Sunday.  Really, considering Mickelson’s status and the situation (trying to win a third straight major), his meltdown is much, much worse than Jean Van de Velde’s.

Gary is right about the scale of that meltdown, and while I harbor no animus toward the self-satisfied grin on Mickelson’s fleshy face (I found the final 15 minutes of the tournament excruciating to watch, as if we were intruding on someone’s intense personal grief), I do resent the fact that the sports press basically awarded him the U.S. Open the moment Kenneth Ferrie bogeyed his final hole . . . on Saturday.  And anyone who takes a driver on 18, leading by one in the world’s toughest tournament, after hitting only two of thirteen fairways all day well deserves his spot in the Hubris Hall of Fame.  Add to that the fact that Phil hit his drive beyond the first tier of bad (the 3-1/2 inch rough), beyond the second tier of bad (the 5-1/2 inch rough), beyond the third tier (the long grass trampled down by thousands of spectators, which is often and unfairly preferable to the second tier), into a whole new dimension of badness, bouncing the thing off the corporate tent!  I ask you, how is a shot that awful not out of bounds?  And if it hadn’t flooped off the tent and back into Bad Tier Three, where Phil was overtaken by the insane idea that he could strike the ball cleanly onto the green in two, who knows but that it would have flown into the parking lot and onto I-95?  Anyone who hits that shot on the 72nd hole should not be allowed to win the Open.  The lanky kid who chipped in on 17 and survived two lousy, lousy breaks on 18 to tough out a par—he gets to win the Open.

But Phil, despite his meltdown, is not the point.  Instead, I spent much of yesterday thinking about poor Monty, 0-for-42 in major championships.  Here’s the deal.  He comes down the stretch, very much in contention and well aware that he’s the sport’s most famous runner-up, and he plays 15 and 16 so perfectly that he gives himself eminently makeable 12-footers for birdie . . . and misses them both.  Then he skulls his drive on 17 into the third tier of bad, plays a miraculous cut shot onto the green, and, oh my God, drains a 75-foot putt that almost brings him to tears.  He then steps up to 18 with thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch on his shoulders, and, unlike Mickelson, threads a perfect drive to a perfect location where he has a mere 172 yards to a pin placement that just happens to favor his swing.

And then what does he do?  He takes out a 6-iron, sets up, starts thinking (he later said he figured he would overhit the 6 with all that adrenaline), puts away the 6, takes out a 7, and hits a shot that your average weekend duffer could have hit: 20 yards short and in the deep, ugly stuff.  He winds up with a double bogey, taking five strokes over those last 172 yards: a terribly chunked approach, a vexing chip out of greenside Brillo, and a nervous three-putt to cap it all off.  He winds up one stroke back, just like Phil.

Now, I admit that watching golf isn’t much fun.  It’s a curious sport that way: both in TV land and on the course (where you can find over 50,000 people on the final day of a major—ask me sometime about my day in the gallery during the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship), the entire fan base is made up of people who play the game themselves.  Everyone else, I believe, hates it and wishes it into the furthest reaches of the cornfield.  But one of the distinctive things about golf is that although you see these men and women play a superhuman version of the game you play, launching 350-yard drives that hit landing areas 30 yards wide and getting up and down from terrain like that of the Amazon rainforest, you also know that at any moment, the golf gods might curse them, and then a truly horrible thing will happen.  Something so horrible, indeed, as to make one of the world’s best players look like an ordinary person who never quite learned what to do with a loft wedge.

And that’s what happened to poor Colin Montgomerie on that approach shot, I think.  He realized he had a decent shot at birdieing the unbirdieable 18th, and first he second-guessed himself, and then he . . . well, the technical term is “choked.” He froze up.  So did Phil on that 18th tee, blocking his shot out to the left just like any schmo who doesn’t complete his turn on the downswing.  It’s understandable (hell, I’ve played in only one tournament in my life, the 1977 Junior Publinx in Queens, NY, and I couldn’t get past the second round), especially in a game ninety percent of which is half mental, but still.  It’s a horrible thing.

So I was thinking about Monty and Phil, and then I was thinking about the Carolina Hurricanes getting so badly beaten in game six in Edmonton.  Last night, the cliché came to life: the Hurricanes were a different team altogether.  Now, I can understand how people freeze and choke in an individual sport.  The pressure simply gets too intense for the human nervous system, and you double-clutch, or you hesitate for a millisecond and all is lost, or all the strength leaves your limbs.  Horrible, but understandable.  What I don’t understand, even though I play a team sport, is how entire teams can experience collective psychological phenomena.  Even hockey turns out to be ninety percent half mental!  Now, as you know, I can’t stand sports commentators blathering on about momentum and how the assistant coach gave the players motivational medallions and how the team leader fired them up in the locker room, so I tend not to take seriously that aspect of team sports.  But it’s there, all the same.  An entire team suddenly becomes hesitant, or self-doubting, and then one guy makes an errant pass, and another guy commits a rare turnover, or a call goes the wrong way and the whole team becomes querulous and petulant.  I saw it happen to the St. Louis Blues in 2001 after Roman Turek began letting in goals that any decent goaltender (from the junior level on up) could have stopped.  To a man, they all began mishandling the puck terribly, almost as if to say, I don’t want this thing—you know, it could wind up in our net at any moment. But how does that work?

Two caveats: one, I know that Carolina played game six away and game seven at home, and I am aware that this makes a bit of difference, for both psychological (yay team!) and technical (right of final player change) reasons.  (In the 14 game sevens in Stanley Cup Final history, the home team has now won 12.) But still.  How in the world could the Hurricanes have come out so flat on Saturday, and so sharp on Monday?  It wasn’t like they were saving themselves for a game seven, you know.  They were just plain terrible in Alberta, that’s all.  And then they were good again! Mirabile dictu!  And now they have the Cup!

Two, I believe that contact sports are qualitatively different from non-contact sports in this respect.  In contact sports you have something to do with all that adrenaline, whereas in golf (say) you have to wait five or six minutes between shots, wondering (if you’re Colin Montgomerie) if your adrenal system is going to affect your shot selection.  Surely, if Montgomerie could simply have thrown a crushing body check to his playing partner, he would have chilled out a little on that approach shot, no?

Anyone with any insight into how entire teams of a dozen or two dozen people can have wild mood swings from day to day is invited to step up.  Extra special bonus thanks will go to anyone who has insight into the psychological turmoil of the Dallas-Miami series or the World Cup.

Speaking of the World Cup: people keep appearing in comments and reminding me that the rest of the world cares about this thing.  Well, I visited the rest of the world once, and it turns out you’re right!  People watch this “soccer” like it was football or something!  Two years ago, I was in France during Euro Cup 2004, and when I returned to Les États-Unis I filed this report:

I have long thought that soccer—known in some parts of the world, namely, everywhere but here, as “football”—is almost the perfect sport.  It involves intense, explosive large- muscle-group strength, incredible cardiovascular stamina, and stunning small-muscle-group finesse and coordination.  It also has nearly-ideal combinations of individual virtuosity with team effort, skill with chance, and synoptic strategy with sudden bursts of impromptu brilliance.  But unfortunately, the sport has deep structural flaws, the most notorious of which is its “offsides” rule, which prevents players from sprinting behind defenses.  And don’t even try to defend the inane “shootout” as a means of deciding games: at the very least, the players should run in from midfield and/or shoot from outside the penalty area.  Shooting from 11m out is a joke.  The main problem, though, is that the scale of soccer is too big.  The way I figure it, if soccer would just reduce the size of its field, reduce the number of players on the field, make the ball smaller and harder and flatten it on both ends, make the goal smaller, put up boards and glass around the boundaries, cover the field in ice, and give everybody sticks, then you’d have the perfect sport.

But in the course of watching Euro 2004 each night, I learned that (or I should say, Janet pointed out that) “football” does have an indisputable advantage over ice hockey in one key area: soccer players are far more handsome than hockey players—in some cases, astonishingly so.  When France tied Croatia 2-2 two weeks ago, you could have told me that the Louis Vuitton house squad was playing the Dolce and Gabbana office team, and I’d have believed you.  The next night, Italy played Sweden in the rain, which meant that players had to keep sweeping their hands through their hair (and let’s not forget that the international soccer gesture for “I can’t believe I missed” is the hands-through-the-hair, as well), and I’ll be damned if the game didn’t look like a two-hour-long Versace ad.

Ah, well, yes, ahem, I did pay attention to the outcomes of the games, even if Janet had her mind on other matters.  For those of you following the tournament in other English- speaking nations, there’s no question, England was robbed in that game against Portugal.  But then, what do you expect from a sport with such severe structural flaws?

And that’s pretty much all I can say about soccer. 

You know, part of the sublime fun of last night’s third period, after Edmonton’s Fernando Pisani had scored to make it 2-1 with 18 minutes left, lay in knowing that according to the laws of physics, Edmonton would almost surely have another five or six great scoring chances before the end of the game.  And they did!  Let me know when soccer gets that exciting.  In the meantime, I’m going to suggest that the rest of the world start watching hockey.  It’s not just for the frozen north any more!

Posted by Michael on 06/20 at 11:40 AM
(56) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, June 19, 2006

Freedom’s just another word

Late last week I came across some trenchant criticism of the “flaws” in my essay on academic freedom, courtesy of Scott Talkington blogging at Winds of Change.  I responded briefly in that blog’s comments, as I am sometimes wont to do, but I kept thinking about one passage in particular:

Michael then addresses the testimony of National Association of Scholars President, Stephen Balch, to the Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Nov. 9, 2005):

More seriously, Balch is drawing on the history of affirmative action and employment discrimination law in order to argue that universities should make good faith efforts to hire people more to his ideological liking. This is a common theme in right-wing attacks on universities, especially among those critics who have become alarmed that affirmative action has gone too far, insofar as fully five percent of all doctorates are now awarded to black people.

The implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible. So perhaps we can excuse Michael for being “in the tank.” But I think Dr. Balch was employing irony to make the point that there are distinctly credible arguments against such notions as “multiculturalism” that have been effectively silenced within the academy due to the dominance of a contrived ideological formulation, insisting on the “inherent racism” of privileged cultures.

Now, I don’t quite know what Talkington means by “multiculturalism,” because he seems to have some very strange ideas about it: “Most people,” he writes earlier in the post, “believe ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ are simply synonyms for ‘variety,’ rather than products of the cultural remapping of Marxist ideology produced by the Frankfurt School.” And damn, I looked all through my copy of The Dialectic of Enlightenment for Adorno and Horkheimer’s work on diversity and multiculturalism, but I must be missing something.  (He’s right, though, that every professor who has ever criticized multiculturalism has been silenced.  Effectively!  Sometimes with actual silencers.)

But I do know what Talkington means when he says “the implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible.” I have a clue about what he means when he says “perhaps we can excuse Michael for being ‘in the tank.’” And I can smell what’s cooking when he follows these remarks with this tidbit:

S. M. Lipset, who with Everett Ladd produced one of the seminal studies of academic bias, The Divided Academy, once said that in the 1960s and ‘70s, when he and Ladd conducted their analysis, the ends of the competence spectrum were relatively immune to social pressure in hiring, tenure and promotion. That is, people of extremely high ability were hired and promoted irrespective of their ideological views or race, while those of manifestly low ability simply didn’t make the grade no matter how ideologically servile or white they were. But for the vast majority in the middle their “ability to fit in” was the primary determinant of hiring, tenure, and promotion.

In response, I wrote:

Well, thanks for excusing me. It’s awfully generous of you, if a bit smug and high-handed. But you really should acquaint yourself with more of Balch’s work before you attribute “irony” to his testimony. He and the NAS have been fulminating about so-called “racial preferences” and “quotas” for twenty years now, just as you do here—even though, as I point out, only 5 percent of all doctorates in the U.S. are awarded to African-Americans. Balch is quite serious about opposing affirmative action for women and minorities while proposing it for conservatives, though it is not clear just how we’re supposed to determine a job candidate’s conservatism in the course of the search. Likewise, Kenneth Lee’s remark about conservatives facing “clear practices of discrimination in American academia that are statistically even starker than previous blackballings by race” is meant quite seriously. That remark is pretty strong evidence that the right’s sense of victimization is real, as is their delusional sense that they have it worse than black folk ever did. Strange that you didn’t mention Lee’s statement here, in the course of suggesting that Balch was just kidding.

As for the state of academe before 1970, just keep in mind that white guys back then were competing with 44 percent of the population for jobs, and the jobs in higher education were plentiful. Professors back then were not uniformly people of “extremely high ability,” as Rutgers professor George Levine admitted when he wrote, “When I got my degree from the University of Minnesota [in the late 1950s], almost all my colleagues, no matter how dumb they were, got at least three job offers.”

The rest of Winds of Change’s comments thread is pretty low-grade stuff, full of complaints that poor Larry Summers has been driven out of academe and that poor Richard Herrnstein probably would’ve taken a lot of heat for his very scholarly book The Bell Curve, had he lived to see its publication.  But then Talkington, who styles himself the “Demosophist,” chimes back in, to chastise me a second time:

The idea that one might oppose racial and gender quotas without being a racist or a bigot is apparently something that, for want of a more neutral term, you don’t grasp. This, in itself, is a whisper of the sort of bias we’re talking about.

I was so enthralled by the phrase “for want of a more neutral term” that I adopted it myself:

This response is, for want of a more neutral term, intellectually dishonest.  I’ve written about affirmative action in the past, and my own criticisms of it are a matter of public record (and Nick Gillespie of Reason found those remarks to be fair and balanced, for what it’s worth, though most of his commenters didn’t understand why someone would discuss the history of affirmative action in a review essay on books about the history of affirmative action).  Plenty of people, including many liberals, oppose quotas.  But most sensible—and honest—people know what’s wrong with the claim that conservatives in academe now have it worse than African-Americans ever did.

As for your invocations of academic freedom “with obligations”—that is, with the obligation to hire more conservatives:  thank you for making my point for me.  Honestly, though, I think I did just fine on my own.

That last paragraph was a response to Talkington’s closing argument, which sounded something like this:

In summary, I can conceive of but three methods to correct the dysfunctions noted above: open or veiled quotas based on ideology that attempt to ensure ideological diversity; some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of “academic freedom” to include revocation of tenure; or some institutional arrangement that allows the creation of new departments or programs that can open career paths for competent people of more traditional classical liberal values. Or perhaps some combination.

Of course, anyone who is liberal, in the classical sense, will oppose quotas and will recognize the dangerous precedent they set. That leaves the latter two. It’s important to recognize that freedom must be balanced by obligation of some sort, and that this is less a matter of principle than necessity. If academia were populated by people wise enough to perceive this necessity themselves there’d be no problem. But since it apparently isn’t, we may need to open the door to markets by ending or attenuating the practice of tenure. I regard this as a loss, so perhaps we could try something else first?

We may need institutional arrangements that at least establish the conditions for a credible contest between the “multi-culti left” and the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, in order to infuse a little wisdom into the self-satisfied academy. If academia wants relevance, this may be the price.

So there’s your conservative academic freedom in a wingnutshell: because academe is not populated by people wise enough to understand their obligation to undertake affirmative action programs for the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, we need to consider “some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of ‘academic freedom’ to include revocation of tenure.” That will be the price of academe’s “relevance.” It’s good to know Talkington regards this as a loss: Nice university you have there.  Be a shame if something were to happen to it.

Now, why do I bother arguing with people who, as I say, are already making my point for me?  Because there are two important issues at stake.

The first is that the right-wing fulminating about “racial quotas” in academe is really quite weird when you come down to it.  Once again with emphasis, folks, when we talk about African-Americans in academe we are talking about five percent of all Ph.D.s.  Talkington, swinging and missing this point completely, writes, “the paucity of new black PhDs in the academy has been shown to be more closely related the paucity of black candidates in PhD programs, a fact that quotas or quota-like strategies probably won’t cure.” Yes, Scott (since we’re on a first-name basis here), I’m aware of the paucity of black candidates in Ph.D. programs.  That’s precisely why I think right-wing fulminations about “racial quotas” in this context are so bizarre.  My goodness gracious, it’s not as if the professoriate is being overrun by scholars of tint.  For the record, however, since the point has been missed twice already: the fact that conservatives whine about all the preferences given to black folk, and the fact that some conservatives believe they have it worse than black folk ever did, does not necessarily mean that those conservatives are racists.  It merely suggests that they might—just might—be overreacting a tad to that five-percent black presence in the professorial ranks, for reasons about which it would be irresponsible to speculate.

On a related note: Talkington refers in passing to “the sort of genuine discrimination that’s leveled at ‘ethnic traitors’ like Thomas Sowell or Jean R. Cobbs.” Again, I know I’m awfully slow on the uptake when it comes to right-wingers’ beliefs about liberals and black people, but I’ve just never understood the claim that liberals criticize black conservatives like Sowell because they’re “ethnic traitors.” The problem with Sowell is not that he deviates from some mythical party line; as most informed people are aware, many African-Americans are socially conservative on a wide range of issues.  Rather, the problem with Sowell is that he has become a third-rate hack, as I pointed out—politely!—in my treatment of his book (from that same Nation review). 

And for Ba’al’s sake!  Are liberals supposed to refrain from criticizing black conservatives because they’re black?  What in the world would that look like?  “Privately,” says one white liberal to another, “I think Shelby Steele’s latest book is the work of a crude, ranting ideologue.  But I’m not going to criticize him, because he’s black, you know.” Now there you’d have yourself a racial double standard, folks.  The fact that white liberals criticize black conservatives is evidence not of liberal duplicity but of simple, single-standard consistency.  We criticize conservatives of all genders and races and sexualities, especially when they slander us!  (Indeed, this humble blog criticizes crude, ranting ideologues of all kinds!)

OK, now for that second issue.  I’ve had my fun with poor old David Horowitz in the past, and I confess that in my dealings with matters Horowitzian, I have sometimes indulged my abiding love for Monty Python.  As Mark Bauerlein notes on Phi Beta Cons, “Berube is solidly to the Left, he slips into sarcasm too often, and he’s made several of the contributors here the object of criticism. But amidst all that there are some substantive points.” Now, that may sound a tad condescending to some of you, who might think it’s possible to be on the left, to employ sarcasm, and to criticize some of the Phi Beta Cons while making some substantive points, but I take it as a mark of grudging respect; it certainly beats being praised for the quality of one’s prose while having one’s essay drained of all its propositional content.  And clearly, there are more measured and credible critics of academe than Horowitz out there:  your Mark Bauerleins and your Erin O’Connors are vastly more civil and circumspect than the sclerotic Horowitz, who, as you probably know, has lately devoted himself to championing Ann Coulter as a “national treasure.” In a recent post, O’Connor writes,

I’m not a fan of mockery as a mode of analysis myself—like Timothy Burke, I dislike intemperate, snide, and snarky criticism, no matter what side of the debate it comes from. I also dislike how, in the current polarized climate, one person’s snark is another person’s temperate utterance. That this is so points both to how little communication is actually taking place in our debates about higher education and to the importance of free, unfettered debate. We might all be talking past one another much of the time, but that’s far better than one side trying to silence the other.

While it’s laudable that Professor O’Connor no longer has the enthusiasm for Horowitz that characterized her early work as a blogger (which I found stunning years ago when I first started reading blogs, though that’s no excuse for my losing my temper with her back in 2003), I have to say I just don’t understand her temperate, well-spoken, and civil complaint about the fact that the University of Louisville has created an Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality.  Maybe I’m obtuse about such matters, but when O’Connor writes,

It seems safe enough to assume that the Audre Lorde chair is reserved for a black woman, even though that would hardly increase the “variety” evoked by the job description. One can only conjecture—but one can also conjecture with some degree of certainty—what the politics and even the sexuality of the new holder of the Audre Lorde chair will be. Audre Lorde, it’s worth remembering, described herself as a “Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” A dedicated activist, she was once described by Mario Cuomo as a woman whose “imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice.” It seems safe to assume that the ideal candidate for the Audre Lorde chair will likewise be a black lesbian feminist activist. I could be wrong. The Audre Lorde chair might end up going to a straight white male whose idea of activism is to recycle and take public transportation—but I doubt it. What’s more likely is that such men know they need not apply.

. . . I have two responses.  One, she’s got a point: I’m a white guy, and I’m fond of recycling and public transportation, and I’m not thinking of applying for this chair.  Two, so what?  I mean, how many Audre Lorde Chairs do there have to be in this country before conservatives start complaining about them?  Only one, apparently. 

O’Connor explains:

So what’s the issue here? I have no problem with Audre Lorde—in fact I quite admire her and possess a well-worn copy of The Cancer Journals. And I certainly have no problem with either women or minorities or gay people or activists holding jobs in the academy. What I do have a problem with is the manner in which being female, or non-white, or gay, or politically engaged, can function as a job qualification within academe. It’s not just that jobs such as the Audre Lorde chair seem to be reserved for academics with particular biologies and beliefs (how else could such a chair be honorably filled?), but that those biologies and beliefs are tacitly treated as part of an overall scholarly package. This is identity politics in action: the idea that professional excellence cannot be separated from personal characteristics, or even that it includes certain personal characteristics, is simply assumed in certain academic fields. I might be less annoyed by job descriptions such as this one if there were also, say, advertisements for the Christina Hoff Sommers Chair in Equity Feminism, or the Friedrich Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies. But there aren’t. This sort of thinly veiled demographic screening only runs one way in academe—even though political correctness is a myth and even though accusations of liberal bias in the academy are totally unfounded..

Well, some people might question whether Christina Hoff Sommers has achieved the kind of intellectual stature that merits a chair endowed in her name.  That Hayek guy, however, he’s in the clear. 

But can O’Connor be serious about this?  She would be less annoyed by an Audre Lorde Chair if there were ads for a Hayek Chair?  You know, at some point I don’t care how “temperate” someone claims to be: if that person is complaining about an Audre Lorde Chair on the grounds that there are no comparable positions in academe for scholars wanting to study Hayekian economics and social thought, they’re just not playing by the rules of argument recognized by knowledgeable, responsible people.  And quite apart from O’Connor’s violation of the protocols of serious argument here, there’s also the element of ingratitude—yes, ingratitude.  Ingratitude for all the hard work done by the John M. Olin Foundation over the past thirty years.  I mean, the good people at the Olin, a charitable nonprofit explicitly charged with spending the Olin inheritance within one generation, have been crazy busy creating endowed chairs, entire programs, and even a brand new libertarian discipline called “Law and Economics,” all for the benefit of conservative scholars, and do they get any thanks, I ask you?

Is the Pope a black lesbian activist?

Don’t get me wrong.  The day that someone creates a John M. Olin Chair in Law and Economics and writes the job description in such a way as to suggest that a black lesbian feminist activist would be the ideal candidate for the job, then I’ll begin to get the sense that the whole black lesbian feminist activist thing in academe has finally gone too far.  Let me know when that happens, and I’ll be sure to blog about it.

Posted by Michael on 06/19 at 12:12 PM
(40) Comments • (68) TrackbacksPermalink
Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 >