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Thursday, November 09, 2006

He. Who. Thursday

Hi folks!  I’m off to Chicago to give a pair of talks—one slightly humorous, one not funny at all.  Hope I don’t mix them up by mistake!  And you know what else?  The Chronicle of Higher Education is buying lunch for me and David Horowitz on Friday.  That should be a gas gas gas!  (Why did I agree to this, you ask?  Because I was bored!)

Coincidentally, the Chronicle is running an essay by David Horowitz this week (sub required).  (Hey!  What do I have to do to get my essay in print?  Last I heard, it was “in the pipeline.” Is that one of those Internets slang words?) In this essay, “After the Academic Bill of Rights,” David talks about his success, which, as I’ve noted before on this blog, is something David does no matter what, because it’s on page 18 of the playbook.  “When the sun goes down each night,” the text reads, “claim victory.” In this case, David writes, “no small part of my success can be attributed to my opponents’ tactics.” And since I am one of those opponents, David explains how my tactics have misfired:

My opponents have also consistently aimed their intellectual arrows at the wrong targets, allowing me to proceed with my agenda without any substantive opposition. In a September 17 article in The New York Times, for example, Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, expressed concern about a legislative committee that I inspired, the Pennsylvania Committee on Academic Freedom, which held hearings in the state. He noted that during the hearings Penn State “revealed that it had received all of 13 student complaints about political ‘bias’ over the past five yearson a campus with a student population of 40,000.”

My response to that point? If there are just 13 abuses per campus at the top 100 universities, that would add up to 1,300 over five years. A study by the historian Lionel Lewis of academic persecutions during the McCarthy era (which, according to Lewis, lasted nine years) found only 126 faculty members involved in academic-freedom cases at 58 institutions nationally. Those cases led to an estimated 69 terminations, of which 31 were resignations at a single institution after it established a loyalty oath. Yet small as that number may appear among the thousands of universities and hundreds of thousands of professors, the author concluded, “It is apparent that their chilling effect on the expression of all ideas by both faculty and students was significant, although in fact there is no way to measure adequately their full impact.”

I think most people would concur: The chilling effect is the issue, not the absolute number, although each case is cause for concern. The real question is whether universities are set up to deal with such problems through established and well-publicized procedures.

Well, I can see three things wrong with this argument right away, but I’m packing my bags right now and don’t have time to elaborate.  Hey, I’ve got an idea!  Maybe you can explain what’s wrong with this argument for me.  That would be a Fun Game!  [Update: Dang, I really was blogging too fast while packing to leave!  I forgot to throw in the url of the New York Times essay which Horowitz cites here.  There, now check out what I say about those thirteen student complaints!]

Oh, and while we’re talking about Fun Games, is there anything you’d like me to say to David at lunch tomorrow?

Posted by Michael on 11/09 at 07:19 AM
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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Capital gains

Let’s give a big Le Blog Bérubé welcome to Senator McCaskill from the great state of Missouri; Senator Brown from the great state of Ohio; Senator Whitehouse from the great state of Rhode Island; and Senator Casey from my own great, if sometimes confused, state of Pennsylvania.  And don’t worry, Senator-to-be Webb of Virginia (currently up by 7845 votes of 2.3 million cast) and Senator-to-be Tester of Montana (up by 1735 of 400,000): we’ll keep your seats nice and warm for you.

Let’s also have a hearty round of applause for Speaker Pelosi, and committee chairs like Charlie Rangel, Henry Waxman, John Conyers, and John Dingell!  Which race was your favorite?  There are so many to choose from, but here at home, Joe Sestak over Crazy Curt Weldon in the 7th district and Jason Altmire over Melissa Hart in the 4th are very pleasant.  On the other hand, Jim Gerlach (Pennsylvania 6th), Marilyn Musgrave (Colorado 4th), and Jean Schmidt (Scary Tennis Ball 2nd) appear to have narrowly survived this round.  Let’s not let that happen again, team.  But thanks to everyone for all their hard work on the ground and in the blogosphere!  It’s a great feeling.  You know, the last time the House was controlled by reasonably sane people, Jamie was only three years old.

And all it took was the Abramoff scandal, the Foley scandal, the Haggard scandal, the suspension of habeas corpus, the creation of the Cheney Archipelago of secret torture sites, a criminally incompetent response to one of the worst natural disasters in US history, and a hopeless war that has killed thousands of US troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and may well go down as the single worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the republic.  I can’t wait for ‘08!

Oh, and one more thing, just so I don’t end on that sour note.  Last night I was reminded of two things: one, watching televised political coverage makes me break out in weeping boils.  Candy “Green Tea” Crowley alone would do it, but when she’s combined with the bloviations of Bill Bennett (who was lamenting Pennsylvanians’ inability to understand the virtues of that good, good man, Rick Santorum) I find myself rolling around on the floor and tearing the upper layers of skin from my arms.  And that makes the boils burst, and that just makes a mess.

Two, I couldn’t help noticing that every GOP shill had been programmed by the Central Committee to say that the President’s party always loses seats in a sixth-year midterm.  Which is true as a general rule, of course, and was especially true in 1974 (49-seat swing, cough Watergate cough), 1966 (47-seat swing, taking this as LBJ’s second term), and 1958 (48-seat swing).  (The 1938 midterm was especially intense, a 72-seat swing, but since the Dems were working with a 334-88 lead, they retained the House by a large margin anyway.  Ah, the days when gerrymandering hadn’t yet become a science.) Strangely, though, the party in control of the White House in 1998 actually gained five seats.  Nobody pointed that out.  I wonder why.

Posted by Michael on 11/08 at 10:08 AM
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election day

It’s Critical Midterm Election Day, everyone, and that means . . . it’s time for a post about hockey!

When I opened this Sunday’s “Education Life” section of The New York Times and realized to my dismay that Charles McGrath had faulted me for not dealing with the case of Kevin Barrett in What’s Liberal? even though the Kevin Barrett story broke eight months after my book went to press, I thought, “why, that is most ironical!  Because here I am in northern New York at the 15th Annual Teaching Effectiveness Conference of the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley, and what was I doing, in the 1:15 - 2:15 session , “Two Case Studies: How Faculty Are Affected by Academic Freedom,” but discussing the case of Kevin Barrett!

But never mind my discussion of Kevin Barrett and academic freedom.  The important thing is that after my various conference tasks were finally done, great soul Chris Robinson (as yet unindicted by the WAAGNFNP Show Trial Proceedings, by the way) took me out to see St. Lawrence play Harvard in a game of icical hockey.  SLU won 4-2, but it was a closely fought, sometimes thrilling game right down to the final minutes.  And it reminded me of two things.

One: Jamie and I drove down to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and saw the Penguins lose a dog of a game, 5-1, to the defending- Cup- champions- who- will- surely- not- repeat Hurricanes.  I realized that (a) I had been living in Pennsylvania for five years without seeing a Penguins game, and (b) I had missed seeing Gretzky and Lemieux for their entire careers, despite making elaborate plans to catch them (Gretzky during his short stint with the Blues, Lemieux in a late-career game against the Islanders), and wanted to be sure to see 19-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby while he was still 19.  He played an undistinguished game, and remarkably—since his passing is often preternaturally creative and precise—coughed up the puck two or three times on simple outlet passes.  But what the hell.  At least I saw him play.  Now I have to go back later this year and see him play alongside 20-year-old phenom Evgeni Malkin, who played his first game as a Penguin just after Jamie and I left town.

(The Gretzky story is quite terrible, by the way.  In 1996 I got tickets for game four of the Blues-Red Wings series in which Detroit eventually won game seven in double OT.  But on the day of the game, May 10, central Illinois was drenched in torrential rains.  “There’s no way you’re driving to St. Louis with Nick,” Janet insisted.  “Don’t worry, we can make it,” I replied.  “You can’t make it,” Janet said.  “The highways are washed out.” And they were!  By now the rains were biblical, and Noah’s Ark-RV Rental of Champaign was doing a brisk business.  But since we were on the great open prairie, I thought the rains might yet desist and the waters recede, so I told Janet I would wait until noon to decide.  By noon, five inches of rain had fallen, and entire communities were flooded.  So I called Ticketmaster and released the tickets . . . and lo!  As I hung up the phone, the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and the hand of a malevolent God dried the plains instantaneously.  When I picked Nick up from school at 3, he was still fully expecting to go to St. Louis, and when I told him we didn’t have tickets anymore, he almost burst into tears.  I told Nick I had waited as long as I could before releasing them; he told me, most emphatically, to get them back.  This, of course, I could not do.  And so we never saw Gretzky in person, and we missed a scintillating 1-0 game that lifted the Blues into a 2-2 series tie.  Fie, fie on the Deity and Her nasty midwestern weather patterns.)

Despite their play that night, the Penguins look pretty decent this year—and they actually have a shot at winning the division, because the division is going to suck.  You heard it here first: 90 points will win the Atlantic, and 88 points will probably take third place.  The Rangers will play erratically all year long: they will be brilliant on Wednesday and incompetent the following Saturday.  The Flyers are done.  They should start thinking about “rebuilding,” which means, in this context, getting rid of a bunch of hoary veterans and looking around for 19- and 20-year-old phenoms.

But that’s not thing one.  Thing one is that I never fail to be astonished at how prohibitively expensive it is to see a game.  Jamie and I sat in medium-range seats: about 40 or 50 rows up, off the blue line.  Very good seats, but nothing spectacular.  And they were $80 a pop, almost $200 when you factor in the handling fee, the processing fee, the transaction fee, and the convenience fee.  Who can afford this kind of thing on a regular basis?  I treat myself only on special occasions, once or twice a year, and no matter where I go—Pittsburgh, Carolina, New Jersey, St. Louis—I am never, never sitting next to corporate types with expense accounts.  I am sitting next to white middle-class men (and some women, some kids) whose demeanor does not suggest to me that they have a spare two or three thousand dollars (per seat) for hockey games every year (plus another couple thousand in concessions).  And yet almost everyone is wearing a customized jersey.  Customized jerseys run about $250.  Jamie and I are not wearing $250 of clothing between us.  Now, I could be wrong about my aislemates and their demeanor; after all, even a corporate VP might look like an ordinary middle-class shlub if he’s wearing a Penguins cap and a customized Kevin Stevens jersey.  But I don’t think I’m wrong.  I think I’ve stumbled onto an important economic phenomenon—a Hockey Bubble of some kind.

Now for thing two.  When I started playing again in 1999, I was initially relieved that the game had changed so little in the twenty years since I last laced ‘em up.  Sure, the players were a little faster, the pace of the game was quicker, and people used the boards more creatively than they did in 1979, but on the whole, I thought, it’s not a radically different game.  Imagine, I thought, if I’d stopped playing in 1955 and resumed in 1975: there would be slapshots, curved sticks, helmets, and goaltenders with masks.  It would be like the difference between basketball before and after the invention of the jump shot.  And I was saying this to a woman on the bench next to me one winter day in early 2000. . . . 

when I realized, holy mother of Mahovlich, I’m talking to a woman on a hockey bench!  how the hell did that happen?

The St. Lawrence - Harvard game I saw on Saturday afternoon was a women’s game.  The players were fast, the pace was quick, and everyone used the boards creatively.  And they were women.  It was très cool.

All right, team.  Now let’s get out there and vote some bad people out of office!

Posted by Michael on 11/07 at 02:39 PM
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Monday, November 06, 2006

Bush:  Dems will raise taxes, gas prices

Chicago Tribune – After months of campaigning on his resolve for fighting the war against terror—the predominant theme of his 10-state, five-day campaign closing tour—President Bush is attempting to call in some of his economic chips. The president used his weekly radio address, delivered live Saturday morning from a mile-high coffee shop in Colorado, to tout his tax cuts.

The White House’s revolving search for compelling themes in these closing days of the campaign—targeting conservative voters with war talk, and appealing to a national audience on the strength of the economy—is a measure of how hard-fought the contest for control of Congress will be.

The president will continue to deliver a message of national security and economic prosperity at each stop. But Saturday morning, at a table of the Mile High Coffee shop in Englewood, seated with several small businessmen who have prospered there, Bush touted his tax cuts and warned that electing Democrats on Tuesday will jeopardize that tax relief.

“Our tax cuts have helped businesses like these create jobs. . . .  Yet Democrats in Washington have consistently opposed cutting taxes,’’ Bush said in his radio address. “The Democrats are still determined to raise taxes. If they gain control of Congress, they can do so without lifting a finger.”

Bush also urged Americans to consider what a Democratic takeover of Congress would mean for gas and oil prices as winter approaches.  “Measured by the barrel, oil prices have hit record highs,” Bush noted, “but Americans have seen prices at the pump plummet over the past six months.  My administration has worked hard to keep prices low for the American consumer, and it’s hard work—hard, hard work.  A Democrat victory will change all that.  Here in Colorado, good hard-working people are paying $2.10, $2.20 a gallon for regular gasoline.  Come Wednesday, if Americans make the wrong choice on Tuesday, those prices will be $3.80, $3.90.  High-octane gasoline will be well over four dollars a gallon.  Diesel fuel will skyrocket by 80 percent.  And home heating oil will be out of reach for all but the wealthy few.”

Bush’s remarks sparked controversy among Democrats, who immediately accused the administration of colluding with oil companies to fix consumer prices for partisan political gain.  But White House press secretary Tony Snow brushed off the accusations, saying, “everyone knows that the President has no control over gas prices.  Gas prices are set by the Vice-President’s office without any outside interference from George Bush.”

In other news, the International Comparison Court sentenced former German Chancellor Adolf Hitler to death yesterday, charging him with “derailing innumerable comment threads” and “providing political debaters with spurious analogies for more than six decades.” “Hitler was the first and most egregious example of Godwin’s Law,” said a spokesman for the court, “constantly interjecting himself into other people’s conversations and demanding, ‘then what would you do about me?’”

“Even more damaging, in recent years,” the official added, “has been Hitler’s willingness to allow American newspaper columnists to invoke him at every turn, from George Will to Richard Cohen.  In the past five years, it’s all been ‘appeasement’ this and ‘1938’ that, and this toxic combination of political hysteria and intellectual laziness would never have been possible if not for the initial efforts of Mr. Hitler himself.”

President Bush called the conviction and death sentence of Hitler “a major achievement for international law,” and Republican Party officials predicted that it would swing voters their way in the final hours before the midterm elections.  “This proves that the Democrat policy of appeasement was a mistake in 1938, and remains a mistake today,” said Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.

Posted by Michael on 11/06 at 12:54 PM
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Sunday, November 05, 2006

DST 06:  Special Sunday update

Here I am in northern New York, not far from this late-breaking vileness, brought to you by the “grownups” in Today’s GOP.

Coincidence?  There are no coincidences on the Dangeral Studies Tour.

For obvious reasons, I can’t tell you where I’m headed next (Virginia?  Montana? back to Mizzou?  gotta keep Karl R. guessing).  But as I board my private (and invisible) plane I want to take a moment to thank Chris Clarke for volunteering for our WAAGNFNP show trial, and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of our Minister of Justice, Oaktown Girl.  Thanks also to everyone who contributed to this highly entertaining thread last week!  Let it never be said that Dangeral Studies attends to politics at the expense of poetics.

_______

What’s Liberal? update, in response to Colin Danby’s question in comment 2, while I’m eating a quesadilla in the Pittsburgh airport:

Would someone who has a copy of wlatla at hand like to check whether the Bauerlein complaint about Michael’s response to the “Analyze the U.S. constitution” essay question is a fair cop?  Commenters here seem to have the impression MB endorses the question, and in particular that

“If students of American political science are not introduced to the contradictions underlying the foundation of a revolutionary democratic nation that practiced slavery and restricted the vote to landowning men, they are being miseducated.”

is *all* wlatla has to say about it.

Thanks for asking, Colin!  And why don’t you have a copy of the book at hand, may I ask?

For the record, since I just happen to have the manuscript on my hard drive:  I discuss the case of

19-year-old Foothill College student Ahmad al-Qloushi, a Kuwaiti-American who claimed that he received a failing grade on a term paper about the U.S. Constitution because it was “pro-American,” and who promptly appeared as a guest on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes show on February 17, 2005.  Horowitz flogged this case as well; it was picked up by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, and bandied about briefly on the Internet, partly for its obvious shock value: anti-American professor harasses Middle Eastern student who loves the United States! But it was bandied about only briefly—because once al-Qloushi’s essay itself became available, the story died an undignified death.  Al-Qloushi’s political science professor, Joseph Woolcock, had posed the following question:

Dye and Zeigler [authors of an American government textbook] contend that the constitution of the United States was not “ordained and established” by “the people” as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who [were] representative of powerful economic and political interests.  Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded [the] majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest.

Most people who have taken college-level political science courses will know that this is a standard line of inquiry with regard to the founding of the United States: on one hand, the Declaration of Independence insisted that all men were created equal, and on the other hand, the Constitution (the original document) backed away from this radical claim in favor of a far more limited conception of republican citizenship.  Indeed, I can say—from my office across the quad in the English department—that if students of American political science are not introduced to the contradictions underlying the foundation of a revolutionary democratic nation that practiced slavery and restricted the vote to land-owning men, they are being miseducated.

If al-Qloushi had been given an F for arguing that the Constitution represented the best compromise available at the time—a compromise between Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian conceptions of democracy, mediated by a Madisonian insistence on the separation of powers and a realistic assessment of what it would take to get the Southern states to agree to something stronger than the Articles of Confederation—then Horowitz and Fox News might have been justified in pleading his case as an example of liberal bias.  But what al-Qloushi actually wrote was this.

I proceed to quote sections of the essay, and then I remark,

After the essay became available on the Internet, most conservative academics immediately distanced themselves from it; one conservative professor-blogger gave it a low D, and another gave it an F.  The essay has the germ of a plausible thesis—that the Constitution was progressive for its time but required reinterpretation and amendment to adapt to evolving conceptions of human freedoms—but is terribly written and largely tangential to the question at issue.  But one thing is uncontroversial:  it is not a college-level essay. 

Now, stop and contemplate the political dispensation under which an essay like this is submitted as evidence of liberal bias in the university.  Remember, as you wonder at this state of affairs, that American conservatives have been complaining—plausibly enough, in some cases—for the past three decades about the sorry state of undergraduate writing and the prevalence of “feel-good” forms of pedagogy which seek to bolster students’ self-esteem even when the students in question are incapable of composing a decent sentence in English.  And then marvel, if you will, at the phenomenon of a conservative culture of complaint—not a “fringe” or “marginal” culture, but a culture that extends to national media networks like Fox News—that takes an essay like al-Qloushi’s not as evidence of the shoddy quality of undergraduate writing but as evidence of the persecution of conservative students by leftist professors. 

And that’s what What’s Liberal? has to say about that.

Posted by Michael on 11/05 at 10:34 AM
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Friday, November 03, 2006

ABF Friday:  Special Election Edition!

The Dangeral Studies Tour 2006 continues to wreak havoc wherever it goes.  Last week, we arrived in St. Louis and promptly rendered that fair city the most dangerous city in the United States.  This week, we arrived in Colorado Springs and induced Pastor Ted Haggard to resign his position at the head of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Coincidence?  There are no coincidences on the Dangeral Tour.  Because

There’s a professor who leads a life of Danger,
To all his friends he talks about the Rangers,
Oh, with every move he makes,
Another contingent foundation he shakes,
Odds are he’ll be in your town tomorrow.

I’m still working on line four.  Should it be “contingent foundation” or “cultural formation”?  Or are there other things out there that need shakin’?

But never mind about me!  This blog is not about me.  This blog is all about the fortunes of the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party, and let me tell you, my friends, the state of the WAAGNFNP is strong.

You’ll recall that we founded the WAAGNFNP last month—contingently, of course—not only in order to escape from the existential dilemma of drafting our “living will” and “advance directive” but also in order to be more nihilist and cynical than even the most devoted eighth-party partisan.  “The Democrats are hopeless,” they cried.  “Hopeless?  We’ll give you friggin’ hopeless,” we replied.  And since then, our movement has been expanding like a . . . like a . . . well, I can’t think of what we’ve been expanding like, but it’s been a good month.  We resolved the problem of “splitters,” you’ll recall, by realizing that the Giant Nuclear Fireball Party is always already splitting, and yet always already fused.  After North Korea’s nuclear test, we resolved the problem of “small fireballs in many countries” as opposed to “one giant nuclear fireball” by noting that from the tiniest nuclear fireball a mighty nuclear fireball may grow.  (There remains some residual confusion as to whether GNF stands for “Giant Nuclear Fireball” or “Global Nuclear Fireball.” As your chairman, I declare this to be a distinction without a difference.) And we even initiated proceedings for our very first show trial, complete with some well-crafted show trial tunes.

But thus far we have given relatively little attention to our electoral fortunes next Tuesday, because many of us couldn’t care less about “electoral” “fortunes” as we await the GNF—which, of course, will vaporize all 435 seats in the House and all 100 in the Senate, as well as all state legislatures and county boards and municipal councils and township supervisory committees.  (We call this “the clean sweep.”)

And yet, paradoxically, even as we disdain “electoral” “fortunes,” it appears that we are likely to pick up 35 to 40 seats in the House of Representatives.  That would give us an infinity percent increase over our current representation in the House, and permit members of the WAAGNFNP to occupy seats on key committes, like Ways and Fireballs.

How did we come so far so fast?  Largely, I think, because we are immune to the neocon noise machine and its various machinations.  When, for example, Dick Cheney claimed that voting for the WAAGNFNP would damage America’s security by permitting dictators to possess nuclear weapons, the Democrats caved, just as they did two years ago, but we just looked straight into the camera and said, “well, duh.” When Condoleezza Rice said, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” we said, “but we do!” And when Christopher Hitchens accused us of being objectively pro-nuclear fireball, we said, “um, exactly what part of our name are you having trouble reading?”

But what’s really going to put us over the top, I think, is the amazing news that

Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who said they hoped to “leverage the Internet” to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

While this has provided a few of the sharpest snarkmeisters of the liberal blogosphere with comedy gold, thanks to the truly world-historical boneheadedness of illiterate bloggers to their right, we here at the WAAGNFNP hail our security-compromising overlords and their inconceivably stupid enablers on the Internets.  We say, unleash the power of the Pajamas! The WAAGNFNP welcomes bipartisanship of all kinds—so long as it ends in a GNF, of course.

So what are you thinking about for next Tuesday?

Posted by Michael on 11/03 at 01:24 PM
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