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Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So it seems my Chronicle essay on cultural studies is making its way through the tubes.  Best response so far, and maybe ever: someone named “crypto” writing

Yeah, it rang true to me, in the sense that I read a lot of cultural studies stuff after I left college (in 1990, coincidentally), and by the mid-’90s I’d gotten bored with it—increasingly, a lot of the work felt like it was telling the same story over and over again. Like the kind of fan studies you describe: “Knock, knock!” “Who’s there?” “Subversion!” “Subversion who?” “Um, just Subversion, isn’t that enough?”

I have officially requested to steal this.

In more important and world-historical news, the young man who turned 13 five years ago today is turning ... ZOMG HE’S EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD!!!  TIME FOR THE BLACK MAMBA INITIATION RITE, MY SON!!

Happy 18th birthday, Jamie.  We are all so very proud of you.

Posted by Michael on 09/16 at 04:55 PM
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What is the world coming to

when one of those sneaky ACORN ex-felons can tell baldfaced lies to honest young innocent right-wing undercover operatives?

Posted by Michael on 09/16 at 12:10 PM
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I for one welcome our new Objectivist overlords

Mark Lilla argues in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education that academe should take the intellectual history of conservatism more seriously, and of course I agree.  Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what’s most annoying about David Horowitz is that “he has a point,” and of course I wouldn’t trot out Ye Olde Dinner Party Anecdote either (this one involving “a dinner in Paris in the late 1980s with a distinguished American historian of France who had gathered her graduate students for the evening,” no less!), for pretty much the same reason that I refrain from nailing down my arguments by adducing any of the millions of taxi drivers who see the world precisely as I do.  But yes, of course I agree that liberal and left academics (and their students) would be better off if they engaged seriously with conservative intellectuals, so long as the conservatives in question are actually intellectuals (Edmund Burke yes, David Horowitz not so much).

Why, just yesterday I read Jon Chait’s essay on Ayn Rand in order to understand why all the Objectivists I’ve known seem to believe that they are Super Geniuses.  In the course of learning more about that, I also learned why it is that many of these Super Geniuses believe that the rich are rich solely because they work hard, and the poor are poor because they do not.  (The disabled, meanwhile, fall under the general heading of “the unproductive,” and since it would be immoral to reward unproductive people with access to a common pool socialist confiscation of goods and services even if their lack of productivity, unlike that of the poor, isn’t entirely their fault, it’s off to the private charities for them, and good luck.) Then I read Glenn Greenwald on why Some People don’t want Other People to have houses and health care and other luxuries, like the new “cellular” phones and “color” televisions.  So yeah, I’d have to say that it’s important to study Ayn Rand and her influence on American culture, regardless of whether she’s properly “conservative” or not.

It might even be worth studying Rand’s influence in academe, since, as Chait notes, “[t]oday numerous CEOs swear by Rand. One of them is John Allison, the outspoken head of BB&T, who has made large grants to several universities contingent upon their making Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading for their students.” And that is not all, oh no, that is not all!  One of those grants, awarded in March 2008, was a $2 million gift to the University of Texas-Austin to establish “to establish the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism.” The professor named to that chair appeared in the pages of the New York Times last November with a searing letter to the editor placing the blame for the global financial crisis squarely where it belongs—on excessive regulation of the financial markets:

It is curious that after denouncing economists for failing to predict the credit crisis, James Galbraith perpetuates the myth that Alan Greenspan oversaw a “deregulated” economy (Questions for, Nov. 2). Sarbanes-Oxley introduced a maze of restrictions on the financial industry, and dozens of government departments, agencies and commissions issued more than 51,000 regulatory rules between 1995 and 2007 alone (most of these while Republicans controlled Congress). Regulation has contributed enormously to strangling our financial and economic system, and neither effective solutions nor better forecasting can be expected until we face this.

Department of Philosophy
University of Texas
Austin, Tex.

Whatever else might be said about Rand-loving banking CEOs like John Allison, you can’t say they don’t believe in a free marketplace of ideas, or—what amounts to the same thing—ideas about the free marketplace.  And academe definitely needs to take that more seriously.

Posted by Michael on 09/15 at 03:17 PM
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Friday, September 11, 2009

ABF Friday:  Now with extra arbitrariness!

I’m in West Lafayette, Indiana today.  Just sightseeing, you know.  And I brought my very own (actually borrowed from P/T, for now) molded pillow on which to rest my weary neck.  Also from P/T: the surprising and welcome news that I can get my very own CD of my MRI!  Though I suppose I still need a real professional doctor person to look at it, too.

Today I have two Arbitrary observations.  Number one: every so often, it occurs to me that when I was young I used to watch some really crappy animation with some really kickin’ theme songs.

Recognize the tune?  Why, it’s Charles Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle.”

No, that’s not true. This is “Boogie Stop Shuffle.”

What’s your favorite really crappy animation with some really kickin’ theme song?  I have to admit the band is pretty tight on this old chestnut, but the tune is nowhere near the coolitude of “CC/MM.” Cf. this.  And no fair going here or here, because now we’re well into the realm of camp.  Indeed, “Underdog” appears the very same year as Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” Coincidence?  Or influence?

Number two: this stands up pretty amazingly well as a cover of this.  One is compelled to admire young Mr. Lennon’s cojones in singing those William Robinson, Arthur Alexander, and Isleys tunes—and acquitting himself admirably.  But this overproduced mess is an epic ex-Beatle fail as a cover of this minimalist gem.  Even Lennon’s splat-on-the-bar phrasing on the chorus is Teh Suck.  I blame Phil Spector.  And booze.

Actually “Twist and Shout” was co-written by Bertrand Russell.  Little-known almost-true fact!

Posted by Michael on 09/11 at 07:33 AM
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pre-existing conditions

I cannot support any health care plan that would cover teabaggers.

Posted by Michael on 09/10 at 09:09 AM
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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

They’re mad as hell, etc.

So Nick the Firstborn was visiting over the Labor Day weekend, and when we talked briefly about that widely-circulated clip of Al Franken dealing calmly with the crazy, Nick suggested that Senator Franken conceded too much to the loons, rhetorically.  “I didn’t see it that way,” I replied.  “I just kept imagining Norm Coleman in his place, smiling and reaffirming his opposition to B. Hussein al-Obama’s secret Muslim deaf panels.” We agreed, however, that there are two important moments in this scene of public persuasion, two moments of communicative reason FAIL.  Take that, Habermas!

Nick pointed to the moment at which Franken says, by way of establishing (what he surely thought was) an elementary basic and not at all controversial point, “by paying for preventive care, we will save money, there’s a return on investment on preventive care—that’s been shown.” In response, at the 3:50 mark, Sunglasses-Wearing Pasty Teabagging Guy responds, “no it hasn’t.” He goes on to explain that preventive care doesn’t save money because “if everybody has preventive care, we don’t have enough doctors to give everybody health care.” “That’s correct,” sagely nods Pasty Blond Tea-Party-T-Shirt-Wearing Teabagging Woman.

Yes, that’s pretty bad, I acknowledged.  And it suggests that, indeed, supporters of health care reform are right to be cynical about the motives of some of their opponents: not only in the bowels of the insurance industry but also in the minds of ordinary teabagging folk, the problem is that health care reform might provide health care to Other People.  (Later, at 7:15 SWPTG will ask whether immigrants are responsible for the high cost of health care in McAllen, Texas, but not at all in a racist or non sequitur kind of way.)

But for sheer WTFness, I said to Nick, the moment you want to look at comes a bit earlier, at 2:04, when Franken says, by way of establishing (what he surely thought was) an elementary basic and not at all controversial point, “people tell me, ‘I’m scared to death that one of my kids will get sick,’ or they would tell me, ‘one of my kids does have a pre-existing condition, and I can’t leave my job, because if I leave my job and start the small business that I want to start, I’ll never get health insurance because I have a child with a pre-existing condition.’ So we want to get rid of that, and I think almost everyone is on board with this...” at which point SWPTG and PBTPTSWTW adamantly shake their heads.  Well, I guess that’s why Franken had to say “almost everyone.”

But I have to think this marks a watershed for American conservatism.  Remember, last year J. T. Plumber, Esq., became famous for a similar exchange in which he asked B. Hussein al-Obama about the punitive taxes he would face as a fabulously successful plumber owning his own small business and clearing over $250,000 a year (net).  The reason for Mr. Plumber’s spectacular rise to fame, of course, is that his question revealed how Marxist-Leninists like Obama are thwarting the hopes and aspirations of fabulously-successful-small-businessmen-to-be with their confiscatory “progressive” taxes that “spread the wealth around.” Now, however, the problem seems to me that ordinary liberal non-Marxist-Leninist Democrats like Franken want to make it possible for people to start their own businesses and purchase health care for their families.

Teabaggers are against that. 

And remember, these are the people driving the “debate.” Well, Hussein al-Obama better be humble when he comes to the Hill tonight.  As for the rest of us, I do believe we have been well and truly teabagged.

Update:  And here’s the antidote, for those of you who still believe in things like communicative reason.

Posted by Michael on 09/09 at 08:01 AM
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