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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cranky cons

Because there simply isn’t enough wingnuttery to go around the Internets these days (Sadly, No! having laid its claim to the musings of military strategist Lt. Col. Dafyydd ab Hugh), I decided to check out the National Review’s kinda brand new group blog devoted solely to academe: Phi Beta Cons.

What are Phi Beta Cons, you ask?  Well, I think there are two interpretive possibilities.  The first stresses the “Phi Beta” part, in order to suggest that unlike the merely “Crunchy Cons” of Rod Dreher’s organic home-schooled Birkenstocked-Burkean gemeinschaft utopia, these Cons are extra bonus special smart.  The blog itself, however, fails to bear out that interpretation, which leaves us with the absurd but inescapable second possibility that we are dealing with Phi Beta Convicts.

Much of the Tappa Kegga Cons blog is garden-variety culture-war hockey and hackery, but if you’re scouting for talent, the breakout star so far has to be National Association of Scholars president Stephen Balch.  On April 14, Balch took to the keyboard to complain about what he called Penn State’s “School of Politeness”:

Penn State’s biggest rhetorical guns have been pounding its College Republicans. Until firing commenced, the CR’s “Illegal Immigrant Awareness Day”, planned for April 19th, was to feature an exercise entitled the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game”. “It’s evident why many people would find this program offensive” said Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity. Although “protected by the First Amendment” the approach initially proposed “was unproductive and offensive to many”, echoed university president Graham B. Spanier. “Penn State is committed to ensuring respect for the dignity of all individuals within the university family”, added Vicky Triponey, vice president for university affairs. The campus GOP scrapped plans for the “game”, though not the event.

The pretended collaring of sweated labor may make for tactless play, but where was this overkill last November when members of the State College Peace Center gathered with placards reading “Drive Out the Bush Regime”, “Impeach them all”, and showing the president’s face behind prison bars?

Some people are offended by “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” some people are offended by calls to impeach the President.  True enough.  It takes all kinds to make a world!  But the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game” was, as it happens, conceptually flawed, since the College Republicans did not have the presence of mind to deploy a Business-Friendly Branch of the chapter to employ the illegal immigrants at Wal-Mart once they were caught.  More to the point, however, someone really ought to point out to poor, addled Mr. Balch that Penn State does indeed treat its students differently than it treats local groups (like, say, the State College Peace Center) who have no affiliation to Penn State, and who, last we checked, were still permitted freedom of assembly by an official government document of some kind.

Six days later, Mr, Balch appeared again, this time to sound the alarums that the Modern Language Association’s language map is in fact a critical component of a remarkable anti-American scheme:

The Modern Language Association has rolled out a new device to persuade Americans of their lack of peoplehood.

Whoa!  Check it out, non-people!

A recently revamped, interactive “Language Map” displays state-by-state, county-by-county, and zip-code-by-zip-code, answers to the census question, “Does this person speak a language other than English at home?” All the user need do is plug in a language—there are 300 to choose from—and select a location. A map then appears, say a state divided into counties, with the counties distinguished by a color code indicating the percentage of various language speakers located therein.

This map is so nasty and so anti-peoplehood!  But wait—there’s more nastiness yet to come!

The map design contains elements that could mislead the unwary about the degree of America’s linguistic fragmentation. The color code, for example, is not used consistently language by language. With respect to English speakers, the dark red indicating the highest degree of concentration only kicks in when the level reaches 94.11%. For Spanish speakers it does so at 61.88%. For Greek speakers at 0.678%.

That is just incredibly sneaky.  In fact, if I’m reading these statistics correctly, the Greeks are more than 90 times sneakier than the Spanish!  And who knows when the dark red level kicks in for the really dangerous anti-American languages?

As Balch points out, to get to the actual truth you have to . . . um, you have to click the mouse:

The map will tell you, if you care to press for “more detailed information”, how many of these foreign language speakers also speak English well—a fact which changes initial impressions considerably. At first glance, my home town of Princeton, New Jersey has 14.03% of its population listed as foreign language speakers—quite counterintuitive to a resident. But only about a fourth of these admit to not speaking English well, or to not speaking it at all. The figures for Los Angeles County suggest that 57.83% of the population aren’t English speakers. Yet upon searching through “the details,” it turns out that the figure is actually about 19%.

Let’s hope that high-school students doing their prescribed multiculturalism research pay close attention.

Yes, let’s!  We can’t have ordinary people thinking that Princeton is the kind of college town that has so many multilingual professors and graduate students that they make up one-seventh of the population.  And let’s hope those high-school students in their multiculturalist boot camps are reading the invaluable Phi Beta Con blog, so that they will learn how to use this map correctly!

But hey kids, wait until Stephen Balch finds out how much furren fluoride the MLA has slipped into his very own drinking water.  Let’s just say that the figure of 14.03% would be, uh, quite counterintuitive.

Posted by Michael on 04/26 at 03:55 PM
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