You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2009.

Bill Moyers has first-hand experience with things like this:

BILL MOYERS: Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

That’s it for the Journal. I’m Bill Moyers. See you next time.

Yeah, see you next time, Bill. And thanks for ruining my day.

Advertisements

On the 11/20 edition of PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, a story about the 32% fee hike at the UC featured an interview with UC president Mark Yudof, including this segment:

If you can’t see the video, here is a transcription of Yudof’s comments:

Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We’re doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care—so we have this core problem, who’s gonna pay the salary of the English Department? We have to have it, who’s gonna pay it and Sociology, and the humanities, and that’s where we’re running into trouble.

This assessment surprises me. As it happens, both English and Sociology are among the twenty largest majors at this UC campus; they’re generally quite large. Which is to say, they bring in a lot of students, and each student brings to the UC a certain sum of money from the state as well as a certain sum of money from fees. Moreover these departments have very, very low laboratory or other research overhead costs, and their faculty salaries are surely lower than those of their counterparts in the research sciences. Is it really true that these large, low-cost majors are “where we’re running into trouble”?

As frustrating as California’s ongoing self-immolation performance piece has been to watch, spending time at the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen had a certain palliative quality last week. So what did you do during the break?

(More pics below the fold.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Have you ever noticed that bits of the West are like, really amazingly beautiful?1

This is from the base of lower Yosemite Falls—close enough to get wet, anyway.


And this is the view from the balcony of Lookout Studio. I couldn’t manage to take a picture of the Grand Canyon that didn’t look like a “picture of the Grand Canyon.”

Stuff like this goes under the awesomeness of TR category, which we really ought to actually have.2

Previously, on the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.


1Yes, I know I could have borrowed from the Eagles here, but we’re all above that, aren’t we?
2Look, I know this is a bit cliché, but it makes me happy, ok?3
3Yes, I know there are a bunch of defensively phrased rhetorical questions down here. Give me a break, will you?

Via beamish down in comments somewhere, and via my dad (sorta), some bohemian Muppets.

 

Oh, Holbo.  I know you’re not baiting me, but it feels like you are.

John has a problem that everyone who has to teach history of early modern has to face.  The standard story explains 17th and 18th century philosophy as a debate between two epistemological factions.  The rationalists Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz meet the empiricists Locke, Berkeley, and Hume in the octagon!   Who will emerge victorious?  KANT!  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

The virtues of the standard story are these.  Having a narrative that unites the whole period and builds towards contemporary thought helps give a survey course some thematic unity, which is important given the difficulty of the readings.  It’s also the standard story that almost every practicing philosopher has encountered, which makes it both very easy to teach and the conservative option.  Given that the students are almost certainly going to forget about most of the particulars after the final exam, if they’re left with a vague idea that Descartes is like the Matrix and Hume is like modern science and Kant said something but damned if I was doing the reading a week before finals, there’s not too much harm done.

The vice of the standard story is that it’s false.  As Holbo notes, Descartes’ philosophy, far from springing full-born from the head of Socrates, has much in common with the musty medieval theologians he criticizes.   None of the rationalists shunned empirical study, and the empiricists include Berkeley (which always struck me as a stretch of the framework.)  Making the whole period about warring factions in epistemology also means that certain writings of the moderns that don’t fit easily into that framework tend to get ignored.

So, Holbo’s solution:  frame the class on “Everything I Am Supposed To Teach You About [Early Modern Philosopher] is Wrong”, and mix contemporary treatments of similar problems into the early modern syllabus. He asks for inexpensive reading suggestions.

My criticisms and suggestions, mostly constructive but not sparing the snark, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

In a funny coincidence, Eid al Adha (the commemoration of Ibrahim/Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son) falls on Friday this year, which means that Thursday is the day of Arafat. And that’s a big day for fasting for people not on the pilgrimage. Not mandatory, but extra-supererogatory.

So, this should be a fun Thanksgiving! Fast starts about quarter to six in the morning and ends about quarter to five in the evening. Good times. Actually pretty light compared to the longer days of Ramadan, but still, I’ll take any excuse to whine.

Eid al Adha doesn’t have presents like Eid al Fitr does, but it does involve goat sacrifice (the meat is donated to the poor). Decadent western types like myself just have it done via various charities (that way I can designate the donation for places I’m feeling particularly bad about) but old-school guys will go to the farm and do their own cutting. I’ll take some pictures if I work up the guts to get my hands dirty.

Does this (here and here) happen often? Does the Times often review the same book twice? I can’t think of another instance like this, I have to admit, but I don’t pay much attention to the Sunday Book Review anymore, so I can’t say for certain.

Regardless, in this case, if you don’t feel like clicking on links, the book in question is Sir John Keegan’s The American Civil War: A Military History. Which book, I should say, I haven’t read and won’t be reading. And not just because the second review linked above, authored by the normally genial James McPherson, savages Keegan’s efforts as terribly sloppy, but also because, coincidentally, just last week Eric and I taught Richard Evans’s Lying About Hitler in our graduate seminar.

Read the rest of this entry »

So much wrong in such a short paragraph:

Students at University of California schools have been protesting the decision of the Board of Regents “to raise undergraduate fees — the equivalent of tuition — 32 percent next fall.” But higher tuition, if it is accompanied with higher financial aid for lower- and middle-income students, improves equity

This, the start of a longer article by Ian Ayres at the Freakonomics blog of the New York Times, continues the argument about equity and tuition to reach triumphantly the conclusion that “By increasing the effective tuition for some of our wealthier students, we might be able to reduce the price for some of the less wealthy.” In other words, the tuition raise could be a good thing.

Reading it, I boggled. It’s a particular kind of context-and-responsibility-free analysis, shorn of everything except the preconceptions and assumptions of a particular discipline, that actively reduces the quality of the debate by giving one position the cover of a seemingly scholarly analysis. Is it likely that California, in the midst of a massively catastrophic fiscal situation, with a horrendously dysfunctional state government, will raise the amount of financial aid for state students? Or that the federal government, also facing serious fiscal issues and with a certain level of dysfunction of its own, will step into that absence?

Really?

So essentially, the argument is that the tuition raise might be a good thing if this almost certainly impossible thing happens along with it. That’s not reasoning, that’s “and a pony” logic.

That’s not even considering the myriad other problems with the argument. Is it possible that there could be other definitions of equity rather than economic that a university might be seeking with low up-front tuition? Is it possible that the lower-income students might be thrown off by the intimidation factor of high up-front price and simply not apply at all? Is it possible that having high tuitions at the state colleges in California will further erode the sense of ownership that Californians have in their state system and lead to a continuing spiral of budget cuts and tuition increases? I don’t know, but I rather suspect that all of those issues are worth considering.

Also worth considering is the idea that those who are public voices simply because of their reputation for acuity would do well to live up to that reputation.

I wish for that, and a pony.

I’m surely taking the wrong lesson from this story of the self-unmasking of blogger and call girl Belle du Jour, who turned out to be Dr. Brooke Magnanti, a cancer researcher.

The lesson we’re supposed to take and the debate we’re supposed to have of course is the endless one about prostitution, criminality, and class, and Dr. Magnanti’s story is well worth reading for its discussion of all of those things.  But what caught my eye was the following:

I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my PhD yet.

Mom! I swear I thought adjuncting was the worst that could happen!

I’m also concerned that the APA will get wind of this, realize that it wouldn’t even have to change its acronym, and add new advertisements to the Jobs for Philosophers pamphlet in a down economy.

furlough (“a temporary leave of absence, as from military duty”): from the unpaid furloughs that many employers gave to workers to weather the recession

Merriam-Webster picks its words of the year based on how often people search for them. Rather wonderfully, the words that draw curious people to the dictionary almost all match up with major news stories.

This strikes me as an obvious variant of the “Chinese curse”: “May your predicament bring lexicographers business.”

Kevin Drum on the 32% rise in student fees approved by UC Regents.

The chart … shows an almost ghostly parallel: adjusted for inflation, UC tuition has gone up 5x since 1980. During the same period, spending on corrections has also gone up 5x. As we spend ever more on warehousing prisoners, we’re forced to make students pay ever more for their education. The two lines track almost exactly.

We used to have the world’s greatest system of higher education and we thrived. Now we have the world’s biggest system of penal institutions and we’re broke. That’s the decision Californians have made over the past 30 years: more prisons and better paid prison guards, but lower taxes and less education. (And not just higher education, either.) It’s hard to think of a stupider allocation of resources. But hey — at least our property taxes are capped! Hooray!

So great:

“This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Via.

A young woman in one of my classes stopped by my office yesterday to interview me, an assignment from the pre-med sorority (Really? There are such things?) she’s pledging. In the course of our chat, she asked me about hobbies, and I admitted that I don’t really have any and haven’t since my kids were born.

My typical day, I explained, goes something like this: I rise with the sun, spend a bit of time with my family, take the older boy to school, trundle off to work, embrace the life of the mind for a few hours, head home at day’s end, spend a bit more time with my family, get the kids to sleep, read a bit (usually something related to work) or write for awhile, and then fall into the fitful slumber of the middle-aged, knowing that I’ll do it all again the next day. The excitement never ends.

She seemed somewhat horrified by this and wasn’t entirely convinced when I revealed that I’m actually quite happy with my life (“life”?). Even still, she wouldn’t let it go, insisting that I must have had hobbies once upon a time. So I reassured her that, yes, I used to ride my bike a lot, read novels, go to the movies, and listen to the latest record albums. (Which reminds me, I know I’m late to the party, but Fleet Foxes ftw.) In the end, the whole conversation was quite pleasant, but it was also a useful reminder that, although I share time with with my students in class each week, I have very little in common with most of them.

So I’m currently suffering my way through Sarah Palin’s book, in a style not altogether dissimilar to Jesus’ ordeal in the hands of the Roman Empire. I won’t pollute the air around here with too many details from the book, but I was amused to see that my former governor repeats the cherished myth that Americans mocked 19th century maverick William Seward for writing a Facebook note about “death panels” arranging the purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Critics ridiculed Seward for spending so much on a remote chunk of earth that some thought of as just a frozen, inhospitable wilderness that was dark half the year. The $7.2 million purchas became known as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’ Icebox.” Seward withstood the mocking and disdain because of his vision for Alaska. He knew her potential to help secure the nation with her resources and strategic position on the globe. . . . [D]ecades later, he was posthumously vindicated, as purveyors of unpopular common sense often are.

 

As Richard Welch pointed out more than a half century ago in the pages of the American Slavic and East European Review — a title that I’ll concede is likely not a part of Sarah Palin’s titanic reading list — the “Seward’s Folly” narrative has very little evidence to support it. Americans in fact knew quite a bit about the Russian territory prior to its purchase. Anyone connected to the whaling and fishing industries of New England, or to the West Coast fur trade, would have understood the potential value of securing Alaska; anyone who appreciated the value of thwarting British ambitions to round out their Canadian empire would have been pleased as well. (This would have included those Americans who still subscribed to Polkian-era fantasies about capturing British Columbia up to the 54th parallel. With the purchase of Alaska, the westernmost British possessions were now in “an American vice,” as Seattle’s Puget Sound Gazette theorized.) Moreover, there was a great deal of emerging scientific literature on the territory, with recent expeditions funded by Smithsonian Institute as well as by other public and private backers.

So far as public opinion was concerned, most newspapers actually supported the purchase. The major exception was the New York Tribune, which was owned by Horace Greeley, a Republican who was nevertheless one of William Seward’s avowed enemies.  (Greeley believed Seward had been too radical on the slavery issue, among other things).  Even Democratically-aligned papers in the North — while not missing the opportunity to crack wise about polar bears and walruses — tended to support the purchase, mainly because there was no compelling reason to oppose it.  And at the end of the day, the treaty with Russia passed the US Senate by a vote of 37-2, with no significant expressions of opposition during the floor debate.

What’s odd — or not, depending on what view you take of Palin’s intelligence — is that most educated Alaskans are aware of all this, at least in its broad outline.  It’s taught in the schools, and the few textbooks that have been written about Alaskan history all incorporate Wright’s findings into their treatment of the Alaskan purchase.  Certainly someone who claims to know and love the state as much as the abdicated governor does  should know that the “Seward’s Folly” myth survives because most people outside the state know very little about Alaska and are perfectly comfortable substituting fable for fact when thinking about its history, culture and geography.  But since Sarah Palin’s entire schtick requires an audience that believes the myth — that believes, for example, that we can drill the shit out of the state without wrecking its ecology — I’m not surprised that she believes it as well. It’s certainly not the only bit of nonsense she’s peddling, but it’s a revealing bit at that.

…As an added bonus, Palin describes William Seward as just the sort of “colorful” character — like Soapy Smith and Skookum Jim Mason — that the Alaskan territory attracted. I don’t think anyone has ever described Seward as “colorful,” but I’m going to assume that Palin is actually thinking of William Seward Burroughs, whose fondness for guns and drugs would indeed have suited him well for an authentic Alaskan life.

Kevin Drum writes,

But look: isn’t secular holiday music something we can all agree on? I mean, it sucks. It really does.

No, we can’t agree on that, you big square Grinch. Top of the list of things I would rather hear than a moany Muzak version of “Adeste Fidelis” is going to include the following, but most of all Mitch Benn’s “True Meaning of Christmas” and other songs, here.

Not to mention

From the Public Policy Institute of California’s survey conducted October 20-November 3 on Californians and higher education:

Despite significant budget cuts in higher education, at least six in 10 Californians give good to excellent marks to the California Community College (13% excellent, 52% good), California State University (9% excellent, 52% good) and University of California (13% excellent, 49% good) systems. These grades are nearly as high as they were in 2007 and 2008, when about two in three Californians gave positive ratings to the three branches. Today, parents of California college students, current students, and alumni give the state’s higher education institutions similarly high grades.

But residents have little confidence in the state elected officials who have authority over California colleges and universities. Californians give Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a 28 percent overall approval rating that matches his record low in July 2009. They give the legislature an overall approval rating of 18 percent, near its record low (17%) from July. State leaders get even lower ratings for their handling of higher education: 21 percent for Schwarzenegger and 16 percent for the legislature. Both are new lows. And most Californians have very little (37%) or no (20%) confidence in state government’s ability to plan for the future of the higher education system (8% have a great deal of confidence, 33% only some).

“Californians hold their colleges and universities in high esteem,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But they’re worried about what’s going to happen next. They’re struggling with a crisis in the economy and a crisis of confidence in their leaders.”

If de-emphasizing intercollegiate athletics is one of the ancillary effects of the economic crisis gripping college campuses around the country, my sense is that would very likely be a good thing. And I don’t just mean at the highest level, at those places like my first employer, the University of Oklahoma, where the athletic department provides de facto minor league teams for NFL and NBA franchises, but also at institutions like UC Davis, where the school’s move to Division I seems like an unmitigated disaster. And so, as we’re being asked to make budget cuts deep enough that we’re going to see the glint of bone now and again, we should insist that fielding teams capable of competing for national championships, at least in so-called revenue sports, shouldn’t be part of a university’s core mission.

For some reason I feel like I should note that I rowed crew — I stunk — at the University of Wisconsin for two years and that I remain a somewhat passionate fan of college sports. This caveat, I suppose, is the equivalent of foregrounding my Judaism before criticizing Israel. Don’t hate me, jocks, I’m one of you!

The Council of UC Faculty Associations’ website runs this graph (click on it to see it full size).

The author explains that he uses Management and Senior Professionals and Senior Management Group FTE data from UCOP.

I was going to title this post “When it was good,” but there’s so much juicy Time-ese in here that I had to cut off a slice for the headline. Anyway, this is how the press used to talk about the California Master Plan. So many lines here read in retrospect like such knowing predictions it makes me want to cry.
Read the rest of this entry »

This is officially an award-winning blog

HNN, Best group blog: "Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band.... Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing...."