You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

So, we’re coming up on “mid December” again. The announcement on the “What’s New” page for the Research Doctorate Programs rankings is still the July announcement. The fifteenth anniversary of the previous rankings approaches. Possibly I’ve been looking at the wrong web-page for a year, and the rankings have in fact already been released.

This chart/slide/tangled web of spaghetti does not fill me with confidence about Afghanistan:

It is all too reminiscent of this one:

The magical realism of the latter Powerpoint was going to make the occupation run smoothly, with the aggressive arrows on each side funneling the Iraqis into modernity: peace, democracy, and Starbucks. The former seems similar in its optimism that depicting the complexity of the situation will somehow make it better. But it does not explain or clarify that complexity, it simply duplicates it; Afghanistan’s dynamics as the smudged rendering of a slightly askew copy machine.

A friend passed on some survey results about philosophers’ opinions on Big Issues. Some surprises: a full 66% accept or lean toward accepting a priori knowledge! Only 30% accept or lean toward moral anti-realism! These are sublime and funky results indeed.

This week James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers, wrote in the New York Times that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was Theodore [yes, you read that right: Theodore] Roosevelt’s fault. TR probably would have hugged to his flabby bullet-scarred chest the notion that he could start wars twenty-three years after his death. But let us attempt to take this case seriously.
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Scott McLemee responds to some of his sublime and funky demonstrably insane critics. It’s well worth the read, for this paragraph among many other reasons:

In any case, I want to make clear that there is no way I would ever send Cornel West a box of fried chicken. If we’re going to indulge in identity politics, let me just mention that I come from a Southern working-class family. If I had a box of fried chicken, I would eat it myself. Cornel West earns more in a weekend of public speaking than I do from a year of writing. Let him buy his own food.

A fantastic depiction of spreading unemployment. A better version is here.

In this era of bottom lines, Simon Sadler asks if we might not consider the other end of things.

Many faculty and students are stepping up to the plate this year to explain the bottom line on why public education is vital for our economy and for social justice. Is there also a way we can talk unabashedly about the top line, the improbable ambition of the institution, its libraries and labs and gardens and concerts, its saved lives in its hospitals and classrooms, unafraid of sounding elitist because the top line too is testament to UC’s splendid publicness?

Let there be light: not a bad pitch. Abstract. Benign, but grand. Secular, yet still echoing with religious thunder. It doesn’t short-sell the purpose of the UC. We are, however, feeling pressured to invent more positivist missions with greater customer orientation and more directly measurable outcomes—more bottom lines, in short, and fewer top lines.

Just as at the UC, senior administrators for the New York Public Library are working with consultants toward “reinventing” their institutional role. None of that, though, seemed to have got to our docent. He unhurriedly recounted the lessons the New York Public Library learned from the other great libraries since Alexandria, and stories of readers who’d come in off the street, read economics books, and gone from rags to riches, and he recalled tales of immigrants who’d been allowed to read books in their own languages denied them in the countries they had left, and he meditated on the depositing of materials for research not yet imagined. And through it all he was cannily reminding us that a choice had been made, and was still being made, between wonder and disenchantment.

There’s a beautiful little metaphor in that post, well worth the moment it will take you to read the small rest of it.

Aaron Bady, aka zunguzungu, has a long post up about the crisis facing the UC.

He argues that:

One of the myths about the UC system crisis is the idea that “Sacramento” is the real villain, and that protesting the UC administration is a waste of time. The legislature is the actual problem, people say, because they‘re the ones who have allocated less money to the University system. Instead of occupying the Office of the President of the UC system, such people argue, students should really be protesting politicians in Sacramento.

This seems to me to be both wrongheaded and misinformed. The president (and the regents who appoint him) are Sacramento, while the university community itself has not only had very little role in the massive top-down restructuring of the university that got under way in July, but they have been quite actively shut out of it, by the Regents and by President Mark Yudof, who are doing the job Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed them to do. Which is to say, when students from the university protest against the regents and the President, they are protesting Sacramento. The legislature in Sacramento may have created the problem by cutting funding for higher education, but it’s the representatives and appointees of our Sacramento-based governor who have turned the problem into an opportunity to privatize higher education in California.

This is an important point, because — and this needs to be emphasized — the scandal of the administration’s conduct is not the fact that they’re cutting services while raising fees, at least not in and of itself. In bad economic times, some kind of response is necessary. The scandal is that Mark Yudof and the regents are using the crisis of the moment to push forward a plan to privatize the UC system that has long been in the works and is geared to be permanent. And they are doing it by assuming “emergency powers” which allow them to arbitrarily overturn the precedents and policy that would otherwise explicitly prevent them from doing so, everything from caps on the amount that student fees can be raised to the contracts they’ve signed with university employees to the “Master Plan” for higher education that the state of California established fifty years ago. So if we want to talk about “Sacramento,” then let’s do so. But we need, then, to talk about two things: first, how the Republicans that run California through the governor’s mansion have been trying to privatize the state’s public education for a very long time, and, second, how the regents and Mark Yudof have been using the rhetoric of “crisis” to push that agenda through, bit by bit and step by step, replacing the UC’s traditional system of shared governance with a system of top-down corporate management.

The whole post is worth your time. So click on over and have a look.

Epictetus warned us not to go to graduate school twenty centuries ago — even if we could always go to law school become tax men as a back-up:

Thus, some people, when they have seen a philosopher… wish to philosophize themselves.  Man, first consider what kind of business this is.  And then learn what your own nature is; can you bear it?… Do you suppose you can do these things and keep on eating and drinking and enthusing and sulking just as you do now?  You will have to go without sleep, labor, leave home, be despised by a slave, have everyone laugh at you, have the worse in everything, in jobs, in lawsuits, in every trifle.

Encheiridion, 29.

Battleship Row, 7 December 1941

On this day on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” the American naval base on Oahu at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Pearl Harbor has become iconic though sometimes people who shouldn’t have have nonetheless forgotten the exact date.

There are a substantial number of remembrances across the web today, including here, here, here (photos), and here.

USS Maine

I don’t aim to repeat that with my post. What I am interested in on this anniversary is the way in which the United States memorializes its disasters. America has a series of tragic dates, which are often remembered better than the victories. Pearl Harbor–I think–is more familiar than Midway (though perhaps not D-Day). The Maine is remembered more than any battle in the Spanish-American War. The Alamo still resonates in a way that no victory of either the Texas Revolution or the Mexican-American War does. The burning of Washington rivals Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans by way of remembering the War of 1812. For the American Revolution, Valley Forge is as legendary as Yorktown. The Civil War is somewhat the exception, with Gettysburg–a victory for the United States–dominating all other events.

Fascinating also is the way in which the most recent of these–9/11 and Pearl Harbor–have become inextricably linked to their date. December 7 and September 11th have come to be an identifying label for both events. They have managed this in a way that not even July 4th can duplicate, being on the wrong day, and all.

The British do something similar with Dunkirk, the Somme, and the “Black Week” of the Boer War, among others. The British “lose every battle but the last one,” an epigraphic way of universalizing the obsession with defeat, so perhaps this is not particularly American behavior. Those events are linked to dates as well, though not quite as specifically as Pearl and 9/11: 1940 for Dunkirk, 1 July 1916 for the Somme (ignoring that the battle went on for months), the name itself for the “Black Week.”

I don’t have a reason why this might be, or a conclusion about what such a fixation means, but it strikes me nonetheless that it is odd that such a strong strain of American historical memory is taken up obsessing about such catastrophes: defeat from the jaws of victory, indeed.

I note with some amusement that my former employer, the University of Denver, has hired Michael Brown, one of the few miscreants pathetic enough to have failed out of the Bush administration. Brown will teach a class on the Patriot Act at DU’s law school. That said, given that John Yoo is still a member in good standing of the University of California’s faculty, there’s only so much chuckling to be done here.

On a more serious note, Fred Cheever, the associate dean quoted in the linked story above, is actually a great guy and very progressive politically. (He may also be John Cheever’s son. That was the rumor, at least, though I never had the guts to ask him.) I can’t imagine how much all of this pains him. Which suggests that one lesson here is about the Faustian bargains made along the administrative track. They’ll offer you a nice office and a salary bump, sure, but next thing you know, you’re defending the decision to hire Dick Cheney to teach a class on the rule of law.

(Via Ben Alpers)

It’s probably not the case that Cornel West’s new memoir approaches the low standard recently established by my former governor, but this passage is truly cause for wonder:

The basic problem with my love relationships with women is that my standards are so high — and they apply equally to both of us. I seek full-blast mutual intensity, fully fledged mutual acceptance, full-blown mutual flourishing, and fully felt peace and joy with each other. This requires a level of physical attraction, personal adoration, and moral admiration that is hard to find. And it shares a depth of trust and openness for a genuine soul-sharing with a mutual respect for a calling to each other and to others. Does such a woman exist for me? Only God knows and I eagerly await this divine unfolding. Like Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship in Emily Bronte’s remarkable novel Wuthering Heights or Franz Schubert’s tempestuous piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat (D.960) I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!

#1: Is Cornel West admitting that he is a zombie? And if so, by “sublime and funky love,” does he actually mean “sweet, nourishing brains?”

#2: Um. It’s been almost 20 years since I read Wuthering Heights, but somehow I don’t recall the novel being a useful guidebook for the fully-unfolded openness and flourishing of sublime and funky love. Not that I didn’t also crave back then a love fully-blown with funkiness and sublimity, mind you. Indeed, I — like Cornel West and Schubert — refused to allow anything (e.g., my homely appearance, my regrettable hygiene, my social clumsiness) stand in the way of my craving for the sublime and the funky, love-wise. But when I imagined what a love flourishing with soul-sharing funk and mutual cravings for the eager and trusting sublime, a character like Heathcliff — who, if memory serves, hung hanged his wife’s dog for the fun of it — would have seemed like a pretty unconvincing role model as I searched for evidence of God’s unfolding revelation of death-defying and life-affirming funkiness. But setting aside animal cruelty and spousal abuse, I will not let life or death stand in the way of this sublime and funky love that I crave!

What about you? What — if anything — will deter your funk-related cravings?

Ari tells me I’m the last person to notice this, but what the heck: it’s totally obvious that Disney’s Robin Hood is a fable for the modern American right wing, isn’t it? I mean, the Merry Men, these guys who are traditionally English yeomen, are instead depicted and voiced as country music-lovin’, church-goin’ good ol’ boys who just want them some tax rebates. No, really, Andy Devine’s Friar Tuck actually says “tax rebates.”

Want to push this reading untenably further? Notice that Robin Hood and Little John shrug off the idea of running up enormous debt while cutting back taxes. Notice Little John stoutly defends what’s clearly, within the narrative, a foolhardy military adventure as a “great crusade.”

This has been another edition of too-close readings.

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