Friday, November 01, 2002

Too Late for Halloween, but it sure scared me!

Derrida, the movie. You can even watch a clip! QuickTime format.

Oh, dear God.
Stuff you WON'T See in the Student Newspaper

From State: Four charged in connection with laptop theft
Campus Police apprehended the suspects after investigators traced the stolen property from Jordan Hall to eBay.

Interesting aside that won't be mentioned anywhere--one of the suspects works in the Center for Student Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service.
Budding Academic, Installment 2: Budding Journalist

It's Friday, I'm coming down off a sugar high, so I submit for your approval a column written by a young lady in her university's newspaper.

FYI - her weekly column (I've read her before) is called A Dream Deferred. So when that old axe starts grinding, please contain your astonishment.

This week's submission: Race Colors How Americans React To Newsworthy Events

Ladies and gentlemen, start your duh-ometers.

I will not quote the entire article about the coverage of the sniper attacks, the gist of which is completely predictable. But I will pull a few memorable quotes for you:

If you look at this case's coverage in context to how most cases are covered, one recognizes that the race card being played up so much is not only typical, but what most Americans expect and what many desire. Huh?

Let us not underestimate that even before the discovery the case was a national press phenomenon. Murder, mystery and paranoia will always catch America's attention, and this case has all those aspects, but it takes more than that to make a lasting impression. Yeah, murder, mystery, paranoia--yawn. Pass the remote, Clem, not a damn thing on teevee tonight!

Even when the profilers' predictions of a white sniper were being accepted, the case was front and center on every station. Therefore, with or without the race feature, we certainly would have another infamous serial killer story.

But with race added into the mix, we have notoriety and a case that will be added to the top-10 list of the infamous cases because of the peculiarity of a black serial killer alone.
Okay, just stop. This will go into the Top 10 list, as you say, because apparently these guys have killed a whole damn lot of people, and isn't it interesting how many coincidences there are between the snipers' actions and the whole jihad thing? Just a thought. So maybe you want to think before dismissing it as a serial killer case that's gonna get a lot more play because the killer is black. No? Well all righty then, let's continue.

It is important to look at the sniper case through the lens of how most major cases are profiled. One must remember that all forms of media are businesses first and protectors of reader interest second.

Heads of major news companies want money and ratings and will produce whatever will achieve those ends. If you consider other prominent cases in the past decade, you will find easily that murder, race and public fear work together harmoniously and that they generate the ratings and readership the media is looking for.

Of course, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks serve as the most obvious example of this blend.
Yeah, those reports about the DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER were all about ratings. I mean, who cares that 3,000 people died? It was just a fortuitous blend!

It left widespread paranoia and thousands dead. But race played no less of a part in the story's appeal. If the event truly mirrored the threat on American freedom regardless of race, the backlash against Muslims, especially on American soil, would not have ensued. And we all remember the backlash--riots in the streets, burning of flags--oh, wait! That was in the Middle East! Simple mistake, really, as our societies are so FREAKING SIMILAR. As the Islamic faith and Afghanistan came under public scrutiny, racial, ethnic and religious differences were present. Ahh, the glories of a public education are always so apparent in this kind of incisive commentary.

Paragraphs omitted--OJ Simpson. Hey, think he's found the real killer yet?

There was also a disparity in the reactions to both the sniper and Sept. 11, 2001. While almost everyone was disheartened by the terrorist attacks, blacks were reported to be more susceptible to understanding the apparent hatred toward America than whites were. Yeah, I was sure disheartened as I sat in my living room nursing a 2 week old infant and realizing that we were AT WAR. And, sweetie, think you might have some facts to back up that whole passive voice thing about black susceptibility to understanding? While we're at it, maybe we can talk about the word choice--susceptible to understanding? Like understanding is some sort of flu bug...I can't even touch that sentence--we'd be here all weekend.

While the mainstream press focuses on the race issue in the sniper case mostly in reference to profilers being wrong, the black press is addressing the question of what the suspects' race means for blacks in America. See, there are these things called examples. I'd have liked some, because the mainstream press has tried their damndest to avoid attaching any meaning to this event whatsoever.

So on all avenues, we as Americans are divided, and the press plays on it. America to this day has an obsession, good and bad, with racial identity. As long as the interest is there, it will always be played up. And even though race itself does not make for an intriguing story, it makes an already-intriguing story more so when it is added. Yeah, that sniper story sure needed spicing up--lord knows it wasn't holding my interest before race was added!

This is perhaps the most narrow minded, self-serving thing I've read this week, and that's saying something. Of course, she is correct about the racial identity obsession--she's definitely suffering from it, and she's already made her mind up that Americans will never be able to relate to one another across racial boundaries. That slamming sound you hear? Her mind, closing. Fortunately for her, she can work out her underlying psychodrama in a public forum where, completely insulated from reality, she's free to reduce global conflicts to her pet issue. Hoo-ray for the university!


Thursday, October 31, 2002

Well, If It's in the Interest of Good Health...

I'm sure you've all seen this article, linked by Instapundit. Here's my favorite quote:

"Vibrators or personal massagers may have a broader appeal to people who use our massage therapy and physical therapy services for muscle relaxation. [Using a vibrator] can be a part of a holistic health approach," she said.

Bwaahhaaaahaaaa! If laughter is the best medicine, that article just added about 10 years to my life. Thanks, student health!

In a related story, my office received two giant boxes of Durex condoms yesterday. Why? No one knows, or if they do, they're afraid to own up. Winter's coming, kids! Gear up for indoor sports! Good grief.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Color Me Surprised--Professors Opposed to Iraq War

From this week's Chronicle of Higher Ed, 13,000 Professors Sign Petition Opposing War With Iraq. You have to subscribe to get to the article online, and they want lots o' cash, so here are a couple of highlights from the print version.

From an interview with David Fox, prof. of geology at U of Minnesota Twin Cities and author of the petition in partnership with Katherine Fennelly, public affairs prof. at the same institution:

"Since 9/11, some people are afraid to speak out or say they do not support their government," he said. "There is widespread opposition to this war across the country, not just in the academic community." Here's my thing--NO ONE in the academic community has been shy or frightened about speaking out against war. The fact that you got 13,000 signatures of professors in about a month via word of mouth sort of makes the point. It's just the same old same old.

Check out the petition online. The arguments are the usual suspects, "Not Enough Proof," "Unilateralism Bad," yadda. freaking. yadda. You're entitled to your opinion, but please, for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, STOP trotting out the tired "people are scared to speak" chestnut in order to make yourselves feel brave and groundbreaking. It is entirely possible that a large number of people either aren't interested enough to speak, or that they actually support the war. None of them, however, is going to sic the feds on your ass, although I have a sneaking suspicion that some of you would like that to happen so that you could feel vindicated and more important than you actually are.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Well, good grief!

Was minding my own business and popped over to check my logs--whoa! Traffic! Thanks to all who found something worthy of reading here! Also, I'm adding this nothing post because Clayton Cramer suggested that blogger sometimes needs new posts on top of old for the archiving to work. Thanks for the tip! So, a post.

Monday, October 28, 2002

The Truth is Whatever We Want it To Be, or
Surprised by Bellesiles? Umm, No.


The Bellesiles case has something for everyone involved in or critical of academia--sloppy, made up research, sloppy or non-existent peer review, lies, denials, political embarrassment, and resignation under duress. Practically the entire blogosphere has weighed in on this one, so I feel compelled to do the same, although hopefully from a different enough angle for it to be interesting.

I'd like to focus on this quote from Bellesiles (taken from a National Review article):
"All that remains in question are the few paragraphs and table on probate materials. On those paragraphs, Emory's committee of inquiry found no evidence of fabrication, though they do not charge evasion. … I adamantly deny both charges. I have never fabricated evidence of any kind nor knowingly evaded my responsibilities as a scholar. I have never consciously misrepresented any data or evidence. …I will continue to research and report on the probate materials while also working on my next book, but cannot continue to teach in what I feel is a hostile environment."

It is not surprising that Bellesiles would defend his work in order to salvage his scholarly reputation; however, I think that Bellesiles actually BELIEVES that he did nothing wrong, and that the current academic culture in the humanities nurtures such belief among all its adherents. At the heart of such self-delusion is the postmodern thought that pervades every campus.

When you arrive in a graduate program, particularly in humanities, your emphasis shifts from reader-response engagement and moves to critical theory. This is sensible--you spent four years coming to terms with the content of your major, and now you must engage not only the basic texts but the theories of those who are shaping the current debate. Enter post-modernism and moral equivalence. In anthropology and sociology, Clifford Geertz redefined the debate to make it impossible for a culture's observer to make any critical comment about that culture unless he or she is a part of it. In english lit., Derrida and deconstruction make it impossible to make a definitive statement about meaning of any kind. For a fun example, read this intro to the Derrida Online Website. Makes your head spin.

These theories cross-pollinate and their immediate result for the average student is the idea that not only can't you decide what certain texts mean, you can make up any meaning you want to as long as you quote a plausible theorist. In my case, I applied post-colonial theory to Faulkner, and was assured an A on every paper, because I overspread the underlying popular Fuck Whitey thought with a thin veneer of scholarship provided by Homi K Bhabha and Edward Said. Now, I knew good and well that Faulkner wasn't about any of this, but it didn't matter! I was basically encouraged to distort reality and for lack of a better phrase, make shit up. And I was rewarded for it! We were all doing it, and telling ourselves that playing fast and loose with what we knew was the truth of a text was okay, because we were "opening the text to exploration." It also came in handy when dismantling arguments we didn't like--our enemies couldn't argue against a point when the point itself kept shifting. Or, you could just skip the verbal sophistry and go straight to the "racist oppressor" argument--the one in which you claimed your opponent was a lemming-like product of the evil white man and thus was blind to other points of view. That one always worked. Eventually, anything you saw fit to pull from a text, no matter how out of context or patently absurd (my MA thesis is a great example of this: Medieval Passion Plays as sites of political struggle. Umm, no. But it got me the degree!) was a go. Reality was whatever you said it was, provided you could pull enough quotes out of context. And if your politics were correct, no one was going to look too closely at the research, source material, or thought process.

Now back to Bellesiles. He's guilty, and I'm not trying to exculpate him, but to me it seems like he was just continuing to do what he was trained to do by the system--look at a subject, determine the conclusion you want to reach, and manipulate the data accordingly. After all, he was just "opening the facts up to new interpretation and exploration." And it would have worked, too, if not for those pesky kids at the NRA! His politics were correct, thus no one reviewing his work looked at his research, source material, or thought processes. But here's the kicker: the fact that he continues to insist that he's going to keep researching probate materials when half of the ones he said he looked at DON'T EVEN EXIST! Bellesiles has completely surpassed me and my fellow students in shaping reality to his own ends. In the current academic envrionment, Mr. Bellesiles gets a gold star.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Shut Up, Susan Sarandon.

Tuned in (briefly) to the protest on Saturday night, and caught this nugget from America's bug-eyed sweetheart: "I'm tired of being afraid to voice my opinion!"

Just before my head exploded, something occurred to me: in Hollywood, being silenced means that no one is paying attention to you. And for people who are accustomed to being fawned over, it's a fate worse than death. Look, anyone with an internet connection has seen or been forced to avoid the "Not in Our Name" letter crap, the bizarre pseudo-political screeds by every hack writer, director and actor vacationing abroad, and now a TELEVISED PROTEST, FOR CHRISSAKES. Your message is and has been out there, and none among your number has been "disappeared," so I can only assume that your complaint is that C-Span doesn't get the ratings share you're accustomed to. My God, your voice is being silenced!

It's not that you're really fearful for either your life or your livelihood, Suze. You're simply unaccustomed to having people ignore you, or pay attention to you just to mock your words. And your experience with this is so limited that the public's indifference and ridicule seem like censorship. But buck up, little soldier! The longer you flap your gums at the world at large, the more experience you're going to have with being ridiculed and ignored.