Friday, December 13, 2002

Okay, Everybody Out of the Water. Your Gene Pool Privileges are Hereby Revoked.

This was initially going to be a reflective post on the nature of anti-intellectualism versus pseudo-intellectualism, but then I read my blogroll and just got pissed off. Why? A couple of reasons:

1. Sean Penn is going to Baghdad.
2. Ellen Goodman is still writing.

You would think these things have nothing whatever to do with each other or the idea of the pseudo-intellectual, but you would be wrong. These two largely insignificant, yet blood-pressure increasing news items demonstrate exactly my problems with the state of the intelligentsia in this county. Let me break it down for you, because I know you're probably wondering how the heck Sean Penn and "intelligentsia" are appearing in the same post.

First, Mister Penn. His trip is being sponsored by the Institute for Public Accuracy, which "seeks to broaden public discourse by gaining media access for those whose perspectives are commonly drowned out by corporate-backed think tanks and other influential institutions." So you're trying to tell me that Sean (I've been in front of a camera since I was 21) Penn is somehow being drowned out by corporate-backed think tanks? I'm sorry, if you're a local news producer and you have a choice between a controversial soundbite from Sean Penn or a similar soundbite from the Brookings Institution, which would you focus on? It's a poser, I know, so I'll give you a minute to think about it....

Time's up, and Mr. Penn will be appearing on your local newscast spewing his spew tonight at 6. Because it's all about the ratings (or possibly it's all about how Sean Penn's views are probably a little closer to Peter Jennings' than, say, those of the American Enterprise Institute), we out here in the real world are being forced to watch the erasure of the line between celebrity and expert.

Not that the experts are much help, either. The IPA, "With systematic outreach to mass media...promotes the inclusion of outlooks that usually get short shrift." And here's the crux of the problem. I'm sure that the good folks behind the IPA think they're doing the world a favor by sending Sean Penn to Baghdad (and as far as I'm concerned, Have At It!), but they are only doing it because his opinion, in addition to being a minority opinion, coincides with theirs about the war. Sure dissent is good to have, but there hasn't been a problem with war opponents getting air time thus far. Have they ever stopped to consider that maybe certain opinions get short shrift because they're either a) unworkable in reality, or b) just dumb as rocks?

And that brings me to Ellen Goodman, whose latest column (found via Juan Gato) demonstrates both principles aptly, as she argues that fast food corporations are responsible for obesity, because they try to market to children and they don't have Ronald MacDonald standing outside, repeatedly pantomiming a heart attack to warn people of the dangers of too many Big Macs.

See, we have the FDA, which tests and labels food. These labels are mandated, so you can check out how much that kid's meal will shorten your kid's life. And any food, eaten in enough quantity, will harm you. The crux of Ms. Goodman's argument is this--you people out there are too damn stupid to either monitor what your children eat, or to pay attention yourselves. For this, we must engage the lawyers and the courts and big brother to protect you, else you may just eat until you explode, Monty Python-style. Either that, or you may walk off a cliff. Because you're a moron.

The same thought process underpins the IPA--obviously Americans are just too stupid to know that war for any reason anywhere ever is bad and wrong. Thank God we're here to save them! And if Americans ignore the message, well, we must be getting silenced or repressed! Because no one could possibly disagree with us on principle, unless they're stupid or something.

And this is the state of the intelligentsia, coming from insular homogenous political environments within academia or journalism schools, utterly convinced of their superior intellectual standing, and completely unable to understand that they may actually be in the minority for a reason. They are pseudo-intellectuals, plain and simple, and they dominate what passes for intellectual circles nowadays. It is tiresome, to say the least.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Red Rum. Reeeeddddd Ruuuuummmm!

When it comes to Christmas decorations, I'm a lowest common denominator kinda gal. If it lights up and/or is shiny or tacky or plastic--great! I'm not gonna strap eight tiny flashing reindeer and a glowing Santa to my roof, but I'll enjoy your home if you have. Wanna incorporate Frosty and Rudolf in your front yard nativity scene, gazing adoringly with vacant cartoon eyes at the baby Jesus? Fabulous! I'll slow down to appreciate the view, chuckle, and move on. Mix your media, mix your messages, plug it in and/or inflate it, and I'll take the long circuitous route home just to be able to tell folks what I saw on my drive.

However, there is one decorating element that does not fill me with Christmasy joie de vivre--red lights. I'm not talking about the bulb on your mechanical Rudolf's nose, either, or the occasional strand mixed in with all the other stuff. I mean the homes that do all of the window candles and trim in red. I know that red is supposed to convey the warmth of a cozy hearth, that it's one of the two main Christmas colors, etc., but I'm sorry, it just doesn't work that way when used on a large scale. It looks like your house has channeled the spirit of the Overlook Hotel, and frankly, it frightens me. Not from a "how gauche" perspective, but from an "AAACCK! Hell on earth! Axe murderers!" perspective.

My horror of the red stems from my fifth grade year, when for some light Christmas reading I picked up The Amityville Horror, and scared myself into a fugue state with it. The most lasting image from that book was the glowing red pig eyes that appeared in the windows of the home. After reading that book, every time I saw a lightbulb reflected in a window pane, I jumped, and it was in this heightened state of fear that my mom took me with her to visit a friend, who had incidentally done all of her window lights in red. I spent two hours convinced that I was surrounded by pig demons, and have never fully recovered from the trauma. To this day, houses bathed in the all over glow of red chill my heart.

So if you want to make your home into the Eye of Sauron for the holiday season, feel free, but don't be surprised if I give your expression of holiday cheer a pass.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Always the English Professors, Part Deux.

I'm reading the discussion forum over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, about that subversive new force NoIndoctrination.org. I am heartened that most of the posters see the site for what it is--a place for students to air views that could do them material damage if they were expressed to the professors in question. But then I read this post, and OF COURSE it was penned by an English Professor:

Some parents should send their children directly to church and skip college. This way they can ensure a proper message is being sent. Isn't this what they do in the Madrasa in Pakistan? It worked for Bin Laden, why won't it work for them.

Mary Gravitt
Department of English
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Oh, for crying out loud, Mary, maybe you could have tried a little harder to prove the point everyone's been making about the close-minded hubris of the intellectual elite? Maybe it was a troll or a joke. So let's just Google Miss Thang, and see if she's real. Yep, listed as teaching an introductory comp course. Let me pause here and heave a great world-weary sigh. The good news is that she got slammed for being a moron in a public forum; the bad news is that she's still teaching. English. And that she seriously believes that pointing out problems in a curriculum is the sole domain of close-minded fanatics. I won't even go into her automatic association of close-minded fanaticism with religious faith. Whatever, Mare. Thanks for further sullying my chosen subject with your sanctimonious, supercilious presence. Oh, and for being sure to include your name and your area of discipline, so that there can be no doubt that English harbors the greatest number of bozos. AND for leaving the question mark off of the rhetorical question in your post, so we can add "failure to grasp the fundamentals of proofreading" to the crimes of english professors against education. No, really. Thanks.
One of Those Days

Okay, so the slightly ill toddler has evolved into pneumonia-tending toddler. We called in the cavalry (my mom) to keep him at home so that I could make an appearance at that place I call work (hublet has no leave accrued) before I forgot what it looked like. Who knew that this would cause a cascade effect of trauma? Here's what happened:

No sleep for me or toddler due to phlegm (the toddler's, not mine, though he has been kind enough to cough in my face, use my chest as a kleenex, and stick his fingers in my mouth and nose, so I should be joining him in phlegmville soon).

In a rush to get to an early doctor's appointment, I forget to relocate the full-ish trashcan to the top of the counter--this will be important later.

At the doctor--trauma, trauma, trauma. Who knew that stethoscopes are the things that must haunt my son's nightmares?

Mother loses car keys at doctor's office. Frantic search ensues, while toddler (who is engulfed, Christmas-Story like, in his new bright yellow puffy coat) wails in the aftermath of the stethoscope.

We find car keys--I transfer car seat and toddler to mother's car, stuff puffy coated toddler into car seat, give mom presciption to fill, and head for work (with brief detour to Starbucks).

Arrive at work. Since it's exam time, there is no parking. Park in metered spaces and enter office, muttering about having to pay for parking when I already have to pay for parking in the form of a parking permit, dammit.

Find two messages from mother on phone. Seems she has no house key. I am instructed to call her on her cell phone and tell her how to get to my office to retrieve said key.

Mother's cell phone number is conveniently located at my home, and mother did not leave the number on the messages.

Call dad, give him 15 seconds to get me mom's cell number.

Call mom, explain patiently that while I have indeed called her on the cell before, it was from my home, where the number is posted on the fridge. Give her directions.

Meet mom and sad toddler in parking lot, give her instructions for disarming home security system and house key.

Go inside--deal with purchasing department, IS department, and a host of idiots.

Notice message light. Mom again--apparently CVS has no record of my son.

Call CVS--politely point out that they must, since they JUST FILLED A PRESCRIPTION FOR HIM BEFORE THANKSGIVING. Ask if I can fax copy of insurance card. Nope, fax machine broken. Ask if I can give numbers over the phone. Am informed that they need to see the card because there is information on the card that they'll see that I may not. Politely tell them that since english is my first language, I can probably locate this mysterious information unless it was written in DISAPPEARING FREAKING INK. Give them information, transaction is processed accordingly.

Drive to daycare, pay for a month that I will probably not even use, fill them in on toddler's health situation. Get lunch, return to office.

Call home. Apparently mom dropped and lost the housekey outside, and so had a frantic ten minute search while sad, tired, hungry, puffy coated toddler wailed, then found key and opened door to discover that the evil weiner beagle had upended the trash and flung it everywhere. Mom tossed weiner beagle outside--sensing that mom's a little tense, I inform her that it's fine, the dog's lived a good nine years, so whatever.

Talk to much happier toddler on phone.

Hang up, eat lunch, breathe sigh of relief.

Contemplate drinking beer at work.