Friday, January 10, 2003

Random "the Hell?" Moment

As I was sitting in the Jiffy Lube, reading Patricia Cornwell's latest on Jack the Ripper (because I finished Bruce Campbell's autobiography, am taking a break from Victor Davis Hanson and am not in the mood for Simon Schama just yet), I happened to glance up at the TV in the waiting room as The Price is Right was signing off.

Between the usual vapid game show host exhortations, like "See you next time" or "Thanks for watching," Bob Barker came out with "And remember to get your pets spayed or neutered!" The hell?

I have nothing against the sentiment, but the setting was bizarre...I had no idea that Bob was an animal rights dude, but apparently he's enodwed Harvard Law with half a mil for the study of animal rights. There's even a course offered now--an excerpt of the description follows:

We discuss the sources and characteristics of fundamental rights, why humans are entitled to them, why nonhuman animals have been denied them, whether legal rights should be limited to humans and, if not, what nonhuman animals should be entitled to them under the common law, and to which legal rights they should be entitled. Finally, we examine in detail the arguments for and against the entitlement of chimpanzees and bonobos to the common law rights to bodily integrity and bodily liberty."

I feel like I should have a big earth shattering point here about celebrity, causes, and individual choice, but I find that I am tired, and still a little weirded out. Plus, it's Friday.

You Say Intentional Strategies, I Say Gobbledygook

Inspired by this blurb from The Corner, I think I'm going to start a new weekly feature in which I bring you an example of complete gibberish masquerading as sophisticated rhetorical eloquence within the higher ed milieu:

Example #1: Intentional Strategies.
At first glance, it looks impressive. When used in a sentence, such as in a description of an enrichment program, like this: "Social ease and interaction can be facilitated through intentional strategies that enhance self-understanding and relationship building," it looks mighty impressive indeed. But let's pause for a moment and dissect the phrase "intentional strategies." What do we discover?

Well, for starters, that it's redundant as hell. Has any strategist ever sat down to create an "unintentional strategy?" No, because if you think about and create a strategy, you've intended to do it. If you do end up with something that can be referred to as an "unintentional strategy," then that would be what we call an ACCIDENT, and probably not something you'd want to crow about in a publication. So why not just call it a "strategy?"

Because it doesn't sound impressive enough, and because people who read a sentence like this one: "We'll help your kid make new friends in college by doing some role-playing in a classroom" might think twice before committing junior or juniorette into the capable hands of the college administrators, secure in the knowledge that these people Know What They're Doing. Well, that, and the fact that the grant money might stop flowing like water if the folks reading the proposals actually understood their fatuous nature.

Good to know that all the bs skills I picked up in college are being put to good use by my fellow educators, isn't it?

Thursday, January 09, 2003

It's Called Sense. Act Like You Have Some.

There are 3 certainties in this world: death, taxes, and the fact that there will inevitably be a wreck during the morning commute at Exit #298 that will block the two inside lanes and trap me, sardine-like, in a 45 minute hell-crawl to my exit, exactly one mile farther on.

I will not deny that this particular exit is especially dangerous--it has traffic entering the expressway and trying to accelerate at one end, and traffic decelerating to use the exit ramp portion at the other, and it's really not long enough to serve this function. But here's my beef: if you're using this entrance/exit at about 7:00 a.m. on a weekday, it's because you either a) live downtown and are heading out to work, or b) live in the suburbs and are heading to work downtown. So this exit ramp and its attendant dangers should not be a surprise to you, as travelling to and from work and home is a fairly routine business.

I further realize that this particular ramp should be lengthened/widened/fixed, and that the Department of Highways should "definitely be DOING SOMETHING" about it, but so far nothing has been done, and the ramp doesn't appear inclined to defy the laws of physics and magically fix itself.

So, could everyone just please NOT drive like morons when dealing with this situation? If you're exiting the highway, don't have an impromptu drag race to get in front of the folks trying to get ON the highway, only to discover that you've run out of room and must now slam on breaks and wrench the wheel to the right to make the exit. It's not productive, it's not polite, and it frankly tempts me to acts of road rage unparalleled in recent history. I'll say it once, slowly: To Exit The Highway: Go. Behind. The. Cars. Getting. On. The. Highway. Or. I. WIll. Hunt. You. Down. On. Behalf. Of. Everyone. Sitting. Motionless. On. I-40. As. A. Result. Of. Your. Stupidity.

No really, I will. I mean, what else have I got to do with my time while parked on the beltline?

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Relative, Shmelative

I was reading about Michele's travails with the public school system's "zero tolerance" violence policy (which is translated "zero tolerance for the victims of school violence because we'd much rather blame you for being a quiet law-abiding citizen than confront someone who may actually, you know, react in a way that would make us uncomfortable--eek!"), and was getting depressed enough over the state of education in this country when my husband decided to add to my despair.

Hublet has recently changed jobs and become a high school english teacher. I am pleased to report that he made it through his first semester relatively unscathed, and that 14-18 year olds relate well to him--insert joke about relative maturity levels here; I certainly have. So this semester he's picked up a class of college-level seniors, and he's all excited about being able to teach British Lit., wandering the house pulling books off of shelves and muttering about how there's just not enough time. I heart my little lit-geek hublet, I do.

However, his excitement was somewhat dimmed when he picked up the "standard text" for literature as approved by the edu-honchos and noticed, next to an essay by Milton, a piece by Anna Quindlen. Now, here's the thing--content, politics, or anything else aside here, Anna Quindlen's name should NEVER appear next to Milton's, not because I'm trying to say she's a no-talent hack with a series of bizarre axes to grind, but because they are apples and oranges. However, in the relativist world of pc-mandated education, the fact that both writers produced essays within their lifetimes makes them equivalent.

Where do I even start with this? There's SO MUCH WRONG with a worldview that completely erases the great gulf of complex differences between the author of Paradise Lost and the author of Thinking Out Loud that I shouldn't even need to write about it. But apparently these differences are lost on the folks RESPONSIBLE for EDUCATING the YOUTH OF AMERICA. Who cares about any of that esoteric culture and history stuff? They both wrote, and this way, women writers can't complain about getting short shrift.

Would someone please explain that the reason women and minorities are underrepresented in the Western Canon is because they weren't taught to read and write on a regular basis until about 100 years ago? Why must we overlook the realities of history, which would incidentally give students a much larger appreciation of writers like Jane Austen and Frederick Douglass, in order to make everyone "feel good about themselves?"

Instead, students are spoon fed crap like The Country of the Pointed Firs alongside Sister Carrie, and told, when they notice the great gulf in quality, that these pieces of literature are merely "different, not better or worse than one another." Students don't buy this lie on an instinctual level, but because of the need by educators to help human nature overcome itself by simply erasing inconvenient facts like "for the most part, men produced better literature than women in the 19th century, and here's why," they are not given the critical vocabulary that would help them articulate their feelings. So they feel cheated and lied to, and become cynical A-seekers, divorced from the joy of literature.

When we read, we want a story that speaks to us on many levels. You may have to struggle with Shakesperean language, but once you do, the rewards are innumerable. No one sits down to read a novel on the basis of the race or gender of the novelist--well, except for the folks at the Department of Public Instruction. And that, friends, is the problem. Milton wept.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Head/Posterior Separation

Proving either that it is possible for college administrators to see the idiocy of blanket pc policymaking, or that fear of negative publicity can force morons to act properly (your call, dear reader), here's an update on the UNC-Chapel Hill case from FIRE--for the original story, just scroll down. I'm not even gonna try with the whole Blogger direct link thingy. From FIRE:

Victory for Religious Liberty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL, NC -- The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) has reversed its threatened withdrawal of recognition and benefits from a student group, the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). IVCF had been ordered not to use its religious beliefs as criteria for the selection of its own leaders. On December 30, 2002, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) drew widespread public attention to UNC’s denial of constitutionally protected religious liberty. On December 31, 2002, UNC Chancellor James Moeser announced that IVCF would not be punished for organizing around its beliefs.

"We are pleased with UNC’s decision, which bodes well for the constitutional and moral rights of UNC’s students," said Alan Charles Kors, president of FIRE. "The swiftness of this victory emphasizes the profound truth of what Justice Louis Brandeis observed so well: ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’"

On December 10, 2002, Jonathan E. Curtis, assistant director for student activities and organizations at UNC, wrote to IVCF, stating that UNC objected to a provision in the IVCF constitution "that Officers must subscribe in writing and without reservation to ... Christian doctrine." Curtis told IVCF to "modify the wording of your charter or I will have no choice but to revoke your University recognition."

FIRE wrote to Chancellor Moeser, explaining why UNC’s threat was injurious to authentic liberty: "To insist that a religious student organization not discriminate on issues of faith and on matters of voluntary association that flow from its practice of its faith -- to insist, in short, that a Christian organization not be Christian -- not only deprives the individual members of that organization of their rights under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, but also imposes upon them an ideology alien to their conscience, in violation of the First Amendment. [IVCF] has as much right to freedom of expression as the conveners of the discussions of the Koran at UNC-Chapel Hill had to their First Amendment rights." FIRE also cited Supreme Court decisions that explicitly prohibit institutions and agents of the state -- such as public universities -- from forcing a group to admit an unwanted person or from requiring that a group express allegiance to a particular orthodoxy.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Nuggets O' Wisdom--Or, Why I'm Just Not Interested in Sociology

From the sociologist Richard Sennet (in the Chronicle):

  • The job of the state is to make sure that everyone has enough to eat, can get medical care when they need it, can get to work without risk.
  • Bet Adams, Jefferson, et al would be surprised!
  • Climbing the greasy pole of success should be left to individuals.
  • Okay, that's just eewwwww. Thanks for the image, dude. Plus, it's not even a good or accurate metaphor.
  • The most difficult kind of inequality for people to bridge is differences in ability.
  • Really? Never would have guessed.

There's more, you can read it yourself if you're so inclined. But basically it boils down to fuzzy recycled Marxism, disdain for capiltalism, ignorance of basic human nature, and statements of the blatantly obvious delivered as though they were divine revelations (see last item on list above for example). There's a reason why all the folks interested in an easy A gravitate toward Sociology, and it ain't the cool decoder rings you get when you join up.