Thursday, April 24, 2003

The Rub

I remember taking my first theory course--it was, interestingly enough, in grad school, because my undergraduate institution focused on reader response when it came to literary texts. I am glad of that approach, as it seems to me that familiarity with the words on the page is essential when you start delving into theoretical schools of thought--there are so many that often students get overwhelmed by the need to apply the theory to make their point and forget what the text itself says. I think this is why so much academic output is so easy to mock--it's become an exercise in pushing the envelope, not in reading the text, and the envelope gets pushed right into (unwitting) self-parody.

I also remember moving rather quickly from the glow of "what interesting ideas" to a jaded "this is stupid, but I need an "A"" approach to my own writings. When I try to pinpoint the reason, I realize it's more a combination of factors than One Big Flaw in Education. I was reminded of this when I reread a Stanley Fish piece (slow day at work, okay?) in which he spends a LOT of type to make the point that postmodernism isn't to blame for the vapidity of much scholarly debate or the insipid nature of students, but that the failure of intellectuals (and society at large) to properly understand postmodernism leads to these problems. Well okay, Stanley, I get that. But it doesn't actually solve the problem, does it?

And here's the rub: when confronted with the negative consequences of a particular school of thought or philosophical movement, intellectuals almost always fall back on the "it isn't properly understood" defense. Which can almost always be true, based on the myriad interpretations of any given idea, theory or approach to life. Real life example--I made a post mocking a particularly vapid proclamation by a professor, and pointed out that his views were unsurprising, given his penchant for decorating his website with Che Guevara posters. I received an earnest non-flaming email from a lady who informed me that I didn't properly understand what Guevara was about--he was a freedom fighter, etc. etc. Okay, I'll admit to deficiency in my Guevara knowledge, so I did a little research. And what I came back to, and what I pointed out in my reply to this emailer was that at the end of the day, there was blood all over Guevara's hands, and not because he was "misunderstood," but because he did precisely what he said he would do. In addition, Guevara shares in the blood on Castro's hands, because he gave the fellow a "leg up," so to speak. As such, my contempt of those who hold him up as a paragon of virtue is defensible.

Proclaiming and preserving someone's innocence because they've been "misunderstood" even when their own actions and history point to the opposite conclusion is wrong. Ideas do have consequences, but it's almost impossible to see what they'll be when the ideas are being put forward. So it's back to the rub. Philosophies will almost always be misunderstood, misused, and abused. The question is, what do we do about it?

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Weirdest. Dream. Ever.

Okay, so for some reason a friend of mine (who I've never seen before) and I decide to go snowshoeing in Finland. So we snowshoe around, ride some trains, cross some suspension bridges, and find ourselves at the Royal Palace, which has a small pond in front of it that has never thawed, except for once in 1996 (you can see one crack in the ice). In my dreamworld, there is no summer in Finland.

So we enter the palace, because, hey! That's what you do, and who should greet us except Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Dick Cheney. It doesn't dawn on me how odd it would be to a) just walk into a government building and meet these folks in FINLAND, or b) that they all seem to know who I am. So we chitchat, Dick Cheney looks absolutely dour about something, then Rumsfeld grabs my arm and says we're going to take a tour of the palace. He kind of marches me down the hall to this room where - SURPRISE! My family and some other friends are throwing me a surprise birthday party. I get a really cool charm bracelet with these odd purple stones on it, and my mom makes the comment that the stone matches some velour outfit she has. Then I start to get the feeling that something isn't quite right. But before the evil lurking surprise (something involving Rummy, I think) can reveal itself, I am jolted awake by my son's demands for a midnight (or 3:44 a.m.) beverage.

I was quite relieved to wake up.

Of course, my dreams have nothing on Michele's. Nothing like a mountain of rotting flesh to really give you that rested and refreshed feeling.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Rick is Reilly Pissing Me Off

Confession time: I, a female, womanly type person, regularly read Sports Illustrated. I don't follow sports that closely, but I usually like the columnists and features, although the overwrought heartstring tugging style of sports reportage currently en vogue does annoy. However, I deal with it. I liked the movie Rudy, after all, so I'm not essentially opposed to the Lifetime for Men aspects of sportswriting. But lately my enjoyment of SI has dwindled to almost zero, and it's all the fault of one person: Rick Reilly.

Let's get something straight: When I pick up an issue of Sports Illustrated, I assume that the issue will contain stories about, oh, I don't know, SPORTS. Imagine my surprise when the March 19th issue contained a Reilly-penned paean to Dean Smith--not for the winning at basketball thing, but for his politics. Okay, I thought, that's odd and a little annoying, but perhaps I'm annoyed because as a State fan I must automatically despise all things Chapel Hill. But it's still weird to see someone celebrated in SI for his politics...oh, well. Hublet and I discussed our surprise and annoyance, engaged in a little healthy Chapel Hill bashing, and moved on.

The following week, Reilly wrote about the disconnect of getting excited about sports when there's a war on. Okay, fair enough. But must we descend into this lovely little PSA in the middle of the column:

Chris, there are millions of us in this country who hate this war, hate how it came to this, hate what it will leave behind in sorrow and debt and newly minted terrorists. But we respect you who must fight it, are humbled by your service, honor you for your willingness to die for our flag.

Again, my response was something along the lines of eyeroll, shrug, move on. It was a wartime column, after all, though I found the "those of us" somewhat smug and condescending. Have you checked your readership demographics lately, Ricky boy? But I digress.

The following two weeks were back to form--light satire. Tra-la. But then I get this crap last week, in a column entitiled "Three Ring Masters;"

Or was it when a Canadian, a lefty and a hockey nut won the Masters -- all in one day? It was a big week for lefties: winner Mike Weir, third-place finisher Phil Mickelson and Burk, of course.

WTF? There were about 50 protesters, and half of them had nothing to do with Burk, and some of them were mocking everyone there. Reilly then relates this freaky story about almost coming to blows with a KKK guy at the protest:

"You want to shake my hand?" he said, offering it.
"No, but I'd like to spit in it," I replied.
"If you do," he said, "they'll have to get the law over here to pull me off you."
"Pack a lunch, motherf-----," I said, reaching deep into my clever bag of names, "'cause it'll take you all day."

Okay, Rick? Listen to me. I do not even give the left cheek of a rat's ass about your stance, your politics, or who you bravely stood up to in a group of 50 people at an irrelevant protest at a GOLF TOURNAMENT. I do not give the right cheek of a rat's ass about the politics of any athlete, coach, ball boy, or caddy. Know why? 'Cause it's SPORTS, you ridiculous turd! Don't go getting your politics in my sports, or I will smite you with furious anger! Sports are supposed to be about universals--striving, achieving, surviving the agony of defeat, insert cliche' here. That's why people watch sports, to see the best (and sometimes the worst) of human nature writ large, not to reflect upon socialized medicine.

And I can't help getting the impression that you're inserting politics here not so much to make an argument, but to demonstrate your pc street cred. Ooh, you're so fabulous, Rick! You got all involved in a Martha Burk protest! You stood up to (one weirdo proclaiming himself) the KKK! Wow! You are so gonna get laid for that! Rock on, tiny dissident sportswriter! No one will dare crush your dissent! Or blow you with a chill wind, or, or something--check with Tim Robbins for the wording on that.

So in addition to being annoying, you're also a sanctimonious prick. Hey, Rick? Do us all a favor and stick to being sarcastic about Major League Baseball drug testing. Because when you do that, we aren't reminded that you're a whiny little moron. And our day is made a little brighter.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Southern Gothic III - Deliverance

So my cousin Lee (you know, the one whose dog was devoured by his brother's lioness) moved up to the NC/TN mountains after he got out of the Marines. He married a nice mountain girl named Nellie, and took up carpentry, doing cabinetry and other work for all the rich yankees who build houses near the ski resorts up there.

Nellie's dad is named Otis, and he's a failed teetotaler who vacillates between being "saved" and making moonshine runs (Oh, and he got in trouble with the law once for growing a single pot plant in the flowerbed in front of his house. The DEA can't find the drugs pouring over the borders in a flood but they can harass one dissolute mountain man. And not find his still. Whatever, DEA.). But I digress.

Anyway, Otis has a bit of a hairtrigger temper when he's off the wagon, and like all good moonshiners, he's armed. Lee and Nellie have a house on land adjacent to Otis', and there's a creek running along the back of the properties. One night, Lee awoke to this screeching, grinding, crashing noise. Since they don't live near any large highways, this was worthy of notice, so Lee grabbed his rifle and his flashlight and went to investigate.

If you're unfamiliar with this part of the state, there's a large, mobile population of migrant workers that comes through during the summer to work the tomato farms. Most of them are illegal aliens, and very few speak English. What Lee discovered when he went out back was a car full of non-English speaking, drunk, and confused Mexicans. Apparently, they weren't paying attention, and the driver thought that the creek bed was an extension of the unpaved road they'd been driving on. He soon discovered otherwise.

The biggest danger here was not the carload of confused and frightened Mexicans, nor the lone mountaineer with a rifle. The biggest danger was that Otis, having been imbibing a bit himself, would interpret this event as a hostile takeover attempt and react accordingly. So it was without irony or overstatement that Lee trotted back up to the house, got the keys to his truck and told Nellie,"There's a carload of Mexicans in the creek. I'm gonna tow them out before Otis shoots them."

So Lee did, Otis' wrath was averted, and the workers, now very, very sober, drove off. Just another day (or night) in the holler.
Oh, and Here's Something Actually On-Topic for the Blog

This article, which proclaims the death of post-modern theorizing. Amusing, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the rest of the scions of modern-day academia at large to admit these truths (they can't afford to lose the publishing deals):

"...Sander L. Gilman, a professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, replied instead. "I would make the argument that most criticism — and I would include Noam Chomsky in this — is a poison pill," he said. "I think one must be careful in assuming that intellectuals have some kind of insight. In fact, if the track record of intellectuals is any indication, not only have intellectuals been wrong almost all of the time, but they have been wrong in corrosive and destructive ways."

Mr. Fish nodded approvingly. "I like what that man said," he said. "I wish to deny the effectiveness of intellectual work. And especially, I always wish to counsel people against the decision to go into the academy because they hope to be effective beyond it."

So Stanley Fish arrives at the only destination made possible by deconstruction--deconstructing deconstruction. Wheeeee! Come join the intellectual circle jerk; just be sure that you understand that Nothing. You. Do. Matters! Of course, you should still expect a nice salary and the perks that come with draconian thought control inside your classroom--gotta have that stuff or there's no point!But wait, there's more:

If theory's political utility is this dubious, why did the theorists spend so much time talking about current events? Catharine R. Stimpson, a panelist and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, offered one, well, theory. "This particular group of intellectuals," she said, "has a terror of being politically irrelevant."

You know that hackneyed old saying, "The truth will out?" Yeah.

(via NRO)

We Interrrupt the Familial Mockery to Bring You This Public Service Announcement:
What the Hell is WRONG with You People?

Okay, I would have considered this article to be Swiftian, except for the inconvenient fact that it's not a satire, but an actual report. By and large I stay out of the abortion debate, but this is just over the freaking top. When you're so subsumed by a political issue that you cannot ever see a reason for an exception for fear of some damn "slippery slope," even when the exception is obvious, sensible, and done in the name of freaking JUSTICE, then you've crossed the line from fanatically stupid into actually evil.

An (almost) full term baby, who was capable of life outside the womb and who was WANTED by the mother, died, because his father murdered his mother, and because, to put it scientifically, a chemical had not yet been released by the baby's body that would start labor. To split hairs over whether the baby had actually been "born" in order to prevent your politcal opponents from gaining some sort of "advantage," is evil. No wait, let me rephrase that. It is Fucking Diabolical. Stupidity is no excuse here, lady. Neither is the slippery slope. For justice to be done in the Laci Peterson case, the prosecution should bring a double homicide charge against the murdering asshole responsible. If you can't see the depravity inherent in coldly calculating the worth of a human being in order to preserve the political status quo, then I've got nothing left for you except contempt.

In the real, nuanced, shades-of-gray world, exceptions exist. Sometimes, there is a higher good than political gain. Not that I would expect the current NOW flunkies to understand something like that--it's too abstract and smacks of morality. And when you start talking about morality, it means you have to actually examine your actions. Can't have that, NOW, can we?