Monday, May 31, 2004

 

Memorial Day

Not having an especially high tolerance for violence, nevertheless I decided that this Memorial Day I would watch some films and documentaries on World War II. I honestly can't remember how much I learned about WWII history in highschool, and I never had the chance during my undergraduate years to take a class that discussed either WW in any depth. It's inspired me to learn more; I've started reading John Keegan's The First World War, since so much of WWII finds its antecedents there, and then I plan to move on to Keegan's book on the second WW.

Over the last week or so, I've watched Midway, The Desert Fox, In Harm's Way (which I can't say I recommend--very superficial), and The Longest Day. I'm particularly interested in films made during or immediately after the war--if anyone has any recommendations, please send them my way. I've seen a few documentaries, one on the attempted assasination of Hitler that reenacted the attempt, demonstrating that but for a few small unexpected contingencies the attempt would have worked, and one on the Japanese attempt to build a railway line through Burma that resulted in thousands of Allied prisoner of war deaths as well as three times as many native Burmese and Malaysian deaths; unfortunately, I don't recall what stations aired these, though it must have been either PBS or Discovery, since Winston and I can't afford anything other than basic cable at the moment.

The upshot of all of this is that I have a deep and profound admiration for those who gave their lives for freedom, including those like Rommel who recognized the futility of the war and made the ultimate sacrifice to try and stop it, for the sake of all peoples. How anyone can have the despicable audacity to compare any foibles of American leadership to Nazism...I have no words...

Thursday, May 27, 2004

 

Reuters, Elton John, and American Idol

First of all, let me state categorically that I do not watch American Idol. I'm not a much a fan of reality TV, though I have confessed to watching The Simple Life here and elsewhere.

Apparently there was some controversy over the voting off of a black, woman singer, either last week or the week before. Charges of racism, either against the American public or against Fox for somehow rigging the vote were quickly leveled.

One such charge was leveled by Elton John, apparently an American Idol fan, understandable given the absolute pop crap he's produced over the years.

Here's the Reuters headline from last week, carried over Yahoo! this morning because in the end, a black woman DID win the contest. I'll fisk it a bit at a time.



Okay, so these singers are good because John says they're good, and because John says they're good, they belong in the top three, not the bottom three. Because they are all black, racism can be the only possible explanation, and, since John comes from a country where race relations are terrible, he must know what he's talking about, eh? How many "Pakis" would win on British Idol?

But I'm just being snippy. The fact is, there are other possible explanations for why one black woman was voted off, and for why the three black divas were in the bottom three. One might be that people are simply tired of black divas. I know I am. Nothing racist--there's a lot of pop music I'm tired of, primarily because once the music industry gets on a kick, they are determined to make us listen to the same, vapid crap until we just can't stand it anymore. How many Whitney Houston clones can we be forced to endure? Because honestly, there hasn't been a substantial change in the sound of the black diva since Whitney Houston.

Another explanation could be that this is rigged. But for racism? Bullshit. If it is rigged, it's rigged to make it more suspenseful. One of the bottom three did wind up winning, and the whole thing made for better television because she was the underdog.

Finally, the whole thing dismisses the fact that a black man won last year. Am I to take it that unless a black wins American Idol each year that we have a racist situation? Because that seems to be what Elton John is suggesting. Perhaps Mr. John should just shut the hell up. Maybe he'll get lucky and another famous blonde woman will die so he can resurrect his career with yet another rewrite of "Candle in the Wind" instead of trying to get attention by making ill-advised political comments.



Yes, even the host believes America is racist, and makes a veiled comment on the air admonishing the American public to vote talent, not skin color. Well, dipshit, looks like they did. Perhaps voting the woman off last week was so that this Fantasia woman would have a clearer shot? But, no, that explanation wouldn't fit with the preconceived theory of American racism, would it?



And now we come to my favorite parts. It is always necessary to bash Fox, and always necessary to write articles that contain the suggestion that some evil, conservative (because all racists are conservative, of course) plot is somehow either being engineered or facilitated by Fox.



Thanks for reminding us. Perhaps you could have mentioned this earlier in the article, or at least before the Fox crap, so that readers could make a clear connection between John's bullshit allegations and the truth of last year's contest.



And my favorite line of all. Is this information even necessary to the article? Why is it here? I'll give me readers three guesses.


Thursday, May 20, 2004

 

More on Liberal "Preaching"

I remarked a couple of days ago that it seemed to me that most liberals--or rather leftists, as they aren't actually liberal--will take any opportunity to preach their message, inflecting pretty much anything and everything with their ideology. My subject then was the classroom, specifically, the composition classroom. My subject today is the PBS show Colonial House, which I happened to catch an episode or two of on Tuesday night.

The premise seemed an interesting one, and the beginning of the show, when the "governor" laid down the law, made me think I would be watching a show where people were going to live just as they had three centuries or so ago. It promised to be both educational and entertaining, as viewers would learn about life in a Puritan settlement, and watching inhabitants of the twenty-first century try to conform to seventeenth-century standards would make for an interesting few hours of television.

Wrong.

Within the first fifteen minutes, the lefties they had brought into the community staged a revolt, refusing to attend Sabbath and preaching their ideology to whatever camera was willing to listen. Their particular brand of pluralism and non-community had infected the community within a matter of a week or two, and at this point the experiment is pretty much dead. One woman and her husband spent Sabbath swimming naked in a nearby lake, and preached their brand of enlightenment to the camera, belittling Christianity and demonizing the past with each word. They were joined the following week by others, and the "governor" was finally forced to make concessions that would never have been made in the seventeenth century. Amusingly, Michelle Rossi-Voorhees, the nude swimmer, believes that she would have staged the same sort of revolt in the seventeenth century, seemingly unaware that she would not have been exposed to the sorts of radical ideology she spouts so freely were she to have been born centuries ago, and would likely have been a believer just like the "sheep" she was surrounded by. The evangelical atheist simply hadn't been invented yet, genius. But, of course, I don't expect people like Michelle Rossi-Voorhees to have a sense of history--or at least one unwarped by ideology--because the facts of history are unnecessary to their ideological program. So long as we know their version of history, all is well.

We also get to hear from Carolyn Heinz, who is in reality a professor of anthropology from California, who pretends to be the preacher's wife. After the Sabbath revolt is successful, she stages her own little feminist coup and refuses to wear a head-covering. Later, she joins the cast member who seemingly cannot stop saying the word "fuck" in raiding the colony's liquor supply.

In the end, what we are given is a show that is quite unsympathetic to the past, particularly the Christian elements of that past, which should not be surprising coming from a television station whose program Frontline will be devoted this week to what looks like a fright-fest regarding Bush's Christianity--electioneering, anyone? We certainly know what Bill Moyers' opinion of Republicans is, after his end of the world predictions following the 2002 elections.

Frankly, Colonial House reminds me of my Eighteenth-Century British Literature seminar. We spent the entire term judging the past by the standards of the present, and the self-righteous, leftist atheists in the class (a description which includes the professor) became more insufferable with each class meeting. Colonial House is being used as a vehicle for the propagation of a particular ideology, yet another instance of the left finding themselves unable to deliver infotainment without a heavy-handed political message.

Public Broadcasting System my ass.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

 

The College Board List

Not going through this list and indicating what I have read is apparently not an option for a blogger working in the field of literature. Hmmm. If I've counted correctly, I've only read 59. Well, 59 1/4 if you count Swann's Way. Perhaps once I've finished my dissertation I'll actually have time to read literature again. Still, I'll never read the Faulkner or the Joyce. I can handle short stories from both authors--I actually like most of Dubliners--but their novels just don't do anything for me. I tried several times to read Absalom, Absalom for an American novel course, but finally gave it up; it was boring, and since the professor only insisted that students use 4 out of the 5 assigned novels for each exam . . . I probably won't pick up the Woolf again, either. I started that at the end of one summer, and never picked it up again when I abandoned it to read what was assigned.

The ones I've read are italicized.


Beowulf
Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante – Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays [quite a few, actually]
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man [numerous attempts]
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel García - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni – Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales [everything, actually]
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way [in this middle of this one right now]
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass [I’ve read around in it]
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse [one attempt]
Wright, Richard - Native Son

Saturday, May 15, 2004

 

What Liberal University? (Part II)

Yesterday I suggested that the assumptions made by my fellow instructor and her students about the media inevitably led to making the self-same assumptions about the university: if the CEO of a corporation that owns a major media outlet is conservative--or even pro-business--then that bias is going to trickle down into the newsroom and make itself felt in the broadcasts we watch. In the scenarios they imagine, this is usually accomplished by edicts from the top telling the reporters what they can and cannot report on, what sort of spin to give any given issue, etc.

Anyone with half a brain can see that this doesn't happen. While there may be stories here and there regarding a parent company that one of the suits might have problems with, the general tenor of the news--with the exception of Fox--is liberal left. This is certain true of the big three and their anchors, and it's been true of the local news in pretty much every city I've ever watched the news in.

Given the liberal left biases of schools of journalism, this should hardly be a surprise. Journalism, like my own field, is pretty self-selecting when it comes to political bent, and, unlike my own field, it's a hell of a lot harder to hide your politics in journalism. A student of my wife's was in the journalism program at my current university. He was black and conservative, a deadly combination for his white, liberal instructors. He was actually given an "F" on an assignment in which he argued against an increase in state taxes; his instructor told him point-blank that there was no logical argument against an increase in taxes. His support of Bush garnered him similar criticism. He had a few conservative colleagues, but for the most part, he was surrounded by students who thought just as their instructors did. Eventually, he transferred to another university.

But, back to yesterday's posting.

The fact of the matter is that the instructor in the classroom after me and the Director of Composition are both leftists, and they do use the classroom and the composition program as a platform for their own politics. I've given you a couple of examples of the instructor's behavior, and will also add that they watched a video on the riots in Seattle told exclusively from the rioters' perspective. As for the Director, the textbooks we are allowed to choose from are ones which approach the favorite topics of the left--race, class, gender, the environment, etc.--and the essays included either present the left perspective to the exclusion of all others, or, if a perspective from the right is included, the editors of the textbook make their disagreement with the ideas in the essay quite clear.

We were told by the Director at a meeting back in 2000 that it was perfectly acceptable to use our classrooms to talk about the election, particularly given the crisis we would face if the election went the wrong way. This last Fall, I walked out on the meeting when the Director began discussing how we might best discuss Iraq in our classrooms, and how to handle it when students disagreed with the enlightened opinion we were providing them.

The leads me to present two theories regarding the Alterman book and the ideas my colleague was presenting in her class.

The first is that liberals assume that a media owned by big business must necessarily present a conservative perspective because liberals--or, more accurately, leftists--when placed in a position where the can pursue their political program, will inevitably do so. The accusation of conservative bias is there precisely because liberals cannot imagine not taking advantage of a position of power and using it to further their political goals.

From my own observations, such a theory makes sense. I have taught, over the years, at many, many institutions with many different instructors. There has almost always been a direct correlation between how vocally liberal an instructor was and the extent to which that instructor used his or her class as a political platform. Vocally conservative instructors (the few I've actually met), generally did their best to keep their classrooms politically neutral, preferring to assign topics that would not delve into politics, or choosing textbooks that were as balanced as possible (hard to do, given that these textbooks are almost always edited by liberals). I'm not saying this is always true; but there is a pattern.

My second theory is that liberals accuse the media of a conservative bias in order in order to divert the public's attention from the truth of the media's liberal bias. This theory is shared by many who have taken issue with Alterman's book, and it does make sense. Certainly, Fox News provides more than enough examples to make a case for conservative bias, and those who are already sympathetic to the liberal cause are often willing to take a small set of examples (the Washington Times is also touted out, and sometimes the WSJ) and accept that they are representative of the whole. They will also cite a single conservative columnist on the editorial page as evidence that the paper itself has no bias, ignoring the fact that the remainder of the paper--particularly the highly editorialized front page--is biased to the left.

The second theory requires that the left engage in a deliberate attempt to trick. The first is a bit more charitable, as it assumes that their reaction to this issue is predicated on their own experience of the world and their own philosophy.

Either way, they are a deluded bunch. Yet they remain in charge of the humanities and social sciences, and they have a tremendous effect on the thought processes of the 18-22 year old camp.

I have an idea for trying to change this, though I have no idea what the feasibility of this idea is, and it is, in the end, a bit self-serving. I'll get to this later . . .

Friday, May 14, 2004

 

What Liberal University?

So today I'm packing my bags and getting ready to leave my classroom after teaching, and the instructor's class after mine is preparing for a presentation on Alterman's What Liberal Media? (no link--he doesn't deserve one), a presentation which seemed to rest on the argument that since big businesses own media corporations, then the media must be biased in a conservative direction.

First of all, this proceeds on the erroneous assumption that all business people are conservative, and that all companies lean to the right, an assumption which hardly explains the large donations to the Kerry campaign made by several big businesses (though not by the Heinz Corporation, curiously enough--what do they know that we don't?).

Second, it assumes that if a media group is owned by a conservative, then the information presented must be have a conservative bias. Of course, if we proceed on this sort of assumption, then we must also proceed on the assumption that the leftist who teaches the course after mine must necessarily be teaching her course from a leftist bias, and that our whole program must be biased towards the left, since the Director of Composition is as left as left can be, but we'll leave that alone for now.

What really irritates me is that there was no actual examination of the content of the news--merely a bunch of fancy graphs showing which company owns which media outlets and then a conclusion that these graphs have somehow proven conservative bias. The whole process of finding evidence for an argument has been bypassed, and no link between the CEO and the newsroom established. I would think a few choice clips from Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings would be enough to at least call the conclusion into question, if not to refute it entirely.

This is what passes for critical thinking in our composition program. This is what parents are paying for their children to learn.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

 

My New Status, Fall 2004

As cryptically as possible, I would like to update my readers (those who are still around, given my poor performance as a blogger as of late) as to my status in the academy and my possible plans for the future.

Starting in the Fall of 2004, I will become what is known in the profession as a "trailing spouse". My wife, who is also an academic, was successful on the job market this year, and I will be rejoining the ranks of the invisible adjuncts, whose ranks I left back in the Fall of 1999 to pursue my Ph.D. in English literature. I will be teaching the same number of classes as she, though making about 20% of what she will be making. Because of this, the tone of this blog will likely change come Fall.

This will be particularly true given the fact that as an adjunct, I will have zero control over the content of the courses I will be teaching, both freshman composition and introduction to literature. The freshman composition course has been designed in such a way as to deliver the leftist academic message to all students enrolled (the entire student population), and I will obviously have some problems with that; my class will likely be an exercise in exposing and tearing down ideological thinking, rather than one designed to get students to parrot the party line in papers which demonstrate little or no critical thinking abilities.

The up side of all of this is that I will have plenty of fodder for the blog. This term has proven particularly dry in terms of blogging material, as I have completely abandoned my university's guidelines in teaching my composition course and gone my own way, forcing students to tackle large and untimely philosophical issues rather than bitch and whine about current events. I have also become increasingly disassociated from the place, as my affiliation with it is quickly coming to an end; and, as the majority of graduate students admitted in the last three years have increasingly self-identified according to their political approach to literature rather than the literary era they have come to study, I have little or nothing in common with most of them. My main point of contact with my current univiersty is the almost finished dissertation, and I doubt if anyone wants me to blog on that. Besides, to do so would likely reveal my identity to anyone who looked into who's writing in my current area of study.

However, I have taken the adjunct position solely out of financial need, and do not see myself renewing the contract (should an offer even be extended) beyond the first year. We have discussed returning to the job market with the Ph.D.s in hand, to see if we have any more luck that way, but we will not be making that decision until September or October. For my part, I plan to spend the 2004-2005 academic year writing and sending out articles like a madman, and hope that by Fall of 2005 my CV will be a bit longer and more worthy of notice among hiring committees (at present, I have only two publications on it).

Yet my experience on the job market this year, and the stories I have heard from others--successful and unsuccessful job seekers--leads me to wonder what sort of success I can hope to find, given the fact that my work is at odds with conventional wisdom in the humanities and social sciences, and has been known to provoke the ire of audiences at conferences. That I do not "do theory" is pretty obvious, and that I lean towards the right is something that can be easily discovered through a few well-considered questions.

As the spouse of a faculty member, I have the option to enroll in courses at my wife's university free of charge. I have given serious consideration to the following options: (1) Law school, specifically, international law and (2) Cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

For someone trained in English, the move to law is pretty much a no-brainer. I have no idea how I would do on the LSAT, though my GRE scores (the general scores, not the subject test) were pretty high. Yet I have spent years in a field that does not require the sort of rigorous study that law does; I think the GRE is the last real examination I took, back in 1998. I'm not sure how much those skills have atrophied.

Cognitive psychology and neuroscience offer the same challenges, with the additional problem that I have not taken a science course since 1989. I have obviously been doing some work in this field, but it is as an amateur, and I have no idea whether or not I would be able to keep up with the professionals, nor what sorts of undergraduate training I would need in order to gain entrance into a graduate program.

These decisions need to made rather soon, as I need to determine where my energies would be best directed. I am in my mid-thirties, and if I'm going to make a career change that requires additional years of my life to embark upon, I need to get started right away.

Oh, and I'm not really willing to go the Erin O'Connor route. I taught at a private high school for three years, and that was enough for me. As for a public high school, there's no way I could sit through the bullshit credential courses. I took a few as an undergraduate, and learned almost immediately why entering college freshman are so ill-prepared for their classes. You don't make dioramas in a literature class; you write essays.

 

A new look, and comments are open.

Looks like Blogger has finally finished their long promised upgrade. There were several new templates, and I liked this blue one. Unfortunately, the new template didn't bring my old links with it, so I'm in the process of reconstructing them. I should have written all the info down (or saved the old template in MS Word), but it didn't occur to me to do so. So, with the push of a single button . . .

One advantage (or possibly disadvantage, if people decide to be asses) to the new Blogger is that comments are now integrated into the actual program, so, given that I no longer need to host comments from a different location, I had might as well turn them on. We'll see how they work--if things stay reasonably civil, I'll leave them up. If things get nasty, I'll likely turn them off.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

 

More Michael Moore

As I packed my bag and got ready to leave the classroom today, the composition instructor who teaches in the room after me started setting up a video to show her class.

Whose rotund figure graced the screen? Michael Moore's.

I can't tell which is stretched further--his "truth" or the skin around his stomach.

He was, of course, being used as a credible source of information.

No, no. No liberal bias in the academy.

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