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Saturday, August 30, 2003
Ah, standards, standards

A Shakespeare test that doesn't require you to know your Shakespeare! Example:

"In Twelfth Night, what the characters wear and how they look affects how other characters react to them. How important is what you wear? Write your views as if contributing to a piece in a teenage magazine."

Shock! Horror!

Guess who thinks T. S. Eliot's a "poseur and a bore"?

Yep, it's John Derbyshire!

Friday, August 29, 2003
Stanley Fish

After recently reading some Stanley Fish circa 1983, it was interesting to read this five-day diary Fish posted to Slate in the beginning of 2000. He sounds old, tired -- in short, like a real person -- after just taking over as Dean of University of Illinois at Chicago.

Can anyone imagine Larimore making a similar statement: "My wife got better, I got sick, and then she got sick again, and we became so feeble that home care and around-the-clock dog-walkers were called in as I spiraled down the rabbit-hole of depression, absolutely convinced that this was the worst decision I had ever made and that we should simply get into the car and drive to some other place, it didn't seem to matter where."

Of course every Provost at Dartmouth seems to come to this same conclusion, so maybe I'm just looking at the wrong administrative position. (N.B. The Friday discussion is particularly funny as he writes about David Horowitz at about the time that Horowitz was making a bit of a stir on college campuses -- Horowitz calls Fish a communist.)

Stanley Fish circa 1983 -- Dartmouth connection: When Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels released their 1982 essay in Critical Inquiry, "Against Theory," Fish was one of the few supporters. The essay started a big controversy which lasted for about three years; among the major contributors to the discussion was a young academic at Johns Hopkins: (now) Dartmouth's Jonathan Crewe.

Thursday, August 28, 2003
Hitchens on the Ten Commandments:

It’s obviously too much to expect that a Bronze Age demagogue should have remembered to condemn drug abuse, drunken driving, or offenses against gender equality, or to demand prayer in the schools. Still, to have left rape and child abuse and genocide and slavery out of the account is to have been negligent to some degree, even by the lax standards of the time. I wonder what would happen if secularists were now to insist that the verses of the Bible that actually recommend enslavement, mutilation, stoning, and mass murder of civilians be incised on the walls of, say, public libraries?

Mirabile visu

Thanks to a stem cell transplant, Mike May has just gotten his sight back after 44 years blind following a chemical accident.

Niall Ferguson on American Empire

Or rather, a book review of Two Hegemonies: Britain 1846-1914 and the United States 1941-2001.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Courtesy of The American Scene and the Middle East Media Research Institute comes an interview with one Dr. Nabil Hilmi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Al-Zaqaziq, who is demanding that the Jews pay back the Egyptians for the "gold, jewelry, cooking utensils, silver ornaments, [and] clothing" they "stole" during...the time of the Pharoahs. Talk about long historical memories...

Friday, August 22, 2003
For those of you who pay attention to other colleges

The NYT Magazine has a 10-page article on Harvard President Larry Summers. How the Blabberforce must wish for something similar to happen to Jim Wright...

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Re: Familiar faces

I identified G. W. F. Hegel, Arthur C. Clarke, Cornel West, Edward Said, Edmund Husserl, Leon Trotsky, Franz Kafka, Jacques Derrida, Noam Chomsky, Andre Gide, Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Heidegger, Jacques Cousteau, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Judith Butler, Stanley Fish, Robert Nozick, Marcel Proust, Joyce Carol Oates, Homi Bhabha, Harold Bloom, Bertrand Russell, Robert Frost, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Peter Tchaikovsky, Joseph Conrad, Henri Bergson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Michel Foucault, Edgar Allan Poe, Roland Barthes, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frederic Jameson, and Alfred North Whitehead. Oh, and Oscar the Grouch of course. That's 39 out of a possible 252, if my math serves me correctly. Some of them I don't even know who they are even after I know what they look like.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Emmett Hogan will be happy

to hear that the Education Department is upholding the First Amendment in universities.

BTW, in that same D article, what do we make of former Dean of the College Dan Nelson's remark, concerning the Zete incident, that "Dartmouth sanctioned the organization for violations of behavior standards, not for speech?"

Friday, August 15, 2003
Fun with Words

I just spent 20 minutes on the phone with the Mass. Department of Education, which every ninety seconds or so would tell me, "Please continue to hold and your call will be answered in the order it was received."

Huh? In what order was my call received? Front to back? Left to right? Maybe they mean calls are answered in the order they are received. But then why wouldn't they just say that?

I shouldn't be too harsh: this isn't that glaring, and probably everybody will understand what is meant. Still, I can't believe half a dozen beureaucrats looked at this message and didn't find it kind of confusing. In the Department of Education, no less. I hate you, Massachusetts.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
Dartmouth in the NYT

Not diversity this time, but Blitz.

Quote of the Day

Three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly, speaking at Dartmouth: "If even a fraction of that money [spent on the war] had been invested in education, communication, social services -- perhaps Iraqi society could have moved toward more democratic government, maybe they could have eventually overthrown Hussein." Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
The voice of reason from George F. Will in the Washington Post on the imminent recall in California: "Truly conservative Californians -- you few know who you are -- will vote against the recall to protest its plebiscitary cynicism."

What Use is Literature?

A question of perennial importance. Myron Magnet attempts an answer.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Jim Bowman in the WSJ examines the rise of CliffsNotes competitor, SparkNotes (link courtesy of Stefan Beck at Armavirumque). Instead of being written by second-rate PhDs, SparkNotes is written by Harvard students (maybe the Blabberforce should consider doing something like this), who offer up such pearls of wisdom as, "[Holden Caulfield] doesn't know how to deal with adult encounters," is "unable to deal with the world around him," and has a "cynical view of the world" that "is not grounded in reality." Mm-hmm. (If you think this is bad, check out their simplification of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech.) Analytic inadequacies aside, the main issue for both Bowman and myself is whether or not these guides will, ahem, spark the student into actually reading the work rather than simply consulting the guides. Like Bowman, I suspect not.

Guides for other subjects I can understand. Assuming they get their facts right, SparkNotes for History, for instance, could come in quite handy, even for the college student: studying for a mid-term at the last minute, he might just need the sort chronological framework these guides supply. But literary study (and philosophy to a slightly less extent), simply demands a close encounter with the poem, novel, or play. You can't get around close reading - or at least you shouldn't be allowed to - even and perhaps especially at the K-12 level where these guides seemed to be aimed at. It's difficult, to be sure - God knows how many times I found myself bemused by Shakespeare's language in high school - but then again, literature is a difficult subject - a difficult pleasure, if you will.

Sunday, August 10, 2003
Terminator 4: Rise of the Naturalized Citizens

Senator Orrin Hatch has proposed a constitutional amendment that would make foreign-born Americans eligible to serve as president after 20 years as a naturalized citizen. President Terminator, anyone? (Actually, I'll bet my scholarships against seeing Arnold in the White House - though he looks mighty good right now to win the California governorship.) However, the larger question remains: would Hatch's amendment be a good idea? I seem to remember similar proposals in the past, and I doubt the current one has any more chance of succeeding than its predecessors, but it's an interesting idea.

So far as I know, the main argument for restricting the presidency to American-born citizens is as a security measure against meddling foreigners, who might try to send an agent to live in the U.S., become a citizen, get elected president, and somehow sabotage our nation. Or, more likely, that a naturalized president might be conflicted between American interests and those of his/her home nation. But I'm tempted to support allowing any Americans who have been citizens for a lengthy amount of time become presidents, regardless of which patch of land they were born upon. After all, many of the naturalized citzens I know are among the most patriotic Americans I have met, and among the most informed. Many have a deep appreciation for America and American values, an appreciation that is all the deeper because they see their citizenship as a privilage that they struggled to earn rather than a mystic right of birth. The possiblility of foreign meddling strikes me as remote at best, since it's a long road to the Oval Office for a sleeper agent - or any other person for that matter - and that road is dominated by scrutiny. Besides, foreign governments/entities have much simpler, less risky ways to fiddle with American policy. And I think voters could judge whether or not a naturalized president's arm might be twisted or sympathy co-opted by another nation.


Thursday, August 07, 2003
Choosing roommates

The NYT has a piece today on how incoming freshman at Emory (and other schools) get to pick their own roommates via an online matchmaking system. What do you guys think?

More from George Langford

From pages 28 and 29 of the July/August Alumni Magazine:

"Minority faculty also expose white students to a diversity of ideas and cultures."

"Science, like any other discipline, is a product of culture. What you want in science is a diversity of ideas, and people from different backgrounds tend to have different ideas."

"Minorities have always been minorities in white communities."

"If screening according to whatever criteria that we are using fails to produce minority candidates, we have to realize that we are using criteria that ignore the strengths of minority candidates."

Heads up

There'll be "a second conference on race in academia to be held this fall," according to Biology professor George Langford in the July/August alumni magazine. I wonder if Evelyn "Hegemonic Paradigm" Hu-DeHart will be invited again...

Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Matthew Bank '04 has a good piece in today's D on the GLBT-only Harvey Milk high school in New York City.

Monday, August 04, 2003
Our good friend

Edward Said is back, this time with a new introduction to Orientalism, 25 years after its release.

No piece by Said would be complete without an attack on the likes of Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, Samuel Huntington, Daniel Pipes, V. S. Naipaul, and the like - Orientalists, all of them! (Actually, this piece only mentions Lewis, Ajami, and Naipaul, and the last only passim.) The accusation as usual is that contemporary Orientalists, whom he sarcastically calls "experts," are guilty of betraying "their calling as scholars" by speaking of "preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind," in order to make foreign policy for the Bush administration more convenient, more black and white (no racism intended). Well, in the first place, Professor Said, the "experts" you so contemptuously refer to, in this case Lewis and Ajami, are in fact experts. They're actually scholars of the Middle East - and well-published, well-respected ones at that - whereas you, by contrast, are a professor of comparative literature specializing in 19th-century European fiction. That does not mean you can't criticize them, but at least give more thought to what they say, instead of assuming that they harbor nefarious motives. Always assume the worst! Never even think about the possibility that such men might actually be interested in more than power and wealth for themselves! As far as I know, neither Lewis nor Ajami is guilty of stereotyping, in the way that say that movies do. Read Lewis's piece, What Went Wrong? - Said hates it - and tell me just what's grossly wrong about it. That oil was discovered and commodified by Western, as opposed to Arab experts? That "once a mighty civilization has indeed fallen low," by any standards - economic, social, political? That national socialism persists in some Arab states (one fewer, now that Iraq's been dealt with)? Lewis does not give any indication that he wants to sweep history aside like "a blackboard, so that 'we' might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow." That is quite an accusation, isn't it? It might apply to certain policy makers, but you can hardly accuse a historian of that, even if he's Jewish. I've read quite a bit of Lewis, and the overall impression I get is of a man who despite his severe criticisms of the contemporary Arab world, would like nothing less than to see it prosperous and free.

We can disagree without being disagreeable

The Comments section at Free Dartmouth has been...happening lately. Some of the discussion's been interesting, but far too often it's been poisoned by nasty ad hominem attacks (you know who you are) that really, really don't need to be taking place. As someone once said, can't we all just get along? Or maybe that's impossible, given that domestic American politics on the whole seems to be effusing incivility these days. Nice to see Brad Plumer's on the same wavelength as me on this one (thanks to him for the link).

How to oppose the war in Iraq

Interview with Michael Walzer here (thanks Instapundit). Money quote:

It is hard work trying to sustain an oppositionist politics in the US today – especially when part of what I feel I have to oppose is the idiocy of many of my fellow oppositionists: knee-jerk anti-Americanism, old left dogmatism, and the rejection of any fellowship larger than the sect of the politically correct and the morally pure.

Saturday, August 02, 2003
America as a Religion

Andrew Stuttaford on NRO links to this piece by George Monbiot, subtitled "US leaders now see themselves as priests of a divine mission to rid the world of its demons." Monbiot attempts to substantiate his thesis by quoting from American politicians, past and present (Jefferson, Reagan, Giuliani, and GWB), who have used messianic language in their speeches. Thus Giuliani, for example, speaking after 9/11, calls America a "secular religion," while Bush, more recently, said that America "has a spiritual energy in her which no other nation can contribute to the liberation of mankind." Having just read Paul Johnson's History of the American People, I can understand where the religious language is coming from, but I'm not sure that it goes deeper than simply rhetoric, especially nowadays. Giuliani was speaking in St. Paul's Chapel in December 2001; you'd expect him to use such language. As for the current administration, they don't strike me - Bush aside - as being terribly religious, even in the secular sense.

Monbiot of course is not just interested in examining political rhetoric, but in using it to insinuate that America is becoming a sort of fascist theocracy that will not tolerate dissenters. It all comes to a head nicely in his final paragraph, in which he brings up the example of fascist Japan and its idea of national divinity, in order to suggest that America's moving in that direction. This I can't agree with at all. His example of Japan is clever but not terribly relevant, given the cultural differences between the two countries.

Monbiot's website makes for mind-boggling reading. An example: "Political closure [the prohibition of challenges to power] is inherently violent, both because systems which deploy it violate the rights of most of the people they govern and because violence is the only available means of challenging such systems. In these circumstances, the Empathetic Principle instructs us to kill, if killing some thousands of the oppressing political class is the only means of saving the lives of some tens of thousands of the oppressed. Another name for the Empathetic Principle is love."

It's good to hear that, at the time of writing these words (April 2001), he didn't believe "Empathetic violence" should be employed in Western Europe and North America, "however inadequate and inconsistent" their democratic freedoms may be. (What? Pre-9/11 democratic freedoms inadequate and inconsistent? By what standards - Communist utopia?) I wonder what he'd say today.

Friday, August 01, 2003
Bashing Bush

Unfortunately, I must write on another failing of the Bush administration: on their decision to oppose equalizing marriage laws. It saddens my heart that an administration that could do so many things right, could be so wrong on this issue. But for all his ramblings on limiting the santicty of marriage to heterosexual couples, Bush appears to have an ally in fight. Open mouth, insert Pope.

I must say though, the most disturbing section of the article by far is this one:

Despite his calibrated language, Bush's statement touched off passionate responses from groups with an interest in the issue.
"There is a real movement for same-sex marriage, and if the president doesn't intervene, and if he doesn't take leadership in this area, we could lose marriage in this country the way we know it," said Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the son of evangelist Billy Graham. "I think the president is doing the right thing."
The Rev. Pat Robertson agreed. Both ministers spoke in Orlando, Fla., at the memorial service for Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.
"I applaud the president's movement on this," Robertson said. "I think it's absolutely important that the American people defend the institution of marriage. Its foundational to our entire society, and I think in order [for] this to be effective, it's going to have to be a constitutional amendment."
But gay-rights activists took offense at Bush's comment that "we're all sinners," interpreting the remark as directed at them.
"While we respect President Bush's religious views, it is unbecoming of the president of the United States to characterize same-sex couples as 'sinners,'" said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It's also sad that, at a moment in history that cries out for leadership and moral courage, President Bush has instead opted for the divisive, anti-gay politics of the past."
The Human Rights Campaign, which says it is the nation's largest gay and lesbian political group, branded Bush's exploration of a law on gay marriage a "call to codify discrimination."

I. The Fundies: I will again implore people who call themselves religionists to restrain from religifying politics. Reverends ought not use the memorial service of someone who devoted their adult life to evangelism, the spreading of the gospel in the private sphere through public mediums, as the opportunity to make a political statement. While it is perfectly reasonable to live life theocratically-governed, it is not reasonable to ask the state to legitimate and spread your comprehensive doctrines of the good.

II. The Gay Left is as clueless as the fundies here. (Providing, perhaps, just another reason why so-called minorities will always be persecuted as long as they allow the left to make their claims for them.) Clearly, Bush was speaking to a certain audience with whom the words "we are all sinners" will have a greater meaning. Though bad exegetics, Bush was making a religious case to religious people, something governments in liberal democracies have consistently failed to do. Though I do not agree that the "we're all sinners" clause of the Bible, found both in Romans and the Psalms, translates into restricting the purview of marriage, I find it laudable that Bush engaged the religious worldview seriously without the usual self-righteous, snippy, irreligious dismissiveness of the secularized pundits and politicians. "The rulers of a republic, therefore, should uphold the basic principles of the religion which they practice in, and , if this be done, it will be easy for them to keep their commonwealth religious, and, in consequence, good and united." (The Discourses on Livy)


Jacob Levy on Volokh doesn't intend to say anything more on the issue (for now - thanks for linking to us, Jacob!). Tim Waligore on Free Dartmouth, by contrast, does have something to say, and it's pretty interesting (and dense - sorry, I don't do political theory).

The angle I'd like to take on it has nothing to do with Sacerdote's study. It has to do with what happens after reparations. I remember an Agora discussion (during John's reign of terror - just kidding!) on reparations during which I raised the question about the fate of race-relations after a large scale transfer of wealth - we're talking billions of dollars here - has taken place. I just don't see them improving. Many whites are going to be pissed off because they've had to pay for an institution they have no connections to. At the very least there'll be legal wrangling and lawsuits, not to mention increased ill-will. If you consider these consequences tolerable because of the "social justice" that will be achieved, then you'll have to explain why "social justice" is more important than healthy race-relations.

Also, what do you guys think about the Charles Krauthammer Compromise? He says, fine, I'll give you your money, but in return, I want affirmative action to end.

Andrew Sullivan is really, really mad. He's even considering leaving the Catholic Church...