Saturday, September 27, 2008


I haven't blogged in quite a while; teaching, dissertating, and job searching has pretty much taken up all my time. But I'm moved now to speak to those 2 or 3 people who may listen. Or at least, I'm moved to figure something out through blogging.

I'm a liberal. Here's what I think that means: I believe in a liberal viewpoint of the world, that is, weighing sides, thinking critically, slowing down my knee-jerk reaction and culturally coded responses to seek some kind of beneficial "truth" in the world. It means believing that there is not one kind of American that deserves the promise of America: ALL Americans deserve justice, equality, and equal rights guaranteed by the law. I believe in the separation of church and state, though only to the extent that one's religious beliefs should not be forced on another. Our morals are a key part of how we live our lives, so of course one's values should guide one's decision making. And in that vein, I support large social programs funded by the federal government: I value all people's health and prosperity, and so I value programs that help people gain these things in their own lives.

A famous and highly intelligent conservative, George Will, put it this way: conservatives value freedom to the detriment of equality; liberals value equality to the detriment of freedom. I agree. Though I'd also like to add that equality creates a state in which freedom is much more equally gained. In other words, I believe everyone should have equal access to the amazing resources of this nation.

But George Will has said something else, and it gives me pause; he argues that modern liberalism assumes that most Americans are duped into "false consciousness" due to their ability to be manipulated by political and corporate interests. Here, he defines what he sees as the agenda of modern liberalism:

"First, the consent of the governed, when their behavior is governed by their false consciousnesses, is unimportant. Second, the public requires the supervision of a progressive elite which, somehow emancipated from false consciousness, can engineer true consciousness. Third, because consciousness is a reflection of social conditions, true consciousness is engineered by progressive social reforms. Fourth, because people in the grip of false consciousness cannot be expected to demand or even consent to such reforms, those reforms usually must be imposed, for example, by judicial fiats."

I can't deny that there is some truth to this in the philosophy of liberals I know. Often, liberals assume that Republicans are such because they don't know any better. I must say, some of my experience doesn't refute this: when I canvassed for Barack Obama, most answers to "Who do you plan to vote for?" were something like, "Not your guy!" and were given with real hostility. When I asked what issues were for them most at stake in their vote for John McCain, most couldn't answer. Most answered that he was republican, and there you go. Now, much of my canvassing was in low-income neighborhoods where a liberal agenda would, in fact, benefit the constituents (higher wages, pro-union values, pro-head start and other early education programs for the poor).

But I also need to find some way to recognize that while it may be true that some of these "Not your guy" responses were based in a campaign of fear and prejudice, I need to also realize that there are many who choose a conservative agenda because it is their true outlook on the world: perhaps they feel that social programs denigrate the individual by offering hand-outs, not hand-ups; perhaps they feel that support for big business and corporations keep America's economy strong globally; perhaps they believe that there is a way to win the war on terror and thus send a clear message to all who may threaten the U.S.; and perhaps their values maintain that a fetus must always be given the chance to live.

In other words, it's time to refute, not dismiss. And I do refute all of that. The individual is honored through programs that support strong education and jobs. The real way to keep the economy strong is to keep people working, not businesses investing overseas. The war on terror is a diplomatic one more than a military one: it cannot be won militarily alone and we must involve all nations through an attitude of cooperation and openness, nit unilateralism and stubbornness. And the value for human life must extend into and beyond the uterus, to support womens health programs across the board.

So I write this because the charge of elitism might not always be an empty one: despite the fact that Obama was raised by a single mom, and went to Harvard on his own, and not his father's legacy, and despite the fact that he only recently paid his student loans off, it is the perception that George Will speaks of that gains him the charge of elitist: that progressive social programs must be enforced, because the people just don't know what's good for them. How do we fight this charge? How do we instill a progressive agenda that benefits everyone without this assumption that government knows better? For me, the very values of liberalism affirms the values of those conservatives as thoughtful and understandable. That's what it means to be a liberal. And the more each person is given a hand-up at an early age with early childhood education, the more everyone's values can be heard and honored.

Is this a contradiction? All I know is that it is the right thing to do to support an agenda that supports the health, prosperity, and safety of everyone. Even if that sacrifices the freedom of a few CEOs to make a billion dollars. I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Matt did it again..

I thought we were going to First Watch for brunch. Instead, we went to Cleveland for some Radiohead. Oh, and we were in the pit. Yep, about 10 feet away from Thom York. Don't hate me cause my life rocks.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Degrees of Closeness

So the Kevin Bacon Six Degrees theory has been bolstered by a recent study that shows that any one person's degree of separation from any one other person is on average 6.6.

Everyone you know is one degree away, everyone they know is 2 degrees, etc etc.

But because I have lots of social butterfly friends, I think my degree of separation may be smaller than average. Just think: I have 2 degrees of separation from people in California; Massachusetts; Uganda; Lexington, KY; Rome, NY; Erie, PA; St. Augustine, FL; Taiwan; Russia; Ireland; Toledo, OH; Indianapolis, IN; India; etc, etc.

In other words, thanks to all my friends having so many connections, I have so many connections! Awesome.

From the article I read on MSNBC: "To me, it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity," said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who conducted the study with colleague Jure Leskovec. "People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore."

Yeah, a social connectivity constant for humanity. That's awesome. It's not an account of how we're separated; it's an account of how much we are connected. And always have been. Leading me to surmise that we need to be close in order to survive. Humanity depends on proximity. People need people. (Go ahead, sing it out loud.)

So I'm happy to be connected to all the people I know, but then I think of how awesome it is that I'm connected somehow to all the people they know, and the people they know, and the people they know. And maybe someday when I'm hiking in the mountains of Peru, I come across someone who knows someone who knows someone that I know. And then, what do you know, I'm invited in to someone's house for coffee and I've made a new friend and a new connection for all of you along the constant of connection.

Yay for us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Weather Event

CNN tried to determine what the quake in LA was like: "So you'd say it was like a rolling jolt?" "No, not a jolt, just a rolling." "Did you feel any jolts?" "No, there weren't any jolts. Mostly rolling."

MSNBC couldn't decide what catchy name to call it: "Seismic event" was actually uttered at least twice. I'm looking forward to a "Shake n Bake" reference.

Many, many people were interviewed about it ("tell us what you experienced") and hours were filled with three minutes of film footage taken from a helicopter of a school and large buildings.

CNN urged people to send in their i-reports: their own, personal views of what happened: particularly prized are photos and videos of the seismic event.

This all just points to how weird the "news" is. Personalized, sensationalized, commercialized. It was an earthquake. Do you know what was never answered, in all my watching: anyone hurt? Weird.

Oh, and Ty and Jaymie: you were jealous of our earthquake; now you got your own!
Amy: How was it??? Did you and your dad feel it? Was it more of a rolling or a jolt? Do you have pictures or video?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Some Obama Love

I am so inspired for the first time in my life -- by a politician! I feel history. I'm in love with this idea of hope. Just look at these pictures. I know a narrative has been created that Barack is just words, but let me change that narrative a bit: Barack uses words to inspire, to uplift, and that is no small feat. I teach how words move, how words work, how they do something. So keep the narrative going: but remember how words change our lives. Remember how when great leaders have said great things they have changed the world.

"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Omar Khadr

He is 21 now, was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan and 16 when he was detained indefinitely in Guantanamo U.S. Military prison. He was detained for killing a U.S. soldier (Christopher J. Speer) and partially blinding another (Layne Morris). He is one of the few who have had hearings; people have come together, that is, to share information and try to decide what to do with him. A few things have come out:

From the Toronto Star in February of this year: "A document inadvertently released to reporters here Monday disclosed that after the grenade was thrown, a U.S. operative killed another suspect and then shot Khadr twice in the back. The revelation casts doubt on the Pentagon's assertion that Khadr threw the grenade that fatally wounded Delta Force soldier and medic Christopher Speer."

Just today, video was released showing Khadr's interrogation where he cries out for "mommy" and confirms their knowledge that his father brought him to fight with Afghani forces and left him there, taking advantage of the forces' promises to take the burden of feeding and clothing children from their parents.

Khadr was put through sleep deprivation and had bullet wounds that were not healing; some were upset that the interrogation was therefore rough. But not Army Sergeant Layne Morris (who was blinded in one eye by the grenade at the firefight):

"If my drill sergeant had spoken to me like that in basic training I'd probably still be sending him Christmas cards," said Morris, now out of the military and living in Salt Lake City. "He's not sniveling and whining because he's hurt or scared, he's just upset he's in U.S. custody for the foreseeable future."

Morris argues that Khadr was not a soldier but a terrorist and therefore deserves charges of murder. He has said of his detainment:

"I'm fine with this dragging on for another five years before there's a trial as long as they stay locked up."

To put an interesting twist to the story, Speers' widow is suing Khadr's father -- even though Kadhr's father is dead -- for $10 million for the death of her husband, clearly recognizing that the burden of guilt and responsibility lay with the father of the 15-year-old who forced him (what agency does a 15-year-old have in this situation?) into armed service with Afghani forces. (Go here for the story.)

This reminds me of Frank Wuterich, a U.S. Marine charged with the murder of 18 civilians in Haditha. What Wuterich did was disgusting (to see the whole story, click here), but I'm confused. We are at war right? Or police action? Conflict maybe? (Whatever we're calling it.) People fight each other in these things; with deadly weapons it seems. While Morris labels Khadr as a terrorist, I challenge you to define terrorism in such a way that any strategic military action meant to incite fear and to damage the ability of an "enemy" to fight back, including damaging their sense of selfhood and/or nationhood does not somehow fit under that definition. This is NOT to say that soldiers are terrorists. They are engaged with an enemy that recognizes their sovereignty -- this I guess is the difference: Khadr was with Afghanis when he threw a grenade. But how do we define murder during a time of war?

Here's a better list of people to court-martial besides Wuterich and Khadr:
Donald Rumsfeld;
Dick Cheney;
George Bush;
Every other person who sent young people into a violent area and told them that some of them are "enemies" and the rest are "trainable;"
Especially those in the above list who never, themselves, had to look through the target of a gun and decide if someone should be killed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Making it Up

I'm an academic and I recognize and lament the futility academics sometimes serve. I think every day of how my time and energy could be used in so many more powerful and life-affirming ways than reading little-known texts on the visual economy of postmodern culture or considering the way in which Robert Coover's The Public Burning implicates the reader in a 1950s mindset via a lack of empathy with any character (even the unjustly executed Rosenbergs) and an overwhelming sense of "otherness." Let me be honest: everything I just wrote totally turns me on. I freaking love this shit. But I also know it's not very effective.

Not only is not effective, but it is in fact, made up. And I think this is what floats my boat so smoothly down the river of intellectual "bullshit" as some may call it. I love to make it up. It's rigorous, even, sometimes even more so than the research I do to make the stuff I make up sound somewhat reasonable.

And teaching, more than literary or cultural criticism, is about making it up. Now, I know some teachers who will read this and say, "What?!? Nuh-uh! I have to know a subject and impart it to my students in such a way that they too will KNOW the subject." But think about it: all the great stuff has started out by somebody being asked for a solution to a problem and that somebody, at a loss for one, makes one up. And sometimes that somebody is told, "Nope, didn't work. Try again." And so they make up some more stuff. And sometimes they're told, "Wow. That bullshit you just made up is really interesting." And then more stuff gets made up by more people and then there's something that resembles a solution to a problem. Or even something that shows that the problem wasn't what we thought it was.

Ok, that's a lot of crap written there to convince myself that while I sit at my computer writing sentences full of phrases like "dialectical relations" and "otherness" and "critical allusion" that maybe it's not all for nought. Maybe one of the 6 people who read my dissertation will go, hey that's interesting bullshit, kinda reminds me of this other bullshit; maybe I'll add my own bullshit, and then voila, you've got someone saying something that might do something.

We're all improvisers.