Wednesday, March 28, 2007
A Hoosier on how difficult it is to write something good
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Just in to the Culture of Privilege Desk: Spring Break Division
If there is one event that sums up all that is wrong with American university life, it is spring break, which was celebrated last week. I was lecturing in Miami Beach, where I grew up, and was walking on the city's famed boardwalk. Thousands of young college students - all in their late teens and early 20s - were lounging on the sand.
It was a sobering sight. The female students' beach attire was close to non-existent. Time was when the bikini was considered revealing. Today it is only for prudes and the modestly attired. These young women were already perfecting their role as eye candy for men. Is this what they were learning in college?
Western educational life revolves around getting into a good college. But the time has come for a fundamental reevaluation of whether our children progress or regress at university. The simple fact is that the American campus is not a very healthy place and belies its description as a place of "higher" education.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Just in to the Culture of Privilege Desk: Building Character While Feeling Like an Outsider Division...
Here's a snippet, about junior Kristi St. Charles, who is spending her spring break filling out five different loan applications, and covers the EFC (expected family contribution) herself:
St. Charles considers herself a minority at NU, a campus where 62 percent of students from this year's entering class come from families with estimated annual incomes of $100,000 or more. When her friends come back to school in the fall with extra spending cash from summer jobs, St. Charles usually has just paid her fall tuition bill with money she made working 40 to 50 hours a week at a law firm near her Milwaukee home.
"There are times when I feel I can't relate to some of my friends," St. Charles said. "But we usually just don't talk about money or any of that."
Big tabs, no worries
Heading out to local bars like 1800 Club, 1800 Sherman Ave., or the Mark 2 Lounge, 7436 1/2 N. Western Ave., is a typical Thursday activity for St. Charles. But the amount of money some of her friends spend makes her realize how atypical her situation is."People just open up tabs when we go out and don't really worry," St. Charles said. "They'll spend like $200 and it'll go on their parents' credit card without giving it a second thought."
Essai: A Letter to AMac (Re Duke Lacrosse Context)
I appreciate your suggestion that I read more about the Duke case. I have stated here several times that I will do so. I may disappoint you, because though I have good intentions, I probably won't do much more than an hour or so. When the situation was made public, I read quite a bit about it, and also watched mostly Fox News coverage, for what seemed like an eternity. I work also in American Studies here at Purdue, and the Duke case _in its wider social and cultural context_ is of interest to faculty and students in that interdisciplinary area.
I guess I have to say it again: I am not as interested in this particular situation as I am in the broader cultural issues surrounding it in current higher education, and the history of higher education. I stated as much in an original posting, and my comment upon Penn Professor Sanday's column in Inside Higher Ed supports this.
However, I will try, in limited time and words now, to give some shorthand to my thinking and explain some of the terms I have used, based upon more than average knowledge (though not first-hand or even Durham- or Duke-centric) of the issues of the case and surrounding the case.
Culture of privilege: By this I mean students who attend elite private institutions. That includes me for both graduate and undergraduate. I have worked in higher education since 1982, when I received my PhD, mostly in state institutions, and since 1994, at a Big Ten land-grant institution with a far different culture than my graduate or undergraduate alma maters.
I like where I work, and I see readily that I am the recipient of good fortune with which I didn't have anything to do (third-generation Ivy legacy, professional and adequately paid parents, a comfortable home and decent K-12 public schools, numerous and expensive camps and lessons, and so forth). I know about places like Duke from the inside, as a student years ago and as a former Ivy admissions officer. I don't know Duke much, having visited the campus only two or three times. I worked in North Carolina for eight years, but at a state institution far removed in distance and status from Duke's orbit. Most North Carolinians are indifferent to Duke, so I learned little about the university from people I met in that state.
Culture of violence: By this I am talking about America. It is a violent country, historically and presently. As an American, I am part of that culture. So are students at Duke. Check out some of the accounts of the incident, particularly what was said about the strippers by those present, and also what has been said subsequently on at least one other site I have seen. The comments there reveal much about this culture of violence, IMHO, as well as a lack of civility rampant in many internet forums.
Simmering gang rape: What do you get when a group of young, virile men hire a stripper to excite them sexually amidst profuse alcohol? When I simmer something on a stove, it is slowly cooking, heating along, but if I were to turn up the heat slightly, it would boil over.
Sneer quotes around the word fact: I use quotes around fact to indicate my belief that all facts are provisional warrants. I am not sneering at you or anyone, but merely emphasizing that I see facts as conditional and open for discussion. I also use quotes to indicate my concern that these so-called "facts" be arrogated by one particular viewpoint, with what appears to me to be its attendant literalism and epistemological imperialism.
- A. G.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Defend East Lansing to the Last Man!
Rally on, CGI warriors, flash those glutes and six pack of Retsina abs!
Just In To The Culture of Privilege Desk: Lost Mail Division...
Freshman arrested for fabricating hate crimes
Posted 11-18-2003, 17:22 by David Weigel
Northwestern student Jaime "Xander" Saide, who claimed last week to be the victim of racist attacks, has admitted to Evanston police that his story was fiction. He was arrested Monday and charged on two counts of felony disorderly conduct for filing false police reports.
"I become really upset when childish pranks divert police resources away from investigations," said Evanston Police Chief Frank Kaminski on Tuesday. "I am absolutely appalled when such pranks instill fear into our community, and I will do everything in my power to ensure this case is carried to its conclusion."
Vice President for Student Affairs William J. Banis said in a statement that Northwestern "will respond appropriately to these developments," but did not disclose what actions are being taken.
"These fabricated incidents inflamed and upset the entire campus community needlessly,' Banis said in the statement. "At the same time, we are, of course, concerned about the health and well being of all of our students, including Xander Saide."
Saide, a freshman in the School of Communication, filed a police report on Nov. 5 and claimed that the words "Die Spic" had been written on his wall. Three days later, he told police that he had been attacked from behind and held at knifepoint while walking to his dorm. Saide told the Daily Northwestern that attackers had threatened him and said "Spic, we didn't run away this time."
Police later discovered that Saide had fabricated both incidents.
"When you're an investigator, you deal with people every day, and you develop gut feelings," Kaminski said. He told reporters that Saide confessed after the story fell apart.
The charges against Saide come after a week of heated campus activism. On Nov. 9, student leaders met to organize a three-part anti-hate campaign. On Nov. 11, minority students were encouraged to wear black clothing and maintain a vow of silence. The next day, all students were encouraged to wear black before changing into Northwestern attire and rallying at The Rock, a south campus landmark. More than 500 students came to the rally to cheer speakers, including Saide.
"The feeling of that knife is still with me right now," he said in a speech that was broadcast on local TV news.
When asked why Saide might have fabricated the police reports, Kaminski suggested that he wanted to "bring attention to himself and his cause." He did not repeat what was said between Saide and police on Monday.
Just In To The Culture of Violence: Higher Education Desk
Facebook Group Created by Football Player Ignites Furor at U. of Southern California
A Facebook group called “White Nation,” which featured a graphic of a black infant in handcuffs and the caption, “Arrest black babies before they become criminals,” has sparked outrage on the campus of the University of Southern California, the student newspaper, the Daily Trojan, reported.
Clay Matthews, the football player who created the group, later said he had no racist intent and apologized for an error in judgment.
The controversial group was brought into the limelight by another student, Stefanie Gopaul, a freshman majoring in psychology. Ms. Gopaul created a rival group called “Clay Matthews (USC football player) expresses anti-black sentiment.” She said she believed the explanation that the “White Nation” group was intended as an inside joke among athletes, but still thought its content was inappropriate.
Delbanco's Scandals of Higher Education
Scandals of Higher Education By Andrew Delbanco
It is hardly surprising that lots of rich kids go to America's richest colleges. It has always been so. But today's students are richer on average than their predecessors. Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, in a sample of eleven prestigious colleges, the percentage of students from families in the bottom quartile of national family income remained roughly steady— around 10 percent. During the same period the percentage of students from the top quartile rose sharply, from a little more than one third to fully half. If the upscale shops and restaurants near campus are any indication, the trend has continued if not accelerated.
A Glimpse into the Life of David Eggers
It's the birthday of the writer and editor Dave Eggers, (books by this author) born in Boston (1970). He grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city that was famous when he was growing up for having been the setting for the movie Ordinary People. He originally wanted to be a cartoonist, but when he was in high school, he worked on a project where he had to write and illustrate his own book. He found that he loved all aspects of the process, from writing to designing the layout of the book. He went on to study art and journalism at the University of Illinois, and it was while he was in college that his mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Then, just after his mother went through severe stomach surgery, his father was diagnosed with brain cancer. Six months later, both of his parents were dead. Eggers was just 21 years old.
Of the experience of losing both of his parents so suddenly, Eggers later said, "On the one hand you are so completely bewildered that something so surreal and incomprehensible could happen. At the same time, suddenly the limitations or hesitations that you might have imposed on yourself fall away. There's a weird, optimistic recklessness that could easily be construed as nihilism but is really the opposite. You see that there is a beginning and an end and that you have only a certain amount of time to act. And you want to get started."
Eggers had to drop out of college to become the guardian of his 15-year-old younger brother. They moved to San Francisco, and Eggers used the insurance money from his parents' deaths to start his own magazine with some high school friends. They called it Might Magazine. It only lasted for 16 issues. But Eggers went on to start a new literary journal called Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. He wanted to experiment with graphic design and printing techniques, so he changed the format of the journal for every issue. One issue consisted of 14 individually bound pamphlets. Another issue included a music CD with a different piece of music composed specifically to accompany each piece in the journal.
All the while that he was starting up these magazines, Dave Eggers was staying up late at night trying to write a book about the death of his parents and the effect that it had on his life. That book grew into his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which became a big best-seller in 2000.
Eggers has gone on to write a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry (2004), and two novels: You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002) and What Is the What (2006). He also founded a writing center for young people in San Francisco called 826 Valencia, which has grown into a national organization designed to help and encourage young people to write.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Blogging and Dialogue
I wonder what you make of this event, now that you are able to step back from it a bit.
Is this (a) simply a built in danger (??) of blogging?
Or (b) is it actually a good thing to get your ideas out, even if they generate this sort of Ann Coulter/ Rush Limbaugh reaction??
Or (c)that the only likely reaction is of this sort, given that Ann-Rush have a built up response readiness while neither the left nor any reasonable public does?
Or (d) that it's a good thing even if only the pre-organized right replies, given that this gives them a pressure valve so they can get this off their chest, reveal their naked unloveliness in a way which does little actual harm??
The Dewey Society commission on social issues actually has an interest in the answer to this question. Let's think about it leading up to AERA and the JDS CSI workshop on Wednesday 4/11.
I exchanged emails in the last few days with a professor here, who copied a KC Johnson. I hit "reply all" to this professor whom I don't know. He took me to task for my apparent lack of sensitivity to the “facts” of the Duke case (even though I was commenting on another issue entirely, to wit, the culture of violence and privilege.)
Turns out that KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College who devotes a blog, Durham-in-Wonderland, to this case. I now appear in a posting, and his (or her?) acolytes have rained down on my head in comments to my original post.
I find it interesting that defenders of the Duke situation focus upon the miscarriage of justice by Nifong and others, rather than on the culture that spawned this situation in the first place. There is much to criticize in Nifong and the way the legal battle has been waged, I will grant that. Furthermore, the Purdue professor who took me to task does bring up some good points, in particular, by suggesting that the fallout from the case has more than tarnished a few lives. I probably didn't give that enough thought in my original posting.
*UPDATE 3/14: I have decided that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, Nifong appears to be mostly at fault with that, and some lives are already scarred and we are not at the end of it. I don't know enough about the gang of 88 or the potbangers or whatever but it appears from my scant knowledge that excess occurred with these groups, and I don't condone some of their tactics. But I do support their efforts to bring the wider issues to the fore. To wit...
...in contrast to the trolls I expunged from this blog, I stand by my views on a culture of violence, privilege and so forth, manifest at Duke and many other places in an increasingly violent, stratified, and uncaring America. In my mind, the trolls who spewed their anonymous venom here made the point without me having to do so.
This is not particularly controversial but self-evident to anyone who looks around America with an inquiring mind. Obviously there are wonderful people and wonderful things happening all over the country, ideas and movements that give me hope. The Duke lacrosse situation of last year is not one of them.
These ideas, not original to me, appear to be hard to convey, at least in this blog. I probably will post one more "essai" (French for "attempt," from Montaigne, that great skeptic I admire, well before pomo). I won't clarify or elaborate further on these ideas, as I have done so already.
The Duke lacrosse trolls focus upon the "no rape occurred" item as zealots. Okay, in examining the evidence available to me I believe no rape occurred. The prosecution appears to have withheld exculpatory evidence. But the trolls haven't addressed the probablility of sexual assault, demeaning behavior, racism, and execrable conduct reported upon that evening. That isn't what nice boys do, they shout in horror, we all know they are wonderful, even sons of a policeman and firefighters. It is that low life stripper (hired by the nice boys) who is to blame for whatever happened.
As a fraternity member and alumnus of the college whose notorious fraternity scene inspired "Animal House," I never witnessed or heard of behavior as extreme as the Duke lax house (lots came extremely close, however). It is patently evident to me from accounts from many sources (and I read widely, and watched right-wing oriented Fox News mostly on this, as Fox covers such cases ad nauseam, and I wanted to get the complete, ad nauseam look at it a year ago), the culture of violence and privilege conspired to create an atmosphere of simmering gang rape.
SIMMERING. As in it is already cooking along. Be careful to not turn up the heat too much, as a boil-over could occur. The boil-over didn't occur. But plenty of hands got scalded and some badly burned, and the healing will go on for a long time, and perhaps healing will never fully occur for some.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
A Man After My Own Heart...
-Richard Russo, author of Straight Man, Empire Falls, and other novels.
Straight Man is one of my all time faves, and a centerpiece of my higher ed in film and fiction class that spawned this blog.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Ann Coulter, the latest...
"I watched Ann Coulter last night in the gayest way I could. I was on a stairmaster at a gym, slack-jawed at her proud defense of calling someone a "faggot" on the same stage as presidential candidates and as an icon of today's conservative movement. The way in which Fox News and Sean Hannity and, even more repulsively, Pat Cadell, shilled for her was a new low for Fox, I think - and for what remains of decent conservatism. "We're all friends here," Hannity chuckled at the end. Yes, they were. And no faggots were on the show to defend themselves. That's fair and balanced. . . . I was in the room [at the CPAC conference], so I felt the atmosphere personally. It was an ugly atmosphere, designed to make any gay man or woman in the room feel marginalized and despised. To put it simply, either conservatism is happy to be associated with that atmosphere, or it isn't. I think the response so far suggests that the conservative elites don't want to go there, but the base has already been there for a very long time. (That's why this affair is so revealing, because it is showing which elites want to pander to bigots, and which do not.) . . . The word "faggot" is used for two reasons: to identify and demonize a gay man; and to threaten a straight man with being reduced to the social pariah status of a gay man. Coulter chose the latter use of the slur, its most potent and common form. She knew why Edwards qualified. He's pretty, he has flowing locks, he's young-looking. He is exactly the kind of straight guy who is targeted as a "faggot" by his straight peers. This, Ms Coulter, is real social policing by speech. And that's what she was doing: trying to delegitimize and feminize a man by calling him a faggot. It happens every day. It's how insecure or bigoted straight men police their world to keep the homos out. And for the slur to work, it must logically accept the premise that gay men are weak, effeminate, wusses, sissies, and the rest. A sane gay man has two responses to this, I think. The first is that there is nothing wrong with effeminacy or effeminate gay men - and certainly nothing weak about many of them. In the plague years, I saw countless nelly sissies face HIV and AIDS with as much courage and steel as any warrior on earth. You want to meet someone with balls? Find a drag queen. The courage of many gay men every day in facing down hatred and scorn and derision to live lives of dignity and integrity is not a sign of being a wuss or somehow weak. We have as much and maybe more courage than many - because we have had to acquire it to survive. And that is especially true of gay men whose effeminacy may not make them able to pass as straight - the very people Coulter seeks to demonize. The conflation of effeminacy with weakness, and of gayness with weakness, is what Coulter calculatedly asserted. This was not a joke. It was an attack. Secondly, gay men are not all effeminate. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen a leading NBA player and a Marine come out to tell their stories. I'd like to hear Coulter tell Amaechi and Alva that they are sissies and wusses. A man in uniform who just lost a leg for his country is a sissy? The first American serviceman to be wounded in Iraq is a wuss? What Coulter did, in her callow, empty way, was to accuse John Edwards of not being a real man. To do so, she asserted that gay men are not real men either. The emasculation of men in minority groups is an ancient trope of the vilest bigotry. Why was it wrong, after all, for white men to call African-American men "boys"? Because it robbed them of the dignity of their masculinity. And that's what Coulter did last Friday to gays. She said - and conservatives applauded - that I and so many others are not men. We are men, Ann. . ."
And, an update from my friend Alan: "I think Ann C. should be used for medical research except the results would not be necessarily useful for issues facing real people or other animals. Maybe at her death bed she'll explain that her whole life has been a psychology experiment to see just how much she could get away with and in fact she's a socially liberal lesbian."
Monday, March 05, 2007
But it is also time for dopey ads. Like the one for DQ, where the three chums around the table don't exhale lest they breathe spice-induced fire on each other (surprise, they do at ad's end).
Or the ad where a dadly figure sternly lectures sub par cleaning implements (in favor of a Swiffer duster I vaguely recall).
Of course, what would televised sports be without a raft of male fantasy ads, such as the chiseled stud who smears Gillette shaving gel on his face, swipes a blade over his cheeks, and is then kissed by a pouting beauty.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
The Four Bluffton University Students, in more innocent times
Bluffton University is located in a small town an hour south of Toledo, and is affiliated with the Mennonite Church. The baseball team was enroute to spring games in Florida, the first to be with Eastern Mennonite University, when their bus took an exit mistakenly, at full speed, crashing through a bridge wall and falling onto I75 in Atlanta. These four students were killed as were the bus driver and his wife.
Friday, March 02, 2007
The Culture of Violence and Privilege Behind the Duke Lacrosse Case
The scenario is one of privileged males proving their manhood by staging live porno shows for one another involving a wounded young woman. She is the duck or the quail raised and put in place for the hunter. Who she is doesn’t matter and she is quickly forgotten after it is all over – sloughed off like a used condom. The event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of a powerful manhood — in unity against women; one against the world. The patriarchal bonding functions a little like bonding in organized crime circles — generating a sense of family and establishing mutual aid connections that will last a lifetime.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Now I know why I needed a sabbatical to read Don Quixote...
The real change in the book market is not the big guy vs. the little guy, or chain vs. indie stores. Rather, it's the reader's greater impatience, a symptom of our amazing literary (and televisual) plenitude. In the modern world we are more pressed for time, and we face a greater diversity of cultural choices. It was easy to finish Tolstoy's War and Peace when there were few other books around and it was hard to find them. Today, finishing it means forgoing many other options at our fingertips. As a result, we tend to consume ideas in smaller bits, a proposition that (in another context) economists labeled the "Alchian and Allen theorem." Long, serious novels are less culturally central than they were 100 years ago. Blogs are on the rise, and most readers prefer the ones with the shorter posts. Our greater access to books also means that each book has less time to prove itself. A small percentage of the books published account for a large share of the profits, thus setting off a race to track reader demand. Many customers want very recent best-sellers, often so they can feel they are reading something trendy, something other people are talking about. Of course, that's its own kind of affectation—and not an entirely pleasing one.