Monday, February 27, 2006

Watchin' Telly: Photo of the Day #57


I'd have to check WTTW's schedule to confirm, but my hunch is Ira's watching Mystery.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Making Manicotti: Photo of the Day #56

I've cooked the stuffing and boiled the noodles. Now Ira helps me by stuffing the manicotti, a job that can get quite messy.

Friday, February 24, 2006

GEO Contract Negotiations: Photo of the Day #54


RALLY FOR WAGES AND HEALTHCARE.

Join us Friday, February 24th at 12 pm for a brief rally before our next bargaining session. It's TIME for the University to give us a response to our proposal on wages and healthcare! It's TIME for the University to pay TAs and GAs what we're worth! It's TIME for the University to contribute to our health insurance! So join us next Friday: TAs and GAs from across campus are will together to show the University that TAs and GAs deserve FAIR WAGES & STIPENDS and AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE. We've shown them our strength at the table; now it's time to show them our strength across campus!

GEO CALENDAR

Friday, 2/24: RALLY FOR WAGES AND HEALTHCARE @ 12 pm in 613 CCC/Student Center East.
Friday, 2/24: Contract Negotiations @ 12:30 pm. in 613 CCC/Student Center East.


You can't really tell from the picture, but the turnout was impressive. The good guys, i.e., the GEO reps, are facing the camera. The University's reps, who showed up late, have their backs to the camera.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ashland and Montrose Redux: Photo of the Day #53

Norman Mailer Itemizes Modern/Postmodern

The March of Progress: This list is, of course, open to debate. A hundred, if not a thousand,
couplings could be offered in their place. I will say that the last two
pairings are quintessential to the premise behind these categories.
Originally, they were first on the list.

This list is, of course, open to debate. A hundred, if not a thousand, couplings could be offered in their place. I will say that the last two pairings are quintessential to the premise behind these categories. Originally, they were first on the list.


MODERN      POSTMODERN
steel plastic
Picasso Warhol
Pullman & Coach First Class & Economy
romance narcissism
pot roast vegan
FDR GWB
Hitler Hussein
Churchill Blair
Zionism Israel
USSR People's Republic of China
consumption cancer
Gone With the Wind The DaVinci Code
drought flood
blizzard global warming
steak salad
beer lite beer
dessert No-Cal
tycoons CEOs
typewriters PCs
Off-Broadway Off-Off-Broadway
bebop rap
shoes sneakers
library Internet
epistles blogs
Gallo Pinot Noir
bourbon single malt
the Depression the 1990s
corner stores malls
Sinatra Eminem
farming agribusiness
slums projects
highways superhighways
Sears, Roebuck Wal-Mart
antiseptics antibiotics
heart attacks bypasses
concentration fragmentation
war terrorism

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cleaners: Photo of the Day #52


On my way to drop off a pair of corduroy trousers for alterations by the Chinese-American seamstress who runs the dry cleaning shop on Ashland and Montrose. Traffic is heavy; it's rush hour.

From my Congresswoman

Dear Mr. Rasmussen:

Thank you for contacting me to express your support for Mr.
Conyers' resolutions regarding President Bush and Vice President
Cheney's actions leading up to the war in Iraq. I appreciate hearing
from you, and I agree with you.

I am a cosponsor of H.Res. 635, a resolution to authorize an
investigation into whether grounds exist for the impeachment of
President Bush based on his manipulation of pre-war intelligence and
use of torture. I am also a cosponsor of H.Res. 636 and H.Res. 637,
Mr. Conyers' resolutions censuring President Bush and Vice President
Cheney for their actions. I support these resolutions because I share
your frustration with the current Administration. President Bush has
misled members of Congress and the nation in order to garner support
for his pre-emptive and unilateral attack on Iraq. I also believe
President Bush broke the law when he unilaterally authorized secret
wiretaps of U.S. citizens in 2002. President Clinton was impeached by
the House of Representatives for an issue that held significantly less
importance to our democracy and did not lead to the loss of innocent
civilian or military personnel lives.

Congress must act to uphold our democracy and hold President
Bush accountable for his actions. If a resolution impeaching President
Bush comes up for a vote in Congress, I will support it. I will continue
to do all I can to make the Bush Administration accountable to the
American public and the world for the misguided war it started in Iraq
and a Presidential power grab that poses a challenge in the deepest
sense to the integrity of the American system of government.

Again, thank you for contacting me on this important subject.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance to you in
the future.

Sincerely,

Jan Schakowsky,
Member of Congress

Defend against Mac Worm

Attention Mac users: Read this short article to learn about how to protect your Mac against a worm designed to exploit an auto-open ZIP files features in the Safari browser.

It sucks that Mac users, who have long been accustomed to not having to worry so much about worms and viruses, are now being targeted by malevolent hackers. However, it's also surprising that Macs weren't targeted before. Perhaps Mac's recent market success with the iPod prompted hackers to deem Apple worth attacking.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Pit Love: Photo of the Day #49


Stanley (right) shows Elvis, whose apartment he's visiting, a little early Sunday morning love. (Don't fret Brokeback protesters, this Elvis is a lady.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Jim & Niyah: Photo of the Day #47

Jim and Niyah welcome us back. We're on our way out to see the The Undertow Orchestra (Mark Eitzel, Vic Chesnutt, Will Johnson & David Bazan) play at Park West.

Don't Feel Like Doing Your Homework? Take Action, Take Offense!

It seems that taking offense has become something of a phenomenon lately.

Here's the latest example of an absurd attack on academic freedom: a bill in Arizona would require public colleges to provide "alternative coursework" if a student finds material on the course curriculum to be "personally offensive" or if it "conflicts with the student's beliefs or practices in sex, morality or religion."

I wonder if lazy students could claim that reading a long novel, say, Moby Dick, violated their personal practice of getting piss drunk on a weeknight instead of reading and blowing off class the next day?

The Arizona debate was ostensibly sparked by a student who found the wife-swapping in Rick Moody's The Ice Storm to be offensive. This student must be quite sensitive. I wonder if said she or he ever gets 'offended' by things like the torture by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison? In any case, someone ought to tell the brat that he or she isn't community college material and to grow up before enrolling at an institution of higher education.

The chilling thing is that no academic would dare speak such words in an official, institutional setting.

The message sent to the students: Avoid Whatever Offends You.

So if such legislation does pass, and these days you never know what sort of unfreedoms might become law, the prof ought to assign the whinging student William Gaddis' J.R. (a great novel about the 1970s, and of more literary merit than the Moody, but quite long) as the "alternative coursework." One of the themes in the book concerns the dumbing-down and technocratization of education in the United States.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Castle: Photo of the Day #46

UIC's University Hall, a not-so-ivory tower, looking ominous, shrouded in fog. How could I not be reminded of Kafka's The Castle?

Fortunately, Nancy in the English Department was able, with one phone call, to do what numerous e-mails and calls to various UIC offices could not do: get the university to acknowledge that due to a bureaucratic error my tuition waiver had not been processed. It was a relief, but I won't rest well until the funds are applied to my account.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Jetlagged (but a scholar's work is never done): Photo of the Day #45

Arrived back in Chitown around 12:30 this afternoon. Ira napped for a couple of hours, but was back to work later in the evening.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Young Valentines: Photo of the Day #44


Daniel and Linnéa celebrated a year of dating this past weekend. To celebrate Valentine's Day, Linnéa stopped by a local bakery and picked up the tasty, sweet, baked treats on the kitchen table. Thanks, Linnéa!

Baudrillard on Disaffected France

According to Jean Baudrillard, social integration is a problem for immigrants and native Europeans alike. Writing in the wake of the 2005 riots that raged across France last fall, Baudrillard offers a grim assessment of the prospects for the European Union, which suffered a setback in May 2005 when Europeans voted 'No' to the Constitutional referendum. Both events, Baudrillard suggests, are indicative of a widespread cultural malaise and disaffection with a globalized Europe. Is Baudrillard's diagnosis accurate, and if so does it apply to all of Europe or France only?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Morning Train to Uppsala: Photo of the Day #43


Ira, about to board a morning train, stoops to pick up bags filled with books to return to the Uppsala University Library.

Another Rasmussen in the News...

An interview with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (no relation) about the Muhammand cartoon brouhaha...

Rasmussen Makes U.S. National News

I'm proud to report that my nephew, Wally Rasmussen, made Salon.com's Arts & Entertainment section. You can see Wallisimo in the Video Dog page for February 13, 2005.

Dave Chapelle got top billing on the daily page, but if you scroll down, Wally is in the third post from the top. (Why a scoundral like Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and supporter of domestic spying, is above Wally beats me.)

While you're not working, whydoncha check out Wally's Blog.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Icicle: Photo of the Day #42

Fish on the Muhammand Cartoons: 'The Trouble With Principle' Revisited

In Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out , Stanley Fish explains why calls for 'dialogue' with the Muslim world won't work.

I don't have time for a thorough analysis of Fish's essay, but want to get down my initial thoughts...

Having read most of Fish's work (including his provocatively titled There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and Its a Good Thing Too) and had him as a professor, his response to the Muhammad cartoon controversy is fairly predictable: he treats the episode as an opportunity to attack the notion of liberal tolerance. Unfortunately, he doesn't make it clear what more intolerant position he would take in this episode, or any other involving religious fundamentalist groups attempting to silence people whose 'speech' offends their religious taboos.

Fish explains that liberal appeals to respect different religious beliefs are condescending to true believers because they ask the true believer to bracket or suspend his or her beliefs and to adopt the "liberal theology," which includes tenants such as the relativization of "ideologies and religions" and "belief in the therapeutic and redemptive force of dialogue." The claim that liberalism is a kind of weak faith makes a certain amount of sense, though beyond that characterization of liberalism I'm not certain what, exactly, Fish is calling for in this essay.

Part of my confusion may be due to the way the term "liberal" is used pejoratively, as when Fish characterizes the "liberal editors" (and remember that Jyllands Postland is a right-leaning journal, so liberalism is being used in a broader sense ) and their defenders as smug and gives the Muslim protesters more "credit" than those who have made arguments on behalf of free speech. If Fish is claiming that liberal multiculturalists are naive and misguided in thinking that they can reason things out with the Muslim fundamentalists, he's probably right. However, this is hardly the de facto position of those who defend the cartoonists and free speech as a political principle. There are writers, Christopher Hitchens for example, who have argued in defense of mockery and satire in general and particularly of the need to satirize radical Islam and other forms of religious fundamentalism that promote authoritarian theocratic regimes. Hitchens certainly takes radical Islam seriously. He regards it to be seriously wrong as a system of belief and seriously dangerous to the extent that its adherents advocate a global Islamic theocracy.

Does Fish side with the likes of Hitchens and me here? Both Hitchens and I take the more traditional leftist perspective, which is radically skeptical of religious faith on the grounds that religion too often functions as the "opiate of the masses." (I'll refrain from elaborating the religion as drug metaphor for the time being.) Fish appears to admire the Muslim protesters for standing up for their beliefs. This admiration, in itself, is misguided, given that many Muslim protesters appear to have been unclear about what exactly they were demonstrating against. This fact was revealed when protesters chanted anti-Bush slogan while burning the Danish flag, even though the Bush Administration basically hung Denmark out to dry and condemned the media outlets that printed the cartoons, which it deemed offensive.

One wants to ask: does Fish give the Muslim protesters credit because he agrees with their faith? Probably not. It seems to be that he admires their strong religious belief (something they share with John Milton).But this suggests, then, that Fish's admiration is based simply on an abstract principle - call it a unwillingness to respect an other's belief- which is precisely what he argues against in so many of his political and legal essays.

What I'm suggesting is that Fish's essay lacks teeth without some sense of what he believes. Obviously, he is critical of liberal multiculturalism, which is not really a doctrine so much as an ill-defined sensibility. So where, exactly, does he stand with regard to those who have come out and stated boldly that Western secular democracies should not give an inch to any religious group that attempts to censor someone's speech on religious grounds? As a man with the luxury of tenure, Fish should be more forthcoming. Come on Stanley, you're almost retired. Let

Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out

By STANLEY FISH

IF you want to understand what is and isn't at stake in the Danish cartoon furor, just listen to the man who started it all, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Mr. Rose told Time magazine that he asked 40 Danish cartoonists to "depict Muhammad as they see him," after he noticed that journalists, historians and even museum directors were wary of presenting the Muslim religion in an unfavorable light, or in any light at all.

"To me," he said, this "spoke to the problem of self-censorship and freedom of speech." The publication of the cartoons, he insisted, "was not directed at Muslims" at all. Rather, the intention was "to put the issue of self-censorship on the agenda and have a debate about it."

I believe him. And not only do I believe that he has nothing against Muhammad or the doctrines of Islam, I believe that he has no interest (positive or negative) in them at all, except as the possible occasions of controversy.

This is what it means today to put self-censorship "on the agenda": the particular object of that censorship — be it opinions about a religion, a movie, the furniture in a friend's house, your wife's new dress, whatever — is a matter of indifference. What is important is not the content of what is expressed but that it be expressed. What is important is that you let it all hang out.

Mr. Rose may think of himself, as most journalists do, as being neutral with respect to religion — he is not speaking as a Jew or a Christian or an atheist — but in fact he is an adherent of the religion of letting it all hang out, the religion we call liberalism.

The first tenet of the liberal religion is that everything (at least in the realm of expression and ideas) is to be permitted, but nothing is to be taken seriously. This is managed by the familiar distinction — implied in the First Amendment's religion clause — between the public and private spheres. It is in the private sphere — the personal spaces of the heart, the home and the house of worship — that one's religious views are allowed full sway and dictate behavior.

But in the public sphere, the argument goes, one's religious views must be put forward with diffidence and circumspection. You can still have them and express them — that's what separates us from theocracies and tyrannies — but they should be worn lightly. Not only must there be no effort to make them into the laws of the land, but they should not be urged on others in ways that make them uncomfortable. What religious beliefs are owed — and this is a word that appears again and again in the recent debate — is "respect"; nothing less, nothing more.

The thing about respect is that it doesn't cost you anything; its generosity is barely skin-deep and is in fact a form of condescension: I respect you; now don't bother me. This was certainly the message conveyed by Rich Oppel, editor of The Austin (Tex.) American-Statesman, who explained his decision to reprint one of the cartoons thusly: "It is one thing to respect other people's faith and religion, but it goes beyond where I would go to accept their taboos."

Clearly, Mr. Oppel would think himself pressured to "accept" the taboos of the Muslim religion were he asked to alter his behavior in any way, say by refraining from publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet. Were he to do that, he would be in danger of crossing the line between "respecting" a taboo and taking it seriously, and he is not about to do that.

This is, increasingly, what happens to strongly held faiths in the liberal state. Such beliefs are equally and indifferently authorized as ideas people are perfectly free to believe, but they are equally and indifferently disallowed as ideas that might serve as a basis for action or public policy.

Strongly held faiths are exhibits in liberalism's museum; we appreciate them, and we congratulate ourselves for affording them a space, but should one of them ask of us more than we are prepared to give — ask for deference rather than mere respect — it will be met with the barrage of platitudinous arguments that for the last week have filled the pages of every newspaper in the country.

One of those arguments goes this way: It is hypocritical for Muslims to protest cartoons caricaturing Muhammad when cartoons vilifying the symbols of Christianity and Judaism are found everywhere in the media of many Arab countries. After all, what's the difference? The difference is that those who draw and publish such cartoons in Arab countries believe in their content; they believe that Jews and Christians follow false religions and are proper objects of hatred and obloquy.

But I would bet that the editors who have run the cartoons do not believe that Muslims are evil infidels who must either be converted or vanquished. They do not publish the offending cartoons in an effort to further some religious or political vision; they do it gratuitously, almost accidentally. Concerned only to stand up for an abstract principle — free speech — they seize on whatever content happens to come their way and use it as an example of what the principle should be protecting. The fact that for others the content may be life itself is beside their point.

This is itself a morality — the morality of a withdrawal from morality in any strong, insistent form. It is certainly different from the morality of those for whom the Danish cartoons are blasphemy and monstrously evil. And the difference, I think, is to the credit of the Muslim protesters and to the discredit of the liberal editors.

The argument from reciprocity — you do it to us, so how can you complain if we do it to you? — will have force only if the moral equivalence of "us" and "you" is presupposed. But the relativizing of ideologies and religions belongs to the liberal theology, and would hardly be persuasive to a Muslim.

This is why calls for "dialogue," issued so frequently of late by the pundits with an unbearable smugness — you can just see them thinking, "What's wrong with these people?" — are unlikely to fall on receptive ears. The belief in the therapeutic and redemptive force of dialogue depends on the assumption (central to liberalism's theology) that, after all, no idea is worth fighting over to the death and that we can always reach a position of accommodation if only we will sit down and talk it out.

But a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point — as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith.

Bush Betrays Brave Jordanian Journalist

It's not surprising to learn that President Bush refused to speak up on behalf of besieged journalist Jihad Momani, an editor who was brave enough to publish the Muhammad caricatures in al-Shihan, a Jordanian newspaper on the grounds that people should know about what they were protesting. Momani's journalistic integrity got him "fired, arrested, twice, denied bail and charged with blasphemy by the government of King Abdullah of Jordan."

When Bush met with Abdullah last week, he could have intervened on behalf of Momani and another editor being detained. But Bush blew the opportunity to make Momani's case an issue and to promote the freedom of the press in autocratic Jordan. It's unfortunate, because King Abudllah could not afford to disregard the president. Jordan is heavily dependent on U.S. aid, receiving one fifth of its annual budget from the U.S.

This episode confirms what various scandals (lying about the war, spying on civilians,etc.) already suggest: Anyone who believes that the Bush Administration truly cares about democratic freedoms is a damn fool.

Profile of Patrick Fitzgerald

A profile of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is cleaning up the Windy City and might just clean up the White House as well...

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Go Big Red: Photo of the Day #41






When Sweden and Russia meet in the Olympics, Ira roots for the Russkies, the team she grew up supporting (they were the Soviet Union in those days). Do her allegiances to Mother Russia's team make her a nativist, I tease.

Ira refuses to take the bait and cooly informs me that I'd better be rooting for Russia like the rest of the family (Daniel too supports Russia over Sweden in athletic competition). Apparently, she'll root for my Big Red, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, only if I root for her Big Red, Russia. When the U.S. plays Russia, of course, I'm permitted (expected) to root for my home team.

Although Ira appears transfixed by the game here, she wasn't watching so intently. In fact, it took us both a few minutues to grasp that this was a women's competition.

Ira wondered why so many of the guys had such long hair. I reasoned that the mullet has always been the favored hairstyle of hockey players, and if these mullets looked somewhat longer than usual, well, that was just the latest fashion. And if the stands were rather empty and the players seemed to be moving slower than the NHL game, that was because this was an early round in the Olympics. But that hockey player sure has a baby face for a 26-year old...

It was only when a Russian player was identified as Tatiana that these were, indeed, ladies. Don't be fooled by the fact that a Swedish player just choked a Russian with a hockey stick before body slamming her to the ice.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ira Leaves Her Mark: Photo of the Day #41





After I commented on the beautiful purity
of the virgin snow,
Ira took a perverse delight in desecrating
the delicate, white terrain.

That's the old Gävle prison in the background.

No Laughing Matter

I received an e-mail message today informing me about another controversial cartoon that's been in the U.S. news:

The radical Islamists are not the only ones who get their knickers in a knot over cartoons. Read this article (Bush Propaganda Machine Twist Message of Toles Cartoon) about the fuss over a Tom Toles cartoon. If you google the topic you get a series of shrill conservative websites all saying the same thing - no accident there.

Thanks for the tip, Mom. I may end up writing about this cartoon and the Muhammad cartoons in a section of my dissertation dealing with the concept of symbolic violence and what it means to take offense at verbal and visual representations.

For now, I'll refrain from saying anything more except to note that today I came across a passage in Hannah Arendt's On Violence that explains why both the Bush regime and various Muslim fundamentalists have reacted so strongly to political cartoons. On the one hand, it's obvious that they are opportunistically using these cartoons to generate 'political capital' by appealing to their base, whom they suggest should be 'offended' and outraged by the respective images. On the other hand, the reactionary responses to cartoons is, from a theoretical standpoint, understandable. Both the Bush regime and the Islamic fundamentalists fear, correctly, that their authority is being undermined by the cartoons.

Arendt writes:

To remain in authority requires respect for the person in office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter.

No wonder, then, that these cartoons are being treated as 'no laughing matter' by the extremist ideologues.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

No Taboo on Boobs: Photo of the Day #40

Imagine the intense brainstorming sessions and heated debates that took place at the ad agency before this slogan was decided upon.

I'll admit that I like the slogan. It's simple, to the point, and 'boob' is a palindrome.

Also, in the U.S. were such a slogan to appear in local malls, I expect that there would be a great big media stink about offensive 'sexist' advertising. That's because the American media loves to hype pseudo-controversies involving symbolic 'injustices' rather than tackling the real, material injustices promoted by our neoliberal economic policies. Sweden, in contrast, is one of the world's most egalitarian countries when it comes to gender issues (the wage gap between men and women is almost non-existent, men get paid paternity leave to care for young children, etc.). No wonder, then, that Swedes don't bother getting their panties in a bundle about, say, a lingerie campaign that dares to use speak a taboo word like [gasp] boobs.

Thanks to Ira for agreeing to pose for this photo (one in a series) in the local mall. I was a bit disappointed that she refused to go inside the store to where an entire wall was covered with the affirmative slogan, but you can't have it all. It being my birthday, she was humoring me. But Ira says that she likes boobs too.

The Right to Be Offended

I was disappointed in the editorial, The Right to Be Offended, that The Nation chose to run in response to the Muhammad cartoon controversy. I've excerpted passages from the essay where I think the author's reasoning is faulty or just plain wrong.

The Right to Be Offended
by GARY YOUNGE
[from the February 27, 2006 issue]

Four months after the cartoons were published, Jyllands-Posten's editor apologized. In the intervening time Muslims engaged in mostly peaceful protests. Several Arab and Muslim nations withdrew their ambassadors from Denmark while demonstrators picketed embassies. According to Denmark's consul in Dubai, a boycott of Danish products in the Gulf would cost the country $27 million in sales.

All of this went largely unnoticed in the West, apart from critics who characterized the protests as evidence of a "clash of civilizations." In their attempt to limit free speech, went the argument, the demonstrators proved that Islam and Western democracy were incompatible.


1. It is misleading to claim that cartoons "went largely unnoticed in the West," except by critics seeking "evidence of a 'clash of civilizations.'" The reports I recall reading last fall took care to explain the context in which the cartoons were first printed - as the publisher's response to learning about the reluctance of artist's to illustrate a children's book about the Koran for fear that doing so would make them potential targets of violence from Muslim extremists. The reports also dutifully noted that the Jyllands-Posten was a right-leaning paper and expressed concern that its editors were appealing to a xenophobic, anti-immigration movement in Darkmark and in so doing creating unnecessary problems for Danish Muslims. One of the cartoons, the one featuring Muhammad as a schoolboy in front of a chalkboard on which is written - in Arabic script - something like 'The Jyllands-Posten editors are poseurs and provocateurs.' (I'll have to look up the translation.)

2. Note the use of the adverb 'mostly' in the phrase "mostly peaceful protests." The un-peaceful, i.e. violent protests in response to the caricatures are precisely the problem that Younge tries to downplay.

Even on its own terms this logic is disingenuous. The right to offend must come with at least one consequent right and one subsequent responsibility. People must have the right to be offended, and those bold enough to knowingly cause offense should be bold enough to weather the consequences, so long as the aggrieved respond within the law. Muslims were in effect being vilified twice--once through the original cartoons and then again for having the gall to protest them. Such logic recalls the words of the late South African black nationalist Steve Biko: "Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react to being kicked."

3. No one is disputing the claim that those who make potentially offensive claims must take responsibility for their actions and be prepared to address those whom they might have offended. The issue, as Younge seems to recognize but quickly passes over, is whether the responses are "within the law."

4. Muslims were not vilified by the original cartoon, only, perhaps, Muslim extremists whose violent outbursts against Denmark, etc. have ironically confirmed the very stereotype of the bearded, bomb-throwing extremists that one of the cartoons might appear to promote.

5. The analogy Younge makes between Steve Biko's statements on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement and the Muslim extremists is misleading insofar as it equates the cartoons of Muhammad to be a violent act, equivalent to the brutal subordination of black South Africans. Biko's statement can be paraphrased as suggesting that whites have no right to tell the black South Africans how to react to being violently and forcefully repressed. People (not necesarrily whites only, I should add, since Younge's figuration suggests that the cartoon controversy is necessarily about race, which it shouldn't be) aren't denying that Muslims have a right to disagree with the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. What they are saying is that this disagreement must not assume a violent form - burning embassies, attacking ambassadors, etc. It is a huge mistake to equate discursive disagreement with physical violence: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words...

There seems to be almost universal agreement that these cartoons are offensive. There should also be universal agreement that the paper has a right to publish them without fear of violent reprisal. When it comes to freedom of speech, the liberal/left should not sacrifice its values one inch to those who seek censorship on religious grounds. But the right to freedom of speech equates to neither an obligation to offend nor a duty to be insensitive. If our commitment to free speech is important, our belief in antiracism should be no less so.

6. No, there is not "almost universal agreement that these cartoons are offensive." While the Bush Administration and Bill Clinton, to name two prominent U.S. sources, have endorsed this view, commentators have noted that the prohibition on representing Muhammad is limited to practicing Muslims only and that these cartoons are no more offensive than the caricatures critical of the pope that regularly appear in Western newspapers.

The acts of violence, including death threats to Jyllands-Posten's editor, should be condemned. The fact remains, however, that the overwhelming swath of protests, particularly in Europe, where crass banners and suicide-bomber attire were the worst offenses, have so far been peaceful.

7. Here Younge's desire to portray the protests as peaceful cause him to overlook the fact that several foreign embassies have been attacked and burned and that people have been injured and even killed in the protests! Moreover, even though the European protests "have so far been peaceful," the fact that 500 people took to the streets of London calling for another 7/7 does not strike me as a particularly positive or peaceful development.

But those who see this episode as freighted with weightier cultural meanings have another agenda. "This is a far bigger story than just the question of twelve cartoons in a small Danish newspaper," Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten's culture editor, told the New York Times. Too right, but it is not the story Rose thinks it is. Rose claims that "this is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society." In the mistaken belief that Europe is a monoethnic continent to which nonwhite people have just arrived, Rose is not alone in refracting every protest by a minority through a racial, ethnic or religious lens.

8. While I'm sure that there are members of the far-right in the West who are using this episode to advance a racist or xenophobic agenda, I am not convinced from the quote that is provided that Flemming Rose is one of them. In any case, I'm not sure how Rose's doubts about the compatibility of "the religion of Islam with a modern secular society" get glossed as being an assertion about Europe being "a monoethnic continent to which nonwhite people have just arrived." It is Younge, not Rose, who appears guilty of playing the race card and racializing a debate about belief. Note that Rose's remark expresses concern about the "religion of Islam," not any particular ethnic group, and whether some of its core beliefs are incompatible with the West's secular way of life. As the whole debate about freedom of expression suggests, this is a legitimate question. As feminists have noted, there are many sexist practices endorsed by Islam that we Westerners regard as wrong and illegal.


In so doing he displays his ignorance of both modern secular society and the role of all religions within it. Without anything as explicit as a First Amendment, Europe's freedom of speech laws are far more piecemeal than those of the United States. Many were adopted as a result of the Holocaust--the most potent reminder of just how fragile and recent this liberal secular tradition truly is in Europe. Last year the French daily Le Monde was found guilty of "racist defamation" against Israel and the Jewish people. Madonna's book Sex was only unbanned in Ireland in 2004. Even as this debate rages, David Irving sits in jail in Austria charged with Holocaust denial over a speech he made seventeen years ago, Islamist cleric Abu Hamza has been convicted in London for incitement to murder and racial hatred and Louis Farrakhan remains banned from Britain because his arrival "would not be conducive to the public good." Even here in America school boards routinely ban the works of authors like Alice Walker and J.K. Rowling. Such actions should be opposed; but no one claims Protestant, Catholic or Jewish values are incompatible with democracy.

9. Actually, Younge, there are people who question whether certain Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish values are incompatible with democracy. Such debates go on all the time. Think about the tiresome debates about whether or not the ten commandments can be posted in public courthouses, etc. Generally, the standard line of reasoning is that members of a particular faith cannot impose their beliefs on the population at large. Moreover, just because some Christians and Jews have banned various works on the grounds that they are offensive doesn't make this practice right. One wants to say that those groups, like the Muslims who have protested violently, are mistaken in believing that Western secular democracies must endorse their religious values. Finally, the fact that the "liberal secular tradition" is fragile only means that we should be more vigilant in responding to the recent attacks on it.

Which brings us back to Zieler. We will never know what the response to his Christ cartoons would have been because they were never published. (The paper's announced plan to reprint some cartoons about Christ fails to mitigate its double standard.) That fact alone shows that the question has never been whether you draw a line under what is or isn't acceptable to publish, but where you draw it. There is nothing courageous about using your freedom of speech to ridicule the beliefs of one of the weakest sections of your society. But Rose and others like him clearly believe Muslims, by virtue of their religion, exist on the wrong side of the line. That exclusion finds its reflection in the Islamist rejection of all things Western. And so the secularists and antiracists in both the West and the Middle East find their space for maneuver limited, while dogma masquerades as principle, and Islamists and Islamophobes are confirmed in their own vile prejudices.

10. The Jyllands-Posten editors are and were not obliged to publish the cartoons of Christ in their private newspaper. It is their editorial right to choose what material they want to publish. Moreover, nobody in Denmark or any other Western country is required to read what is published in this private newspaper. Whether or not the editors of the Jyllands-Posten are courageous is not the issue. That said, I think we shouldn't rush with Young to conclude that the editors were intending simply to "ridicule the beliefs of one of the weakest sections of [their] society." As I understand it, they were ridiculing the Muslims who believe that anyone choosing to represent Muhammad deserves to be punished violently. Hopefully, not all Muslims believe such extreme responses are justified. Those that do, we might add, have chosen to exclude themselves from Western societies where the right to disagree publicly about matters of belief is sacrosanct.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Semla: Photo of the Day #39

Fettisdagen was yesterday, but we indulged in some Semla a traditional Swedish pastry that would appeal to Homer Simpson, today. Be assured, however, that our Semla consumption was hardly Homeric and most definitely did not apporoach the lethal level of gluttony achieved by King Adolf Frederick of Sweden.

King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sour cabbage, smoked herring and champagne that was topped off by 14 servings of his favourite dessert hetvägg, which is a semla served in a bowl of hot milk.

Nation Student Writing Contest

I've got a semester off from teaching, but other educators out there might want to notify their students about The Nation's Student Writing Contest.

To my colleagues teaching composition: an 800-word polished essay on the issue of utmost concern to their generation would make a great assignment.

Like Father, Like Son

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tutoring: Photo of the Day #38

Ira helps Daniel revise a draft of a paper he's written for a literature class.

Beware the Writer's Life

Note to self: Check this book out of the library some afternoon when you can spare a couple hours: Written Lives by Javier Marías.

The Administration Courtesan: A Profile in Pomo Cynicism

Today's Inside Higher Ed features an essay offering advice to young academics on how to advance in the American university. I've little doubt that the strategies for seducing administrators, donors, and students' parents proferred by the two anonymous "Administration Courtesans" (assistant professors of English and history) are prudent and effective. But that only makes reading the piece, a perfect display of what Zizek describes as the cynical distance that supports an ideological regime, more disheartening.

Why? Because the basic premise of the piece is that money matters more than anything in America's thoroughly corporatized collegies and universities. The authors acknowledge this fact openly:

We offer several helpful tips for your consideration. But a word to the wise — do not be fooled by the facade of an academic administration. You are entering a corporate world. You need to appear to be of that world, yet also beyond it.

Therefore, in other words, academics must learn to kiss corporate ass and behave like an aspiring salesperson.

Even though the authors namecheck Lacan (in an example of how to drop meaningless jargon to wow some administrator) they obviously fail to grasp a basic Lacanian insight (see his reading of Poe's "The Purloined Letter") concerning the importance of taking appearances seriously, of recognizing that the truth is not concealed in some "beyond" but can be discerned on the surface of things. In short, the Administration Courtesan is lying to herself if she believes that her desired end - "academic freedom" - is not compromised by her kowtowing to the monied interests.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Scholar in Her Study: Photo of the Day #37

Take Action: Demand an Investigation into Bush's Secret Spy Program

Subject:
Restore the Rule of Law


President Bush admitted to personally authorizing thousands of allegedly illegal wiretaps, and he doesn't plan to stop. Circumventing the Constitution is serious business.

This is a big moment. People from across the political spectrum are standing together to protect the rule of law and the principles that are core to our identity as Americans.

Please sign the petition to show Congress that Americans want a thorough investigation of the president's secret wiretapping program:


Your efforts in support of the United States Constitution and the people who live under its rule of law are greatly appreciated.

Cowboy Humor

This one's for all you lost 'n' lonesome buckaroos out there on the American prairie, sufferin' from them red-state blues...

[Segue to Sally Timms's "Dreaming Cowboy"]

Giddy up.

Tabloid Journalism as a Reaction to Information Technologies

Alterman's essay, Lies About Blowjobs, Bad. Wars? Not So Much, opens with an intriguing hypothesis for those of us with an interest in charting the effects of technological shifts in the new-media ecology on various discourse networks.

At a recent conference on the Clinton Administration at Hofstra University, ex-press secretary Jake Siewart made a point that had previously eluded me: It was during the early days of Clinton's presidency that the democratization of instant information made the insider press corps obsolete. To retain their importance and self-regard, these journalists had to invent a new function for themselves, and they did: interpreting, not reporting, the news. But instead of doing the hard work of researching the historical, economic, sociological and political contexts of a given story and then finding a way to explain these in lay terms, they preferred to rely on what came most easily to them: cocktail party gossip, green room small talk, semiofficial leaks and unconfirmed rumor, almost always offered up as if the source had no interest in pushing a point of view.

As a literary critic I'm wary of the clear-cut distinction between reporting and interpreting that Alterman makes in the paragraph above. As students in my English and American Fiction course should recall from our reading of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, I believe that the decision to choose to report or not to report certain information, however purely objective or factual it might appear, already involves several interpretive moves. I suspect that Alterman would probably concede this point, since he reminds us that responsible journalists should always consider why a source is presenting them with information, particularly when that info is leaked.

In any case, I wholeheartedly agree with his larger points: that the media elite held Clinton to a different standard than other presidents, particularly Bush Jr., when it comes to lying and that lying about a blowjob is trivial compared to lying about the need to invade another country. These points have been made by Alterman and others elsewhere, and I've got some of them on file.

My reason for archiving this essay is its opening hypothesis about the Washington press corps turning to tabloid journalism as a response to the "democratization of instant information" made possible via the Internet. It makes sense, though I'm not sure how one could go about proving the claim. While its important to recognize the extent to which our media (and here I mean the communication technologies, not professionals working in the broadcasting or publishing industries) influence the type of communication or discourse that circulates in a society at a given time, we don't want to fall back on a crude technological determinism.

The (technological) medium is the message, yes, to a certain degree. But the economic forces behind these technologies, particularly the communications networks, are equally important. Don't neglect the economic incentives that would prompt journalists to align themselves, perhaps not even consciously, with the politicos who represent the market interests of the largest shareholders of various media empires.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Blue Hues: Photo of the Day #36

Hitchens on the Case for Religious Mockery

Just came across the best essay I've read so far on the violent reactions in the Muslim world to the Danish caricatures of Muhammad. It's by Christopher Hitchens and it's titled Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion. The essay has many highlights, which I won't bother to enumerate. Note, however, that Hitchens comes out swinging. He takes the U.S. State Department and the Bush Administration to task for failing to "distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people" and describes their betrayal of the First Amendment as "appalling." (After reading some of his contorted defenses of the Bush Administration after their numerous flip-flops on the reasons for invading Iraq, it's good to see that he's not transformed into a Bush-Cheney toadie. Indeed, as noted earlier, he is suing the administration for its unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. civilians.) Then he proceeds to explain why secular governments must not cater to religious fundamentalists who preach - and practice - violence.

Here's the final two paragraphs:

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published
The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against "all those involved in its publication," which led to the murder of the book's Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

Ok, enough world politics for today. I'm ready for some football...

Stupor Bowl Monday

It'll be Monday morning here in Sweden by the time The Big Game kicks, but the fridge is full of beer (well, five or six, at least; this is Sweden and you need, like, a second mortgage to buy a case of beer) and I'm ready to celebrate a fifth Steeler Super Bowl Championship.

I'm particularly psyched about this game. Not only am I suffering from acute football-withdrawal symptoms, having missed all of the college bowl games and the N.F.L. playoffs, but aside from da Bears (who are now my favorite pro team) there's no team I would rather see win the Super Bowl than Pittsburgh. I've rooted for the Steelers since reading in Sports Illustratedabout Rocky Blier making the squad after being discharged from the army with war injuries that left him 40 percent disabled. No need to go on about the legendary Steeler teams from the seventies, the Steelers' storied tradition, the Bus's farewell and homecoming in Detroit, or Dan Rooney's old-school management choices (sticking with Cowher, etc.) because there's more at stake with Super Bowl XL.

As my mom put it in an e-mail, "You and Claire have a once in a lifetime event coming up - your old childhood favorite teams as rivals in the Stuporbowl."

My sister is and has been a huge Seattle fan since sometime in the late seventies. (See accompanying photo for proof. This is Claire - the jock in the family - competing in the Lions Club punt, pass, and kick competition. Date uncertain. Probably 1982, I'm guessing. Note the Seahawk jersey and socks.) As a little girl she used to worship Jim Zorn and said she wanted to grow up to be the quarterback of the Seahawks. She's a political science professor now, but I suspect that she'll be armchair QBing as she watches the game.

Yes, this game is all about familial football bragging rights in the Rasmussen family (not to mention a potentially hefty bar tab that is on the line as well).

Although Seattle will benefit from the services of former 'Husker Josh Brown, their reliable field-goal kicker, his strong leg will not be enough to win the game. All that Microsoft money will not bring Seattle a championship, not this year.

My prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Seattle Seahawks 27.

Free Speech Timeline

Lest we forget the how central the principle of free speech is to the Western tradition, today's online edition of the Guardian provides this Timeline: a history of free speech.

Obviously, it's a somewhat idiosyncratic list. By all means feel free to contribute your additions to the timeline. Whazzat? Nah, I wasn't all that the 2 Live Crew trial didn't make the cut...

David Smith and Luc Torres
Sunday February 5, 2006
The Observer

399BC Socrates speaks to jury at his trial: 'If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind... I should say to you, "Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you."'

1215 Magna Carta, wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons, is signed. It will later be regarded as the cornerstone of liberty in England.

1516 The Education of a Christian Prince by Erasmus. 'In a free state, tongues too should be free.'

1633 Galileo Galilei hauled before the Inquisition after claiming the sun does not revolve around the earth.

1644 'Areopagitica', a pamphlet by the poet John Milton, argues against restrictions of freedom of the press. 'He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself.'

1689 Bill of Rights grants 'freedom of speech in Parliament' after James II is overthrown and William and Mary installed as co-rulers.

1770 Voltaire writes in a letter: 'Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.'

1789 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man', a fundamental document of the French Revolution, provides for freedom of speech .

1791 The First Amend-ment of the US Bill of Rights guarantees four freedoms: of religion, speech, the press and the right to assemble.

1859 'On Liberty', an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, argues for toleration and individuality. 'If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.'

1859 On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, expounds the theory of natural selection. TH Huxley publicly defends Darwin against religious fundamentalists.

1929 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, of the US Supreme Court, outlines his belief in free speech: 'The principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.'

1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted virtually unanimously by the UN General Assembly. It urges member nations to promote human, civil, economic and social rights, including freedom of expression and religion.

1958 Two Concepts of Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, identifies negative liberty as an absence or lack of impediments, obstacles or coercion, as distinct from positive liberty (self-mastery and the presence of conditions for freedom).

1960 After a trial at Old Bailey, Penguin wins the right to publish D H Lawrence's sexually explicit novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

1962 One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes life in a labour camp during Stalin's era. Solzhenitsyn is exiled in 1974.

1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the 'blasphemous' content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. The fatwa is lifted in 1998.

1992 In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky points out: 'Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favour of free speech, then you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.'

2001 In the wake of 9/11, the Patriot Act gives the US government new powers to investigate individuals suspected of being a threat, raising fears for civil liberties.

2002 Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing about the Prophet Mohammed and Miss World, provoking riots which leave more than 200 dead.

2004 Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh is killed after release of his movie about violence against women in Islamic societies.

2005 The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act bans protest without permit within 1km of the British Parliament.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

One Last Swig of Christmas '05: Photo of the Day #35

A tasty beer to be sure, but as seasonal winter brews go, the Shepheard Neame doesn't compare to the Anchor Steam's hearty and flavorful Christmas Ale.

Never Mind the Bullocks: A Call to Arses

With the Danish embassy in Damascus in flames, radical Muslims parading through the streets of London calling for another 7/7, and the Bush administration siding with the Islamic protesters, this editorial by Matthew Parris defending the right to satirize and mock figures of authority, religious or otherwise, was an inspiring read: So they have thin skins. That shouldn't stop us poking fun at them.

Indeed, perhaps a little mad laughter would do us all good right about now, for the outcry over a bunch of cartoons is simply absurd. Isn't it a bit silly for the Bushies to be siding with the 'offended' Islamic fundamentalists? Is the Bush Administration cowardly backstabbing the Danes in their hour of need, or is this finally, a show of that much vaunted compassionate conservatisim? I wonder? And there is something perversely funny about the stupidity (or is it just hypocrisy?) of the Muslim protesters in London who brazenly celebrate the 7/7 bombers as the "Fantastic Four" and call for more terrorist killings whilst claiming to be offended by the now infamous cartoons of Muhammand.

The pen, it seems, is, if not mightier, than more offensive than the sword.

I tip my hat (sadly, my stylish souvenier Danmark stocking cap is back in Chicago) to the Brits for not [ahem] taking offense and maintaining order in what, I imagine, could have become an ugly situation. While I respect the London police for upholding the right to a public assembly, I hope that they, and the MI5, were monitoring the protest carefully. I've been critical of the way civilian populations have been surveilled by Western intelligence agencies (most notably in the U.S. and France) but in this instance, where people are openly calling for the killing of innocents, it's perfectly just to keep close tabs on them.

But back to the op-ed piece that prompted these thoughts...

Parris's essay does an excellent job explaining what it means to believe in something and why we should not capitulate and cater to those who choose to take offense at our refusal to believe something which we regard to be mistaken and wrong. Doing so foolishly allows the supersensitive group member's feelings - which, as affective responses, cannot be judged right or wrong - to trump rational argumentation.

But Parris is not so naive as to believe that arguing one's position well in a rational debate will convince the other to change his or her mind. The next step isn't a call to violence, but - in the tradition of Rabelais, Swift, Voltaire, Joyce, Pynchon, Python, Groening - a call to satire, to ridicule, to mockery.

Against reverence and awe the best argument is sometimes not logic, but mockery. Structures of oppression that may not be susceptible to rational debate may in the end yield to derision. When people see that a priest, rabbi, imam or uniformed official may be giggled at without lightning striking the impertinent, arguments may be won on a deeper level than logic.

We should never, therefore, relinquish, nor lightly value, our right not to argue in the face of other people’s gods — but to fart.


In the name of wits and wiseasses around the world, I propose a collective toot. If some smørrebrød and a few beers are required, by all means indulge (may I humbly suggest a Tuborg Gold or a Carlsberg Elephant - reminding us not to forget the GOP's betrayal - on this occasion)! It's time to get cheeky! Blow yr butt-trumpet loudly and proudly in support of not only the right to free speech but also the right to satirize.

I'm sick and tired of people taking offense. It's a big, bad, dirty world and we're allowed to be a little bit lewd, a little bit crude, even a little bit rude at times.

Let the hypersensitive plug their noses. Raise yr arse and let the would-be censors know that their authoritarian demands Stank!

Belle & Sebastian Are Back

I wanted to take ira to see belle & sebastian + the new pornographers in chicago but the show sold out. the venue, the riviera, is just a seven minute walk from our flat, but we're in sweden and the tix are only available via ticketmaster. 2 tix cost around $60 but w/ the ticketmaster fisting, $90!!! outrageous. I couldn’t justify spending that and waffled about buying tix. in the meantime, the show sold out. [sigh]

billy bragg plays the double door on our wedding anniversary this year. here's hoping we can get tix for that one.

Higher Ed as Infotainment...

Here's yet another article describing the antipathy to learning displayed by too many of today's college students. I'm filing it to share with colleagues (or perhaps to reread myself) who are distraught after reading disparaging comments on students' course-evaluation forms. Like Stanley Fish and others, I find these anonymous evaluation forms not just useless but counterproductive. They most definitely reinforce the paradigm of education as fast food described in this essay by Doug Mann.

Mann's article contains some cringeworthy anecdotes and makes some good points. I have a couple minor objections. His opening, the exchange between Professor Lovechild and Dr. Sunshine, strikes me as reactionary drug scapegoating. Here the culprit is LSD and pot brownies. I have heard one tale from a now retired professor of LSD use in the classroom back in the 1960s. It occurred in a graduate seminar on Melville. LSD was still legal and the prof ordered the drug from a company advertising in a psychology journal. Memebers of the seminar who chose to do so dosed before a discussion of Moby Dick. According to this professor, the seminar discussion was the most intense and rigorous he'd attending.

But I digress. My point is not to advocate (or condemn) psychotropic drug use in conjunction with literature courses. Rather, I think Mann's target should not be the 'hippie freak' professors he's conjured into existence, but rather the corporate-minded administrators who, in my experience, are the ones that envision higher ed as yet another commodity to be bought and sold at a negotiable (relative to market fluctuations) price.

This brings me to my second reservation about the article: Mann's use of postmodern as a modifier for students who appear to be lazy, arrogant, unmotivated, rude, etc. What needs to be stressed is that the students' disgegard for higher learning is not some inexplicable phenomenon unique to this generation. Rather the tendency to treat a college degree as but another commodity to be aquired in the pursuit of capital is symptomatic of what Fredric Jameson refers to as the "cultural logic of late capitalism." The logic is promoted by the Bush Administration, which continues to cut federal funds for higher education, paraticularly programs designed to help students from lower-income families adjust to college and university life.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Swedish Barn: Photo of the Day #33

Shot this picturesque barn on the mid-afternoon drive back from Uppsala, where we went for a quick 'n' dirty trip to take care of pressing business. I had to get a sticker and stamp for my passport and pick up a book that Ira had ordered for me via interlibrary loan from the Uppsala U. library.

Hubcap House: Alternative Photo of the Day?

While I do like the red barn photo, I may have to make this photo - a house by the highway with loads of hubcaps cluttering up the front yard - the photo of the day. It was harder to shoot and is more unusual. While the red barn is picturesque, it is so scenic that it almost seems cliched. This photo, by contrast, raises more questions and offers proof that not all Swedes go for sleek, minimalist, modern design. While such a sight might be unremarkable on the roads of rural America, the white-trash aesthetic is less common here. You've gotta admire the layout...

"24": Shameless Pro-torture Propaganda

Ira was a regular "24" watcher for a couple of seasons. I think she had (has?) a crush on Keifer Sutherland. I always found the show to be a complete waste of time. If its cartoonish villains and one-man-saving-the-world spy scenarios you're after, I'll take a Bond flick any day (preferably Roger Moore, who brought a welcome campiness to the role). Bond films are funnier, the stunts are better, and the ladies are, well, all right... Shaken not stirred, thank you very much.

By contrast, "24" takes itself far too seriously, Jack Bauer is too square, and most significantly, the show's pro-torture propaganda disgusts me. In Jack Bauer and the Ethics of Urgency, Slavoj Zizek identifies the problematic aspects of the show, e.g. the tragic dignity it confers upon the torturer's perverse self-instrumentalization and the shameless way it openly condones torture.

Here's Zizek:
Therein also resides the lie of "24": The presumption that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in accomplishing acts of terror, but that when an honest person accomplishes such acts as a heavy duty, this confers on him an additional tragic-ethic grandeur. But what if such a distance is possible? What if we do have people who commit terrible acts as part of their job, while, in private, they remain loving husbands, good parents and caring friends? As Arendt knew, far from redeeming them, the very fact that they are able to retain their normality while committing such acts is the ultimate confirmation of their moral catastrophe.

Much Ado About Muhammad

Not sure whether the U.S. media is paying much attention to the controversy in Europe over the caricatures of Muhammad first published in Jyllands Posten, a Danish newspaper. The Arab world continues to make much ado about nothing and boycotts of Danish goods have, sadly, led the editors of the Jyllands Posten to apologize. While some newspapers across Europe have published the cartoons - which are the sort of fare that appear in editorial pages daily - in a show of solidarity, it's been disheartening not to see a broader show of support for the newspaper's right to express what I take to be a humorous, albeit pretty banal, critique of religious fundamentalism. (The most 'offensive' image depicted Muhammed with a bomb in his turban or something like that.)

Indeed, there are signs that the Muslim fundamentalists are winning. The French editor who published the cartoons was fired by the paper's owner, an Egyptian, and the Norwegian government cowardly condemned the decision of an Oslo newspaper to publish the cartoons by scolding that they were "not positive for the dialogue between different cultures and people of different religions."

As the editorial from Spiegel quoted below reminds us, the political climate has changed since 1988, when Western publishers and governments defended Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Strangely - particularly in a post-9/11 world in which the threat of violent Islamic fundamentalists should be clear - no such consensus appears to exist.

Today, at least outside of Norway, there is precious little solidarity with Jyllands Posten. The conservative daily Die Welt was the only German paper to show enough courage to reprint the caricatures. In Paris, France Soir stepped up to the occasion. Other major papers, it seems, are cowering out of fear of triggering a boycott and endangering the profits of gummy bears and German coffee filters in Arabic countries.

Germany's leftist
Die Tageszeitung went one dubious step further, opting to side with a totalitarian ideology rather than defend the right to free speech. A Tuesday editorial in the paper began with the sentence: "The Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten -- which is considered the mouthpiece of right-reactionaries in Denmark -- knew what it was getting itself into..." Whether the paper is right wing is beside the point. Either way, the sentence means that freedom of opinion is a privilege for left wing publications like Die Tageszeitung, but is restricted for those on the other side of the political spectrum.


I'm not familiar with either of the German publications mentioned above, but I'll be watching to see how left-leaning publications, like The Nation, and right-leaning publications, like the National Review in the States respond to this issue. My view is that the left had better come out strong on behalf of free speech, particularly the right to satirize religious beliefs that one finds to be absurd, silly, or pigheaded, just as they did in the Rushdie affair. If they don't, then their complaints about Christian right-wingers who want to ban Steinbeck, Salinger, Twain, etc. from the local library ring hollow. The left must be clear about this. Liberal tolerance only goes so far. Liberals need not, indeed must not, tolerate religious intolerance.

Word to fundamentalists of all sects: Get a sense of humor. Learn a thing or two about allegory. Don't be so literal-minded all the goddamned time. And when you're not burning flags, or phoning in bomb threats, go watch Monty Python's The Life of Brian and enjoy a good laugh.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Beer O'Clock f. Leffe Brune: Photo of the Day #32

A tasty Belgian brown ale - Leffe Brune - after a long haul of writing. Ira bought a new used table in the dining room, which looks great but isn't functional as a desk, so I've been displaced to the kitchen, which isn't a bad place to work...I do get a bit nervous having food and beverage around my Mac. Flashbacks of Scott dowsing his PowerBook in OJ, which I didn't actually see, but can imagine, all too vividly.