Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fantasy league

I'm a little embarrassed to relate this, but here goes:

A while back, an acquaintance from school asked me if I wanted to join his NBA Fantasy league. I've never been in a fantasy league, but I decided, sure, why not, it's not that much money, and I'll meet a few people.

He sends me intermittent email updates before the fantasy draft, letting me know I'll get the third pick in the first round, seventh pick in the second round, third in the third round, and on through ten rounds. (For the ignorant: you choose real players for your team, and throughout the season you compete in head-to-head competitions, compiling wins and losses based on the real life performances of your team.) He lets me know the basic protocol--taunting is encouraged, bring some food and drink, come up with a good name.

Here's where it gets weird. I was a little stuck on a name, so he emailed me a few of the names from other guys in the group: the Burning Bushes, the Smiters, Thou Shalt Not, and Jesus Wept are the examples he sent.

Now, I try to be sensitive to others' belief systems (except for Scientologists, of course, and the Dutch), but I hadn't known he and his friends were a bunch of Jesus freaks. I was weirded out, and I avoided him at work for a few days. But when I mentioned this to a woman at work, she told me the spot I was filling was his brother-in-law's, and the brother-in-law had passed away. So then I felt like a dick, and next time I saw him, I told him my team name: the Blank Slates.

Selection Saturday comes, and I show up at his house with a six-pack of Mr. Pibb, some guacamole-flavored chips, and my pages of player statistics. I'm ready to take LeBron James or, if he's gone, Dwyane Wade. The first guy, Tubs (team name, Revelation), stands up, thrusts his arms in the air, and yells, "With the number one pick, Revelation takes Jesus!" Everybody else claps, and I'm a little puzzled.

When the noise dies down, I say, "So is Jesus supposed to be Kobe, or LeBron?" Now it's everybody else's time to be puzzled.

Turns out, the NBA Fantasy Draft I'm taking part in isn't for the National Basketball Association, but for the National Bible Association.

I'm too nervous to bolt--I don't want to piss off the guy from school--and I start thinking about who I'm going to pick. I'm guessing Moses goes second, and I'm running through disciples, trying to think about who'll be best at third--John the Baptist? Can you pick God? Is he eligible?

In a stunner at number two, the Freaky Disciples take Judas because, despite his troubles in the past, he has "tremendous upside potential." Never mind his scraps with the law and his problem with authority. So, fortunately, Moses falls to me at three. "Going down the river in a basket," Tubs yells. After Moses, it's Noah, John the Baptist, Mary (it's a co-ed league), Peter, Joseph, David, and Lazarus (he apparently comes up big at the end of games).

Of course, I end up with the worst team in the league. I don't know the Bible well, so I end up with Methuselah, a Sodomite, Pontius Pilate, and a bunch of guys who get begat and then beget (they handed me a Gideon's Bible after round four). Long story short, I end up in next-to-last place at 2-16 (thank God for the Freaky Disciples) and out fifty bucks. The moral of the story? I won't be playing around in any more fantasy leagues. I haven't got a prayer.

Click the link--it'll quench your thirst

Absolutely hilarious. Not for the thirsty or the faint of heart.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Monumental Change

In our Spring Break trip to D.C., my wife and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, my first time to see both. I've heard and read about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so my expectations were high--and strangely enough, the experience still moved me in ways I couldn't have predicted. I didn't know that, to enter the memorial, you walk down a declining path as the wall rises, so you're overtaken by the memorial.

The wall didn't reflect as fully as I'd read it would, but the blurred reflection had a bigger impact than a clear reflection would have. Also, the mass of names both gives each dead soldier an eternal dignity--family can always go and touch the name, trace it on paper--but each soldier becomes weirdly anonymous as well. I don't know anyone who died in the Vietnam War, so my visit was simply out of an awareness that the memorial matters. I felt similarly burdened and distant as I do when I see photos of American soldiers kidnapped in Iraq. On the news, they tell us the name, they show us the photo, family members tell us the bare biography. Once the yellow ribbons come down, how will we memorialize those lives?

At both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, my wife and I were annoyed by the kids running around, ignoring signs asking for quiet and reverence, their backpack-saddled parents oblivious to the noise. Like the time I saw a toddler place his hand on a Velazquez painting, I felt like something had been lost. I'm not sure if what's been lost is reverence or the curiosity that necessarily precedes it and pushes us beyond our concerns with ourselves. They yelled, slapped their loud shoes against the marble, brayed to have their pictures taken with Abe. "Make sure you get his head in."

And I didn't even like the Lincoln Memorial. Its scale--Lincoln seems like a stoic demigod--seems distorted from the man who freed the slaves but suffered from a horrible depression. The texts on the side walls even suggest that the memorial isn't right. From the Gettysburg Address:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

Instead, we've forgotten the men and deeds, and we've etched the words in stone. They've become even more anonymous than the fallen of Vietnam. On the facing wall, the closing words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Read the above aloud; listen to its reverence, its humility, its intelligence. Then read the following, spoken today by President Bush:

"I want the Iraqi people to hear I've got great confidence in their capacity to self govern," Bush said. "I also want the Iraqi people to hear — it's about time you get a unity government going. In other words, Americans understand you're newcomers to the political arena. But pretty soon its time to shut her down and get governing."

Hear the lack of nuance, the failures of imagination and sympathy, the false folksy tone he sets in speaking to an uneasy people almost half the world away. How rarely Bush mourns the more than 2,300 American casualties since the war began; and even worse, he almost never mentions the more than 33,300 Iraqi civilians dead or the 30,000 Iraqis displaced in the past month due to sectarian violence. He wants the Iraqi people to hear a vague, thinly-veiled threat, but he can't even imagine what they want and need not only to hear, but to have happen--safety, security, certainty.

Unfortunately, if Bush has any sense of history or the world, he sees only the marble columns, the demigods he imagines himself among. If he actually believed in a culture of life, he'd acknowledge the ground consecrated by blood and loss, he'd shy from the photo-ops and surround himself with people of conscience who would challenge him and not allow him to exist in a protective bubble. But if that were the case, he'd be a different man.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Alas, poor Redick, I knew him well

I have to admit, I don't understand the joy people get from seeing Adam Morrison and J. J. Redick cry after losing in the tournament. As much as they both bug me, I can barely imagine the mix of adrenaline, exhaustion, and disappointment they must have felt at those moments.

Still, I'm allowed to make fun of them for losing--my prediction about Duke came true. Huzzah! So on we go with the poetry parodies, this one honoring the key also-rans who didn't make the Final Four by honoring Dylan Thomas as well.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Coach K did burn and rave at close of day;
Brick, brick against the dying of the light.

Though Calhoun at his end knew dark was right,
Because his team had got no rebounds they
Sure did go gentle into that good night.

Redick, the last brick by, crying how bright
His frail shot might have danced in a white net,
Brick, brick against the dying of the light.

Wild men who dropped and missed the ball in flight,
And learn, too late, they lost it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Bruce Pearl, orange, who blinds with gaudy coat
And lose, two seed, to Wichita, then they
Brick, brick against the dying of the light.

And you, Morrison, there on the sad height,
Go to the NBA with your fierce tears, I pray,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Brick, brick against the dying of the light.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Back in East Funkytown

We're glad to be back after a week-long vacation, split between Jacksonville, FL and Washington D.C. We've got a lot on our mind about patriotism, cities, art, etc., so over the next few days, if school permits us time to waste, we'll be posting about some things, including seeing some monuments, trying to look at art while people randomly walk in front of you, then stop, and loving mass transit. But at the moment, I've got to go move a couch and develop a hernia.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Light or nonexistent posting over the next week as we here go out of town for Spring Break. (Sorry, kids, no "Crazy Little Thing Gone Wild.") The only internet access we'll have is dial-up, and we're trying to keep up a long run of not punching a computer. But never fear, we'll be back with more inanity. And if Duke loses, look for a special poetic tribute to J. J. and the rest of the gang.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Barry Bonds: Victim?

When I lived in Missouri and had a subscription to the Kansas City Star, I looked forward to Jason Whitlock's columns in the sports section. I didn't agree with him all that often, but he raised issues I thought needed raising, and he continues to do so now when he writes about football on But now he's written about Barry Bonds, and here's how he starts his column:

"You can write and say whatever you want about Barry Bonds now. He's the new O.J. Simpson, on trial for threatening to murder the legacies of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

Even though it certainly appears Barry juiced on his way to 700 home runs, it doesn't seem fair that he's receiving the same treatment as The Juice."

He's reacting to the vituperative criticism of Bonds' alleged steroid use among members of the sports media, a reaction I agree with, in part--at times, the anger seems like an overreaction, especially given the underreported longtime use of amphetamines among athletes.

But murder? Bonds is receiving the same treatment as O. J.? Those first two paragraphs exemplify why I hate that writing teachers tell their students to open with a "hook": usually the hook ends up in the writer's cheek.

But Whitlock's problem extends beyond the opening:

"If McGwire, Sosa, money-hungry owners and spineless, jersey-chasing, look-the-other-way, hypocritical baseball writers caused Bonds to use steroids, then I feel sorry for Bonds.

He's a victim in all of this, no different than the kids who turn to steroids because they want to be just like Barry Bonds." [Note: I added the italics.]

Whitlock's idea of causality disturbs me because, rather than just expose the lack of nuance Bonds' critics often write with, he runs away from nuance himself, claiming that Bonds gave in to jealousy fermented by the media. And we all get jealous, right? That's Whitlock's argument: Bonds deserves our sympathy because he acted out of jealousy, as we all do. Between murder and jealousy, Whitlock's sense of scale is way off.

Still, I think I should acknowledge the very good point Whitlock makes in his column: most people react the way they do to Bonds because they refuse to see him as human. I like Whitlock's attempt to humanize a player most fans (including me) dislike, even if I think Whitlock doesn't succeed in this instance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dear, sweet, lovely caffeine

I'm reading an essay in National Geographic about caffeine and its popularity, and I've got some interesting tidbits:

  • Caffeine was discovered by German chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge; Runge first isolated caffeine as the chemical in coffee beans that gives us the effect we know and love. (And, as you may have guessed, Runge created the word caffeine, meaning something found in coffee.) Chemists then realized that caffeine in coffee beans is the same as caffeine in tea.
  • Two tablets of Excedrin, the recommended dose, have more caffeine than a 20 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola.
  • If your chewing gum has caffeine in it, your body absorbs the caffeine three times faster than it does with caffeine in drinks and pills. Not to alarm you, but they're testing this gum on Canadian soldiers. I'd be happy to help with the testing.
But the real reason for this post? The following quote from Paul Erdös, a Hungarian mathematician who worked around the clock: "A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems."

I love that quote. And what's more, if you insert new words, you can have fun with the quote. For example, a blogger is a machine for turning time into waste. Or, my dog is a machine for turning sleep into incredible cuteness. But try to leave coffee in the quote if you can, and post your best in the comments if you dare. (I'm looking at you, Chickywang.)

And by the way, thanks to Deadspin and SI On Campus for linking to us. We're having fun checking the visitor stats every hour as a way to put off finishing our last essay of the term. Thanks also to the Duke fan who was so angry he misspelled Poet Laureate J. J. Redick's last name and missed the fact that, elsewhere on this blog, we've called Redick "a very good basketball player." But, honestly, part of me doesn't blame him. (It's a very small part, but still.) Redick is the best scorer in the country this year, so people hate him and say awful things about his family at games. Imagine that at a fiction or poetry reading.

Monday, March 13, 2006

We kid because we love (to hate)

Beware the madness of March, or some such nonsense: here we are again, filling out our brackets, choosing the wrong upsets and overrating the analyses. Has Seth Davis ever won an office pool? Has Stuart Mandel? More importantly, do they write poetry parodies?

Well, I've never won an office pool, but by gum, I write poetry parodies. And in accord with March Madness and the glory that is J. J. Redick's poetry, I've written an honest-to-God basketball parody, taking a break from the baseball poetry parodies I usually post. (By the way, if you haven't read Redick's poetry, turn off the tv and drug the kids, because you need to read it now.)

So here goes, our first basketball poetry parody, a tribute to Mr. Redick himself and Walt Whitman (and also our very general tourney prediction for Duke):

O Redick! My Redick!

O Redick! my Redick! our fearful trip is done;
The Duke has weather’d every rack, the ACC is won;
The port is near, the buzz I hear, Krzyzewski all exulting,
While follow refs with friendly calls, and Sheldon Williams dunking:
    But O brick! brick! brick!
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the page Redick’s poetry lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

O J. J.! my J. J.! rise up and shoot the ball;
Rise up—for you the call is made—for you Krzyzewski calls;
For you S.I. and Stuart Scott—for you the fans a-screaming;
At you they curse, the swaying mass, their eager faces sneering;
    Here Redick! tired shooter!
      This arm beneath your head;
        It is Krzyzewski dreaming that
          Your shooting arm's not dead.

My Redick does not answer, his rhymes are pale and still;
My Redick does not feel his arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The Duke is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
March Madness trip, the loser ship, comes in with trophy none;
    Exult, Tar Heels, and scream, O fans!
      But K, with mournful tread,
        Walks the court his Redick lost,
          His shooting cold and dead.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Me hungry, want to eat women

Milky Way currently has a tv ad in which a man, having been dumped by a woman at her door, goes to his car to eat a candy bar. He unwraps the candy bar, and inside is the torso of a buxom woman. At first, he's unmoved by the woman. In the version I saw most recently, she whispers something in his ear, and he laughs. We see the Milky Way logo, and when we return to the car, the woman is a candy bar, and the man takes a big bite.

--Did Snickers make this ad? Who wants to associate himself with the guy who gets rejected, then fantasizes his candy bar is a better-looking woman and eats his fantasy? Did the ad guys not see the Seinfeld where George Costanza tries to mix sex and food?

--Is anybody else more than a little creeped out by that image of male fantasy?

--Why am I so hungry?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Both amazing and sad

I had Legos as a kid, but I never did anything this ambitious.

Jack Abramoff--Noirish

Now, if you've been charged with or convicted of a crime, isn't the goal to look less like a villain?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Leftover thoughts on David Horowitz

Thanks to Michael Bérubé and Mike at for linking to my review of David Horowitz's The Professors. In reading comments (the first defending Horowitz's book, which I'll get to in a moment), I had a few thoughts that seem relevant.

--The subtitle, "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America." (On the cover, "Most Dangerous" appears in red, while the rest of the title is in black.) Horowitz claims that the publisher forced him to add the subtitle, which he didn't want. Here's his explanation, uncut and unedited:

"It seems as though university campuses would offer the primary audience for a book about the intellectual corruption of university faculties. Yet, before it went to press I had a dispute over this very idea with my publisher. It was the publisher who actually gave The Professors its subtitle: “The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.” And this worried me. In writing the book, it had not been my intention to justify such a title. In fact, the adjective “dangerous” appears only once among the 112,000 words of its text -- in reference to Professor Juan Cole's "dangerous sophistry." When my publisher proposed the subtitle, the book was already finished – the hundred odd professors already selected. The fact that there were obscure professors in the book like Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin, concerned me. I was sure they and other more culpable subjects would pounce on the phrase and claim, however absurdly, that it was a red flag signaling a “witch-hunt.” In other words, it would provide its enemies with an opportunity to make it look ridiculous and sinister at the same time (the contradiction would not bother them in the least).

So I opposed it. “If we give it this subtitle,” I said to my publisher, no one in the academy will read it.” I was not ready for his reply. “Who’s going to read it in the academy anyway?” he said. “They’ll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it. We need to market this book to a large audience, and this subtitle will do it, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Authors don’t have authority over their titles, and I already knew that there was no constituency for reform inside the university and so I went along with this marketing strategy. The strategy has worked and the book is doing very well."

Interesting point. The subtitle makes the book look alarmist and reactionary. But here's why the above explanation is so ridiculous: THE ABOVE PASSAGE APPEARS ON THE WEBSITE HOROWITZ CREATED TO MARKET THE BOOK, WWW. DANGEROUSPROFESSORS.NET! (Yes, I'm aware that ALL CAPS is the typographical equivalent of yelling.)

So Horowitz objects to the subtitle, and he defends against that criticism on a website titled with that subtitle, on which the words at the top are "DANGEROUS PROFESSORS" and "Most Dangerous Academics in America." Um, Mr. Horowitz, why even defend the choice if it's one you now openly accept? And, if you're thinking that is simply Regnery's invention, you should notice that Horowitz prominently advertises that website on his other website,

--Another point about The first outside link it provides on the right is to, where the criteria for judgment are Easiness, Helpfulness, and Clarity. Horowitz's willing association with indicates to me, again, the shoddiness of method. Why actively associate his work with such a silly (and, I'll admit, entertaining) website?

--A few people have asked why I'd spend the time taking Horowitz seriously. I was going to explain this, but Joshua A. Matz of History News Network puts it much better than I was going to:

"It seems increasingly unlikely, however, that the critiques leveled by Horowitz will simply go away. The book is endorsed by Rep. Jerry Lewis (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom (Professors at Harvard University), Laura Ingraham (host of the Laura Ingraham Show), and a slew of state senators and representatives. With such politically and intellectually powerful backers, and a public increasingly aware of issues relating to academic freedom (a number of court cases and legislative acts have recently captured media attention), it appears possible that academia may soon be forced to take David Horowitz as seriously as he would like."

--Thanks to Art Eckstein for respectfully disagreeing with me on the comments page of my review. But I'd like to ask a question back to Mr. Eckstein because I think his response skirts several major points of my review. He presents several of Horowitz's arguments about the kinds of professors Horowitz profiles:

"1. People who are teaching in fields for which they are not academically qualified. "

"2. People who are promoted to prestigious positions far beyond the scholarly quality or amount of their published work, which is usually radical pap."

"3. Ex-terrorists who somehow get offered, out of all possible applicants being considered, prestigious positions ."

"4. Profs who get away with vicious actions against "non-protected" groups which they wouldn't get away with otherwise. "

(I've cut out a lot of what Mr. Eckstein writes, but I think what I've quoted above accurately represents his points.)

Which of the above categories includes Chomsky and Horowitz? Go to Chomsky's faculty page at MIT, and you'll find a list of his work in his field. Why doesn't Horowitz mention any of that work in The Professors? Based on the list of Chomsky's well-regarded scholarly work, what
dangerous" category does he fit into?

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Cincinnati Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a wide strike

called by ump-

blind as Ray

Sunday, March 05, 2006

David Horowitz's new book

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." --The Declaration of Independence

Before I begin my review of David Horowitz's new book, The Professors, I should acknowledge my expectations. I'm a graduate student in an English department, I teach freshman composition and other freshman and sophomore courses, and most would call me liberal in my politics. Of course, I think the term "liberal" has been made useless--it's like a public statue touched so many times it appears to have lost a toe. (That isn't just defensiveness--I feel the same way about the term "conservative.")

So I'm not Horowitz's ideal reader. Already familiar with Horowitz, I expected The Professors to be terrible, and I read it much the same way I read essays by students who routinely turn in not-passing work--I resisted at every turn but allowed myself to be pleasantly surprised. The introduction is often lucid, intelligence, and certainly worth teaching to a classroom of undergraduates (and not necessarily as an object of ridicule). And many of the profiles in the book present damning examples of classroom bias beyond simple personal bias.

That praise given, however, I think this book is shoddily presented and in many ways anti-academic. By "anti-academic," I don't mean "anti-leftists in the academy," I mean that while Horowitz frames the text within the language of academic standards, his method fails to meet most basic academic standards. If a freshman argued as Horowitz does in The Professors, he or she would have to make serious revisions. His book fails on three major levels: it presents assumptions and assertions as truth, it ignores and obfuscates context, and it demonstrates profound ignorance about basic academic principles and processes of thought.

Assumption and Assertion as Truth

I began with the quote from the Declaration of Independence, a text I love, because I think it represents how many Americans--myself included--approach the world. (Note: in its context, I agree entirely with the truths the Declaration holds as self-evident.) We resist unfamiliar ideas because we already hold other truths as self-evident. Thus we have intelligent design supporters, flat-earthers, and Fox News. But as any academic knows, we can't hold any truth as self-evident in our pursuits as scholars. We must interrogate even our most basic assumptions--not to overturn them, but to make certain we've established them on solid ground.

Horowitz fails to do any such thing. His assumptions of what equals truth serve as unquestioned foundations of the book. That's why he rarely acknowledges counter arguments, and when he does, he establishes them on such shallow ground that any reader could knock them down. The main unquestioned assumption is Horowitz's conception of the university. Of academics who were activists in the 1960s, he writes, "As tenured radicals, they were determined to do away with the concept of the ivory tower and scorned the contemplative life that liberal arts colleges like Hamilton created" (ix-x). Horowitz assumes that the image of the "ivory tower" represents high praise. In fact, the "ivory tower" signifies for most the academic who is so imprisoned within his own abstractions, he cannot interact normally with the outside world.

And here's Horowitz's footnote to the above quotation: "When I was at Columbia College in the 1950s, there was a reluctance to look at events more recent than twenty-five years in the past because of the dangers of "present-mindedness" and the fear that events so fresh could not be examined with "scholarly disinterest" (379). That footnote stands as Horowitz's ideal for university inquiry. What that ideal suppresses is the fact that "present-mindedness" is only one of many skewing dangers, as is that of "scholarly disinterest." What "scholarly disinterest" often serves is a view of the world established not on "truths" but on political expedience. The canon of valuable literature, for example, long excluded important writers based on their gender, race, or class. Critical investigations and reorientations of the canon don't necessarily require equal numbers of men and women, or of different races (some, not me, would argue that it does, and often in intellectually valid ways), but they do expose how "scholarly disinterest" masks situated political interests. (For an example, see Richard Ohmann's "The Shaping of a Canon: US Fiction, 1960-1975," which explores the processes by which texts get included and excluded.)

Consider the evidence Horowitz uses to condemn professors as dangerous. As the New York Sun reported, "Mr. Horowitz attributes to Mr. Foner a statement by the late author and journalist, Paul Foot, from a collection of responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.” What the Sun doesn't note, and which I think displays Horowitz's method, is that, in The Professors, no analysis follows the quote. Horowitz allows the quote to stand on its own as if, in itself, it is damning. In his defense of the error on his website, FrontPage Magazine, Horowitz acknowledges the error and includes the corrent Foner quotation. Here's what Horowitz writes after the correct quotation:

"I think a fair minded reader will agree that the actual Foner quote provides an even stronger support for the claim I make about Foner in the text, than the Foot quote which was erroneously substituted for it. (That it was my intention to cite the authentic quote will be evident to anyone familiar with my book Unholy Alliance where it is cited as Foner’s reaction to 9/11.) In other words, the error in my book is an inconsequential one and does not affect the accuracy of its portrait of Professor Foner. Readers can judge themselves whether this is a reason for dismissing my work as Foner advises. And they can judge his honesty by the same measure."

Rather than demonstrate how Foner's observations are wrong, misguided, or dangerous, Horowitz assumes that only a fair-minded reader would agree, only a biased reader would disagree. Foner's supposed error is, for Horowitz, an obvious truth.

Yet another problem with his misquotation above (one of many factual errors in The Professors) is his defense of how the error entered his book. Contrast where Horowitz places responsibility in his book, then on his website:

"These profiles should be treated as a collective effort, but I am ultimately responsible for their judgments and accuracy" (xlvi).

"As I pointed out in the introduction to The Professors, the 101 profiles were the work of thirty researchers. In these circumstances, juxtaposing a quote – which is clearly what happened -- is not too difficult a possibility to imagine. The Foner quote and the Foot quote appeared in sequence on a page in the London Review of Books which was referenced in The Professors, and during the many revisions of the manuscript that’s how the error was made. "

Allow me to present a reasonable apology: "The error is mine. I apologize to the family of Mr. Foot and to Mr. Foner for misrepresenting him. However, I think the argument still stands. Let me show you the actual quotation and explain why the point still holds."

Horowitz dismisses his error as inconsequential, but that error, along with others (one or two of which I'll address below), casts much of his evidence in doubt. Among others (again, see the above-linked New York Sun) article, Horowitz claims Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, was present at a teach-in, a claim Gitlin denies. Notably, Horowitz provides no source to back up his claim that Gitlin was present. Also, given Horowitz's record of defending his factual errors by saying that his general idea was correct, I think readers have to question many of Horowitz's claims.

The Absence of Context

In order to be taken seriously, scholars should always acknowledge the context of their evidence and their arguments. Since Horowitz's main goal is to demonstrate the extent of political bias in the classroom, one would expect him to always connect public statements from his list of professors to classroom activity, either in the form of syllabi and assignments, extensive interviews with students, or recorded classroom lectures or discussions. However, Horowitz's logic is often built upon association: Professor X has made these public statements, so he/she must make similar statements in the classroom.

But in Horowitz's profile of Noam Chomsky, he fails to mention the classroom even once. He never even acknowledges what courses Chomsky teaches (linguistics--it's not difficult to find through MIT's website) or the content of those courses. That failure to connect scholarly and political activity to the classroom pervades many of Horowitz's profiles, even when he does attempt to make the connection. For example, in his profile on bell hooks (who, I'll admit, in the little work of hers I've read, I'm not a big fan of), one paragraph purports to address hooks's text on teaching, Teaching to Transgress, but it includes several quotes that aren't from the text. The paragraph's structure implies that all of the quotes come from that text, even though they don't (224).

And consider one of hooks's statements, from a lecture, not from her text: "Teaching, according to Professor hooks, 'is a performative act...that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom'" (qtd. in Horowitz 224). That sounds like what teachers try to do, whether they are biased or not: we try to engage the students in order to teach them how to think, not what to think.

But most humorously, consider Horowitz's explanation of why the professors he profiles are representative:

"The university is also by nature and structure a conformist institution regardless of who controls it. It is hierarchical in organization and the apprenticeship required for admission to its ascending levels of privilege is long in duration and closely observed. The committees that manage its hiring and promotion processes are collegial and secretive, and its ruling establishment is accountable only to itself. Because the performance on which advancement is based is ultimately the production of ideas, the pressure to share common assumptions and common attitudes is far greater in universities than in other social institutions, whether governmental or corporate. In these circumstances university and departmental elites create faculties in their own image" (373).

I can only assume Horowitz has never sat in on a faculty meeting or a job talk. Nor has he entered the offices of many professors or hung around many departments. Given the changing nature of department focuses over time, the idea of departmental elites creating faculties that mirror their own approaches and beliefs calls to my mind a funhouse mirror. In the last half-century, for example, the number of creative writing programs within English departments has boomed, and many literary critics and theorists see the enterprise of granting degrees in creative writing as a way of maintaining outmoded and outdated textual approaches in the rise of post-structuralist and non-formalist theory (Note: I'm getting a degree in creative writing, and I see the argument from both sides). Humanities departments constantly change in focus, and pettiness and bitterness abound in places where the small size of the battleground leads to angrier skirmishes.

(Yes, there are also collegial departments; I'm in a department that is largely collegial and ideologically diverse; yet in a metropolitan area with a large African-American population, my department has one African-American professor out of over seventy faculty. And, yes, I'm aware that this is an anecdote, like the vast majority of Horowitz's evidence. That's why it's in parentheses.)

More importantly, Horowitz fails to examine what classes students take to fulfill university requirements and whether or not the bulk of these faculty teach those courses. How many undergraduates take courses from Noam Chomsky and the other professors he profiles? That statistical evidence is crucial to establishing the kinds of indoctrination Horowitz rails against, as would the numbers of students in the majors he focuses on most, those in the humanities.

Horowitz also fails to mention his previous interactions with some of the professors listed, and he frequently cites evidence from articles published on his website,, without providing other sources to demonstrate the veracity of his claims.

Speaking, or Not, of Statistics

One of Horowitz's targets, Michael Berube (my apologies for leaving out the accents--I'm new to blogger), took part in a discussion on Horowitz's website, and the two have an interesting and spirited history, one that's growing more entertaining almost by the day (Berube's website is not only a good source for that history, you can also read his compelling and compassionate blog posts about his family; whatever your politics, those posts are moving, I think). Yet Horowitz failed to mention their history. His profile on Berube displays many of Horowitz's weaknesses, including his embarrassing lack of knowledge about basic terminology.

After acknowledging Berube's support of the U.S. military action in Afghanistan, Horowitz writes, "With the onset of the Iraq War, Professor Berube resumed an orthodox anti-war position" (71). If Berube supports the war in Afghanistan, then how is his position against a different war "an orthodox anti-war position?" That simply isn't orthodox at all. Moreover, Horowitz fails to provide any evidence of Berube's position on the Iraq War or of Berube's position on war in general.

Also, and even more damning, is Horowitz's attempted condemnation of Berube's work in Cultural Studies. (A relevant side note: Horowitz never substantively investigates what approaches and fields such as Cultural Studies, Queer Theory, or Women's Studies actually do; he simply allows his reader to assume those things must be bad.) One of Horowitz's bullet points about Berube (Horowitz also leaves out the accents in Berube's last name, by the way) is that he "Believes in teaching literature so as to bring about 'economic transformations'" (71). Here's Horowitz's evidence, which he defends on his website as well: "According to Professor Berube, 'The important question for cultural critics, is also an old question--how to correlate developments in culture and the arts with large-scale economic transformations" (72). For Horowitz, that attempt to find correlations equals causation.

Any introduction to statistics, however, explains the distinction between correlation and causation (and note that Berube uses the word correlation): just because two things happen in sequence or at the same time does not mean that they are interrelated. For example, the novel as a literary form rose at around the same time as capitalism; that doesn't mean one caused the other. Also, and to take an example that refers less to economics, consider the sonnet. The sonnet became popular in Italy, and as the form moved northward, each language made alterations to it, so we have multiple forms of the sonnet.

The structure of the book itself is the biggest indicator of Horowitz's failure to understand statistical evidence. In his introduction, he explains that his method is "prosopography," which is defined as "the study of biographical details of individuals in the aggregate" in order "to establish a universe to be studied" (Lawrence Stone in his essay "Prosopography," in the 1972 collection Historical Studies Today, qtd in Horowitz xxii-xxiii). The danger of prosopography, as Horowitz demonstrates in the structure of his text, is the cherry-picking of individuals and the failure to meaningfully distinguish between them. Horowitz lists his targets in alphabetical order, which implies that they bear the same characteristics and are equally dangerous.

However, Horowitz's candidates aren't equally dangerous. While some of his profiles seem to cover professors who attempt to teach students what to think, not how to think, others don't. Michael Berube, for example, in his 2002 essay in Pedagogy, "Teaching to the Six," discusses in detail his teaching methods and practices, including his concern that students aren't familiar enough with formal and structural methods of reading. Hardly dangerous, wishing his students could perform formal readings of texts, a method often countered to what Horowitz and others would call "identity politics." By lumping all these professors together, Horowitz demonstrates not a network of dangerous, America-hating elites, but a confused notion of what constitutes a dangerous professor and an inability to make the most rudimentary statistical distinctions.

Of course, Horowitz likely isn't that interested in doing the scholarly work required to make a convincing argument that the minority of radicals teaching in universities endanger students and America. The only use a scholarly audience serves for him is to be irritated so he can take their responses out of context and post them on his website, creating more publicity for his book. The Professors is published by Regnery, whose credibility is thin at best. He's preaching to an audience that already agrees with him, and I assume he hopes his book will take hold with a few bookstore-browsers who won't investigate his footnotes--they'll take his footnotes as evidence that he's right.

And before I'd finish, I'd like to ask, is Horowitz, for all the weaknesses of his argument, right about leftists in universities? Based on my experience, absolutely not. While the majority of humanities professors are "liberal," Democrats, or leftist, the majority I've met in my work at three very different universities are passively liberal--they express frustration with Republicans in general, but they keep that frustration out of their classrooms. But I can't say whether or not "leftist" bias (and we have to use that term as broadly as possible to keep up with Horowitz) is really that widespread in classrooms because I'm not naive or arrogant enough to assume that my own experience is that answer.

A strange way to honor Hollywood

A headline from Yahoo:

Oscar stars to be buried by luxurious avalanche of free loot

Will there be any survivors?

Why I read the newspaper

So I was reading the New York Times sports section the other day (because I'm a liberal and, you know, I hate America and all, but I love American sports), when I came across this great opening paragraph:

"From the time he appeared for warm-ups before playing Florida State at the Civic Center here on Wednesday, J. J. Redick of top-ranked Duke was met by familiar heckling, a crude sign that made an obscene reference to his sister and even a body-painted message that questioned his sexual orientation."

If you're unfamiliar, J. J. Redick is a very good basketball player despite his genetic limitations (he's a white guy named J. J.) and also writes very bad poetry.

But I love the paper's insistence on avoiding vulgarity. For those of you who are curious, the "crude sign" was made out of an old cleaning rag and congealed blueberry yogurt (crude indeed), the obscene reference to his sister read, "I met your sister the other day. She's very fucking nice, ass munch," and the questioning of his sexual orientation was, "Hey, J. J., are you gay or straight? Really, it's a serious question. I don't know."

Redick responded with a line from his poetry: "It's hard living a life behind invisible bars." He then proceeded to hit his head on one of the invisible bars. Poor guy.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Let's get fatter, people

So now Pizza Hut has a pizza with a crust of cheese-filled globules that you can pick off and pop into your mouth. The ads feature Jessica Simpson and Miss Piggy. (Feel free to make all the globule jokes you'd like about them. Giggle, rinse, repeat.) Can we get fatter, please? When will they will the pizza itself? Is Crisco a topping? Can we start rubbing butter on kids' teeth?

And as someone who used to have terrible acne, I'd just like to say I'm pleased that Pizza Hut wants teenagers to eat greasy food that will ruin their skin, because that always gets women like Jessica Simpson. Well, actually, the puppet is a more likely date.