Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Thinking Blog Award

Dead Dad honored me with a 'Thinking Blogger Award' on yesterday. I am quite honored to be included in his list of bloggers deserving such an award, especially since we have both just found each others' blogs. In any case, one of the responsibilities of being 'tagged' by this award meme is you need to name 5 other bloggers that make me think. Here are the rules from Another Damn Medievalist:

The participation rules are simple:
  1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
  2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
  3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
So with no further ado, I will name my 5 picks in no particular order:

1. Philosopher's Playground: SteveG's blog covers (as he often says to his students) anything from Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics. Not only is Steve a genius, but he is wit and therefore a real pleasure to read. Today he is even musing on the nature of Love.

2. Only in America: Jonah Walters is one hell of a writer and cultural critic and he is only 13! Jonah covers music, film and politics with a sophistication that I have yet to see among most of my college students.

3. Subversive Christianity: No doubt wanting to finally challenge the hegemony of the lunatic religious right, A Deacon, By the Grace of God is a new blogger promising to "explore and celebrate the truly radical nature of Christianity." The writing is superb on topics of social justice, the war in Iraq, the nature of faith, and self-absorbed piety.

4. Thinking Girl: Here's a blogger after my own heart (although she is far more technically savvy with the blog thing). She writes on both Philosophy and Feminism. Does that sound just a bit too narcissistic of me. Seriously, though, she intertwines thoughtful reflections on her life and with feminist analyses of cultural issues.

5. Goldbricker: This is one of the first blogs I ever read and boy is it good. In fact, Kriscinda simply does not get enough attention for her fine blogging talents. At present she is on a tear against the same religious right lunatic fringe that Subversive Christianity is combatting as well, albeit Kriscinda is a committed Atheist.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

If You Are Great, You Can't Be Good

I lectured yesterday on Hegel, and particular his notion that various 'world-historical individuals' are crucial in the realization of the perfect state (which means a state that affords positive liberty to all its citizens through its laws and institutions). Hegel is a hard core communitarian, and a messianic thinker, who believes that history is the progression of humanity.

In any case, what I think is really interesting about Hegel's 'world-historical individuals' is that they are not "good" people. The language he uses to describe these individuals sounds more fitting to describe socio-paths. They are figures who were passionately focused on acheiving one self-interested aim. His examples include Alexander, Caesar and Napolean. What makes them 'world-historical' is that their passionate pursuit of selfish aims had unintended consequences that actually dovetailed with the universal aims of Spirit (history), which is to realize the perfect state.

So, I used this discussion as a jumping off point for class discussion. What would you rather be: Great or Good? The latter I described as 'morally' good. Great individuals are not always moral, far from it. Furthermore, great individuals tend to neglect all their moral obligations to others and "use" others to succeed. Even great social reformers fall short of moral excellence. Hegel pays no mind to these details. It doesn't matter. These individuals have served a purpose in history and they are often discarded harshly: murdered or exiled.

The more I muse on Hegel's notion of greatness, the more I find it wise. For example, think about when you are hiring smeone for a job. Do you want to hire the most ambitious person for the job? Well, maybe. But ambition cuts both ways. Ambitiousness is driven by profound self-interest. Sometimes someone's self-interest will benefit an organization, but it can just as easily ruin an organization or leave it in the lurch. An ambitious person might get recruited somewhere else, or an ambitious person might overestimate his or her ability to deliver excellence.

Ambitious folks are wild cards. In academia, increasingly, we want to hire the "superstar" to raise the profile of the organization. But, how much do these superstars really add, in the long run, to the excellence of a college or university? What do you think?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sorority Evicts its Fat Chicks to Recruit

You know there was no way I wasn't going to write about this story. The Delta Zeta chapter at DePauw University wasn't reaching its membership quotas? Why? Well, the National chapter unwisely concluded that it was due to the unsavory image that Delta Zeta women have put forward: they are, gosh darn it, intellectually engaging, real women. To combat a stereotype that Delta Zeta women were "socially awkward," the National evicted many of the less pretty and perky women from the house.

So I couldn't help but wonder what the "mission" statement was of the Delta Zeta Sorority:

The purpose of this sorority shall be to unite its members in the bonds of sincere and lasting friendship, to stimulate one another in the pursuit of knowledge, to promote the moral and social culture of its members, and to develop plans for guidance and unity in action; objects worthy of the highest aim and purpose of associated effort. The purpose of this sorority shall be advanced through the National Convention, the National Council, and the college and alumnae chapters.

And, better yet, here is their creed:

The Delta Zeta Creed

To the world,
I promise temperance and insight and courage,
To crusade for justice,
To seek the truth and defend it always:
To those whom my life may touch in slight measure,
May I give graciously
Of what is mine;
To my friends,
Understanding and appreciation;
To those closer ones,
Love that is ever steadfast;
To my mind,
To myself,
That I may walk truly
In the light of the Flame.
–– Dorothy Mumford Williams, Alpha Zeta (1939)

It's no surprise that a sorority like Delta Zeta has so wholly perverted its founding mission; most of the Greek houses do. What is rare, however, is getting such a upclose and public look at them actually perverting their core values.

I have heard more times than I care to remember that Sororities are places for women to develop leadership skills, to form meaningful bonds with other women, and to serve. Pahleeze! I suspect that when I share this article with my students in WS they will make the usual "arguments": "well, that is how sororities work on big campuses," or "that is one bad sorority, you shouldn't make assumptions that they are all bad." I think what bothers me most in these pathetic defenses of sorority life is the willingness to hide an "evil" rather than take the opportunity to confront what has gone so terribly wrong with Greek life.

Who needs sexist and degrading young college men making you feel like a piece of meat on campus when your sorority can do the trick for you. And, better yet, you pay them to make you feel like nothing but your superficial, trendy beauty.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Democracy Matters

Sparse posting this week. I am buried under work and trying to shake off a nasty cold. I wanted to alert readers to an organization I just discovered, Democracy Matters. The Executive Director, Joan Mandle, spoke in my WS course about the movement toward getting private money out of elections. I appreciated her visit because given how demoralizing much of the information in WS course can be, this organization is trying to target undergraduates, in particular, to make a difference.

Mandle's thesis is that much of the economic inequality in this country can be attributed to political inequality. When it takes $7 million to run for Senate and this Presidential race will cost $600 million, who is likely to get enough money to run? White, affluent men. Mandle pointed to the success of a state like Maine that went to "clean elections." If you take the private money out of elections then those who get re-elected (incumbents) will be re-elected because they did a good job. As long as private money runs elections, then our elected officials are quite simply not accountable to us and therefore democracy doesn't really exist. Clean elections, therefore, restore real competition to races and thereby ensures (ideally) that the best person gets elected.

Last week SteveG commented on the apathetic views of my students, who believe that the world is not getting better. Perhaps one reason why college students are so disillusioned and apathetic is because they cannot fathom how they can make a difference. The problems and corruption seem so ubiquitous and intractable that it is best to focus on one's own life/self-interest. Part of the inspiration of starting Democracy Matters (the founder is NBA player Adonal Foyle was to show this generation how they can get involved and make a difference. Mandle pointed out that college students have always been important actors in social movements in this country, and so her focus is precisely on those students who seem so disillusioned and demoralized by a broken political system and growing dispartity of wealth.

Part of what was appealing about Mandle's pitch was she connected, quite concretely, for students how many of what seem to be their "personal problems" really amount to political decisions, i.e. how much interest they pay on their student loans or how much public education costs.

Lastly, Democracy Matters is a non-partisan organization. The desire to see real competition and real accountability in our elected officials, thereby restoring democracy, should know no party.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cafe Counseling

Sorry to be so absent for the past few days on the blog. I have been tying up some loose ends and getting my grading done. Luckily I have a little break right now before my next class and so I wanted to muse aloud about something I have witnessed three times now. You see, I spend a great deal of my weekends working in a cafe. People call this a very "European" mode of existence. Fine. I just like the free Wi-Fi, access to food and coffee.

In any case, each of the three past weekends a man has come in, sat at a table right in front of me and met a couple. I figured out after the first meeting that he was conducting couples therapy right there in the cafe. The couple was crying and he was reading scripture, laced with pop psychology stuff. I am going to try and resist being snarky and thereby pooh-poohing the scripture based couples therapy (after all, if someone like Kerry was doing it, I would totally respect it).

What is really baffling to me is that this therapist (if indeed he legitimately is one) is conducting these intimate and frightening conversations in a busy, bustling cafe where people all around are privy to the details of the clients' lives. Doesn't this sort of jeopardize confidentiality?

What do you think of this Cafe Counseling trend?

Monday, February 19, 2007

When Was A Feminist Revolt Possible?

I have been thinking about what sort of historical conditions need to be in place for the revolt of a woman, or women, to be recognized as such? When we talk about feminist revolts or women who defied convention (patriarchy), we often assume that all would comprehend their "revolt" as in fact a defiance of patriarchal rule. It seems more likely that for centuries women could've defied their oppression, singly or collectively, and yet no one, particularly the men, had a conceptual scheme that made possible the recognition that a woman (or women) would be capable of critique, revolt or challenge.

This question/idea came to me, oddly, in a dream. I kept thinking of how many women must have taken a stand, at least individually, against cruel sexist treatment through the ages, and yet, their action were unintelligible. It seems that only after the Enlightenment, and centuries after, could a woman articulate her criticisms of patriarchy and be taken seriously as a critic. I think of the way in which Cady Stanton and Anthony rhetorically framed their Declaration of Sentiments: the had to use the very language of the Declaration of Independence to even be comprehensible.

So, what was necessary for a feminist revolt to be possible, I mean, intelligible?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Phenomenology of Broken Hearts

I have been reading quite a few essays on phenomenology today, which reminded me how much I loved reading this stuff as a fresh graduate student and how important I think this way of doing Philosophy is. In fact, over the years I have been perplexed by two different camps of philosopher-writers (viz, those who wrote both philosophy and literature). There are those who see their literature as wholly separate from and perhaps antithetical to the aims of Philosophy [Iris Murdoch] and those who see literature as an important mode for philosophizing [Simone De Beauvoir]. My heart goes out to the latter camp.

The phenomenologists believes that Descartes' radical doubt about the existence of things was wholly ass backward. We do not come into crisis over believing or not that the metaphysical essence of the external world exists, rather we come into crisis when we put into doubt our basic notions, ideas, and possessions that we have inherited or relationships we have found stability in. If I start to actually question that heterosexuality is 'normal' sexuality or that some people are not born with a whole lot of opportunity open to them, I might start to find my relationship to the world radically threatened. If I discover that a cherished friend no longer cares for me, I am cast out of any serenity. I rarely get this worked up if I start to wonder if the wax in front of me really exists (Descartes' example). The big questions of Philosophy: Does the external world exist? Do other minds exist? appeal to me as much as the Analytic philosopher, it's just that I don't find the reductionism of science to be the best method for tackling them.

I have preferred the thick descriptions of writers/phenomenologists who lay bare the fact that the world is a public world and that we cannot escape this fact if we take the time to notice, for example, the crumbles and empty coffee cup left on the table in this cafe that I just took over.

So, yes, I love this stuff. And while I was reading Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and De Beauvoir, I kept analyzing, in the back of my mind, the sort of awkward experiences that one suffers through in small towns, small social circles, and rather incestous work/life relationships. In the past few months, my relationship to some people has changed dramatically. Those who were once very close and important to me are strangers and those who were distant acquaintances are growing to be closer. I have analyzed, at length, what has shaped these transformations.

While there are lots of reasons, one significant one is the fact of being hurt. Yes, that all-too-human experience of having someone "break your heart." I don't mean romantically, but rather the deep sense of abandonment you feel when someone you trusted or who you thought was in your corner showed him or herself to be human. (I was going to write: less than a loyal friend, but I soon realized that what they really revealed themselves as is humans, like me, manifesting their insecurities). In any case, I have suffered from what felt to me as betrayals by friends: lies, or lack of care, or cowardice. I have tried to bear these things well, but find myself wanting to just avoid those who have hurt me. Moreover, I have wanted all my friends to avoid those who hurt me too. I want to be free from any situation where I make myself vulnerable to one who has hurt me.

I was talking to Za a few weeks ago about how painful it is to try and interact with a former friend who I am forced to see everyday. Do I have a superficial conversation? Do I smile and ask about his/her life? Now, duh. The answer should be "yes." So, why don't I do it? Why do I prefer to ignore or avoid people who have hurt me? Za nailed it. Because if I were to engage in superficial, saccharine conversation I won't know at what point to cut if off. What topics do I stick to? How long should I speak to X person before walking away? If I make eye contact that shows warmth or concern, do I open the door for that person to hurt me again? All of these fuzzy boundaries are scary, and so to avoid the messy work of avoiding them, I just try to expunge those who hurt me from my life. I cannot find a way to live in to coexist with them without opening myself to profound fear of being hurt again.

The other odd thing about negotiating failed friendships is the acknowledgement from the other, hardly ever expressed directly in words, but rather furtively in glances, that they know you are angry at them, that they are afraid of you because of it. This response is hard to negotiate when you represent to yourself that what you are feeling is hurt. You feel hurt, you feel betrayed, and yet you are called to overcome the fear this produces to be forgiving to the one who hurt you. The onus is on me to make overtures to create a more peaceful coexistence or to forgive the human foibles, or better yet, to just pretend it never happened.

I have never been able to figure out how to make myself vulnerable again to someone who hurt me.

Well, that's not true. I would melt, just melt if a sincere, non tu quoque apology manifested itself. I am not a spiteful person. I don't hold grudges. I take no pleasure in recounting the many wrongs heaped upon me. I do, however, fear being hurt again. I am sensitive. My heart breaks. I do feel abandoned. So, to avoid that feeling, I retreat and I harbor fantasies that my friends will create a protective cocoon around me. The real problem is that I am too vulnerable (geez, take this blog as evidence). And yet, I am interpreted not as vulnerable but hard.

These sort of difficult human negotiations are impossible to avoid in small town life. You cannot get lost in a sea of anonymity. You are reminded, daily, of loss. You are plagued by fragment and fracture. So, living this life, when you congenitally lack protective cover, is an interesting study in the phenomenology of human relationships. Usually what lies beneath most of the fraught human dynamics is the opposite of what is presented. Those who appear the most aloof, the most withholding are the loneliest, the creatures licking their wounds over painful encounters with those who mattered. Those who seem most in control are the least in control. Those who are easy going, who wag well with others, might lack any true intimacy.

What we show is not very often what we feel.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Alpha Cooks

Ok, so its a fluff article in the NYTimes, but I laughed out loud when I read it because I have dated an alpha cook. At the time, I didn't much appreciate being cowed by my alpha cook lover, in fact, his dictatorial style in the kitchen spilled over into other aspects of our relationship. Moreover, I think it took a year or two before I trusted myself to cook again.

What I find interesting about this "trend" story is the lack of gender analysis.

It was a nice fantasy while it lasted: rather than letting the lady of the house bear the constant burden of cooking dinner, the modern couple would share the work. Husbands would take an interest in casseroles. Wives would slap slabs of meat on the grill. They would read cookbooks and watch the Food Network together. The kitchen would be a peaceful domain equally ruled by two people.

For many couples, this never happened. Instead, wedged there in the kitchen together, they fell into a power dynamic just as unequal and emotionally fraught as the arrangement that puts the female half in a frilly apron. Instead of a partnership, some couples say that their relationship in the kitchen more closely resembles a tiny dictatorship.

The next paragraph segues into a discussion of typical and efficient behavior in high priced restaurants: the chef barks, the sous-chef takes it or is fired. But c'mon, is this the best explanation for alpha cook behavior? Might it have something to do with the unfortunate masculine (I am purposely using this word, rather than male to designate a "gender role") traits, such as the need to dominate, win, be the best?

Rather than enjoying the process of making a meal, cooking among power couples is death-match. Sheesh!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why I Wither When Teaching WS

Teaching Women's Studies is both a thrilling and draining job. I am not a full-time Women's Studies faculty member, but I occasionally teach for the WS department. One of my specialities is Feminist theory, although the kind of theory that grows out of Philosophy. Over the years, I have discovered that any semester in which I am teaching a course related to gender or race is more stressful than when I am not. And yet, this is the subject matter I have passion for and that I am very good at teaching.

The reason why teaching WS is hard is because it challenges students almost everyday in a way that is psychologically difficult for them. The most resistance that I feel in the classroom involve conversations having to do with race; in fact, I am not sure that there is a more difficult subject to broach in the classroom than the on-going reality of racism. I would say that these conversations are especially difficult because of the nature of my students' background--largely affluent and from white Suburbs in New Jersey and New England--but I didn't find these conversations any easier when I taught at a large State U with a great deal of diversity.

I have spent lots of time thinking about what makes these conversations so difficult and I think it may have a lot to do with self-image, that is the self-image the students want to have of themselves that the content of my course really challenges. I am pretty sure that the majority of my students don't consider themselves racists or sexists. A few more might admit to be homophobic. But, there is a difference between how you perceive yourself and the reality of your life. The content of my course challenges students' self-perceptions daily (hell it challenges my own self-image).

Only a very few of them are grateful for this. I imagine that those same students have already had such epiphanies about their place in the world and so my course is nothing new. The students who are most vexed by the material assuredly have grown up in households wherein the parents have offensively equipped them to reject any frank discussions about race/class/gender. If they read about a Latina woman's struggle in white USA, they loudly proclaim that she is just whining. Everyone has it tough, what makes you think that your life is any harder than anyone else's? In fact, the most frequent complaint that I hear students make about the material is that the author is just "complaining" or "whining." If they are a bit persuaded by the argument, then they claim "well, the author has pointed out the problem, but has done little to give us a sense of how to make it better."

This last response is the most curious one to me. I think that pointing out injustice and how it gets enshrined in our institutions is a step toward making the world better. Such knowledge challenges the author to re-evaluate herself in relation to institutions, which is assuredly an important step toward considering how to restructure them. And yet, students claim "but I don't want to change how the system works, I don't want to have to give anything up." Now, if we weren't talking about structural inequality, then they might feel more disturbed about injustice. If you knew, for example, that your parents could only afford one present for X-mas, and you demanded to have it at the expense of your brother, well, most likely you want to find a way that didn't result in only one child getting a gift at the expense of another.

Alas, challenging students to care, take seriously, and then commit themselves to social change is emotionally exhausting work. And yet, these students I teach, above all, are the precisely the most important audience to reach. They will be the future decision makers and leaders. I don't want to be responsible for having contributed another Rick Santorum or George W. Bush to the world. Ultimately, I have little control over that outcome, but I will try my hardest to make some impact on these students before they graduate.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shakes Sis Steps Down Too: Sad Times

Melissa has resigned from Edwards' campaign as well. The comments from the "Christian" critics of Melissa are as disturbing as the ones I read at Pandagon. If this is what being a good Christian is, then I will have none of it. In fact, I don't ever want to hear again about the moral rightness of the Right Wing cause. I am SICKENED by the religious conservatives who have targeted these women. Whatever criticisms Melissa and Amanda have made were, in my opinion, too mild, too softened by their humor.

I am sorry that Melissa was forced by these hateful people to give up a job for which she is so well suited.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Has the Vagina Monologues Become a Mere Institution?

Nick, a really interesting and thoughtful student, stopped me after class today to discuss the devolution of college campus productions of the Vagina Monlogues. Nick's question was:
Do the Vagina Monologues actually serve the purpose Ensler designed it for, viz. to create awareness about violence against women and thereby to stop it? I think it is a really good question, and frankly, it is time for college campuses like my own to reevaluate whether or not V-day has become a mere institution. What I mean by this is, that the real passion, the political force, the grass-rootsy element of V-day is gone. It has become a commonplace event, no different from the yearly Snowball Dance (on our campus) or Fall Convocation.

I performed in the Vagina Monologues the very first year it was brought to Gettysburg Campus. It was an incredible and frightening experience. The climate on my campus is very repressed when it comes to sexuality and politically conservative. I wasn't even sure how administrators would react to my presence in the production (I am pretty sure that I was the only faculty member, and untenured at that). We spent weeks rehearshing, which involved more than practicing our parts. We spent time "consciousness raising": getting comfortable talking about our vaginas, thinking about what each monologue meant, and spinning into conversations about how hard it was for so many of us to perform this piece. The cast was really bonded by the end of the show. In fact, I formed a kind of support group with some of the women in the cast after the production was over so we could keep discussing issues facing us professionally on campus.

But, in the years since our first production, the production of the show has changed dramatically. Now, the parts are doled out over email. There are only two or three rehearsals and very little discussions among the participants of what they are going through, why they are doing this, what this means for all women vicitims of sexual violence. It is perfunctory. Many of the students seem to take more pleasure in the provocative nature of this production: they enjoy participating out of a kind of sexual exhibitionism rather than a commitment to raising awareness about how sexual violence begins with the repression and widespread disgust with women's sexuality. Each monologue is really worthy of thoughtful discussion: rapes in Bosnia, the wonder of childbirth, hate crimes against transgendered people, incest, etc.

I worry that the rush to get this production on and the sense that it is an institution to continue has disconnected the participants from the content. I wonder how much the women who perform the Vagina Monologues, particularly the students, have really engaged in difficult and scary conversations about sexuality and the ways in which they learn to hate their bodies, be ashamed of their bodies, and thereby put themselves at risk in sexual activity.

I have always felt conflicted about the exhibitionist way in which young women have taken up their parts: e.g. dressing in very sexually charged clothing while reclaiming their cunts. The spectacle is so culturally complex: it is a product of feminism that these women feel so empowered to wear their sexuality and to celebrate their vaginas, and yet, I wonder sometimes if these young women are wholly in possession of their sexuality? To what extent are they performing precisely to be alluring to the male gaze. I pointed out to Nick that on some level I see the Vagina Monologues as akin to Mr. Fraternity. In both cases the performance is to raise money for a social cause, and yet, what is really the impetus for the show? Is the political message and desire to raise money for Domestic Violence shelters the real reason for the show, or is it merely a convenient, and thereby above reproach, justification?

If it is the case that V-day is nothing more than an institution, perhaps like Black History Month, then isn't it time we reevaluate why we do it? I am not saying we should get rid of it, but rather we should inspire some life back into this perhaps lifeless institution.

Yea, Edwards is DOA

Amanda, I admire you. Unfortunately, I no longer admire the Edwards campaign much. As SteveG already pointed out last week, they are simply not ready for Prime Time. The fact that Bill Donohoe got this much play and this controversy lingered as long as it did spells disaster for Edwards when the real shit starts hitting the fan.

While I am sorry that Amanda's talents are not going to be taken advantage of, I am thrilled that her no-nonsense, throw down commentaries will remain in tact. (She promises a campaign against Donohoe!)

Most likely, someone with some guts and sense will scoop her up.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Is He Black Enough?

Pam has an excellent post up about the already frustrating racial conversation going on vis-a-vis Obama. The upshot: he is not black enough. Oh, why can't identity politics go away?

There’s no such thing as a “post-racial” candidate when you look black. In this country, Obama can still be followed in a store suspected of being a shoplifter, be passed by a cab driver afraid to pick him up, or stopped by a police officer for “driving while black.” In none of these cases would it matter if Barack Obama pulled out a family picture to show he’s half white.

I think this is what frustrates me with well-meaning white people who say they “don’t see color.” Of course you do. Our culture is steeped in race, and the history isn’t pretty; its legacy plays itself out today. That’s not said to engender guilt, but simply to say that race is irrelevant or has no impact on today’s society because you or recent generations of your family didn’t own slaves isn’t helpful. Denial short circuits difficult discussions that need to occur. The defensiveness of these vocal blacks in regards to race is playing itself out so pathologically in the case of Obama — I welcome it, I only hope that it might lead to more productive conversations about why people think about him the way they do.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I'm All In

This Feminista is Backing Obama!

For Profit "Education"

I was comforted by today's NYTimes piece on the University of Phoenix. My objection to the University of Phoenix is not wholly elitist (maybe a little), rather that they cheapen education and the educational process (ok, is that elitism?). Of course, they are in many ways a glorified VoTech school, and hence, they play an important role in the changing job market. But, my overall concern has been that they so blatantly turn education into a commodity, and this is not what education is, nor should be.

Luckily, this approach to education (and the simultaneous goal of trying to generate a huge profit) has been a real failure for the product. They have the worst graduation rate and hire utterly unqualified instructors. My only hope is that the University of Phoenix will serve as a caution to those overzealous free market types who want to turn public education into a business.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Phone

Why is it that when you are young, you want to spend hours on the phone with your friends talking about the most minute and meaningless details of your life, and when you are older, the phone is a chore? Sure, I like to talk to friends once a week or so. And, I find it valuable to get some advice or work through some stuff with friends on the phone. But, most of the time, I get pretty overwhelmed when the phone rings . . . I just want to know what causes the shift?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Edwards Doesn't Get Bullied, Yet

I was amazed to discover that John Edwards campaign came under fire from an ultra-conservative, Bill Donohoe, from the Catholic League. The crux of the attacks were that Edwards hired two mouthy anti-Catholic bloggers, our beloved Melissa McEwan (who went to Loyola!) from Shakespeare's Sister and Amanda Marcotte, from Pandagon. Good Lord! The attacks are already coming and over something as minor as hiring two great bloggers to help his campaign. Luckily, Edwards stood by both Amanda and Melissa (yay!) (see Pam from Pandagon on this). If you want more background on this debacle, read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's Not Really About Sex

It's been a week of sex talk on my campus. Last night some students put together a discussion on the morality of "hooking up." [I want to note that while the talk was really about having sex, the euphemism 'hooking up' was used. This was confusing for me at times, since in my undergraduate experience 'hooking up' never meant 'having sex.'] Anyway, two students asked a decent size audience: is there anything immoral about two people randomly having sex (i.e. not in a committed relationship)? While not a single person in the room voiced a principled moral objection until the very end (i.e. that with sexual activity comes great responsibility due to the possibility of pregnancy), almost everyone in the room (except faculty) acknowledged that those who randomly 'hook up' are ruthlessly judged on campus.

The judgment is referred to as the "look away." The next morning, after a random hook up, if you run into your partner in hedonism at the cafeteria, while you are with your friends, the look away is inevitable. This phenomena is what interested me the most about this talk, which in my opinion, had very little to do with sex, and a whole lot to do with living in a stifling and repressive college culture. You see, the judgment is really not about "oh my God you had sex," rather it is of the form: "you had sex with him? (or her?)"

A rather honest, and therefore insightful, young man pointed out that given that our students hail largely from the upper middle-class, they all grow up with similar values. My colleague, rightfully asked, "what are those values?" And, while we expected to hear something about "no premarital sex" or "don't use people," what we actually heard was that hailing from the upper-class suburbs of New Jersey or New England entails growing up with a deeply ingrained sense that image is everything. At least two examples of this "image is everything" worldview were given: (1) men who do not hook up enough are not manly enough and (2) hooking up with someone not quite attractive enough is bad for your image. What no one said, directly, but I inferred from other things said, was that women who hook up a lot are "sluts," but the converse is not true for men. So, part of this "image is everything" ethos is the entrenchment of very archaic, stifling and sexist gender roles.

I pointed out to one young man that the way he was describing male sexuality among his friends made it out to be a conquest of women as objects for the sole purpose of proving to your friends that you are not gay. He apologized, which I thought was an endearing, if not odd response.

So, the upshot of this "image is everything" ethos on my campus is that almost every day is stifling, painful and full of concern for how one appears. The only time students are free to let go of all that judgment falling down on their heads is at night, when its dark and they are drunk. In fact, what I think I finally understand about our students, after this conversation, is why they drink so damn much. Living in this "image is everything" culture is enough to drive you crazy without outlets. But, the downside of carving out certain spaces and conditions for letting your guard down, is that the sexual activity that takes place in their drunken evenings is pretty bad. In fact, it leads to a great deal more misery the next day when they experience the "look away."

The fun part of sex, and random hook ups, is totally missing. Sex becomes for these students a release of tension or a means of self-abandonment, only the cure is worse than the disease.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Professor on Hunger Strike . . .

because he was denied tenure (Globe story here). James Sherley claims that MIT denied him tenure due to racism, plain and simple. So, he ate a bowl of Chex cereal and then started his hunger strike in front of the Provost's office.

Wow. I wanted to learn more. So far I found this petition. But, alas, it didn't tell me much. Then, I discovered that Professor Sherley is an outspoken critic of therapeutic cloning (see also his Boston Globe op-ed). Critics of Sherley's op-ed claimed that his scientific claims were hogwash, and that the real motivation of his op-ed was theological.

Noam Chomsky called for a review of Professor Sherley's case.

All very interesting . . . and potentially explosive. What do you think?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Am I The Only One Creeped Out by Purity Balls?

So IsThatLatin sent me a link to this article on the Glamour website about the new phenomena of purity balls, wherein daughter pledge to their fathers they will stay "pure" until they marry. Eek. This is considered "father-daughter" bonding. I think it is just plain sick. I cannot imagine publicly declaring to my father that I will "protect my flower."

Lisa Wilson, the wife of one of the founders of these purity balls, reasons:

“I believe if girls feel beautiful and cherished by their fathers, they don’t go looking for love from random guys.”

I don't know where to begin. First of all, what's wrong with "looking for love from random guys?" Can't a girl get some play? The whole premise that sex is purely a for procreation or marital bonding is freaky. And, why assume that feeling beautiful and cherished is mutually exclusive with wanting to get some play? Lastly, can you get more "patriarchal" than purity balls? Goodness gracious: the father is the only man allowed to be of any importance in the daughter's life until she marries? And, the father possesses her sexuality?

IsThatLatin pointed out to me in her email that it seems we should have a homologous ball for sons. How about a "I'll Zip it Up"-until-I-am-married pledge? After all, you can tell women to put on that chasity belt all you want, but if the men are left to their sexual predatory nature then, well, the purity pledge seems a bit useless. It is like trying to end Domestic Violence purely by giving women the strenght to leave an abusive relationship. You might have helped one woman getting the crap beat out of her, but you haven't really made a serious dent in the problem. You have to stop the perpetrators from beating the crap out of their wives/girlfriends in the first place.

This analogy only holds if what we are dealing with is sexual encounters in which young women feel manipulated and used. Sure, maybe a few of these women/young girls pledging their purity to their fathers will avoid the pain of being lied to/manipulated/or used by a guy. But, you haven't gotten at the root of the problem: that men lie/manipulate/use women.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fundamentalists Challenge the Teaching of Darwin's Evolution in France

Some of you will take comfort in the fact that the United States is not the only country wherein fundamentalists are trying to get Darwin's theory of evolution out of the classroom. A Turkish author has sent around his textbook, "The Atlas of Creation," to thousands of schools in France to combat what he thinks is the innate terrorism embedded in Darwinist teaching.

The book features a photograph of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center with the caption: "Those who perpetuate terror in the world are in fact Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy that values and incites conflict."

While our fundamentalists tend to be Christian, those attacking Darwin's theory of Evolution in France are Muslim, demonstrating to us, once again, the thin line separating the religious right in the U.S. and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism globally.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I Had No Choice . . .

I got so tired of deleting spam for hours that I am forced to start a moderation policy for all comments. Sorry. I had to do it.

Paying Respects to Another Fine Texan

I was remiss for not marking the passing of Molly Ivins earlier this week. She was supposed to be our keynote speaker this year at our CPC conference--what a lossed opportunity to meet her! But, her words and humor lives on, and so when things look like they couldn't be lamer, she is an endless source of amusement.

Breast cancer takes our best and brightest too early. So, in her honor, I am sending you all to the Breast Cancer site, where every click funds a free mammogram.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The (Un)Happy Alliance Between Feminism and Philosophy?

I am working, and rather diligently, so I cannot believe I am diverting attention to write this post. But, this topic has been on my mind ever since I engaged in a brief discussion with anonymous coward in the comment section of this post, namely, how is an alliance between philosophy and feminism possible? Sure, there are plenty of scholars out there working in Philosophy on feminist issues, and there is a whole sub-field of feminist theory within Philosophy. But, at the end of the day, can the two really forge a happy alliance? After all, feminism is a political position, it is in its core revolutionary and desires not just to describe reality, but to remake reality. Can we say the same about Philosophy? Sure, Marx is famous for saying, in his Theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

One could reconceive of Philosophy as an instrument of social change, but, that was certainly not what Marx did. Rather, he harshly rejects philosophy for its failure to recognize that, at base, it too is an ideology that justifies certain power structures (see the German Ideology). Given this critique of Philosophy, it seems odd that it could ever be married to feminism, which in its more radical form (see, for example, bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center) calls for the elimination of all forms of domination and oppression, e.g Racism, Imperialism, Capitalism, etc.

Another problem with the alliance between Philosophy and Feminism is that Philosophy shouldn't really take sides on political issues, at least, that shouldn't be its motivating cause. If careful philosophical argument shows that a feminist position is the correct and just way to act, then good. But, it is clear that philosophical argumentation won't always come down on the side of feminist causes. Hence, I am left with my question: is this a happy marriage?

I can only answer for myself: yes. But, the reason I find this to be a felicitious alliance is because (a) I reject Marx's harsh condemnation of Philosophy as merely ideology, (b) I think philosophical skepticism and argument are healthy for any political position, including feminism, and (c)my feminist positions are far more nuanced as a result of my philosophical soul. Others might not agree with my assessment. They might, for example, be angry that I identify my "soul" as philosophical, rather than feminist. But, for me, the philosopher always wins, which, I hope, makes me more intellectually honest as a feminist.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Go Global Baby

I've got almost nothing today (because I was in meetings all day), except a link to The Globalist. I attended a workshop with the Editor-in-Chief, Stephan Richter, and found what he had to say about education to be really though provoking and life affirming. His mission is to get Higher Ed to "Go Global," that is, to start making connections all over the place between disciplines, between what goes on in the U.S. and elsewhere . . . basically to transform education in a way that meaningful prepares students for our Global World.

What I really liked about what he said was that we scholars are too "disciplinary" when most information these days is not. We teach "deductively" our disciplines to our students, but they really learn by induction. What gets them going is some interesting and relevant fact they can relate to, i.e. that Robert Palmer loves North African Music. Or, if you are teaching a class on Nation States, teach the information backwards: start with discussions about the importance or non-importance of the U.N. today and then work backward to the Peace of Westphalia.

I guess I liked him because he affirmed my way of teaching. I thought I just had ADD.