Sunday, July 23, 2006
The most alarming thing about this debate is that anybody would take anything Stanley Fish says seriously. Or perhaps I should say, "seriously." Let's get the explanation over with quickly. INVHO, Fish is a completely insincere man. He doesn't necessarily believe what he is saying; he says whatever he says to get something, I assume usually for himself. This is OK in his view, to the extent anything has to be OK in order to do or say it, because there is no such thing as anything being true, or perhaps I should say, "true." So I suppose what is really going on in his current positioning is that, in supporting the idea that absolutely anything should be able to be studied from an "academic" point of view, he is supporting the idea this his particular brand of half-baked skepticism (which actually does grave injustice to the half bakers of the world, who are at least trying to make bread) should be applicable to anything anyone wants to apply it to. Of course, of course. How unobjectionable. But this is just more of the usual Fishian sham. He doesn't really mean objective, maybe even scientific scrutiny, which is what he sounds like he means. He means, or rather "means," half-baked, Engl. Lit. trying to be philosophical scrutiny, where we never get beyond whether medium sized dry goods such as chairs and books actually exist. And if chairs don't really exist, then why not have a Department of Zany Things to do with Your "Body" Studies? Isn't it as "true" as anything else? By the time you have convinced some serious philosopher to come over and shut these people up, you've already wasted a chunk of the philosophy department's budget, and graduated hundreds of law students who think the "law" doesn't really "exist."
Why does he do this? I think the best explanation is that Fish figures his academic career prospers best in intellectual chaos, and he seems to have sort of prospered, if you count nearly single handedly destroying an academic discipline as prosperity, as some people say he did. One hopes that all this deconstruction stuff will someday be looked back at as bellbottoms are now, and it seems that it is beginning to happen. Fish likes to stress how much young people like all this stuff, which confirms what we know about the judgment of some young people. This probably has something to do with why we have to get so many of our mathematicians from India.
Some people say Fish's role model is Satan in Paradise Lost, but I think the character he reminds me of most is that Jesuit-Communist guy in the Magic Mountain, whose name I don't recall. If you have read that [no quotation mark] great book [no quotation mark] by Thomas Mann, you know whom I mean. What did that guy believe? Anything, or was he just a chaotic void of swirling creepiness? That's pretty much how I view Fish. But there is no need to get too exercised, because I think in this case, the damage has been done, is over with, and the academy is ever so slowly repairing itself from the era of the encounter with his especially unfortunate ideas. The end of the era of academic vaudeville, when it was finally figured out that bad taste tasted bad.
I don't really care if Wisconsin has some conspiracy theorist nut on their part-time faculty, because I think nuttiness disguised as serious scholarship has gone as far as it is going to go, and every village needs an idiot or two. We don't really need Idiot Studies, but at least the trend has abated, or so I optimistically believe.
I don't really know how or why the academic industry figured out that the whole Fishian let's be totally skeptical about everything in the interests of promoting nutty lefty causes and in particular me, was just an entirely cynical and valueless enterprise. But it seems to have. It's almost enough to make you believe in the marketplace of ideas. You will notice Fish is not President of the University of Chicago, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, or something of that sort. Our elite institutions seem to have survived more or less, or rather, less, and are busy transforming themselves into institutions where a lot of serious stuff gets done, at least outside those departments most academics are too polite to talk about. Fish now seems to find his audience in the more unsophisticated subset of the readership of the New York Times, the sort that take the fiction reviews in the Sunday paper seriously. A lot of former students who were taught under the influence of his ideas are the worse off for it, but so much else seems to be going on now in the American marketplace of ideas, that it is more like a few bad harvest years than the impending fall of civilization. What a great country.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The critics are jumping all over Night Shyamalan and his latest flick, Lady in the Water. Finally, an articulate defense. Who cares if the guy is pretentious, narcissistic, self-obsessed and vain? This is the movies. If you are looking for moral exemplars in movie directors, you have other issues that need to be dealt with. I will come right out and say it. Signs is a terrific movie. I think it is a near-masterpiece. I have watched it maybe a dozen time. My kids say, oh no, Dad is watching signs again. I've studied it. To begin with, it is misunderstood. It is not science fiction. It not even horror. It is a ghost story, and it follows the conventions of supernatural fiction with meticulous care and great seriousness. Its pseudo-profundity is part of that genre and entirely appropriate. Critics probably hate it as much as anything for its vague Christianity or at least theism. Of the many things I like about the movie is the extreme economy of its exposition. It only looks easy to tell a fairly complicated story, using flashbacks and other such techniques, so efficiently.
Yes, the Village was somewhat disappointing. It lacked dramatic drive and tension. But it was still interesting for the most part, and was visually gorgeous in as far as I could tell, an entirely original way. What other movie looked like it?
I think the guy deserves a break. He is trying to do something difficult, which is to tell spiritual tales in an age that wants Dead Man's Chest, a quite enjoyable, but seriously, pretty dreadful movie in many respects.
I have a new love -- wikipedia. This encyclopedia written and edited by the public is just amazing. I know that allowing non-authorized experts to write the articles is risky, but there are checks on mistakes and abuse, similar to the ones that constrain blogs. But where wikipedia really has it all over the other encyclopedias is how vast it is. There just seem to be articles on everything.
These days, after watching a movie I like, I regularly look it up on wikipedia, to my significant benefit. Tonight, I watched the Aviator, and naturally wondered how much of the story was true. I hate that aspect of Hollywood nonfiction movies -- how do you know what is true. But wikipedia gives you the story, including links to the lives of some of the picture's leading characters. Just great.
Indeed, in the case of the Aviator, real life seems to have been more dramatic than the movie. Spoiler follows: It turns out that the bad Senator who questions Hughes at the congressional hearing actually stepped down as chairman, testified at the hearing, and was questioned by Hughes. Interesting call Scorsese made, leaving that out of the film.
In many ways, the Aviator reminded me of the film Tucker, also about an entrepreneur who allegedly was attacked by a government-business conspiracy. Except, of course, Tucker did not have Hugues's eccentricities. I had always wondered about how much of Tucker was true, and now I have at least a version of it, courtesy of course of wikipedia.
Friday, July 21, 2006
I just saw Newt Gingrich on Fox News, and as always he was eloquent, articulate, powerful, and full of really interesting ideas. Not merely the intellectual, Newt was, of course, the architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution. I'll admit it. I used to really love Newt. When my son was two, I used to get great joy when he would point to Newt on TV and say "Newt, Newt!"
And then Newt became Speaker, and it was down hill from there. What happened? One problem was that Newt did not follow his own advice. He had said that conservatives needed to find a way to get their message to the public, despite the media filter, but he did not do so as Speaker. From the infamous Newsweek or Time cover that referred to "The Newt that stole Christmas" to his budget battle with Bill Clinton, Newt lost esteem with the public. Another problem was that Newt did not understand that people did not really want to hear about the "Revolution" all of the time. By the end, I have to admit, even I was ready to see Newt leave.
Now, it appears that Newt is back and may even be running for President. Well, he will surely be my sentimental favorite, but I don't really expect him to go anywhere. What a shame. He was the best Republicans had since Reagan, and there is now no one even close.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Here's an interesting study. The National Association of Scholars looked at web sites for the top 100 universities to see how often the words "diversity," "freedom," "liberty," "equality" and "democracy" appeared (in relative terms). They then compared those sites to web sites of other institutional opinion leaders--the mainstream print media, the mainstream tv media, blogs, business associations, trade unions, religious denominations a d politca party committees. The result? Only on campus does diversity consistently trump the more traditional values of "liberty," "freedom," "equality," and "democracy."
The difference is striking. While the Top 100 universities refer to "diversity" 1.28 times more often than "freedom." 4.93 times more often than "liberty," 3.68 times more often than "equality," and 3.10 times more often than "democracy," the corresponding ratios for blogs are 0.15, 0.49, 1.58 and 0.46 respectively.
For individual universities, the ratios were even larger. The University of Connecticut, for example, used the word "diversity" 2.32 times more often than "freedom," 63.82 times more often than "liberty," 49.00 more often than "equality," and 42.74 times more often than "democracy."
The mainstream media were more like blogs than like universities. The print media's ratios were 0.29, 0.70, 3.00, and 0.42 respectively. The television media's ratios were 0.16, 0.63, 1.36 and 0.21.
Good show on BBC World Service today about how dissidents are using the internet in Red China (the "PRC") to circumvent the rigorous censorship imposed by the party, and how the Party is fighting back. China now has more web dissidents in prison than the rest of the world combined (48). The state is using sophisticated technology to squash free cyberexpression, but people are hacking their around it, or trying to. Should Google and Yahoo should be cooperating with the effort to make the internet safe for tyranny?
David Bernstein's article on Lochner will be interesting to con law nerds, but also to anybody interested in the history of how history gets used to make political points in the present. I think it is a hoot that the "Lochner Era" qua era, was not discovered until 1970. I wonder if it was even really an "era."
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I oppose it. ... Let's start with ... national origin. The University of Michigan, for example, has almost a majority of its engineering students from overseas. Right now, the University of Michigan sets aside seats for Michigan residents. We pay for those kids to come to Michigan. If MCRI were to pass, we'd lose that. And if our immigration laws -- let's say you have a kid from India, kid comes here, gets a degree from Michigan engineering, can't stay here, goes back to India, sets up a firm at lower prices, takes Michigan jobs and we subsidize it. Why isn't anybody talking about that?
Well, the reason nobody is talking about that is that it isn't true. The Michigan Civil RIghts Initiative is modeled after California's Proposition 209, which was passed nearly a decade ago, and Washington State's Initiative 200, which was passed almost eight years ago. Not once has anyone been silly enough to suggest that the ban of discrimination on national origin would ban in-state preferences at public universities.
If Butler's interpretation of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative were correct, it would apply to Title VI of the U.S. Civil RIghts Act of 1964 too. That provision prevents discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any program receiving federal financial assistance, and Michigan's public universities certainly fall into that category. And it is already the law applicable to Michigan. If Butler is right, it's funny that nobody has noticed all these years.
In fact, "national origin" in this context has been consistently interpreted to mean "the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came." See Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co, 414 U.S. 86, 88 (1973). It has been interpreted not to cover discrimination based on U.S. citizenship status. Id. at 90-91. And it certainly does not cover discrimination based on state residency. There are other laws in other contexts that sometimes preclude such discrimination. But Title VI is not one of them, and neither is the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. It's an easy case.