Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘enough bullshit already

Thursday Night Links

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* I saw this movie: Brains of rats connected allowing them to share information via internet.

It bears repeating: The candidate’s adviser sent us a letter on which both “department of history” and “faculty of arts and sciences” were misspelled.

Advice From Tenure-Track Faculty To Those Entering The Profession.

* Beyond the MOOC: While other universities move quickly to offer courses online for free, Carnegie Mellon University is instead starting for-profit efforts designed to capture segments of the education market. I’ll promote this a bit more as the date gets closer, but I’ll be speaking at a “What’s the Matter with MOOCs?” event at UWM in mid-March.

Boots on Campus: Yale Flap Highlights Militarization of Academia.

Student Debt Nearly Tripled In 8 Years, New York Federal Reserve Reports.

* The Dan Harmon backlash, at the AV Club and TNR (of all things).

* Justice, American style: The city’s complaint in federal court claims that if Ms. Truong is entitled to damages for the nearly three years she spent in jail awaiting trial, then Mr. Ryan is as much to blame as the city because he took too long to get the coerced confession tossed out of court by the judge.

* What is happening with Bob Woodward? Seriously, WTF Is Up With Bob Woodward?

Will a Republican friend-of-the-court brief tip the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage? I’m pretty sure it’ll have more luck than Obama’s.

These numbers are unprecedented: by 2014 President Obama will have deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported before 1997. That “before 1997” actually means since 1892.

AFL-CIO Executive Council Endorses Comprehensive Doomsday Policy for Working Families.

“We need union jobs today, not tomorrow,” said Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO.  “The resolution balances our desire to protect the fragile ecosystem of the earth, while acknowledging the economic benefits of a high-road strategy to develop the doomsday technologies of the future.”

* Never forget: The entire staff of the West Wing died on Voyager.

How Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the EmpireTurned Star Wars into Science Fiction.

Women Work Harder Than Men, Study Says.

* The Turn against Nabokov.

* When the White House was completely gutted.

The social events of the 1948 holiday season had to be canceled. And with good reason: Experts called the third floor of the White House “an outstanding example of a firetrap.” The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion’s plumbing “makeshift and unsanitary,” while “the structural deterioration [was] in ‘appalling degree,’ and threatening complete collapse.” The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.

* When Martin Luther King played pool.

“Preserved” plushies in jars.

* Help wanted: must be infallible.

* They’re making a movie out of The Drowned World.

Shale Gas Fracking Will Be Around For a Long, Long Time.

* And American history, Breitbart style: Journalists on the campaign trail saw Johnson drunkenly board a plane armed with nuclear weapons and then accidentally drop them on the United States. We all saw it!

Links for the Weekend

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What Search Committees Wish You Knew. This is a reasonably good article with one piece of deeply terrible advice. Do not tell a search committee anything about your personal life or your relationships that will harm your chances until after you have received a written offer. Being open and honest about your two-body problem will not help you in the least. UPDATE: When I posted this on Twitter, @academicdave had a much harsher take, and found the piece pretty wanting. I don’t know. I think it’s useful for applicants to try to humanize their imagination of the search committee a bit (which can be hard). And then of course once you’ve done that you have to put brakes on that impulse, because they’re still not your friends, and they don’t really care about you much at all.

* Ads without Products has a great pedagogical post on teaching writing and critical perversity. I think I’m going to steal some of this language for my course next semester.

So how do I teach “practical criticism”? In the seminar groups that I lead, I model and encourage the following “flow chart” of thought: Anticipate what other intelligent readers of this piece might say about it. Try to imagine the “conventional wisdom” about it that would emerge as if automatically in the minds of the relatively well-informed and intelligent. And then, but only then, figure out a perverse turn that you can make within the context of but against this conventional wisdom. “Of course that seems right, but on the other hand it fails to account for…” “On first glace, it would be easy and to a degree justifiable to conclude that…. But what if we reconsider this conclusion in the light of….”

Students tend to demonstrate resistance, early on, to this practice. For one thing, especially in the first year, they don’t really (and couldn’t possibly) have a fully developed sense of what the “conventional wisdom” is that their supposed to be augmenting, contradicting, perverting. At this early stage, the process requires them to make an uncomfortable Pascalian wager with themselves – to pretend as though they are confident in their apprehensions until the confidence itself arrives. But even if there’s a certain awkwardness in play, it does seem to exercise the right parts of the students’ critical and analytical faculties so that they (to continue the metaphor) develop a sort of “muscle memory” of the “right” way to do criticism. From what I can tell, encouraging them to develop an instinct of this sort early measurably improves their writing as they move through their degree.

But still (and here, finally, I’m getting to the point of this post) there’s a big problem with all of this. I warn the students of this very early on – generally the first time I run one of their criticism seminars. There’s a big unanswered question lurking behind this entire process. Why must we be perverse? What is the value of aiming always for provocative difference, novelty, rather than any other goal?  Of course, there’s a pragmatic answer: Because it will cause your writing to be better received. Because you will earn better marks by doing it this way rather than the other. Because you will develop a skill – one that can be shifted to other fields of endeavour – that will be recognised as what the world generally calls “intelligence.” But – in particular because none of this should simply be about the pragmatics of getting up the various ladders and depth charts of life – this simply isn’t a sufficient response, or at least is one that begs as many questions as it answers. What are, after all the politics of “novelty”? What are we to make of the structural similarity between what it takes to impress one’s markers and what it takes to make in “on the market,” whether as a human or inhuman commodity? What if – in the end – the answers to question that need (ethically, politically) answering are simple rather than complex, the obvious rather than the surprising?

* A possible example of critical perversity from Deadspin: Everything You Need To Know About Pennsylvania’s Lawsuit Against The NCAA (And Why You Should Support It). Though frankly I’m pretty sympathetic to the claim that the NCAA has no jurisdiction over criminal conspiracies, much less that it followed a rational procedure to adjudicate competing claims in this case.

Bousquet asked the audience why police departments are far more diverse than English departments, by and large. Noting the silence in the audience following his question, Bousquet noted, “We have made it too difficult for those who are not advantaged” to enter the profession. Asked whether he believes faculty diversity is a priority for elite institutions, such as the one he now teaches at, Bousquet said such institutions are “constantly trying to work on the question of diversity.

“For me, the question is why do they fail so much, despite all of those efforts. And I think one of the reasons, amongst many, is the irrationalism of faculty compensation.” Bousquet adds, “Eighty percent of faculty are working like for $15,000 a year” taking into account adjuncts and graduate students.

* “Sustainable Teaching Fail”: The conditions of non-tenure-track faculty are setting us up to be failures as effective pedagogues.

* Lincoln explains the modern GOP.

“Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.”

* But don’t worry! There’s a hack for that! The self-evident Calvinball lunacy of this trillion-dollar-coin thing is all the proof I need that our system is broken and our elites are insane.

Politicians Should Learn Bigger Lessons From Their Pet Causes.

But too many politicians, and this especially includes self-described fiscal conservatives, simply can’t draw the obvious conclusion from all this: namely that you shouldn’t support help for the poor and the sick and elderly only if you personally happen to know someone who’s poor or sick or elderly. All of these people exist whether or not they happen to be family members.

* Blue Mars: What Mars would look like with oceans and life.

* A California appeals court has found that raping a sleeping woman isn’t illegal if she’s unmarried. I swear to God, I don’t even know where to begin with this bullshit anymore.

* Elsewhere in rape culture atrocities: Basically an entire town colludes to protect their football team from rape prosecution.

House GOP lets the Violence Against Women Act expire for first time since 1994. I mean really.

* Inside Chernobyl’s Abandoned Hospital.


* More Evidence Shows That Pro Sports Teams Don’t Boost The Economy.

* There Are Two Law School Grads for Every Lawyer Job.

* The Original Star Wars Trilogy As Maps.

Commander Riker lorem ipsum.


* Google is not an illegal monopoly, so they can go on ruining all their products with dumb attempts to monetize your data. Hooray!

* And George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year. Sold!

Debate #3 Liveblog!

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New thread.

10:30 Obama promises his tireless effort — for the children.

Bob channels his mother and tells us to go out and vote, “it’ll make us feel big and strong.” McCain comes over to Obama immediately, shakes his hand, and says very loudly, “good job, good job.” Trying not to show any more contempt, I guess.

10:27 On the special needs issue, while McCain rambles: Jaimee and Sweet Caroline both say that McCain keeps saying that Palin’s son has autism, rather than Down’s Syndrome. I got the impression that he was trying to speak to special needs generally and autism parents in particular, but I may be wrong on that, and he may have actually flubbed the issue.

I’m also seeing evidence of a huge “gender gap” on the CNN instant-response panels—McCain’s horrible “health of the mother” rant has to be a big part of that.

10:27 Final statements: McCain first.

10:19 How many reporters are looking for Joe the Plumber tonight? Who will find him first? UPDATE: Yup.

10:16 … as a threat to national security? Uh, sure.

10:16 Education.

10:14 McCain attacks the notion of the “health of the mother,” accusing Obama of speaking in code. That’s what he’s going to go with? He hates the health of mothers? Going down in flames.

10:12 And Obama again, using basic common sense, rebuts the lies. Story of the night.

10:11 McCain spits on equal pay for equal work, accuses Obama of infanticide. Is it smart to make these attacks when Obama’s right there next to you and gets to rebut everything you say?

10:10 Obama announces his support for Roe v. Wade, then pivots to Lilly Ledbetter and equal pay for equal work.

10:08 McCain approaches this question as a senator, not as the guy who will actually be making the choice.

10:05 Abortion! But only as a litmus test.

10:04 John McCain says transplants are a Cadillac-style luxury. We think he meant “implants.” This is a debacle.

10:03 Why are we still talking about Joe?

10:02 Obama does, in fact, hit health care out of the park.

10:01 Obama lays out his fine: $0. McCain is angry about this.

9:59 Another slow pitch, Obama. $5,000 tax credit. Ridiculously bad policy. This is easy.

9:58 McCain wants to give everybody $5,000 tax credit. Even Joe the Plumber.

9:55 New topic: Health care. Control health-care costs or expand health-care coverage? Naturally, “we can do both.”

9:54 Obama on fire with the facts and figures tonight — he’s destroying McCain on the competence gap. McCain, as Kevin Drum says, just lurches from attack to attack.

9:53 Obama continually has to deflect McCain’s bullshit. Every exchange has the same flow: McCain says something crazy dishonest, Obama calmly retorts, rinse and reeat.

9:50 McCain calls Obama Clintonian. But is the drill-baby-drill oil dead in the face of the collapsing price of oil? Oil’s well under $100 a barrel right now, and under $3 a gallon in a lot of states.

9:48 Obama wins energy, too. This has got to be brutal for McCain supporters to watch.

9:47 McCain refuses to answer another question, gets in a jab that puts him on the wrong side of NAFTA to boot.

9:46 Energy! Climate change! Put Bob Schieffer in charge of every debate.

9:44 Obama pivots back against the spending freeze on the special-needs-family issue. That was deadly.

9:43 McCain: Sarah Palin should be president because she understands special-needs families. Hmm?

9:42 From Christ, I Need A Drink in the comments: “I have to say, I’m liking Bob Schieffer as moderator a heck of a lot more than Brokaw.” Me, too.

9:42 “Americans have gotten to know Sarah Palin.” Yeah, that’s kind of your problem, dude.

9:41 Obama: Biden rocks hard.

9:40 Why would the country be better off if Biden became president than Sarah Palin? (And vice versa.)

9:39 McCain is angrily demanding more details, then pivots back to claiming that *his* focus is on the economy. Obama just laughs.

9:38 McCain’s campaign is imploding as we speak. This was a huge tactical mistake for him.

9:36 Obama responds: “Mr. Ayers has become the centerpiece of McCain’s campaign.” Professor. 40 years ago. Eight years old. Reagan. Presidents of University of Illinois and Northwestern University. Nailed.

ACORN: “Had nothing to do with us.”

9:36 ACORN! The fabric of democracy is at state!

9:35 McCain brings up Ayers!

9:33 John McCain’s feelings have also been hurt by a number of offensive T-shirts at Obama rallies. What are we talking about here? This is ridiculous.

9:32 McCain: “I’m proud of the people who come to our rallies.” Really? Really?

9:31 Obama hits the Palin rallies, hard. McCain continues to look like he’s five seconds away from meltdown.

9:30 McCain trying to portray himself as the aggrieved party here is completely absurd. Is anyone buying this?

9:29 McCain looks like he’s about to blow his top.

9:27 Obama also hurt McCain’s feelings w.r.t. to public financing. Obama says that the American public doesn’t care about McCain’s hurt feelings, and hell yes to that.

9:26 Now McCain accuses John Lewis of hurting his feelings. Poor guy.

9:25 McCain says that Obama should have accepted the town halls. What a loser.

9:24 Where’s the high road? Will you say to each other’s face what you’ve said in your ads?

9:22 “When have you ever stood up to your party?” Obama starts listing off Democratic constituencies he’s pissed off. Interesting response, not necessarily what I would have gone with. Then he starts to list areas in which McCain and Bush are indistinguishable—that response I like.

9:21 McCain declares he’s not President Bush. Interesting. I did not know that.

9:20 The one-half-of-one-percent line is better than a hard number, though.

9:19 Damnit, Obama, just say it: You don’t cut spending in a recession.

9:18 McCain is having a terrible night, already. Rambling, constantly off-message — he looks like he’s about to burst.

9:17 McCain hits this spending freeze nonsense again. Obama, it’s a soft-pitch over the plate: YOU DON’T CUT SPENDING IN A RECESSION.

9:16 Amazingly, McCain *doesn’t* want to talk about spending. He’s back to talking about houses. Even Bob won’t stand for it.

9:15 While they talk about the same boring stuff for the third boring time, here’s a post on the rules from Ben Smith, with some interesting consequences on whether it makes sense for McCain to go negative tonight:

“It’s a huge mistake in a sit-down debate to attack or be snarky,” he said. He said that talking about an opponent’s negatives can be done if the moderator prompts it, “but to self generate it is very difficult in a sit-down debate”

“It would be a big mistake for McCain do do the Ayers stuff, the Acorn stuff,” he said.

9:13 Bob mercifully saves us from the tax bullshit. Unfortunately, it’s only to plunge us deep into the spending bullshit.

9:11 Sweet Caroline is sick of Joe the Plumber already. So say we all.

9:10 McCain calls Obama a communist — Obama wants to “spread the wealth around.” Calls Obama a tax-raiser again, for the millionth time.

9:09 Obama: “Joe’s been watching some ads of Sen. McCain’s. Here’s what I’m actually gonna do.” The audience laughs—it’s a good line.

9:07 McCain tries to play a random swing voter against Obama, promising some guy named Joe he’ll help him buy a business. Just 100,000,000 more voters to go.

9:06 Obama hits his usual points, talking directly to the camera with his four principles for the economy.

The problem with these debates, incidentally, has been that neither of them is really able to disagree with the other about the big issue — “fix the economy” — and so the discussion immediately dissolves into platitudes.

9:05 McCain plays his usual ‘X is in the hospital tonight’ card — tonight it’s Nancy Reagan — and then immediately begins to ramble.

He also said “Freddie Mae,” but that’s neither here nor there.

9:03 How will you fix the stock market?

9:02 Oh, good, they’re both sitting tonight. That’ll keep the energy up.

9:00 Here we go. There’s a lot of anticipation that tonight is the night that McCain either goes massively negative OR completely loses his shit, or perhaps both. Meanwhile, I find this tidbit from Ezra Klein intriguing:

Campbell Brown just said that John McCain called Hillary Clinton for debate advice today. Huh.

Maaaaaybe she wasn’t the best person to call.

Debate #3 liveblog!

Written by gerrycanavan

October 16, 2008 at 1:00 am


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Barack Obama forcefully responds to the lipstick on a pig nonsense today in Norfolk, Virginia. Here’s hoping he says roughly the same thing tonight on Letterman before tearing the McCain campaign apart on the pedophile ad.

Some of you may have — I’m assuming you guys have heard this, watching the news. I’m talking about John McCain’s economic politics, I say, “This is more of the same, you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.”

And suddenly they say, “Oh, you must be talking about the governor of Alaska.”

[Laughter from audience]

See it would be funny, it would be funny except — of course the news media all decided that that was the lead story yesterday. They’d much rather have the story — this is the McCain campaign — would much rather have the story about phony and foolish diversions than about the future.

This happens every election cycle. Every four years. This is what we do. We’ve got an energy crisis. We have an education system that is not working for too many of our children and making us less competitive. We have an economy that is creating hardship for families all across America. We’ve got two wars going on, veterans coming home not being cared for — and this is what they want to talk about! this is what they want to spend two of the last 55 days talking about.

You know who ends up losing at the end of the day? It’s not the Democratic candidate, It’s not the Republican candidate. It’s you, the American people. because then we go another year or another four years or another eight years without addressing the issues that matter to you. Enough.

I don’t care what they say about me, but I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics. Enough is enough.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 10, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Why Bother?

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I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?

Michael Pollan tries to answer one of the bigger questions people seem to have regarding environmental issues: “Why bother?” Via MeFi.

I’m no Ecotopian and no saint, but I have to say I’ve never really understood that prototypically American drive towards ceaseless consumption without any consequences. What I mean to say is that it’s always been obvious to me that you ought to do what you can to reduce your own consumption, and that the struggle for me has always been in learning about what a person can actually do.

But then again I’ve been wrestling all weekend with a sudden, renewed awareness of the insane reality that our civilization currently faces at least two separate existential threats and that nobody anywhere seems to care, much less have any interest in doing anything about either of them. Manufacturing bullshit controversies about whether or not it looks like Barack Obama flipped Hillary off if you freeze-frame the tape at just the right instant is fiddling while the planet burns. Our culture, quite literally, is deranged.

Written by gerrycanavan

April 20, 2008 at 6:59 pm