March 13, 2004

Casting Call

He had very early an inclination to intemperance, which he totally subdued in his travels; but when he became a courtier, he unhappily addicted himself to dissolute and vitious company, by which his principles were corrupted and his manners depraved. He lost all sense of religious restraint; and, finding it not convenient to admit the authority of laws which he was resolved not to obey, sheltered his wickedness behind infidelity.

-- Samuel Johnson, "The Life of Rochester"

Johnny Depp is filming The Libertine, in which he plays the lead role as the Earl of Rochester. Works for me.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:42 PM | Comments (5)

January 12, 2004

Those Tenured Radicals are at it Again

The Bush administration's doctrinaire view of the war on terror, which lumped together regimes like Saddam Hussein's and al-Qaida as a single undifferentiated threat, led the US on a dangerous 'detour' into an unnecessary war, according to an unusually strong critique from the US army war college.

'The global war on terrorism as presently defined and conducted is strategically unfocused, promises much more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate US military and other resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security,' says the study by Jeffrey Record, a visiting scholar at the Strategic Studies Institute.

-- Suzanne Goldenberg, "Bush Besieged by War College"

Jeffrey Record is a professor in the Department of Strategy and International Security at the US Air Force's Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Here is his paper [PDF format], which argues that the current administratation has

postulated a multiplicity of enemies, including rogue states; weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferators; terrorist organizations of global, regional, and national scope; and terrorism itself. It also seems to have conflated them into a monolithic threat, and in so doing has subordinated strategic clarity to the moral clarity it strives for in foreign policy and may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States.

He also takes issue with the notion that the US can rid the world of evil.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:56 PM | Comments (37)

January 09, 2004

First Principles Only?

It may be that the ideal of freedom to choose ends without claiming eternal validity for them, and the pluralism of values connected with this, is only the late fruit of our declining capitalist civilization: an ideal which remote ages and primitive societies have not recognized, and one which posterity will regard with curiosity, even sympathy, but little comprehension. This may be so; but no sceptical conclusions seem to me to follow. Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed.

-- Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"

In "The Case for Cannibalism," Theodore Dalrymple characterizes the defense of cannibalism from mutual consent as a "reductio ad absurdum of the philosophy according to which individual desire is the only thing that counts in deciding what is permissible in society." This argument is not "purely theoretical," he writes, for it is precisely on the grounds of mutual consent that the lawyer for Armin Meiwes will base his defense.

Now, in practical terms, it seems to me that Dalyrmple at least implicity acknowledges that most people aren't going to agree with the counsel for the defense. He notes that the view that eating people is wrong is "thorougly conventional." And when he argues -- quite persuasively, I think -- that it is not an effective counterargument to mutual consent to simply assert that Brandes (the man who agreed to be eaten) must have been mad, he again recognizes that most people aren't prepared to admit the validity of mutual consent: that is, by attributing the incident to insanity they are looking for a way to not agree with this argument, or at least to wriggle out of its implications.

But despite the fact that there is absolutely no mainstream support in our society for the practice of cannibalism, and probably not much support on the fringes either, and despite the fact that most people aren't going to agree with the idea that anything and everything is permissible, Dalrymple believes the case confronts us with a very real dilemma involving our principles. What is needed, he insists, is an argument from "first principles:"

Brandes wanted to be killed and eaten; Meiwes wanted to kill and eat. Thanks to one of the wonders of modern technology, the Internet, they both could avoid that most debilitating of all human conditions, frustrated desire. What is wrong with that? Please answer from first principles only.

Well, I can't answer from "first principles only," and I'm afraid I can't answer from first principles at all. I can think of any number of arguments based on any number of legal, moral, and political principles, but I cannot come up with anything that I would be prepared to describe as a "first principle." What all of these second-order (which is to say, unavoidably -- and admittedly disturbingly -- contingent) principles would boil down to is something like this: We have agreed to define human in such a way as to exclude the practice of killing and eating human beings as an act that is compatible with our notion of human. And we must enforce this (admittedly historically and culturally contingent) definition or risk undermining an ideal that we think it is important to cherish and uphold.

As for the argument that "individual desire is the only thing that counts in deciding what is permissible in society," this is either an adolescent fantasy or else it is an interesting thought experiment, but it is an experiment that has never been tried. All available evidence strongly suggests that we must come up with baseline rules which inevitably entail some limits on some desires, and that we must further come up with ways to enforce them, and based on past experience we are justified in asserting that it is better to be subject to the rule of law than to be vulnerable to lawless bands of mauraders, though of course we must be eternally vigilant to ensure all reasonable rights and liberties. Which probably won't satisfy the libertarian invoked by Dalrymple, which libertarian should probably read Hobbes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:33 PM | Comments (30)

January 06, 2004

I Stand Corrected

"Can anyone deny," I asked of Britney Spears the other day, "that this young woman would have benefitted from a college education?" Well, yes, anyone can and at least a few people did (see comments and followups to this post). Today I read that Ms. Spears' ex-husband is "looking forward to returning to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond later this month." Clearly, the pursuit of a college education did not prevent Mr. Alexander from actively participating in what may well be the shortest celebrity marriage on record.

I stand corrected.

By the way, it's my impression that this young man has been treated rather shabbily. Can he sue for maintenance?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:42 PM | Comments (6)

January 04, 2004

Let me not to the marriage of true mindlessness admit impediments

Pop princess Britney Spears was married in a Vegas chapel yesterday morning and is apparently "already making plans to annul the marriage".

Here at invisibleadjunct.com, we often raise questions and concerns about the current and future state of higher education in America. But I'd like to suggest that the case of Ms. Spears serves as a timely reminder of the enormous value of higher ed: can anyone deny that this young woman would have benefitted from a college education?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:10 PM | Comments (19)

December 14, 2003

Captured!

Saddam Hussein has been captured alive.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:08 AM | Comments (34)

December 12, 2003

You Can Send Him Dead Flowers

Well when you're sitting there in your silk upholstered chair
Talkin' to some rich folk that you know
Well I hope you won't see me in my ragged company
Well, you know I could never be alone

-- M. Jagger/K. Richards, "Dead Flowers"

Mick Jagger has finally been knighted. This story predictably plays off the seeming paradox of the icon of rebellion turned icon of establishment: "once a scourge of the British establishment," it notes, the "60-year-old rock n'roll lothario" has now "received its ultimate accolade." Apparently this perpective is shared by the "craggy-faced" Keith Richards, who "claimed [Jagger] was betraying the band's principles by accepting the honor."

I beg to differ. For the past four decades, Jagger has comported himself like the most dissolute and debauched of ancien régime aristocrats, even as he behaved like the most rationally calculating and profit-maximizing of contemporary capitalists. I think the knighthood a fitting tribute to his remarkable ability to bridge the gap between the old establishment and the new.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:03 AM | Comments (6)

November 11, 2003

11 November 2003

poppyfield.jpg

In remembrance.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:00 AM | Comments (9)

November 05, 2003

Give me Liberty, but Don't Call me a Libertarian

My husband likes to say that I remind him of that Monty Python sketch where a bunch of people chant, "We're individuals! we're individuals!" and then one lone voice pipes up, "I'm not." I oppose an ideology of radical individualism on principle. But in practice...well, let's just say I like my space. Needless to say, my desire for autonomy and individuality doesn't also merge seamlessly with my duties and responsibilities as a mother. But my son and I engage in an ongoing process of negotiation and for the most part get along quite amicably.

Anyway, I thought about this gap, shall we say, between principle and practice (or between belief and temperament) when I came up as some sort of libertarian on this Political Compass survey (click here to see a graph which plots the results of bloggers like myself who were geeky enough to enter our results). Yes, of course, these surveys are at least a little bit silly, and not to be taken entirely seriously. But all the cool kids were doing it, and since I'm not really a libertarian I just had to follow suit. My "score," if that is term for it, was -5.25 on the "Economic Left/Right" spectrum, and -6.10 on the "Libertarian/Authoritarian" spectrum. Well, I'm certainly not an authoritarian, but I would never describe myself as a libertarian either. I like Daniel Davies's suggestion that libertarianism should be called "propertarianism" (though I can't agree that liberal natural rights theory is inconsistent with all forms of liberalism except liberal natural rights). Not that I'm a communitarian, but I'm a great admirer of Charles Taylor (so sue me). It seems that support for fundamental personal and civil liberties is being defined here as "libertarian." To this I object.*

*Since the survey seems to originate in the UK, I wonder if "libertarian" has a different meaning and resonance in a British context?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:26 PM | Comments (24)

November 04, 2003

Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded

Chick lit's latest denizen is Pamela Anderson, who recently signed a $2-million deal with Simon & Schuster to write two novels. The pneumatic actress is almost finished the first book, she reports, and is having a whale of a time writing it. 'The book is about me,' she told The Daily Telegraph this week. 'You know -- sunny and silly. I don't think that you will be disappointed.'

-- Anne Kingston, Chick lit keeps on clicking

I must confess, my expectations are rather low, and I don't think I will be disappointed. In addition to her new career as a novelist, Anderson will soon be "launching a whole range of 'Pamela Anderson' products, from lingerie to aromatherapy candles," all of which reflect her "philosophy," which philosophy she describes as follows:

'Basically, I'm a free spirit,' Pamela tells me. 'I'm kind of an Everywoman. My philosophy is that you can have kids, you can wear lingerie and you can have a career. You can do everything. Free-spiritedness, that's what I call it. The trouble is, though,' she says sounding momentarily dejected, 'that a lot of people seem to think I'm just two boobs walking around who doesn't know what the hell she's doing' (John Preston, Pamela Anderson, Woman of Letters).

You hear that, Laura? Never mind reading up on second-wave feminism, the politics of housework, the motherhood mystique and what have you. It's kids, lingerie, career. Though not necessarily in that order.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:47 AM | Comments (22)

October 27, 2003

O Canada

Dude, Canada is the great release valve of the American liberal soul. If not for Canada, there would be rioting in the streets every two weeks. As long as there's Canada, a pissed off liberal can say, 'I am this close to moving to Canada.' Take that away at your peril.

Ogged responds to a latter-day expression of American manifest destiny. He is absolutely right to say that "Canada isn't just cold America." And it's not just Quebec, and it's not just hockey. There is also the matter of donut consumption. One day while driving down Bloor Street with one of my sisters, we entertained ourselves by counting the number of donut shops (yes, we northern rustics have to make our own fun). For a good two-mile stretch, we counted at least one donut shop per block. It was only after having spent some time in the States, however, that I realized the essential difference between the two nations could be summed up as follows: Canadians eat more donuts than Americans.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:21 AM | Comments (20)

October 21, 2003

Saints R Us?

I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the 'beatification' of the woman who styled herself 'Mother' Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism.

-- Christopher Hitchens, Mommie Dearest

Given his avowed hostility toward religion ("I'm not neutral about religion," he states in this interview, "I'm hostile to it."), Catholics may be inclined to dismiss Christopher Hitchens' latest Slate column as the work of a hardened secularist seeking to augment his reputation as a self-styled professional contrarian. They should not do so.

Leaving aside his obvious antipathy toward the Church (which involves ignoring the scare quotes around beatification and sainthood and glossing over his grossly oversimplified account of the practice of indulgences), Hitchens makes an important point:

It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for 'beatification,' the first step to 'sainthood,' until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or 'devil's advocate,' to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.

Why should the rules be changed in the case of Mother Teresa? What is five years, or 500 years, for that matter, when measured against eternity?

But the case of Mother Teresa is only the most obvious and publicized instance of a wider trend. As this CNN report notes, 473 saints have been canonized under John Paul II, "more than the combined 299 saints [canonized] by all the previous popes since 1588." There is something unseemly in this rush to canonization, and as a Catholic (albeit a lapsed one) I am quite frankly embarrassed by it. Does this new "Saints R Us" policy represent a response to the liberalism and secularism of our age? If so, I suspect it will have the same effect as the Church's 19th-century response to the liberalism and secularism of that age, which is to say that it may well do as much to undermine Church authority as did the promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870.

For more on Hitchens on Mother Teresa, see this post by Matthew Yglesias, whose statement that "there's nothing I love more than the smell of Mother Theresa-bashing in the morning" has generated some predictably heated commentary.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:47 PM | Comments (17)

October 07, 2003

California Recall News

Rainier Wolfcastle Arnold Schwarzenegger has won the election.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:17 PM | Comments (2)

September 19, 2003

Hurricane FAQ

Kieran Healy explodes the myth that there's no such thing as a stupid question by pointing us to this.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:01 PM | Comments (4)

September 17, 2003

The College Instructor's Worst Nightmare

A student shows up with a grievance and a gun. The new twist: someone shows up claiming "to be a member of al Qaeda":

An armed man took students and a teacher hostage Wednesday in a classroom at Dyersburg State Community College in Dyersburg, Tennessee, officials said.

The group is being held in a classroom on the upper floor of the campus administration building, said college spokesman Buck Tarpley.

Very scary. He says he wants to kill himself. The unthinkable thought, of course, is that he plans to take the others along with him. I hope they make it out unharmed.


UPDATE:

The NYTimes reports that the gunman is still holding at least a dozen people hostage. He released three students (all of them women, one of them pregnant) earlier this afternoon. They have identified him as "Harold Kilpatrick Jr., a 26-year-old Memphis man who was staying in Dyersburg with his sister." He is neither a student nor an employee of the college. He left a suicide note at his sister's house, which says he "'wanted to kill some people and die today,'" and also states that he "didn't like Americans and had spoken with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden." Though it is obviously extremely unlikely that he has anything to do with al-Qaida, the FBI have been called in.

FURTHER UPDATE:

CNN reports:

The man who took a group of Dyersburg State Community College students and their teacher hostage Wednesday was killed by police after he began firing a gun in the classroom, Dyersburg Police Chief Bob Williamson said.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:12 PM | Comments (2)

September 08, 2003

"An Abandonment of Reason, Ethics, and Pragmatism"

I can accept a skeptic who wearily, resignedly argues that because the President represents the United States and because heís committed us as he has in Iraq, we have no choice but to look for the best possible long-term resolution of that commitment. I can accept someone who reminds me that there were many people whose motives for supporting the war before it began were well-intentioned, reasonable or potentially legitimate. I continue to feel, as many do, that unseating Saddam Hussein is something that anyone ought to recognize as a positive good. I can even accept, as I noted some time ago on this blog, that there are many within the Bush Administration who may have had good intentions or reasonable opinions in promoting an attack on Iraq.

I am not prepared to cut any slack to anyone who thinks that supporting the current policy as it has been shaped by the President and his advisors is sensible, effective or ethical. Iím not interested in the outrageous hair-splitting and relativist, deeply postmodernist nonsense being spewed out by many conservative commentators, the knowing utterance of lies and half-truths, the evasions, the excuses, the total disinterest in the hard questions that now confront us and the total inability to concede even minimally that many of the critics of the attack on Iraq predicted much of what has come to pass.

-- Timothy Burke, Operation Meatshield


Timothy Burke takes on the moral relativism and pomo cynicism of those who endorse a strategy (if we may dignify it with that term) whereby American troops are to serve as "flypaper" for terrorists.

As Henry Farrell has argued,

the Ďflypaperí theory implicitly assumes that thereís a fixed amount of al Qaeda terrorism sloshing around in the international system, so that itís a good idea to divert it from the US to Iraq - more terrorists attacking troops in Iraq would mean less terrorists attacking the homeland. But there isnít a fixed amount - instead, US actions in Iraq are almost certain to affect the Ďsupplyí of al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, the WP article suggests that the US occupation is leading to a substantial increase in the willingness of potential fighters to take up arms, so that the invasion isnít just drawing existing al Qaeda combatants to Iraq; itís creating new recruits.

(Farrell, by the way, usefully compares the assumption that there is a fixed amount of terrorism in the international system to the neo-mercantilist assumption that there is a fixed amount of labor to be performed in any given economy).

Like Burke, I believe "there is a sound argument for the judicious use of force in pursuit of a legitimate war on terrorism." But while I supported the war in Afghanistan, I remain convinced that the war in Iraq is the very opposite of anything that might fairly be described as "sound" or "judicious." Now that we are there, however, I don't see any other option than to stick it out and see it through. We are in for a long haul.

I also agree that "there is a war on terror, and that we are losing it." For a variety of complex reasons, we can't really afford to acknowledge the most significant sources of the terror against which we are at war: for example, what Malise Ruthven calls the "Islamic imperialism" of Saudi Arabia.


UPDATE:

Burke follows up with Armchair Generals R Us.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:45 PM | Comments (22)

July 25, 2003

Feminist Heterodoxy: The Abortion Issue

Eszter has responded to an email from a reader who prefers not to support Planned Parenthood (Eszter's charity of choice for the upcoming Blogathon). "The reader's comment," she writes, "made me think that perhaps people are not fully clear on what the organization does so I thought I'd say a few words about it."

That reader was me.

As Eszter quite rightly points out, though "Planned Parenthood does work in the area of pro-choice advocacy regarding abortion rights," the organization also does a good deal of advocacy and education in other areas surrounding reproductive health and reproductive rights (eg, education about birth control). However, I would like to take the opportunity to point out that I already knew this about Planned Parenthood. And I am a little bit taken aback by the insinuation that if I don't want to give financial support to Planned Parenthood, then I must be ignorant of its goals and in need of education on this score.

I don't often talk about my position on this issue, and I may regret doing so here. But since the pro-choice position amounts to an orthodoxy within feminism, I think it's worth pointing out that there are self-identified feminists who deviate from the official line. To repeat what I said to Eszter in my email, I am personally profoundly uncomfortable with abortion and cannot actively support abortion rights organizations. At the same time, I am prochoice insofar as I am unwilling to impose my personal views on others, much less actively work to have my views imposed by the state. This is in part because I believe the question of when human life begins is basically theological in orientation, and in a pluralistic society, theological views should not be imposed by the state. Perhaps my position could be described as passively pro-choice.

I should add that from my perspective, many opponents of abortion oppose it for the wrong reasons. There's no question in my mind that many anti-abortion activists are indeed, as prochoice activists charge, concerned with controlling women's sexuality and policing women's private lives. I'm as creeped out as the next feminist by these anti-feminist activists. But for me, the fact that some (probably many) anti-abortion activists oppose abortion rights on grounds to which I object does not translate into an active support of abortion.

More specifically, despite my own personal unease over the practice, I support legal abortion during the first trimester. But once we get into the second trimester, I am morally uncomfortable enough to be unable to actively endorse or support the practice of abortion. I am opposed to abortion during the third semester with the exception of those increasingly rare cases where the life of the mother is at stake. I support the ban on partial birth abortion, which ban Planned Parenthood opposes, which is one reason why I cannot give them my support.

In other words, after struggling with this issue for many years, I now hold what I think of as a compromise position in two respects. First, my support for first trimester abortion represents a compromise between my own personal unease over the practice, and my deep unease over the regulation of women's bodies and women's private lives by the state. Second, my position eschews what I think of as the absolutism of advocates on both sides. Just as I cannot give the developing zygote/embryo the same moral status as a fully conscious human being, neither can I agree to the claim that the fetus at 6 or 7 or 8 months is merely a clump of cells. Clearly, anything less than an absolute position either for or against abortion must rely on an arbitrary cut-off point. For me, that cut-off point more or less corresponds to the old-fashioned notion of the "quickening."

Again, with the exception of partial-birth abortion, which I actively oppose, I am not willing to impose my position (e.g., my personal opposition to second trimester abortion) on others. But neither am I willing to actively support any organization that advocates for abortion beyond the first trimester, no matter how much good work that organization does in other areas (e.g., birth control education) that I do endorse and support.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:03 AM | Comments (32)

July 23, 2003

One Sure Test of a Security System

is whether someone can get past the guards and the metal detectors with a loaded gun on his person. Unfortunately, this afternoon the security system at NYC's City Hall failed that test, and one City Council member is now dead and another seriously wounded.


ADDENDUM:

This AP story reports that "The shooter was a political opponent of the councilman, and had accompanied him into the building before the shooting, a police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The gunman's ties to the councilman apparently allowed him to bypass security."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:58 PM | Comments (13)

June 23, 2003

Supreme Court Rules on AA

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions in two cases involving the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but struck down the mechanics of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy.

-- Peter Schmidt, Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in College Admissions


As many legal scholars had predicted, the Court upheld Michigan's admissions policy in the case involving the law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). In the case involving undergraduate admissions (Gratz v. Bollinger), the Court struck down the current policy as too broad and formulaic (as was predicted), but "the majority did not reject the use of racial preferences to promote educational diversity."

ADDENDUM:

As he notes in his comment here, Frank Admissions will be posting about the decisions at the Financial Aid Office, where he is now a special guest blogger.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2003

Freshman Comp Assignment?: Create a Fake Airline

A college freshman created a fake airline that offered bargain-priced tickets on flights between Honolulu and Los Angeles, authorities said Thursday.

Luke Thompson, of Yardley, Pa., incorporated Mainline Airways in Pennsylvania, established a business address in the Boston suburb of Wellesley and set up an elaborate Web site, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly...

-- Martin Finucane, "Student Accused of Creating Fake Airline"


I'd say this student deserves an "A" for creativity, and an "F" for ethics.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

May 29, 2003

Dead? or Canadian?...

When I was in graduate school (in the US, where I have remained), I remember someone telling me (a Canadian) about the "Dead? or Canadian?" game. The idea, as I recall, was to name some public, or formerly public figure, often from the entertainment field, and ask "Is he or she dead? or Canadian? (or perhaps both?)" Since I've never played, I am only speculating here, but I would imagine that the idea would be to name someone whose name now carried a certain odor? a has-been, perhaps? or maybe someone now considered unspeakably dull or embarrassingly cheesey, or what have you?

Anyway, I was reminded of this game when I came across the following news item (I call it "news" because so much news is now infotainment) about Bob Hope's 100th birthday. Bob Hope is not Canadian, of course. But neither, it turns out, is he dead. I honestly thought he was...Go figure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:22 AM | Comments (10)

May 21, 2003

Bomb Set Off at Yale

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A bomb exploded in an empty classroom at the Yale University law school Wednesday, sending debris flying and students scrambling for safety. No injuries were reported.

-- Diane Scarponi, "Bomb Damages Yale Law School Classroom"

For those of us who have been wondering lately, 'Has the world gone mad?' Here is new evidence in support of the affirmative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2003

Bill Bennett Explains the Academic Job Market

"As deconstruction and political correctness were taking root in the academy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Americans took little note. Humanities and political science departments were swinging dramatically leftward, imprecating American history and our founding. To speak of self-evident truths as anything but a cultural construct was a practical guarantee that one would not be hired to teach at a college or university. Were a doctoral candidate to write his dissertation on the seriousness of some aspect of our nation's founding, assuming he could assemble a dissertation committee that would accept the topic, he would find it close to impossible to find a starting job in academia. Many blithely dismissed this situation. Now we are reaping the effects of this foolishness."

-- William J. Bennett, Maddening Deeds at U.S. Universities


Well, I could think a few more reasons why someone might not find a starting job in academia. But this explanation has the virtue of simplicity: what Bennett calls "moral clarity."

And speaking of moral clarity, though he emphasizes that he has done nothing illegal, Bennett now admits: "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore my gambling days are over."

The recent revelations ($8 million in gambling losses!) are a setback, of course, but I think he could still find a way to salvage his career as professional scold. He needs to join a chapter of Gamblers Anonymous, go through the twelve-step programme, and then come out with a public confession of his former guilt. America loves a repentant sinner, especially if he sheds a few tears in front of the camera. Then he could write another book, using his own confession/conversion narrative as a means of excoriating the vice of gambling.

But to do this, he really would have to quit gambling. Is he really ready to give it up?

ADDENDUM:
Commenting on Bennett's protestations that the gambling is his own business and that, in any case, he can handle it, Kieran Healy notes that this is not only "exactly the kind of narrow, privatized view of morality that Bennett himself has made it his vocation to criticize," but also "the bluster of an addict."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:45 PM | Comments (11)

May 04, 2003

Mr. Smith Strauss Goes to Washington

"They have penetrated the culture at nearly every level -- from the halls of academia to the halls of the Pentagon. They are scribes and editors at publications high and low. They finance think tanks, operate think tanks or simply think at think tanks, and they've accumulated the wherewithal -- financially, professionally -- to broadcast what they think over the airwaves to the masses or over cocktails to those at the highest levels of government."

-- New York Times, Week in Review, scroll to "Graphic: Father Strauss Knows Best"

The tenured radicals? The Frenchified deconstructionists? The Marxist lit-crit establishment? The radical man-hating feminists?

No, it's the Leo-Cons, the politically active conservatives who cite political philosopher Leo Strauss as intellectual guide and inspiration and who are profiled in James Atlas' "A Classicist's Legacy: New Empire Builders." It's hard to know what to make of this piece, since Atlas seems to want to have it both ways: that is, to suggest that the upper echelons of government have been infiltrated by Straussians without quite saying outright that the upper echelons of government have been infiltrated by Straussians. "To intellectual-conspiracy theorists," he writes, "the Bush administration's foreign policy is entirely a Straussian creation." So we should dismiss any mention of a Straussian connection as the paranoid fantasy of a conspiracy theorist? Not so quick. Atlas also states as a matter of fact that "the Bush administration is rife with Straussians," and is at pains to emphasize this point throughout the article.

Atlas seems prepared to accept Harvey Mansfield's assertion that "'the open agenda of Straussians is the reading of the Great Books for their own sake, not for a political purpose,'" but suggests that the Great Books agenda "became politicized when it was appropriated — some might say hijacked — by a cohort of ambitious men for whom the university was too confining an arena." The open agenda of the Straussians: might there also be another, hidden, agenda? If so, it would not be accessible to the likes of me: as a humble historian, I am confined to the realm of exoteric meaning. But I rather doubt they have a hidden agenda: the politicians (or should we call them statesmen?) cited in this article seem remarkably candid about what they take to be the significance of Strauss for their political aims and ambitions: "graduated deterrence" and "need to err on the side of being strong."

"How well have Strauss's hawkish disciples understood him?" asks Atlas. He doesn't really answer this question. I for one would like an answer. Beyond a casual contempt for the masses (though I suppose his acolytes would say it is not casual but rather principled and serious?) and a deep hostility toward some of the most cherished values of modern liberalism, what, if anything, does Strauss offer by way of practical guidance in the areas of politics and policy? I really don't know, so I'd be interested in comments and suggestions.

One thing I do know: Liberalism has taken quite a beating of late: we liberals have been kicked around the block and back again more times than we care to mention. I think the time has come -- indeed, the time has almost come and gone -- but there is still time for a bold re-assertion of the principles of the Enlightenment. Never mind "refusing the blackmail of Enlightenment." There's no blackmail: you are free to accept or reject its tenets as you see fit. But you do have to take sides, sometimes there is no other option than to take a side. I propose coming down on the side of freedom, equality, material progress, and a resolutely this-worldly orientation toward politics.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:30 PM | Comments (18)

April 28, 2003

Brad DeLong on the Defeat of Malthus

"The world's high- and middle-income countries should not imagine that the relatively rich can fence themselves off indefinitely from poverty and misery in the poorest countries. Nationalism has long been a powerful cause of political violence. Nothing is more likely to strengthen nationalism and turn it to violence than a sense that one's own homeland is being exploited-kept poor and powerless-by other nations to satisfy their own selfish interests. The world today is too small for any of us to be able to afford for any corner of it to be left out of the conquest of Malthusianism."

-- J. Bradford DeLong, "The Final Defeat of Thomas Malthus?"


Arts & Letters Daily has linked to this recent article by Brad DeLong (scroll down to Goodbye, Mr. Malthus). Interestingly, he suggests that "population may well decline" after it reaches a projected 9-10 billion around 2050-2100. I know absolutely nothing about this topic, but when did that ever stop me? I have a couple of queries about this statement:

"Literate, well-educated women with many social and economic options in today's rich countries have pulled fertility below the natural replacement rate. The problem is not that such women on average want fewer than two children; in fact, on average they wish to have a bit more than two. But because many of them delay childbearing until their thirties, actual fertility falls short of what they desire."

First, how representative are "literate, well-educated women" with lots of options? Do they make up even half of the women in the more affluent countries, and aren't they a distinct minority in the less affluent nations? Second, how many of these women really do want more than 2 children? The vast majority of "literate, well-educated women" I know (ok, not exactly a scientific sample, but speaking anecdotally here) want between 0-2 children. Many of them want 0 children. Which brings me to the third question: is it really the case that delayed childbearing has a significant impact on fertility rates overall? Again, what percentage of women are delaying childbearing until their thirties, and of this number, what percentage are unsuccessful in their attempts to have the number of children they desire? Or, to put it another way, how much of the falling birthrates in western, industrialized nations can be attributed to delayed childbearing, how much to the fact that some women don't have children at all (which is not necessarily the result of delayed childbearing: some women decide to opt out of childbearing altogether), and how much to smaller family sizes on the part of those who don't delay until their thirties (who have children in their twenties, say, but who only have 1 or 2 children)? Uh, I guess that's more than a couple of queries, but they're all related.

DeLong is not only an expert on Malthusianism but also a prolific blogger with the most complex and comprehensive blog archiving system I have come across. In his spare time, he's a Professor of Economics at Berkeley.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:05 AM | Comments (18)

April 24, 2003

Crimes Against Art: From the J. Lo Dossier

Jennifer ("I'm Just Jenny from the Block") Lopez and Ben Affleck "have secured a deal to remake the classic movie Casablanca." An unnamed sycophant friend reports that the Hollywood couple are "overjoyed" at the chance "to show how much they love each other through their on-screen chemistry." Don't play it, Sam, please don't.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:50 PM | Comments (10)

April 15, 2003

Adam Smith on "political speculators"

"The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different pieces of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces on a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. It those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder."

-- Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, VI.ii.2.17


Many conservatives like to claim Adam Smith as a founding father and intellectual predecessor. I suspect many of them have not read much beyond the famous "BBB" passage ("It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest," An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I.2). Perhaps they should delve a little more deeply.

And I don't mean this in some silly and snooty intellectually snobbish kind of way (you may only invoke or comment on a text if you've devoted your life to its explication). It's just that, with all this talk of regime change, and remaking and reordering the world, and drawing up constitutions from scratch, and free people having the freedom to commit crime, and so on, I'm beginning to wonder what exactly conservatives now mean when they call themselves conservatives?

(Btw, and just for the record: within the context of his own times, Adam Smith was most emphatically not a conservative).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:52 PM | Comments (3)

April 11, 2003

Canada's "notwithstanding clause"

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post on the Canadian Constitution. Since his comments are not working, I want to make a couple of comments here.

First, in citing the Canadian constitution as an example of the broad range and variety of constitutional arrangements found in Anglo-American liberal democracies, Yglesias repeats a common misperception (and one that is actually shared by many Canadians). "Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982," he writes, "is quite long and is supplemented by the earlier Constitution Act, 1867 which is also long." In fact, the Constitution Act of 1982 supplements not only the Constitution Act of 1867 but also a number of other written documents and unwritten conventions which still have the force of law. These written documents include the all-important Statute of Westminster of 1931, through which Canada basically and rather quietly went from colony to nation (section 4 of which was repealed by the Act of 1982, but the rest of which is still in force), the Newfoundland Act of 1949, and many more. For more on this point, see William F. Maton's Canadian Constitutional Documents: A Legal History, which includes links to all of the relevant documents. As Maton explains,

"Unlike the majority of countries whose basic law derives from one document, Canada's basic law derives not only from a set of documents known as Constitution Acts, but also a set of unwritten laws and conventions. This comprises of all the acts passed since 1867 up to and including 1998. As a result, all constitutional documents during that time period have the force of law."

Second, while Yglesias's characterization of the "notwithstanding clause" is certainly a valid interpretation, it is by no means the only interpretation available.

The "notwithstanding clause" refers to section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms set forth in Part I of the Constitution Act of 1982. It reads as follows:

"33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or section 7 to 15 of this Charter.
(2) An Act or a provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.
(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.
(4) Parliament or the legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).
(5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of re-enactment made under subsection (4)"

In other words, if they are willing to pay the political price, a legislature may override (declare an Act notwithstanding) sections 2 and 7-15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a period of 5 years. "This essentially gives parliament," writes Yglesias, "the power to override the constitution by simple majority vote."

Well, yes and no. I think it is important to note that it gives a legislature the power to override a section of the constitution as that section has been interpreted by a court. A written constitution is never a straightforward and transparent document, the meaning of which is clear and self-evident to all who have a stake in its proclamations. Instead, it is subject to competing and conflicting interpretations. The question is, Who gets to have the final say in its interpretation?

The issue is not only, and perhaps not even primarily, a question of majority vote versus contitutional protection, but also a question of legislative versus judicial authority. This is not to deny that the "notwithstanding clause" raises the troubling possibility of the will of the majority trampling on the rights or interests of a minority. However, a perhaps equally troubling possibility is that of a small body of unelected judges imposing their will on a constituency that lacks any means of countering the power of the judiciary (an especially troubling possibilty, I would suggest, in the case of a court that is quite clearly divided into political/ideological factions). If you don't agree with a legislature's invocation of the nothwithstanding clause, at least you can hold them accountable for its invocation and attempt to throw them out of power at the first available opportunity (ie, at the next election). If you don't agree with a court's interpretation of a section of the constitution, your options are at best limited.

In the interminably long process through which the Constitution Act of 1982 was hammered out, critics of the Charter were quite explicit in their opposition to an American-style constitution. This is not because they were tyrants who opposed the guarantee of fundamental rights and liberties. Rather, it is because they objected to what they defined as an American notion of judicial supremacy, against which they sought to uphold what they considered the more democratic principle of parliamentary supremacy. The "notwithstanding clause" represents a compromise between an American-style constitution, with an attendant American-style principle of judicial review and judicial supremacy, and a British-style consitution (ie constitution not as one document but as many documents, acts, and unwritten conventions) with its attendant principle of parliamentary supremacy, through which acts of parliament are the supreme law of the land. Like many such compromises, it seeks to please everybody and ends by pleasing nobody.

UPDATE: The still commentless (is there no techie out there who can help him out with this?) Matthew Yglesias has a comment. He notes, quite correctly, that I had incorrectly interpreted his commentary on the "notwithstanding clause" as a kind of attack on said clause. He explains that he cited the clause as evidence of the very different forms that entirely legitimate constitutions can take. In so doing, he reveals a spirit of compromise that marks him as worthy (if, indeed, that is the term) of honorary Canadian citizenship. I disagree with his suggestion re: a referendum (imho, referenda are problematic at best). As for supermajority: given the very infrequent but nevetheless very real possibility of defeat by a vote of non-confidence, I think it's safe to assume that no legislature would invoke the notwithstanding clause without a very solid parliamentary majority.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2003

Chronicle of Higher Education interviews "the most hated professor in America"

"If you call Columbia University's main switchboard and ask for Nicholas De
Genova," writes Thomas Bartlett, "you will not be connected to his office. Instead, you will hear a recording of a statement by the university's president, Lee C. Bollinger, saying he is 'appalled' by the anthropology professor's 'outrageous comments.'"

Bartlett interviewed De Genova for the Chronicle of Higher Education. De Genova apparently answered all but one of the questions posed to him: he wouldn't comment on whether he thought the controversy over his "million Mogadishus" comment would weaken his chances at tenure. You can read the interview here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2003

A Declaration

"....We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security..." (more)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:59 AM | Comments (1)

April 03, 2003

An Age of Immodesty

"Where are the novelists and poets of the daily grind of the war," asks Timothy Burke in yet another thought-provoking blogpiece, "the people who call us to some deeper meditations about the meaning of it all, who bring us together in a contemplative pause where the lion lays down with the lamb and the warblogger sighs heavily in sympathetic unison with the critic of the war?" Where, he continues, "is the general humility in the face of events vastly larger than ourselves, the reflective pause?"

Well, this is an age of immodesty. And it is also an age of lightning-fast reaction and response.

There are those among us who would speak truth to power. And there are those among us who would speak the language of power as that of the unvarnished truth. But what we all share is a perspective that is at best partial and incomplete. It is from this shared vantage point that we view the unfolding of events that are, as Burke reminds, "vastly larger than ourselves."

We are distant spectators. But we don't much like to acknowledge this distance. What we want is a sense of immediacy, a sense of being, in some small way, a part of it all. For some, let's face it, this desire for immediacy translates into an exaggerated sense of the significance of anti-war statements: if I say X, then I am part of a world-historical struggle, an unofficial opposition to the powers-that-be. For others, let's face it, this desire for immediacy translates into an exaggerated sense of the significance of pro-war statements: if I say Y, then I am hobnobbing with the power structure and cosying up to those insiders who will soon prove themselves the forces of victory. I think we do (or at least most of us do) realize that events are vastly larger than ourselves. But our desire to "only connect," combined with our ability to read and comment at the speed of light, argues against the humility that the distance and the vastness should recommend.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2003

The Comfort and the Terror

What is it that makes History? Well, bodies.
And Art? -- a body that has lost its head.

...And secondly, dear Mary, let me stress:
there's nothing, barring Art, sublunar creatures
can use to comprehend your gorgeous features.
Leave History to Good Queen Bess.

-- Joseph Brodsky, Twenty Sonnets to Mary Queen of Scots


As a child, I was deeply attracted to the old-style Catholicism, bits and pieces of which I picked up from old catechisms found in the basement, from elderly female relatives with their mass cards and their rosaries (the beads made of wood, hand-carved and polished into a dull sheen by years of devotion), and from who knows how many other vestiges that I could faintly trace out from my cosy little enclave in a dreary little lower middle class Canadian suburb.

I grew up in a Catholic household, with a mother whose recommended response to any type of "suffering" (a scraped knee, the daily dose of cod liver oil) was to "offer it up to the souls in Purgatory." My parents had a crucifix over their bedroom door, which suggested (and this of course was the point) that the marriage bed was, among other things, a sacred space: if sex was a damp, dark secret, it was also a mystery. Blood, sweat, tears, my father's dirty socks, my mother's silver-plated hairbrush, the crown of thorns: an intimation of something vast and terrifying, but also intimate and comforting: the sacralization of everyday life.

Then, too, we had Mary our Mother, who would plead our cause in any case whatsover, and a whole host of saints various and sundry who could be relied upon to intercede for more specialized purposes: St Jude for desperate causes, St Anthony for misplaced belongings ("Something is lost and cannot be found/Please, St Anthony, help look around"). The saints were distant figures and not quite real, and yet they were ever-present at some other layer just above or beyond our everday reality. We spoke of them with familiarity, shortening their names to affectionate diminutives ("Does she go to St. Mike's?" "No, she's a student at St. Pat's"). I attended Catholic school from the tender age of four (St John the Apostle, or, as we called it, and no disrespect intended, St. J. the A.), where we learned that unbaptized babies must go to limbo and where our first-grade teacher warned us that we must always think of the Holy Family: Mary and the baby Jesus, oh and Joseph, too (poor man, always a bit of an afterthought, and cuckolded by the Holy Spirit! he earned his sainthood, surely). I recall distress upon the sudden realization shortly afterwards (an hour? a day? a week?) that I had not been thinking of the Holy Family, they had slipped my mind altogether. "But I can't always be thinking of them," I silently argued: the germ of scepticism?

So I suppose I got the full treatment, such as it was in the post-Vatican II age in which I was born and raised. Ah! but there's the rub. Even as a child I was dimly aware that the Church was not what it had once been, and somehow realized that the full treatment was only a treatment by halves.

Anyway, at the same time (and in conflict with the romance of pre-Vatican II Catholicism), I was a budding feminist. I sang "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar" at the top of my lungs in the schoolyard. "Oh, you're not going to grow up to be one of those women's libbers, are you?" my mother worried. I gave her a hard time if, for example, she automatically referred to an unknown doctor as a "he" ("women can be doctors, too, you know, Mum!"). And then there was the Brady Bunch, and denim jackets, and K-tel record albums, and, in short, everything else that made up life as I knew it. Juvenilia: when I was maybe 14, maybe 15 years old, I wrote an essay on "the Protestantization of the Roman Catholic Church," by which I meant, I suppose, the accomodation of the Church to the modern, liberal, secular world to which I clearly belonged. Oh, I was passionate, bristling with purpose, an angry adolescent with a devotion to Mary (but also a subscription to Seventeen magazine). Even *I* knew it was a bit of a put-on. It was a last-ditch effort to salvage my faith from something I had suspected and feared for years: namely, that Catholicism just didn't fit into the main contours of my reality.

Two cheers for Enlightenment.

Last weekend I read Paul Berman's report from the ideological trenches, "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror," on the writings of Sayyid Qutb. I have been thinking of it ever since. Berman wants us to take Qutb seriously as a thinker who is "not shallow" but "deep," and whose "'In the Shade of the Qur'an' is, in its fashion, a masterwork." I think Berman is onto something.

In his "In the Shade of the Qur'an," Berman reports, Qutb wrote that

"all over the world, humans had reached a moment of unbearable crisis. The human race had lost touch with human nature. Man's inspiration, intelligence and morality were degenerating. Sexual relations were deteriorating 'to a level lower than the beasts.' Man was miserable, anxious and skeptical, sinking into idiocy, insanity and crime. People were turning, in their unhappiness, to drugs, alcohol and existentialism. Qutb admired economic productivity and scientific knowledge. But he did not think that wealth and science were rescuing the human race. He figured that, on the contrary, the richest countries were the unhappiest of all. And what was the cause of this unhappiness -- this wretched split between man's truest nature and modern life?"

As Berman reminds us, "a great many cultural critics in Europe and America asked this question in the middle years of the 20th century." And -- if we can let Heidegger stand in for "a great many cultural critics" -- they came up with an explanation not so different from that of the philosopher of Islamic terror: "a great many of them, following Nietzsche and other philosophers, pointed to the origins of Western civilization in ancient Greece, where man was said to have made his fatal error. This error was philosophical. It consisted of placing an arrogant and deluded faith in the power of human reason -- an arrogant faith that, after many centuries, had created in modern times a tyranny of technology over life."

Qutb offered a way out, and a solution: the "renovation of Islam and of civilization all over the world," the founding of "a new state, based on the Koran" and according to a reinstatement of "shariah, the Muslim code, as the legal code for all of society." As relayed by Berman, Qutb's ideas are deeply creepy and they are chilling. They would seem to involve a complete erasure of the boundaries between public and private, and between religious and secular. The sacralization of everyday life, with both its comforts and its terrors.

We should be frightened, Berman insists. But rather than dismiss these ideas, we should take them on, answer them, and refute them:

"But who will speak of the sacred and the secular, of the physical world and the spiritual world? Who will defend liberal ideas against the enemies of liberal ideas? Who will defend liberal principles in spite of liberal society's every failure?...
...Armies are in motion, but are the philosophers and religious leaders, the liberal thinkers, likewise in motion? There is something to worry about here, an aspect of the war that liberal society seems to have trouble understanding -- one more worry, on top of all the others, and possibly the greatest worry of all."

While I don't claim to have an understanding, I think I might have an inkling.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:50 PM | Comments (3)

March 29, 2003

Gone for Soldiers: Motherhood and Military Duty

"We must therefore return to the state of nature, in which, by reason of the equality of nature, all men of riper years are to be accounted equal. There by right of nature the conqueror is lord of the conquered. By the right therefore of nature, the dominion over the infant first belongs to he who first hath him in his power. But it is manifest that he who is newly born is in the mother's power before any others; insomuch as she may rightly, and at her own will, either breed him up or adventure him to fortune...
...And thus in the state of nature, every woman that bears children, becomes both a mother and a lord...[for] among men no less than other creatures, the birth follows the belly."

-- Thomas Hobbes, De Cive


Ok, I don't think the newborn infant is as conquered to the conqueror. Nor do I endorse a view of parental authority that would define the relationship between parent and child as that of master and servant. And I would take a rather dim view of any parent (whether of the paternal or maternal persuasion) who would decide to "adventure" a child "to fortune."
(And of course I don't believe in "the state of nature" except as an interesting thought experiment, though I am sometimes inclined -- and especially of late -- to accept Hobbes's characterization of this state as a war of all against all, where the life of man is nasty, brutish and short, and etc).

Nevertheless, I really like Hobbe's discussion of maternal dominion. And not only because he argues forcefully that male domination is conventional (ie contractual and artificial) rather than natural but also because in his own strange (strangely disturbing but strangely compelling) way, he takes motherhood seriously. Unlike just about every other early modern natural law theorist that you can name, he doesn't begin by supposing that paternal authority is natural. No, no, he says, there are two parents not one, and one of those parents stands in a much closer relationship to the child than the other, and that parent is not the father but the mother. It is maternal and not paternal authority that is natural, Hobbes insists. The birth follows the belly.

How very different from anything you can read on motherhood from the seventeenth century to the day before yesterday. And even since the day before yesterday, you'd be hard-pressed to find much on motherhood that isn't bogged down in dense thickets of sentimentality. Believe me, I've read more than enough on mothering and motherhood, and I am oppressed by the dead weight of desire, and blame, and wishful thinking, and sentimental claptrack and just plain ickiness. The worst is when they attempt to dress it all up in the garb of science. Hello! Can we say "ideology"? The term has fallen out of fashion, perhaps you find it clunky and theoretically naive: in which case, let me refer you to the mothering manuals, where clunkiness and theoretical naivete are the order of the day -- 'go big or go home' is my motto, so why not use an analytic tool that can capture the very essence of the genre? (for starters, I would recommend The Baby Bookby Bill and Martha Sears, but please also read this by Cynthia Eller). Enough! At some point during my son's infancy, I had to stop reading the parenting books. Exit stage left: I didn't audition for this part, and I'm not going to play it. Find yourself another actor, I've got a new role as understudy to Mr. Hobbes.

No, not really. I mean, of course not. I'm no lordly ruler (though I'm not going to make some cutesy "his majesty the baby" joke about how my son is really the boss in this household, because that's just wrong and a little bit icky, too). And yet. There is something refreshingly bracing about Hobbes's utter lack of sentimentality. There is something invigorating in his recognition that the mother has "her own will." It comes as a breath of fresh air after all that stuff written just the day before yesterday, which is all about carefully, indeed obsessively, instructing you in the maternal sentiments that you should already possess by nature, and by the way, if you still have a will of your own, then you are unnatural and probably a bad mother. So I read Hobbes with something like relief, even as I historicize and contextualize and of course reject the notion of parental dominion, with all that this term would imply.

All of this by way of an elaborate prefatory apology for what I want to say, which is, namely, that I don't much like the idea of mothers of infants and small children being sent off on military missions. Not women, mind you, and not mothers of older children. But mothers of infants and small children. Well, so what? Who am I and why should my likes and dislikes have anything to do with policy in this area? They shouldn't. Hell, I'm not even an American (I'm a Canadian living in the US with an American husband and American child). And I'm quite sure that I would not intervene in any way to change the current policy (sign a petition, lobby Congress, vote on a proposition [actually, I can't vote because I'm a Canadian, but if I could, well, I wouldn't]).

But I don't like it, and I'm trying to figure out why. Feel free to call me a gender reactionary. Because maybe that's about right. Maybe I am a gender reactionary in this area. Though I hope not quite as reactionary as the antifeminist Maggie Gallagher, whose "How does one define honor for women in combat?" is the subject of some interesting comments over at Pandagon. "Yet if manly honor has always depended on a willingness to die for one's country," writes Gallagher, "a woman's honor has consisted in living for her children. Where in the logic of war is there room for that reality, the deepest truth I know?" Well, I don't accept this version of "reality," which is very far indeed from "the deepest truth" I know. My "honour" consists in living for my child? Ick-o-rama.

And yet, if I don't, like Gallagher, "inwardly recoil," I am unsettled. The New York Times has an online "Slide Show" called "New Role for Women" with pictures of women in the military. You can get to it from their front page. One of the pictures shows "Private First Class Diana Goodwin [holding] her three-month-old son, Adan, at a departure ceremony for the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Tex." I don't know how to link to it, it's a popup without an obvious URL, and so I briefly considered posting the picture here but then decided against it. No, that's too manipulative, I thought, that is bogging the issue down in those thickets of sentimentality of which I so often complain. But the picture disturbs me. It strikes me as wrong for a mother to have to leave a 3-month old child. Not that it is right for a father to have to leave a 3-month old child. But it seems more wrong when it's the mother and especially when the child is only 3 months old.

Am I myself bogged down in those dense thickets? Undoubtedly. So I'm trying to disentangle myself, and I'm struggling to articulate a feminist defense of my position. There is the gender equity line of feminism which says, Women can and should do whatever men do, mothers can and should do whatever is done by fathers. And then there's the antifeminist position which says, a man is more manly as a soldier, a woman more womanly as a mother. But are there no other positions? I also reject the maternal feminist position, by the way, women as peaceful nurturers, mothers as incarnations of the Goddess and so and so forth. For me, that's just more sentiment and ickiness. No, I want to be a little more hardnosed (if not Hobbesian) about this.

But where to start? I suppose I would have to start by pointing to the incredible devaluation of motherwork in this society. Mothers should be valued for the work that we do and we quite patently are not valued. And I don't mean valued in some Hallmark greeting card way. Show me the money: I'm talking cold, hard cash. Actually, what I'm talking about is paid maternity leave, various versions of which we find in just about every other western industrialized nation, including my own home and native land. In Canada, you get 6 to 12 months (which can be taken by either mother or father), it's a form of unemployment insurance. This is huge! this is a huge difference between the US and Canada. One country says, What you are doing is valuable, and valued enough that we will actually devote some resources to helping you do it; the other country says, We will give you cheap Hallmark sentimentality but not a nickel more, and then when you go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum because you bloody well can't afford to stay home, we will blame you for being a selfish and uncaring mother (oh, and don't even get me started on the moralizing over breastfeeding: yes, breastfeeding is a wonderful thing, so let's do something to support it; wondering why they have such high breastfeeding rates in Norway and such low rates in America? I'll give you a hint: one country actually supports mothers and infants, the other does not). Not that maternity leave should be seen as some sort of government "handout," mind you. It's a form of social insurance to which everyone pays in, because everyone will sooner or later reap the benefits (eg, in the form of the work of those future workers who will be funding social security). And it is as nothing to what the unpaid work of mothers and fathers contributes to the official economy. So ok, if there is a universal maternity leave, then the mother doesn't have to leave her 3-month old, whether to work as a cashier, lawyer, teacher, programmer, whatever, or to be shipped out for military service. You have a child under the age of 1? You are excused from the duties which you will later resume, not because you are a delicate hothouse flower or an angel in the house but because you are already performing a very valuable service.

And then I would want to think about the class angle. "More than 630,000 members of the armed services are parents," I read in an article at the Dr. Spock web site entitled "When Mom and Dad Go Off to War," and "among them are more than 80,000 single parents--mostly mothers--and nearly 35,000 whose spouses are also in the armed forces." Close to 80,000 single mothers? I had no idea. Well, probably a lot of them want to be there, I really hope so, at any rate. And why not? It's an honourable career, and they should be free to choose it. But I can't help wondering about the menu of options from which they have to choose. And I can't help thinking about the logic of welfare "reform," and the throwing of mothers into the workforce, children be damned, because those mothers should be working instead of staying home watching tv. But wait? don't the very same conservatives who argue for an end to welfare also endorse -- and more than endorse, urge, exhort, sermonize and moralize about -- the stay-at-home motherhood ideal? Why yes, they do. For nice white middle-class mothers with husbands to support them. Their children need them at home, we hear. But what about the children of those other mothers? Tough break. But it's time to break the cycle of dependency: Get them all out to work. Maybe the kids are next? Victorian values: why not Victorian realities? child labour, children in factories, the whole nine yards. Anyway, I don't know about those 80,000 single mothers in the military, but I'm wondering what were their other options? And I'm thinking that whatever choice they might want to make, they should at least have the option (which they could take or leave as they pleased) of a paid maternity leave so they wouldn't have to leave infants while they go off to serve.

And then too, I have to think about my own class position and the highly privileged infancy/toddlerhood of my own child. Sure, I complain about being an adjunct, but in the grand scheme of things I'm doing ok. More than ok. Maybe I don't have a future in the academy, but a future somewhere I probably do have. My husband is a lawyer, we are affluent and overeducated, we read the New Yorker and chatter about the issues of the day, and there is no freakin' way we would have countenanced my leaving our 3-month old to go off on a dangerous mission from which I might not return, not if we could help it, which as a matter of fact we could. And if I adopted a position which said, Well why not send mothers of infants, motherhood is not sacred, and etc, I think I would be less than honest in doing so. Not because I think do think motherhood is sacred (ick) but because I do think it's important, and I wouldn't want my own infant to be deprived of his mother, and I know very well that I myself would not leave my infant if I had a choice.

I don't know. It's all a bit of a muddle. I am trying to think this through, and to think in terms of taking motherhood seriously as something valued and valuable and important, and am just throwing out some ideas without doing enough to connect the dots. But what I'm thinking for the moment is that, though Maggie Gallagher's position is clearly that of a reactionary, it's not entirely clear to me that the position which says "off to serve regardless of infants and small children" is the only feminist and progressive one.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:22 AM | Comments (6)

March 19, 2003

The Only Emperor is the Emperor of Ice Cream

Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
-- Wallace Stevens

I am very new to blogging. Indeed, about three months ago, I actually had to ask someone, "What is a blog?" I had a vague notion that it was some sort of online diary or journal, but beyond that, I was so absolutely clueless that I didn't even realize that blog was a shortened version of weblog. Three weeks ago, I didn't know an anchor tag from a hole in the ground. Yes, I have been online for several years, and I have participated in several listserves and discussion boards. In terms of access to new technologies: why, I've been fully wired and web-ready for years. But until recently, it had never occurred to me that I might learn to do just a little bit more than type, point and click. It literally had never crossed my mind that I might get myself a book on xhtml and try to muddle through the basics.

Well, I'm a bit of a Luddite, I suppose. Though perhaps this is just another way of saying that I'm an ignoramus? I stand in awe of those who know code. I stand outside and wonder, as though contemplating from afar and through a glass darkly the inner workings of some vast mysterium from which I am by definition excluded. But by definition of what, exactly? Partly, of course, by self-definition: I do words, not numbers, English grammar not standards-compliant code. I settled on this self-definition by about the age of 6 or 7, and old habits of course die hard. And I'm sure I will always be a bit of techno-blunderer, though I do now know the meaning of anchor tag.

So I am new to blogging -- late to the party as usual, "always a bridesmaid never a bride" as the saying goes (I've been both, by the way, and it's more fun being a bridesmaid, despite those ghastly polyester dresses). And I am just finding my way through the blogoshere, and at the moment, I am so impressed by what's out there! Yes, there is a good deal of nuttiness and more than a little of nastiness. But there is also something very different indeed: some really sharp stuff by any number of smart and interesting and engaged people. I'm sure they all know code; I stand in awe before them. Myself, I am still trying to figure out how I want to blog and what it is I want to blog about.

I had originally intended to devote this space to a discussion of issues faced by academics, and especially by those of us who occupy that strange space on the margins, where we are in but not of, or perhaps of but not quite in, the academy. There are now some 400,000 of us, and our ranks continue to swell. And yet we remain oddly isolated and alone, and for the most part I think it is fair to say that we lack a shared space in which to discuss the issues and problems that characterize life as an adjunct faculty member.

To be sure, there is a dawning realization -- on the part of many full-time faculty and, more importantly, on the part of those various professional organizations and associations that can give a voice to our concerns -- that the trend toward adjunct teaching staff is indeed a serious problem, and not only for those who occupy adjunct positions but also for the future of the academic professions as a whole. And there is a growing literature (essays, editorials, position papers and the like) that addresses itself to the problem of de-professionalization. There is a good deal of information out there, which I diligently seek out and avidly devour.

But much as I welcome the position paper, I am also searching for something else entirely. What I want, what I would like to see, is a space that is somewhere between the level of the personal and the level of policy (I don't and won't call it the political, for reasons about which I will blog at some other time). I have yet to find this space ("Adjunct Nation" is a start, I suppose, but it is overall too cheerful, too decidedly "can-do" in its stance, to answer my -- perhaps unanswerable -- expectations). And so this blog is my small, my very small, attempt at carving out a space that I otherwise do not find. And who the hell am I? three weeks ago I didn't know an anchor tag from my own bellybutton (now where did bellybutton come from? ah! my 20-month old son is currenlty obsessed by bellybuttons, before long it will be dinosaurs, and before I know it he will be off to college, and who exactly will be teaching him?... )

Anyway, I don't want this space to be just another me-zine, all about me and what I ate for breakfast and what are my complaints: Poor me, I don't get paid enough; Pity me, I lack an office; but damn! my husband makes a mean panckake, and so on. At the same time, I certainly do have some complaints and I would very much like to express them. As I've said elsewhere, the adjunct faculty member is a blot on the copybook, an embarrassment to the profession to which he or she (at least marginally) belongs. And we who are adjuncts internalize this sense of shame and embarrassment, which is one of the reasons, I believe, that we are so reluctant to speak out. So ok, it's my page, and I can say what I like, even if I myself am the only reader, addressing myself, Frances Burney-style, to "Nobody." Though in truth, I would like to attract, among other readers, a half dozen or so of those 400,000 adjuncts out there (many of whom, I've little doubt, have yet to hear about blogging: don't underestimate the backwardness of humanities academics!). So I want to be able to get some things off my chest, but don't want this blog to be a narrowly focused and inward-turning me-zine.

And I am also struggling to find (or perhaps in some small way to help create, though even that is probably too grandiose a scheme) a space that falls somewhere between the "adjunct as entrepreneur" model which I reject outright, and the "adjunct as activist" model which I haven't yet addressed and about which I have some serious reservations. Don't get me wrong: there's a reason why I include workplace: the journal for academic labor on my blogroll. I think this journal is a must-read for every adjunct, and indeed for anyone and everyone who is concerned about the future of higher education in this country. But to say this is not to offer a blanket endorsement of its analyses, tactics and strategies. At some point in the near future, I want to take a critical look at Marc Bousquet's call for "a dictatorship of the flexible" (for whose work I grateful, but about which I am ambivalent; and no, I don't think he is being entirely tongue-in-cheek about this "dictatorship:" again, of which more anon).

So this was my original intention, and for the moment this remains my intention.

But today? Well, today I am inclined to think, What the f*** does any of this matter? And for obvious reasons. Let be be finale of seem, the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Because much as I am passionately committed to all of the above, at this moment it seems silly -- nay, it seems worse than silly, it seems positively wrong -- for me to focus on my paltry little concerns when we are about to drop bombs on some city and Jesus (descending into me-zine mode, because it's my space and I can addres myself to Nobody), I look at my wee son who is truly the light of my life, and there is probably nothing I would not do for him (I resist the cult of domesticity that dies hard in America, sure, but would I give up my life to save the life of my son? I surely would, you want to believe it, baybee, I would do so without hesitation). And Edmund Burke was right about our "little platoons," he surely was right about this. At some level, I have to care more about my own child: a child requires so much of time and energy and investment (physical, emotional, financial and so on) that none of us would be here, I am sure, if parents didn't care first and foremost for their own children. But though my own child must come first for me, it would be morally immature, it would be morally wrong, of me to think that my child really does matter more than anyone else's.

And so I think of 20-month old children in Baghdad, and gee, I wish I had a tenure-track position in the academy, but for f***'s sake, in the grand scheme of things, my failure to obtain such a position in the field of academic history just does not matter. Clio doesn't care, and why the hell should she? It is as nothing compared to the possibility (probability?) that someone else's 20-month old child -- who does, who must, matter as much as my own child -- will die a horrid and gruesome death for reasons which, at this point, are really beyond my ken. At some point in the future, I mean to take on the "graduate students [unemployed and underemployed Ph.Ds.?] are among the blessed of the earth" which sometimes makes me angry, which sometimes makes me feel luminous with anger. But tonight I cannot be angered by that which does not really matter. Tonight I must acknowledge that I and mine are indeed among the blessed of the earth, through no virtue of our own, mind you, through a mere accident of birth, of space and time and geography. And I must humbly bow down before the awful truth that the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:49 PM | Comments (7)

March 17, 2003

The falcon cannot hear the falconer

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming"

I'm not inclined to indulge in "apocalypse now" pronouncements. To be frank, I generally take apocalyptic speculation and millenarian vision as signs of a weak, or at least an undisciplined mind. Or, to be more fair, I guess I would say that what makes poetry should not make policy.

But at the moment I have such a feeling of dread and apprehension in the pit of my stomach. I fear that something is about to change, and I greatly fear the change will be not for the better but for the worse. I think Timothy Burke pretty much sums it up in a piece called "Crazy Taxi," where he writes that

"It is like being a passenger in a car driven too quickly and erratically by someone who won’t listen to anyone else in the car. Even when you want to get to the same destination as the driver, you can’t help but feel that there’s a way to go there which doesn’t carry the same risk of flying through the guardrails and off a cliff."

Well, I live in NYC and I was here on 9/11. And for a brief moment, I felt the fear. Don't quite know how to explain it, but if you were in NYC on September 11, 2001, you will know exactly what I mean. I was home with my 2-month old son, my husband had gone to work in midtown Manhattan. And I could not contact my husband (the phone lines were all screw-y) and for a good half hour (maybe longer) the media were reporting that there were four more airplanes unaccounted for (yes, this has been all but forgotten, but for at least a short time, the media were mistakenly reporting that 4 more hijacked airplanes were somewhere in the skies and people here were wondering: What's next? the Empire State Building? the Trump tower?). And my neighbor across the street was standing in the doorway yelling, "I always knew this would happen" (really? well, why the heck didn't you warn us?). And for this brief moment, I felt the fear.

Let me note that I do not consider myself a victim of the attack. I was not harmed, nor were any of my family or friends.

But for me, something did change on 9/11, and not of course for the better. A vast image did trouble my sight, yes, and I caught a glimpse of some horror that I simply had not imagined could ever be visited upon us.

To move away from the imagery of rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem and the like, I suppose 9/11 shocked me into a realization that we were still living in history. Like all good liberals, I had always rather scoffed at Fukayama's "end of history" thesis, and I still reject many of his underlying assumptions not to mention some of his fundamental concerns. And yet. The attack of 9/11 made me wonder: had I indeed assumed that we were living at the "end of history," that is to say, in a safe corner of the world where we (you and me, me and mine) were no longer vulnerable to the great cataclysms and catastrophes of history? Not that I had ever believed we were living in the best of all possible worlds, where all problems had been solved and all conflict had been resolved. But rather, that I had assumed the problems we faced could be addressed within a framework of liberal democracy that I had probably tended to take somewhat for granted. This assumption has been shaken, to say the least.

Anyway, what I now fear (for us, in this corner of the world) isn't really in the order of something grand and apocalyptic (the armageddon, the second coming, the end of the world and so on). What I fear is something on a scale that is both smaller and more insidious: a "normalization," if that is the term, of terrorist attacks as one of the unfortunate but unavoidable risks involved in just being in the world (which world? well, our post 9/11 world). That is, I no longer feel quite safe, and I can no longer go about my business with the false sense of security that whatever messes are happening elsewhere in the world, we in this part of the world will not have to suffer the consequences.

And this is all quite selfish, I know. Here I am not even addressing the impact of war on Iraqi citizens, which is in fact one of the major grounds for my opposition to the war. Here I am being selfish and wondering what it all might mean for me and mine in our corner of the world. I am thinking about that tiny little prickle of fear that I sometimes experience now as I board the subway. I try not to give into it, I don't want to cower in fear as I take the subway. The odds are still very small, I am sure. And yet I now realize, we in this city all realize since 9/11, that we are a possible target. And there is little question in my mind that war with Iraq will make us that much more vulnerable.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2003

Hippety-hop, Hippety-hop, Bang bang you're dead

For anyone wondering why little Johnny still can't read, even after they've upped his Ritalin dosage:

On sale now at a Kmart or Walgreens near you: the military-themed Easter basket, "in which the traditional chocolate rabbit centerpiece has been displaced by plastic military action figures and their make-believe lethal paraphernalia." What's next: the Easter egg hunt as search-and-destroy mission? The good news about this mindless marketing of gratuitous violence: no chocolate bunny equals less sugar, and that adds up to fewer cavities.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2003

Almost 75 Million Americans

74.7 million Americans under age 65 were without health insurance for some or all of the two-year period 2001-2002. This according to a newly released study by Families USA, a health care consumers advocacy group, which based its findings on a statistical analysis of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey for the years 2001 and 2002.

I thought 41 million was really bad. But 74.7 million? How did they arrive at this figure?

Apparently, the standard method of counting the uninsured reports the number of people who did not have any health insurance at any point during the relevant time period. But this does not account for the large number of people who were uninsured for a portion of the period in question. Factor in that previously neglected group, and the number of uninsured rises from 41 to almost 75 million people.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans (30.1%) under the age of 65 were without health insurance at some point during the two-year period 2001-2002. 24 percent of this figure were uninsured for the entire two-year period. 65 percent of this figure were without health insurance for at least 6 months. 90 percent were uninsured for at least 3 months. Nearly 1 in 3! and this in the richest nation the world has never known.

What would it take to change this? I often wish we had a new Dickens: someone who could expose the injustices and outrages of the new (post?)-industrial order not by antagonizing but by speaking to the sensibilities of the middle class. I've been over on the lefty-liberal side for years, and honestly, a lot of our tactics and approaches just do not work.

As Salon points out, "the ranks of the uninsured now cut deeper into the middle class," which could "spur Congress" to attempt some much-needed and long overdue reforms. I wouldn't count on it, not without a lot of pressure from outside the Beltway. The good news: a new coalition of diverse groups -- including Familes USA, the AFL-CIO, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association -- has formed to push the issue of the uninsurance over the course of the next week. Activities include town hall meetings, health fairs, and prayer breakfasts. And apparently the problem of the uninsured will be featured on the tv shows "ER" and "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." I guess these shows are our version of Dickens?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:44 AM | Comments (0)