Friday, November 02, 2012 2:42 PM
This post originally
appeared at Chronicle.com.
Fallows, former speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and a longtime national
correspondent for The Atlantic, is generally known as a liberal-leaning but
hardly flame-throwing commentator on politics. In June, Fallows, who had been
writing for some time about Republican efforts to create a 60-vote "supermajority"
in the U.S. Senate, posted a blog entry called "5 Signs the United States
Is Undergoing a Coup." That headline lasted about three hours. On further
reflection, Fallows said in a corrective message, using the word
"coup" in his headline gave the wrong impression. He changed the
title to "5 Signs of a Radical Change in U.S. Politics."
His concern was not just with the filibuster. Fallows also
asked whether we can call a society democratic if unelected judges determine a
presidential election, after which the newly installed president appoints
similarly minded judges, who then use their position to change the rules to
favor their party.
Fallows's alteration raises two fascinating questions: At
what point should we start describing our liberal-democratic heritage as under
threat? And what should our appropriate language be for discussing it?
Was Fallows right to use the word "coup"? Before
we can answer that question, we must first consider another. Fallows had taken
the word from a slightly earlier post he had written, titled "Scotus
Update: La Loi, C'est Moi." Readers asked, Why the French words? Fallows
did not really answer, except to say something about The Atlantic's
policies involving capitalization. Let me try.
Perhaps because the United States was created during a
liberal era, as the late 18th century truly was, our language lacks words that
convey the full force of reactionary politics. From time to time, we required
terms to describe the old order, such as when we denounced King George as a
tyrant (itself a word derived from Old French). But our demagogues,
rhetorically, have generally confined themselves to the English language.
Father Charles E. Coughlin, the controversial right-wing
priest who had a popular radio program in the 1930s, called Franklin D.
Roosevelt "the great betrayer and liar" and Jews "Christ
killers" and "usurers." Robert W. Welch Jr., co-founder of the
John Birch Society, called Dwight D. Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated
agent of the Communist conspiracy." While alliteration provides emphasis,
labeling someone conscious and dedicated is not among the worst of insults.
None of this is to deny the viciousness of anti-Semites or racists. But even
Senator Theodore G. Bilbo, Democrat of Mississippi, perhaps the most hateful
politician ever elected to high office in the United States—he called his
opponent's supporters "shooters of widows and orphans,"
"spitters on our heroic veterans," and "skunks who steal Gideon Bibles
from hotel rooms"—relied on language that every backwoods white person in
his home state could understand. We have had more than our share of extremism,
but most of it has been homegrown.
In more recent times, by contrast, when we want to leave the
discourse of liberal democracy behind, we seem to leave English behind as well.
Consider the title of Fallows's first post on these issues, borrowed from Louis
XIV's famous declaration, L'état, c'est moi. The first word puts us on the turf of
American exceptionalism: We have no equivalent term in English to l'état, or
for that matter, the German der Staat. Americans call the official apparatus of politics
and policy "government" rather than "the state," as if to
soften the implications of what it actually does.
Lacking a state, we are uncomfortable with raison d'état,
or, its German relation, realpolitik. We have had practitioners of such arts,
none more adept than Henry Kissinger. But Kissinger spoke with a heavy accent,
as if to remind us that the pursuit of power for its own sake, associated with
him, came from somewhere else. Americans instinctively (or should I say
linguistically?) prefer Wilsonian idealism to Metternichian realism. The world,
we insist, is not composed of states engaged in endless conflict as they follow
their own interests; it ought to be a "league of nations" or, better
yet, a "United Nations." Americans go to war often, but not, we tell
ourselves, for our own advantage.
It follows that if you really want to attack your opponents
these days, you are best off doing so in another language. When the editors of
the religious conservative magazine First Things determined in 1997 that
the left-wing activism of the U.S. Supreme Court—oh, those were the days—had
made the American government illegitimate, they characterized it as a regime,
or, should I say, a régime. In choosing a French word, they suggested that the
American experiment in self-government had come to an end. We can talk about a
political "system" without raising eyebrows. Régime, by
contrast, as in ancien
régime, connotes a preliberal, European society characterized not
only by arbitrary rule but also by a corrupt aristocracy unworthy of holding on
to its unearned privileges.
Of course we have no such aristocracy; if we did, our
extreme conservatives would come to its defense. But instead of an inherited
ruling class, we have liberal elites (or élites), who, according to the late
Richard John Neuhaus and others associated with this point of view, constitute
a new class of arrogant planners determined to impose their conception of the
good society upon ordinary people, whether they want it or not. While
neoconservatives balked when Neuhaus, editor and founder of First Things,
called for civil disobedience to the new class, there was no disagreement over
the use of "regime."
It was, after all, Leo Strauss, the philosopher so important
to the rise of neoconservatism, who had introduced the term. Aristotle's politeia was
usually rendered as "the polity" until Strauss translated it as
"regime," or "the order, the form, which gives society its
character." Any society can have a regime in the sense Strauss meant, and
he hoped that the United
States could find its way to being a
"good regime." But there can be no doubt that his use of term was
meant to suggest that, for him and those he influenced, much was wrong with the
politics of the liberal democratic West.
Those in the attack mode need not rely just on French and
German. Conservatives are not generally known as sympathetic to Russia, but
when it comes to denouncing the Obama administration, the Russian language is
something they cannot resist. George Will, the conservative columnist,
convinced that the Obama administration is on the verge of lawlessness, has on
more than one occasion used the word ukase to characterize policies he
The Democrats, we are told, conscious of how unpopular those
policies are, rely on czars to oversee them: The Obama administration
"seems to be captivated by the un-American notion of running the country
through Russian-style czars empowered to issue czarist-style ukases,"
Phyllis Schlafly, the dean of such discourse, opined in 2009. Townhall.com has
charged the president with having a "czar fetish."
Given the craze for Russian on the right, small wonder that
conservatives accuse Democrats of engaging in agitprop on the question of birth
control (Jonah Goldberg), filling their policy positions with apparatchiks
(Michelle Malkin), and consigning their enemies to the gulag (Ann Coulter).
About the only thing the Obama administration has not done, if you are a
conservative, is to promote glasnost...
Read the rest at Chronicle.com.
Image by shannonpatrick17, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 29, 2012 2:02 PM
The ecological effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill
are still largely unknown. Josh Fischman, senior writer, is on the
research vessel Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico, with a team of university scientists seeking answers. He is filing reports from the ship.
—100 miles off Pascagoula, Miss.
Debby did Gulfport this past weekend. Or threatened to, enough to toss the Endeavor’s
cruise plan up in the air. Tropical Storm Debby was barreling north
across the gulf with 50-knot winds and 15-foot waves, but the forecasts
were vague about whether she would turn east across Florida or west,
right across Gulfport, Miss., and the area we want to study. The harbor
in Gulfport is fairly exposed, and the captain didn’t relish the idea of
staying in port and getting banged against the pier. So on Sunday we
jogged four hours east, to a Coast Guard station and shipyard protected
by an island at Pascagoula. It was fly-infested—the biting buggers were
still on the ship days later—but it was quiet and it was safe.
And it gave Andrew Juhl a chance to talk about why he was on the
ship. He was hunting for predators. Small single-celled predators, but
still bigger than the oil-eating bacteria which they engulf with tiny
whiplike appendages called flagella.
Juhl is a biological oceanographer who “didn’t even see the ocean
until I was a teenager, because I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin,” he
says. “But I was always interested in it, probably because I watched a
lot of Jacques Cousteau as a kid.” He sees a lot of it now, as a
research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia
University, where he holds an adjunct appointment and teaches. A
slender, quiet man, Juhl spends a lot of his time near the water in
Alaska, where he studies algae that grow inside sea ice, and on the
water here in the South, where he has been part of the Ecogig, a group studying gulf ecology since 2010.
Here his interest is bacteria, in particular the kind that live off
hydrocarbons like oil, or pieces of hydrocarbons, and a puzzle about
them spewed by Deepwater Horizon. Every milliliter of seawater has about
a million bacteria. What researchers found in the aftermath of the 2010
accident was that particular bacteria had started to degrade the oil.
But although their metabolic rates went up—the bacteria were more
active—the population wasn’t growing by much.
“That’s sort of a paradox,” Juhl says. “You’d think if there’s a food
source they’d start dividing more, and the population would increase a
lot.” (Scarcity of nutrients like nitrogen, which are not a part of the
oil, can limit population size, as one of Juhl’s colleagues, Samantha
Joye of the University of Georgia, has pointed out.
But not in this case, Juhl says. If lack of nitrogen was holding
bacteria back then the metabolism would have stayed low along with
population size.) The composition of the community changed—there were
more bacteria that degraded alkanes, an oil component—but the overall
population size didn’t go up much.
The explanation, Juhl thinks, lies in the next step up the ocean food
chain: Micropredators, single cells just a few microns across that look
like spheres with hairs sticking out of them, are grazing on the
bacteria, thinning their ranks.
Read the rest at Chronicle.com.
Image: Deepwater Horizon oil spill as seen from NASA's Terra Satellites, May 24, 2010. Photo by
NASA's Earth Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This image is in the public domain.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 10:04 AM
The screams that rang throughout the darkened cattle car
crammed with deportees, as it jolted across the icy Polish countryside
five nights before Christmas, were Dr. Loch's only means of locating his
patient. The doctor, formerly chief medical officer of a large urban
hospital, now found himself clambering over piles of baggage, fellow
passengers, and buckets used as toilets, only to find his path blocked
by an old woman who ignored his request to move aside. On closer
examination, he discovered that she had frozen to death.
Finally he located the source of the screams, a pregnant woman who
had gone into premature labor and was hemorrhaging profusely. When he
attempted to move her from where she lay into a more comfortable
position, he found that "she was frozen to the floor with her own
blood." Other than temporarily stanching the bleeding, Loch was unable
to do anything to help her, and he never learned whether she had lived
or died. When the train made its first stop, after more than four days
in transit, 16 frost-covered corpses were pulled from the wagons before
the remaining deportees were put back on board to continue their
journey. A further 42 passengers would later succumb to the effects of
their ordeal, among them Loch's wife.
During the Second World War, tragic scenes like those were
commonplace, as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin moved around entire
populations like pieces on a chessboard, seeking to reshape the
demographic profile of Europe according to their own preferences. What
was different about the deportation of Loch and his fellow passengers,
however, was that it took place by order of the United States and
Britain as well as the Soviet Union, nearly two years after the
declaration of peace.
Between 1945 and 1950, Europe witnessed the largest episode of forced
migration, and perhaps the single greatest movement of population, in
human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking
civilians—the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and
children under 16—were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the
western districts of Poland. As The New York Times noted in
December 1945, the number of people the Allies proposed to transfer in
just a few months was about the same as the total number of all the
immigrants admitted to the United States since the beginning of the 20th
century. They were deposited among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany
to fend for themselves as best they could. The number who died as a
result of starvation, disease, beatings, or outright execution is
unknown, but conservative estimates suggest that at least 500,000 people
lost their lives in the course of the operation.
Most disturbingly of all, tens of thousands perished as a result of
ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies'
cynical formulation, "reparations in kind") in a vast network of camps
extending across central and southeastern Europe—many of which, like
Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps
kept in operation for years after the war. As Sir John Colville,
formerly Winston Churchill's private secretary, told his colleagues in
the British Foreign Office in 1946, it was clear that "concentration
camps and all they stand for did not come to an end with the defeat of
Germany." Ironically, no more than 100 or so miles away from the camps
being put to this new use, the surviving Nazi leaders were being tried
by the Allies in the courtroom at Nuremberg on a bill of indictment that
listed "deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any
civilian population" under the heading of "crimes against humanity."
By any measure, the postwar expulsions were a manmade disaster and
one of the most significant examples of the mass violation of human
rights in recent history. Yet although they occurred within living
memory, in time of peace, and in the middle of the world's most densely
populated continent, they remain all but unknown outside Germany itself.
On the rare occasions that they rate more than a footnote in
European-history textbooks, they are commonly depicted as justified
retribution for Nazi Germany's wartime atrocities or a painful but
necessary expedient to ensure the future peace of Europe. As the
historian Richard J. Evans asserted in In Hitler's Shadow (1989)
the decision to purge the continent of its German-speaking minorities
remains "defensible" in light of the Holocaust and has shown itself to
be a successful experiment in "defusing ethnic antagonisms through the
mass transfer of populations."
Even at the time, not everyone agreed. George Orwell, an outspoken
opponent of the expulsions, pointed out in his essay "Politics and the
English Language" that the expression "transfer of population" was one
of a number of euphemisms whose purpose was "largely the defense of the
indefensible." The philosopher Bertrand Russell acidly inquired: "Are
mass deportations crimes when committed by our enemies during war and
justifiable measures of social adjustment when carried out by our allies
in time of peace?" A still more uncomfortable observation was made by
the left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz, who reasoned that "if every
German was indeed responsible for what happened at Belsen, then we, as
members of a democratic country and not a fascist one with no free press
or parliament, were responsible individually as well as collectively"
for what was being done to noncombatants in the Allies' name.
Read the rest of this story at The Chronicle for Higher Education.
Image: Scene of destruction in a Berlin street just off the Unter den Linden, July 3, 1945. This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.
Monday, May 14, 2012 2:35 PM
Excerpted from an article that originally appeared inThe Chronicle
of Higher Education.
Time: last year. Place: an
undergraduate classroom, in the airy, well-wired precincts of Silicon Valley University.
(Oops, I mean
Sun-Kissed-Google-Apps-University.) I am avoiding the pedagogical
business at hand—the class is my annual survey of 18th-century British
literature, and it's as rockin' and rollin' as you might imagine, given the
subject—in order to probe my students' reactions to a startling and (to me)
disturbing article I have just read in the Harvard alumni magazine. The piece,
by Craig Lambert, one of the magazine's editors, is entitled "Nonstop:
Today's Superhero Undergraduates Do '3000 Things at 150 Percent.'"
As the breaking-newsfeed title
suggests, the piece,
on the face of it, is anecdotal and seemingly light-hearted—a collegiate Ripley's Believe It or
Not! about the overscheduled lives of today's Harvard
undergraduates. More than ever before, it would appear, these poised,
high-achieving, fantastically disciplined students routinely juggle intense
academic studies with what can only seem (at least to an older generation) a
truly dizzy-making array of extracurricular activities: pre-professional
internships, world-class athletics, social and political advocacy, start-up
companies, volunteering for nonprofits, research assistantships, peer advising,
musical and dramatic performances, podcasts and video-making, and countless
other no doubt virtuous (and résumé-building) pursuits. The pace is so
relentless, students say, some plan their packed daily schedules down to the
minute—i.e., "shower: 7:15-7:20 a.m."; others confess to getting by
on two or three hours of sleep a night. Over the past decade, it seems, the
average Harvard undergraduate has morphed into a sort of lean, glossy,
turbocharged superhamster: Look in the cage and all you see, where the
treadmill should be, is a beautiful blur.
I am curious if my Stanford students'
lives are likewise chockablock. Heads nod yes; deep sighs are expelled; their
own lives are similarly crazy. They can barely keep up, they say—particularly
given all the texting and tweeting and cellphoning they have to do from hour to
hour too. Do they mind? Not hugely, it would seem. True, they are mildly
intrigued by Lambert's suggestion that the "explosion of busyness" is
a relatively recent historical phenomenon—and that, over the past 10 or 15
years, uncertain economic conditions, plus a new cultural emphasis on marketing
oneself to employers, have led to ever more extracurricular add-ons. Yes, they
allow: You do have to display your "well-roundedness" once you
graduate. Thus the supersize CV's. You'll need, after all, to advertise a
catalog of competencies: your diverse interests, original turn of mind, ability
to work alone or in a team, time-management skills, enthusiasm,
unflappability—not to mention your moral probity, generosity to those less
fortunate, lovable "meet cute" quirkiness, and pleasure in the simple
things of life, such as synchronized swimming, competitive dental flossing, and
Antarctic exploration. "Yes, it can often be frenetic and with an eye
toward résumés," one Harvard assistant dean of students observes,
"but learning outside the classroom through extracurricular opportunities
is a vital part of the undergraduate experience here."
Yet such references to the past—truly a
foreign country to my students—ultimately leave them unimpressed. They laugh
when I tell them that during my own somewhat damp Jurassic-era undergraduate
years—spent at a tiny, obscure, formerly Methodist school in the rainy Pacific
Northwest between 1971 and 1975—I never engaged in a single activity that might
be described as "extracurricular" in the contemporary sense, not,
that is, unless you count the little work-study job I had toiling away evenings
in the sleepy campus library. What was I doing all day? Studying and going to
class, to be sure. Reading books, listening to music, falling in love (or at
least imagining it). Eating ramen noodles with peanut butter. But also, I
confess, I did a lot of plain old sitting around—if not outright malingering.
I've got a box of musty journals to prove it. After all, nobody even exercised
in those days. Nor did polyester exist. Once you'd escaped high school and
obligatory PE classes—goodbye hirsute Miss Davis; goodbye, ugly cotton middy blouse and
gym shorts—you were done with that. We were all so countercultural back
then—especially in the Pacific Northwest,
where the early 1970s were still the late sixties. The 1860s.
The students now regard me with
curiosity and vague apprehension. What planet is she from.
But I have another question for them.
While Lambert, author of "Nonstop," admires the multitasking
undergraduates Harvard attracts, he also worries about the intellectual and
emotional costs of such all-consuming busyness. In a turn toward gravitas, he
quotes the French film director Jean Renoir's observation that "the
foundation of all civilization is loitering" and wonders aloud if
"unstructured chunks of time" aren't necessary for creative thinking.
And while careful to phrase his concerns ever so delicately—this is the Harvard
alumni magazine, after all—he seems afraid that one reason today's students are
so driven and compulsive is that they have been trained up to it since
babyhood: From preschool on, they are accustomed to their parents pushing them
ferociously to make use of every spare minute. Contemporary middle-class
parents—often themselves highly accomplished professionals—"groom their
children for high achievement," he suspects, "in ways that set in
motion the culture of scheduled lives and nonstop activity." He quotes a
former Harvard dean of student life:
This is the play-date generation. ...
There was a time when children came home from school and just played randomly
with their friends. Or hung around and got bored, and eventually that would
lead you on to something. Kids don't get to do that now. Busy parents book them
into things constantly—violin lessons, ballet lessons, swimming teams. The kids
get the idea that someone will always be structuring their time for them.
The current dean of freshmen concurs:
"Starting at an earlier age, students feel that their free time should be
taken up with purposeful activities. There is less stumbling on things you love
... and more being steered toward pursuits." Some of my students begin to
look downright uneasy; some are now listening hard.
Such parental involvement can be
distasteful, even queasy-making. "Now," writes Lambert, parents
"routinely 'help' with assignments, making teachers wonder whose work they
are really grading. ... Once, college applicants typically wrote their own
applications, including the essays; today, an army of high-paid consultants,
coaches, and editors is available to orchestrate and massage the admissions
effort." Nor do such parents give up their busybody ways, apparently, once
their offspring lands a prized berth at some desired institute of higher learning.
Parental engagement even in the lives
of college-age children has expanded in ways that would have seemed bizarre in
the recent past. (Some colleges have actually created a "dean of
parents" position—whether identified as such or not—to deal with them.)
The "helicopter parents" who hover over nearly every choice or action
of their offspring have given way to "snowplow parents" who
determinedly clear a path for their child and shove aside any obstacle they
perceive in the way.
Read the rest of this story atThe Chronicle
of Higher Education.
Image by Bizzleboy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 29, 2010 3:10 PM
For a couple years, a friend and one-time teacher of mine had an adjunct instructor position at the University of Minnesota. He taught a full course load, won a teaching award, and his undergraduate students crafted a Facebook page to advocate for his continued employment. He was, and is, a smart, dedicated teacher—and that rare breed of man who can cultivate and maintain a handsome, reddish beard. But he somehow wasn’t indispensable enough and, in these recession-straitened times, lost the job.
Hired from term to term, sometimes unable to obtain health benefits, and increasingly asked to do a higher and higher proportion of a school’s teaching for meager pay, the career of an adjunct professor in the United States tends to be anxious and tenuous. However, in Canada, at Vancouver Community College, part-time, non-tenured (and non-tenure-track) faculty members live an enviable life of equitable employment practices. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, many years of negotiation between the college and its faculty union have resulted in a situation in which, if you teach half time, you are paid half of what full-time employees make. Adjuncts are more often paid simply for credit hours worked. But there’s much more! Part-time faculty members are also paid for office hours and class prep time. Seniority works on the same scale for both part- and full-time faculty, so an adjunct can outrank a full-time employee. Health benefits are available to faculty working at least half time, and maternity leave is available after six months of contract work. Finally, the Chronicle reports that:
Perhaps the most important feature of Vancouver's system, say experts on adjunct issues, is that it allows faculty members who were initially hired term-by-term to be promoted into jobs with more-secure status. Once they work enough days during a two-year period, and provided they do not receive a negative evaluation, the conversion to regular status is automatic. The college has about 725 faculty members—475 of whom have regular status.
My friend is making a cross-country move this summer, to yet another possibly secure, possibly insecure academic job. He’ll be teaching, which he loves, but will it be a career? Maybe if more colleges and universities had Vancouver’s answer.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
Image by AMagill, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 03, 2009 4:37 PM
Humans are treating the natural world like a giant Ponzi scheme, according to David P. Barash in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes that a small number of investors are cashing in on the earth’s natural resources, constantly paid off by “more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based—as all Ponzi schemes are—on the fraud of ‘more and more,’ with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus, the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic. At least in the short run.”
Treating the environment this way is unsustainable, like all Ponzi schemes. According to Barash, people cannot continue to rely on the next technological advance to come to humanity’s rescue.
The problem is that the unsustainable, consumerist mindset can’t simply disappear. It needs to be replaced with something, Amitai Etzioni writes for Prospect. A mass dialogue is already underway “about the relationship between consumerism and human flourishing,” that could redefine humanity’s relationship to work, consumption, and the definition of the “good life.”
“We need a culture that extols sources of human flourishing besides acquisition,” Etzioni writes. He suggests people focus on communitarian pursuits, that value human relationships, and transcendental ones, like spirituality, art, and philosophy. Whatever people choose to focus on, Etzioni writes that society needs to value pursuits enrich people’s lives, rather than extract from the earth.
Chronicle of Higher Education
Friday, August 07, 2009 4:51 PM
A literary hoax is raising uncomfortable questions about the state of academic journals.
Back in 2004, the literary-studies journal Modernism/Modernity printed an article by Jay Murray Siskind of Blacksmith College. The problem is that there is no Jay Murray Siskind, outside Don DeLillo’s classic modernist novel White Noise, and Blacksmith College doesn’t exist at all.
The literary hoax was not revealed until this year, when Mark Sample broke the story on his blog, Sample Reality. According to Sample, this long lag raises the question: “Did any regular readers of the journal ever even read, really read, the review?” Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Monaghan takes the argument a step further, asking, “does anyone read any literary-studies articles?”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Friday, July 17, 2009 11:01 AM
The facts surrounding Guantanamo Bay detentions are quickly slipping down the memory hole. “A protective order that governs Guantánamo records leaves room for the government to destroy documents, including lawyers' notes,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “or put them off-limits in the name of national security.”
A few dedicated archivists are fighting to make sure the Guantanamo Bay records aren’t lost forever, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. The team is collecting as much source material as possible for a collection that will be held at Seaton Hall, New York University, and using the Web At Risk digital archiving project. Archivists have begun by focusing on first-person accounts from defense lawyers, which will soon be published in a book called The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law (New York University Press).
“We know, at the time it's happening, that Guantánamo has potential for iconic and historical significance, and the truth of Guantánamo is going to be a matter of great importance," says law professor Mark Denbeaux, who heads the program. "It's been my experience that the battle to redefine these sorts of events can be lost if one side is more organized and eager to present its point of view." He adds, “It’s not a political exercise, it’s an educational exercise, and a historical one.”
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, May 21, 2009 3:02 PM
Do Facebook users get lower grades than non-Facebook users? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Ohio State University doctoral student Aryn C. Karpinski surveyed 102 undergraduates and 117 graduates and found that the GPA’s of non-Facebook users were higher than their Facebook-loving peers.
Karpinski’s findings immediately generated controversy from fellow academics, who questioned her methods and Karpinski readily acknowledges that she cannot prove a direct correlation between Facebook use and poor academic performance. Instead, she argues that her study proves the need for further research on this issue.
“I completely acknowledge the limitations of my research,” she says. “What I found is so exploratory—people need to chill out.”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (article not available online)
Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, May 14, 2009 7:25 PM
Let’s go out on a limb, but not too far, and assume that most people want to behave ethically. Bringing those ethical intentions to fruition is more difficult than you might anticipate, reports The Chronicle Review (subscription required). “To do good, individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of those steps are completed, people are not likely to behave ethically, regardless of the ethics training or moral education they have received,” writes psychologist and educator Robert J. Sternberg.
Sternberg’s steps include stages such as recognizing that there is an event to react to, defining the event as having an ethical dimension, and then deciding that the ethical dimension is significant. From there, it’s a matter of taking responsibility, seeking an ethical solution, and, of course, acting on it. There are pitfalls at every phase: finding a way, for example, to avoid taking responsibility (it’s not really my business), or rationalizing away the significance of unethical conduct (it was only a few dollars).
In other news: The Chronicle Review is part of the splendid Chronicle of Higher Education, a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best writing.
Source: The Chronicle Review
Friday, April 10, 2009 5:24 PM
As more authors have taken to researching, writing and rewriting on computers, archives are presented with a complicated tangle of obstacles in trying to organize and store digital data.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, archives are grappling with organizing a whole new species of information as the acquire more and more floppy disks, computers, external hard drives, and other digital content.
Harvard has acquired 50 floppy disks from John Updike. Emory now has four laptops, an external hard drive and a “personal digital assistant” once belonging to Salman Rushdie. At the University of Texas there is a zip drive and a laptop acquired from Norman Mailer.
Such a vast amount of information presents a problem to archives. The article's author, Steve Kolowich, warns: “Mining, sorting, and archiving every bit of data stored on author’s computers could become a chore of paralyzing tedium and diminishing value.” But Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, associate director at the University of Maryland’s Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, describes how researchers might use this unparalleled quantity of information: “You could potentially look at a browser history, see that he visited a particular Web site on a particular day and time. And then if you were to go into the draft of one of his manuscripts, you could see that draft was edited at a particular day and hour, and you could establish a connection between something he was looking at on the Web with something that he then wrote.”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Image by Carlo Pico, licensed under Creative Commons
Monday, March 02, 2009 11:55 AM
In a tongue-in-cheek essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey H. Gray takes aim at present-day poetry commentary, which, in his opinion, tends to inflate an author’s importance. Critics once rationed accolades carefully; as he observes, even well-regarded poets like William Cullen Bryant have been labeled irrelevant and forgettable.
Today’s poets could use some tough love, according to Gray. “[I]n spite of the vast numbers writing," he observes, "we have no minor poets. Everyone today, like those above-average children of Lake Wobegon, is brilliant and sui generis.”
What’s changed in poetry criticism? In part, Gray sees shifting priorities, a move away from the language of a poem. Instead, reviewers focus on the poets themselves, particularly the ways that their voice should be considered unique. And unique becomes equated with important. If “everyone yesterday seemed dispensable,” he writes, “today no one is.”
He also blames the hyperbole on an increased output of work and argues that poets are better supported than they have been historically, and that even subpar poets can find publishing opportunities, grants, and residencies to lengthen their resumés and bolster their reputations.
In short, Gray longs for a critical climate in which all “poetry that is not magnificent” and where “satisfactory” is “good enough.”
Image courtesy of Third Eye, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: Chronicle of Higher Education
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:37 PM
Technology is currently crying out for your attention. Twitter wants to know, “What are you doing?” Facebook is asking, “What are you doing right now?” There’s a good chance that your personal, work, and spam email accounts all have new messages waiting for you, friends or acquaintances may be inviting you to LinkedIn or Friendfeed, or maybe your cell phone is ringing. “Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely,” William Deresiewicz writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “now it’s impossible to be alone.”
The technology demands constant attention, because that’s what people want. The “contemporary self,” according to Deresiewicz, “wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible.” The websites offer visibility at no monetary cost, but users end up sacrificing their solitude, privacy, and, in some ways, the ability to be alone.
The technology has a spiritual cost, too. “Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism,” Deresiewicz writes, “a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom.” This kind of self-reflection is nearly impossible if people don’t quit tweeting, texting, and calling every once in a while.
The costs of constant contact become more extreme as technology improves. New applications for the iPhone and Google’s new G1 (which I bought 3 weeks ago), allow people to connect with Twitter, Facebook, and a host of location-aware applications at all times. Programs like WhosHere, Whrrl, and the dubiously named LifeAware give near-constant GPS-based updates to friends or strangers of where people are and how to connect.
Some of these location-aware applications go too far, even for tech enthusiasts. Mathew Honan, the man behind BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle, explored the labyrinthine world of the GPS-based applications for Wired and found paradoxically, “I had gained better location awareness but was losing my sense of place.”
The flood of tweets, updates, and friend request can quickly become indistinguishable from real life (aka RL). The din can easily stand in the way of deeper thoughts and self-reflection. “In effect,” according to the Winter 2007 issue of n+1, “this mode of constant self-report can be summed up in a single phrase: “I am on the phone. I am on the phone. I am on the phone.’”
Image by Juhan Sonin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 16, 2009 4:25 PM
A new form of censorship has quietly crept over the internet. Though governments continue to pursue old-school forms of prior restraint, technology is quickly making the blackened-ink style of censorship obsolete. The new ways to restrict free speech don’t require killing information entirely, governments and private companies simply inconvenience and frustrate people away from information they want to keep under wraps.
The internet was meant to foster communication, and it still creates opportunities for vibrant free speech. At the same time, computer science professor Harry Lewis writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education that the internet’s “rapid and ubiquitous adoption has created a flexible and effective mechanism for thought control.” As people increasingly rely on the internet for their news and information, banishing something from the web means effectively striking it from the public consciousness.
Governments have already begun to influence internet usage inside of their countries to enforce social and political norms. Lewis writes that on the internet, there is already “no sex in Saudi Arabia, no Holocaust denials in Australia, no shocking images of war dead in Germany, no insults to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey.”
China sits at the vanguard of this new form of censorship. The country’s famed “Great Firewall” is one of the most advanced information blocking tools in the world. Every savvy netizen, however, knows of proxy servers, encryption services, and other ways to skirt the firewall and find information that China doesn’t want its citizens to see. “The Great Firewall of China isn't impenetrable, “Jacqui Cheng reported for Ars Technica in 2007, “it just takes a little elbow grease and high Internet traffic to squeeze a few banned terms through.” That requirement of elbow grease constitutes the cornerstone of the new censorship.
Governments don’t have to censor all the information that comes into their country anymore, either. Censorship increasingly relies on one information bottleneck: Google. Jeffrey Rosen wrote for the New York Times that Google and its subsidiaries, including YouTube, “arguably have more influence over the contours of online expression than anyone else on the planet.” Governments and businesses now realize that banning information from Google means effectively censoring it from a massive audience of people, and they are developing strategies accordingly.
“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” technology expert Tim Wu told the New York Times. After the Turkish government successfully lobbied YouTube to take down videos inside of Turkey that were deemed offensive, the Government tried to ban the videos worldwide to protect Turks living outside the country. These videos would all be available on websites other than YouTube, but with one website eclipsing all others for web videos, really, who would know?
In the United States, copyright laws are often invoked to frighten people into censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the McCain-Palin campaign, an unlikely advocate for internet freedom, claimed that YouTube “silenced political speech” after it took down campaign ads due to copyright violation claims.
YouTube general council Zahavah Levine responded saying, “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement.” Because of that lack of information, the site often takes down videos first and examines the validity of copyright claims later. By the time videos are restored, especially in a fast-moving political campaign setting, the damage has already been done.
The website Chilling Effects documents many of these cease-and-desist letters in an attempt to combat some of the unnecessary censorship. The site was created in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of universities to help people understand their First Amendment rights and protect legal online speech. But with governments and businesses exchanging and learning from each other’s censorship tactics, the strategies to restrict free speech will likely grow more sophisticated.
Friday, September 19, 2008 3:11 PM
Set down that copy of Moby Dick, and grab your bank statement. Colleges and universities are increasingly focused on arming students with a “new” kind of literacy: the financial variety. As education costs balloon and student debt rises, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, more and more institutions are following the lead of Texas Tech University, which established a financial literacy program eight years ago.
From the basics of budgeting to the principles of managing debt, there’s a lot of heartache that could be prevented if financial literacy were made as central to education as regular old book-lovin’ literacy. The Chronicle cites a recent survey by the nonprofit Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy that found that fewer than half of high school seniors were aware that credit card companies assess charges if cardholders pay only the minimum balance due. Eesh.
Perhaps from personal financial literacy, greater economic literacy will blossom. To get a head start, brush up, or dig into the front-page headlines of late, check out our online feature: Econ 101: A Crash Course of Economics Blogs.
Image by kevindooley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 05, 2008 4:56 PM
When the National Geographic Society published a long-lost text dubbed The Gospel of Judas back in 2006, news of the book made headlines in most major newspapers. Based on a codex roughly 1,700 years old and translated in secret by a group of scholars that National Geographic called a “dream team,” the book portrayed Judas Iscariot as a trusted friend of Jesus, rather than the evil betrayer he’s thought to be.
In the two years since the book was published, Thomas Bartlett reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education that a shadow of doubt has been cast on The Gospel of Judas. Serious errors were made in the translation of the text. For example, Jesus refers to Judas as “daimon,” a word the National Geographic team translated as “spirit.” Other scholars have called that into question, translating the word as “daemon,” reinforcing traditional views of Judas as evil. April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times accusing the National Geographic team of errors that bordered on fraud. She asked of the mistranslations, “Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on?”
Today, The Gospel of Judas is still causing fractures within religious scholarly communities. Members of the so-called “dream team” have even begun to question the work they signed their names to. Some accuse others of bullying them into publishing, while others hurl accusations of profiteering. Bartlett reports that the controversy continues to cause “some on both sides of the argument to feel, in a word, betrayed.”
Friday, May 02, 2008 5:49 PM
“Attractive instructors are popular instructors. Popular instructors fill classes. More students mean more revenue,” Norma Desmond (a pseudonym) writes matter-of-factly for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Which is why toward the end of her job search, knowing she’d been typecast as an aging adjunct professor, Desmond decided to get Botox injections.
There’s so much emotional hype surrounding cosmetic surgery (who’s had it, who hasn’t, who never would, and who’s lying), that sometimes a really simple thing gets lost in the fray: Looks matter. Looks impact our lives. Good, bad, fair, unfair, frustrating—they do.
That’s what’s so fantastic about Desmond’s essay: She just tells the truth. As someone who “spent [her] middle years feeling slightly sorry for people who have felt the need to have their skin stretched tight as drumheads,” Desmond lucidly explains how she came to find herself sitting in a doctor’s chair.
, licensed under
Monday, April 07, 2008 4:05 PM
The weight room can be a scary place. Bellowing, muscle-bound Neanderthals toss dumbbells around like baby rattles. The walls are covered with mirrors. Everyone’s in a hurry. Woe upon the gym-rookie audacious enough to rest on a machine between sets or forget to wipe one down after using it. Every bony or pudgy newcomer has felt pangs of inadequacy when trying out a new exercise or working in a crowded gym, especially if that crowd includes members of the opposite sex.
Many college gyms have tried to ease these qualms by introducing times for men and women to exercise separately. There has been some resistance, but for the most part these efforts have been accepted by students, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). That is, until recently, when the word “Muslim” was injected into a discussion of separate gym times at Harvard. A group of Muslim women had requested some time to work out without male students present. Harvard complied, establishing six hours per week of all-female time at one of the lesser-used university gyms.
The media pounced on the story, making sure audiences were aware that schedule-shift was initiated by Muslim women, even though other women had also expressed a desire to exercise without men present. The discussion quickly turned away from gender and body-image issues to focus on the more controversial religious angle. But what most news services missed or ignored (and the Chronicle caught) is that other schools have enacted similar schedules for religious purposes. Those stories just weren’t meaty enough for coverage, however, since they involved groups of Jewish and Christian women.
Friday, March 07, 2008 3:36 PM
You can fit a lot on the back of an envelope: Return addresses, goofy stickers, or, in the case of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s erudite readers, architectural designs for George W. Bush’s presidential library.
The Chronicle put out a call for entries to a “Back-of-the-Envelope Design Contest,” and its current architecture issue showcases the best of the some 120 submissions.
Contenders include the Temple, which features a “FEMA garden awaiting attention”; the Cross Layout with a global warming sunroom and a language lab for “what I meant to say”; a missile-shaped Bunker that sports a “telecommunications/listening surveillance lounge”; the Plaza, where folks could visit the “Al Gore Lawn for meditation on what could have been had he been elected president”; and the Hole in the Ground (above), tucked behind a tromp l’oeil White House façade.
Tour through the designs and watch writer Scott Carlson’s video parsing the history of presidential libraries and the intricacies of the various entries. Then cast your vote for the winner (free registration required).
“If you felt your vote didn’t count in 2000,” Carlson assures, “it will certainly count here. The winning designer will get an iPod Touch.”
Image courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 10:27 AM
A recent dispatch from the Chronicle of Higher Education plants a headstone for that erstwhile newspaper institution, the higher-education beat. Well, maybe not a headstone, but certainly an earnest get-well card with a detailed, well-reported story printed on the inside. As Richard Whitmire laments, regional newspapers have been shrinking their coverage of higher education, sometimes assigning just one reporter to cover the gamut of local education issues, including elementary, secondary, and higher ed.
The rub is this: As Whitmire points out, regional higher-ed reporting has scooped some of the most important education news of the last few years. For instance, Iowa’s Des Moines Register and Florida’s St. Petersburg Times uncovered shady dealings between local colleges and student loan providers. Moreover, he argues, regional newspapers have a stake in covering the local economy, in which nearby universities and colleges are significant employers and workforce-generators. An informed readership ought to know the condition of local schools, including typical debt burdens and drop-out rates. Without reporters on that beat, however, there will likely continue to be a void in coverage.
Image by Alexander Steffler, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 28, 2008 10:21 AM
Traveling by plane to academic conferences exacerbates climate change, Mark Pedelty writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, yet the topic is rarely broached by those in academia: “Perhaps that is because our most sacred privilege is at stake. We love to travel.”
Pedelty, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, doesn’t spare himself as he serves up an unflinching but humorous critique of scholars who “travel to meet, greet, and, in one of our more ironic roles, preach the gospel of sustainability.”
Inspired in part by an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the carbon footprint of medical conferences, Pedelty encourages his fellow academics to videoconference whenever possible and to start asking hard questions like, “Did I really need to fly to New York to hear that?”
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 12:33 PM
The Chronicle of Higher Education—the 2007 Utne Independent Press Award winner for political coverage—just filed this scoop today: A massive trove of Baath party documents from the era of Saddam Hussein has found a controversial, temporary home at the Hoover Institution, the Stanford-affiliated conservative think tank and library.
The Chronicle reports that Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile who was a leading proponent of invading Iraq for humanitarian reasons, has been searching for a safe haven for the documents since digitizing them in 2005 with the help of the U.S. government. (The government got a digital copy out of the deal.)
Makiya, who discovered the documents in April 2003, says his Iraq Memory Foundation got the OK from Iraq’s deputy prime minister and the prime minister’s office to make the deal with Hoover, which will house the documents for five years. But Saad Eskander, the internationally respected director general of the Iraq National Library and Archive, says the documents belong in Iraq and that the private foundation’s possession of them is illegal. (The International Council on Archives noted that only “a legislative act of the state” can sanction “the alienation of public archives.”)
Despite the pitched debate between the two men, they do agree on something: The 100 million pages of Iraqi documents kept by the U.S. Department of Defense—the largest known cache of Baath-era papers—“belong in Iraqi hands,” the Chronicle reports. Both men have asked the Pentagon to turn the documents over to their respective organizations.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!