Tag Archives: o tempora o mores

In search of a second opinion.

I am sorry to have been gone so long.  I was on a Roman Holiday (“n. a time of debauchery or sadistic enjoyment” – so okay, just literally, not figuratively) and it was quite amazingly wonderful.

But sadly, all really is better in Italy.  No sooner did I arrive in the breadbasket of Patriotism and Dr. Pepper but I got the news that my modest “studio” (read: regular apartment put in a procrustean bed to make room for the laundry facility) was about to be auctioned off to the hoi polloi.  Dutifully, I sent my panicked email requesting world enough and time, made my way to the management office, and was handed an innocuous lease form that bore a tiny, almost imperceptible number that just happened to be $90 more than the tiny number on the last form.

Damn.

Not being the sort to take things lying down, I exited abruptly and announced my intention to “think things over.”  I did so, and formulated some demands that I thought would surely be amenable (sure, raise my rent by a hundred bucks, but at least give me internets).  The lady at the front desk gave me a look right out of the Pieta and said she had begged and plead with the mysterious Mandarin of the Jamestown Complex, but he was intractable.

I don’t know if she’s just playing good cop with me, but she seemed genuinely torn up over my plight.  So she gave me the Miraculous Mandarin’s number (his name is the cheerfully consonant-cluttered Russell Trippett) and told me to try my luck alone before the Great White Throne.

Here’s my question for you: do I masochistically accept the terms as offered, or do I use my brain, which tells me that property values are going down, not up, and look for something else (thereby exposing myself to the horrific inconvenience of moving the whole place in nothing but a tiny sedan)?  Limiting factor: I will probably only be living in Waco for one more year.

Any advice is much appreciated …

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Political Correctness?

I’m teaching Argumentation to my students this unit, and one of the things I’m emphasizing is definitions of terms.  In interest of that, I want to talk about this issue of “political correctness.”  I discussed this on another blog, but the issues surrounding this election (specifically the recent racial tensions on Baylor’s campus, on which more later) force me to break my silence again.

Let me make one thing clear.  One of the definitions of political correctness – which I suppose we could circumscribe as “mandated castration of vivid language to remove possibility of offense / dissent” – describes something truly vile, truly Stalinist.  When language as such is “policed” for conformity to a state-defined ideal, then language has died.  I could not agree more, and I oppose such silly coinages and “sanitation engineer” or “vertically challenged” as much as the next person.  They’re patronizing and not seriously used by the interest groups they are supposed to flatter.

However, I feel that something else is at play.  In the wake of Conservative punditry’s revolt against some of the sillier neologisms of the Left (and/or the academy – let’s talk about rhetoremes in homosocial discourse communities!  Anyone?) and of the election of Barack Obama, heralded as a neo-Marxist jacquerie even by members of our own Senate, some individuals are using this heroic stance against “political correctness” as a justification for all sorts of xenophobic slurs.  Uttering a non-politically-correct phrase becomes such a holy grail that pundits are now willing, from time to time, to simply throw (say) the entire population of the Middle East and North Africa under the culture-wars bus.  “Barack Obama is a terrorist,” they say, crying “foul!” when somebody tries to tell them that dark skin and passing acquaintances with U of Chicago education professors does not a Fedayeen make.  “Just look at the mandarins of PC trying to shut me up.  Well, I’ll tell it like it is, blah blah blah …”  No, you won’t.  You’ll inflame the passions of the electorate on both sides, making it more and more difficult to reconcile after the dust has settled.

“Barack Obama is an Arab,” they ignorantly declare, only to be told “no.  No ma’am.  He’s a good family man.”  The irony of that statement is intense, considering that values-focused white middle class “real Americans” have a divorce rate that dwarfs that of Arab nations.  That’s not supposed to be a value judgment on the two cultures.  It’s just ridiculous that “family man” is now the opposite of “Arab” in our culture.  It really, truly alarms me how much the American mind has united “Arab” and “Muslim” with “terrorist.”  It’s a hideous piece of xenophobia absolutely unworthy of polite discourse, the discourse of the “polis,” which is the ultimate root of that Political in Political Correctness.  Speech that is gelded by thought police is one thing; speech that is decorous and apt for the agora is another thing entirely.

Americans, our “polis” is made up of a lot more than white-bread, bourgeois, mainline Protestant four-person families.  Almost everyone I know drops out of these categories at some point.  Some of you don’t like this; some of you (and I am addressing pundits here, because I’ve only heard this from them, not actual friends of mine) wish that this were otherwise, that immigration had been restricted to white Europeans because they accommodate to our “values” better.  Check out the writings or statements of Tom Tancredo, Pat Buchanan, Rep. Virgil Goode, and others for this idea.  It’s quite real.  But listen: first of all, this is unjust because the Native Americans never got polled as to whether our Mayflower forbears adhered to their “values.”  Second, this is manifestly ridiculous from a historical perspective: I think it’s safe to say that more than half of my readership is Catholic, and have you heard of the Know-Nothing party?  They hated Catholic immigrants because guess what?  They didn’t conform to American values (and were probably spies for Catholic monarchies to boot).  But I’m willing to bet that you are glad to be living in the US now, and glad moreover that the Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants have brought so much richness (and so many Cathedrals) to the cities of America.  I certainly am.  So: to push the boundaries of the debate to reflect skin color or some even more nebulous set of social memes, instead of religion, is madness.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction of fear on the part of whites: fear that someday, somehow, they will no longer be the dominant voice of the American Polity.  Well, I have news for you: cultures change.  People move.  Birth-rates adjust themselves.  But if you really think you’re going to be ruled by some Black Panther Politburo or a revanchist Aztlan-themed Mexicocracy, you might just want to consider being a little nicer to your future masters.  They may eat you second-to-last as a thank-you.

I think I just got onto a rant.  Oops.  Anyway, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re at least interested and will leave a comment.  I honestly don’t think anybody I know thinks this way.  If you happen to have written odious editorials, though, please take this to heart and think about the historical lunacy of your exclusivism.  And please, everyone, don’t use the anti-PC mantle of Orwell to justify odious things.  Right now Baylor students are using that very argument to justify the instigation of a shouting-match with African American students after the election.  That’s not anti-PC; that’s horrible.  Overtures toward our own mini-Kristallnacht.  Please join me in speaking up against these backward ideas, and oppose the real Political Correctness, not the kind that just means being civilized.

Usury 101: or, The Idea of a University, 2008 anno domini

Look for some more posts from me in the next couple of days; I’ve been away for a while but not through my intention.  It’s just the usual grad school travails keeping me away from the all-important world of the ‘blog.

What cannot wait to come out of my enraged head is a little comment on some horrendous, festering trends in academia.  My friend Sarah is taking a class on what passes for “Rhetoric and Composition” this semester and she tells me, from time to time, some of the horrors from the class’s textbooks.  I’ve harped on enough in the past about my opposition to the use of the University as a glorified job-training course, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.  But seriously.  Here we go.

One of these “textbooks” was trying to make the point that the classroom should focus on computer/technological literacy.  Big deal, right?  Well, when you realize that the reason for doing this is to “secure satisfactory employment,” you might begin to see my objections.  Here’s a bit from a description of a class from Florida State University:

CGS 2100: Microcomputer Applications for Business and Economics.  Course enables students in business and economics to become proficient with microcomputer and software applications that are typically used in the workplace …

Again.  If these students voluntarily enthrall themselves to a business school (I am just being cantankerous here, I jest a little) then this is fine.  But the author also insists, later in the book, that technology courses ought to be considered a full-fledged branch of the humanities.  There’s a problem with that.  If you look at state universities today you’ll see that in fact the humanities are just a branch of the technological and, as William Zinsser would say, “pre-rich” fields.  Namely, the “useless” branch that brings some sort of prestige, like the tiny “literary fiction” imprints of the massive publishing houses.  “Look, we do literature!  We’re credible!  Don’t consider the fact that 90% of our revenue comes from trashy romance novels and faddish diet books!”  The humanities cannot survive when “profitable” pursuits are grafted on to them; the profit margin simply widens until they are devoured.  Even Barack Obama, the particularly intelligent candidate for president, harps on how he wants to expand funding “for the hard sciences” at the University level.  Seriously, just the hard sciences?  Screw history, philosophy, anthropology, english, psychology, etc.?

The same goes for my own class.  We’re kept on something of a short lead, and while that usually gives me little reason for complaint, I’ve been urged more that once to replace a reading from the classics or even just from a more “literary” source with something from the newspaper.  Nothing against newspapers or current events – I happen to be a little obsessed myself.  But the election and the subprime meltdown you have not always with you.  Art and beauty, and the quest for truth, will hound us until we are wiped off the face of the earth (well, unless the current theorists have their way, in which case we’ll just be plugged into virtual reality machines and given continuous pleasurable stimulation).

Okay.  I never thought of myself as the wrathful “ubi sunt” type or a cantankerous traditionalist.  But seriously.  Is money really the only thing that matters to anyone anymore?  I’m just amazed that credible academics tout these theories; they seem more proper to small-souled, small-time lawyers or unscrupulous petty managers.

O tempora, o mores!

I would like to illustrate, from my own life, the absolutely untenable relationship between wages and prices that is the norm in this beleaguered country.  The other day, at the Elite Grille on the Waco Traffic Circle (a place known to anyone who has driven through the town), I was charged for the ice in my bourbon.  The ICE.  One dollar for, as the receipt put it, “rocks.”  

They also charged me for the dessert that they had run out of, so I got that one stricken from the record.  But mind you, I’ve seen many other people complain about their restaurant experience, only to be showered with free food, gift certificates, Circiassian slave girls, and so on.  I, however, got nothing but a pedantic manager out to explain to me, as though I were the most pathetic of country simpletons, how there is more alcohol in the drinks that have ice.  Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that that isn’t actually true, but that rather this guy hasn’t even discovered displacement yet?  “Look, sir.  You’ll see, it is manifestly obvious that when I add these obloids of frozen liquid to your potation, the booze line undergoes elevation.  So how could we remain in business in this land of Opportunity if we did not charge you for the utterly obvious increase in liquid in your cup?”

And of course, my salary remains the same even in a world that charges you to put some ice in your drink.  Oh, the sacrifices we make in these trying times: I may have to begin taking my bourbon neat (or just ordering scotch).  Bernacke and Paulson, where is your 700 billion?  Is there room in that figure to buy me some ice?