Saturday, May 23, 2015

Reality Check

After the historic Irish vote, the first where a nation (or 3/4 of one) and not a legislature approved same-sex marriage, Diarmuid Martin, Dublin's archbishop, called for a reality check amid this "social revolution." According to today's Irish Examiner:
“We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal with a sense of denial,” he said.
“I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church.”
As a product of more than that time spent in the school system one nation removed from Ireland, and who started a few years after the conclusion of Vatican II, I watched as nuns gave up their habits, in more ways than one, and then left, as priests suddenly disappeared, and as many of my classmates drifted off from the Church over time. We are the last to recall, outside of traditionalist enclaves, an American practice, derived often from Ireland, of indulgences, spiritual bouquets, novenas, rosaries, Mary Day, benediction, going to confession behind a screen in the dark, and lighting real candles. Many of my teachers were Irish, direct or a generation or so distant, and the ties were strong and lasting to this ancient way of life, where we identified ourselves by what parish we were from, and Mass going was as automatic on Sundays as was crossing ourselves, or praying to so many saints, or a Marian litany.

Sure, sometimes I miss that, but do I miss the fear I still wrestle with in the dark, middle-aged, about sin, about my mortality, about death? That was all instilled in me at a formative age, and even if I was born as Vatican II commenced, I am old enough to carry the pre-conciliar, Tridentine legacy of doom.

So, I wish my Irish friends well. It's a sign of how in my own lifespan, the leap from a blinkered to a bright acceptance of gays and lesbians in partnership and equality has happened in a country that still in the Nineties was bound, far more stronger, to the Church. I do wonder, however, if the lurch to secularization and massive consumerism, as the boom years showed to Ireland's weakness, reveal that whatever has replaced the Faith of Our Fathers leaves many with their own search, amid the gap opened by the loss of trust in the clerical establishment and its dogma, for meaning that can reward us without pointing to supernatural intervention, clerical suppression of thought, and a cowed laity. Blessed with more liberty and abundance than our forebears, how do we conduct ourselves wisely?

That, to me, is the struggle that we confront. The Pew survey, as I blogged this week, shows an 8% drop between 2007 and 2014 in Christian identification in the U.S. That is massive. As in much of the developed world, the decline in faith is balanced, all the same, by the upsurge in poorer regions. So, we will face a richer North, and a poorer but more pious South, it seems, in the century ahead. And, I suspect that many of us, and our children from whatever arrangement biology and the law allow from now on, will ask the same Big Questions as me and my ancestors. But at least now, we have choices.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book buying, post-Net

Marc Andreesen is a decade younger, a whole lot bigger, and immensely more wealthy than me, but I share one thing in common. Growing up, neither he nor I had a bookstore nearby. My distance from one was shorter, but it still took a long bike ride, or tagging along with my parents when they went to the one mall for many miles around, to a B.Dalton chain store. If lucky, maybe Vromans in Pasadena.

My experience was about the same as Andreesen. In a New Yorker profile, he tells Tad Friend of his penurious childhood in rural Wisconsin. "He had to drive an hour to find a Waldenbooks, in La Crosse; it was all cookbooks and cat calendars. So he later saw Amazon as a heroic disseminator of knowledge and progress. 'Screw the independent bookstores,' he told me. 'There weren’t any near where I grew up. There were only ones in college towns. The rest of us could go pound sand."

I agree. Vromans has been around since the end of the nineteenth century. While the longest-lasting indie bookstore within a vast region where I grew up, it too has become more of a baked goods-coffee shop-hangout than the "serious" bookstore of my childhood. It used to have one or two branches in malls. One of those malls has long since changed into a mini-Manila shopping center. The other vanished long ago, as did B. Dalton, which in turn took over the local chain, Pickwick, started with its flagship store on Hollywood Boulevard. My mom drove me there when in college I needed a copy of Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams; the only copy in the Southland, it turned out, was there, a twenty-dollar illustrated version. I loved it, but I felt bad she had to take me a considerable distance to procure it. Some calls were made, and as with another book I tried a few years later to wrangle around 1990, Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches, on Holland's boom time, even a big publisher and a big title, at least in academia and the book review sections, did not get distributed. I must have rung up two dozen stores before I found one stocking it around L.A.

That was the reality, unless you were near a big college. This week, I wanted a copy of a title from Harvard U.P. The public library did have it, but that was the single copy, and I felt it worth investing in. I rarely buy books compared to my heyday, for reasons of price, lack of space, and budget priorities. But the Net, for all its deprivations, enables either used books to 1) soar in cost to crazy algorithmic figures such as $219.86 or 2) plummet, sometimes at least, to $7.83. I logged on the search aggregator and found David Slavitt's controversial abridged and casually ottava rima version of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso for $11.50. Then I noticed the same description was repeated for other book sites for a copy; I compared them and figured the same title went for $9.50 and $8.80 elsewhere. So, I checked the seller, for it said in one place it was hardcover and another softcover.

The seller could not verify, but I gambled on the 30-day return policy and the preponderance of evidence that it was hard and not soft. I placed the order, and it went down to $8.08. Then, when I processed it, the verification said $7.83. So, the magic happened. The charity in Texas got my weekend order, sent it on Monday, and by Wednesday, there it was, $4.33 plus $3.50 shipping.

How much did it sell for locally? One seller listed was in Pasadena. $12. I could have driven there and paid the list $8 plus tax, about a dollar more. But I'd have had to park and pay; gas is not cheap. It turned out I chose rationally. In the old days, I would have gone there, and likely found four more titles to buy at the same store. But my house and garage fill up with such previous purchases after decades of haunting those indie stores, off and then on the Net. And I need limits. So, unless a local public library carries it, a copy is usually borrowed. But, being a bookworm, an independent scholar, and a plain compulsive reader, you will understand my moments of weakness, or self-justification.

Image: for this venerable quote from Erasmus, I figured you'd prefer this photo to one of me reading bedside.Even if I buy food and not "cloths"--that does sound early-sixteenth century, all the same.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fewer believers, more consumers?

The recent Pew survey on American religion shows a rapid decline, from around 78% to 70% in Christian identification since 2007. Catholics are dropping, as are evangelicals. While 10% of all Americans were ex-Catholic then, now it's 13%. Tim Rutten wonders how much evangelical and right-wing politics may be to blame for this decline. Unaffiliated respondents have increased by 6.7% the past period, to nearly 30% After all, independent-leaning, alienated, skeptical voters (like me) are often repulsed by pious rhetoric and cant. "Well over one-third of all Americans under 49 now are unaffiliated and a substantial number of them profess a complete disinterest in religion or its values."

This surge transcends the usual ethnic, class, regional, or traditional boundaries. If not for relentless immigration and concomitant population growth, the Catholic and probably some Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches would show deeper drops. The tilt of the Church in my region tips now about 70% Latino, for instance, with large Filipino and Vietnamese contingents. Sure, the South does still boast more believers, and cities more their cohort of "spiritual but not religious," a phenomenon now spreading beyond the privileged pockets on the East and West Coasts and I suppose college towns. The report sums up: "People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is 'nothing in particular,' now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007. The growth of the 'nones' has been powered in part by religious switching. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised as Christians or members of some other religion, but now say they have no religious affiliation." This cheers me, if oddly for me.

For I study religion, I value its contributions, I suspect its assertions, and I analyze its functions. I teach a course in its comparative aspects, open to students online nationwide whom I will never likely meet. I ask them to discuss their own orientation. Most do so happily, revealing usually about one or two articulate but disenfranchised voices, maybe half who are more or less observant of some form, and the rest divided between those who have been raised Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist but who have a wavering or flexible attitude towards the tenets with which they were inculcated. Sometimes I get a pagan or two, a Jewish or Muslim student, too. A Buddhist, too, but so far all who blend a vague sort of aspiration with New Age, from a Christian background. So, they match Pew data above.

But some often bristle, being mainly mainline Christians still, when I challenge them about the growth of "nones," or when I confront them to move out of a comfort zone and critically respond to those who address the drawbacks of, well, every religious system we study over the eight weeks. I offer the positive and the negative aspects of the major faiths--even if the textbook and lectures on the online shell try to be very neutral, I cannot be so as a teacher who wants students to stretch their limits. Therefore, the new data I will have to offer my next class will continue to push their boundaries. As we turn a less religious nation, however, as Rutten concludes, we must all question another transformation: autonomic absorption of so many Americans into the consumer society, as we face a consumerist, capitalist force "that so often seems more powerful than any religion."

Rutten asks: "If you live in a world that begs you to choose from among 600 types of potato chips and 400 brands of hummus, why not faith? Whether a society that idolizes that kind of choice really is a better place than the one we’re struggling with now, will be something we’ll all discover." Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

tSeirbhís chuimhneacháin ina dTailte Dearg

Thiomáint muid go dTailte Dearg go minic. Ach, níl muid imithe go dti ansin a freastail ócáid difriúil ná mar gheall ár mhac síne, Leon. Mar sin féin, chuaigh muid go dti inniu.

Fhreastail muid an tseirbhís chuimhneacháin do Kathryn Green. Scríobh mé faoi di le déanaí ar an bhlog seo. Fuair bás sí amach ar saol seo is tobann.

Chuaigh muid ciorcal ar an Ollscoil na Tailte Dearg an tráthnóna seo. Bhí chuimhne Léna agus chairde go leor eile faoi Kathryn le grá. Labhair daoine faoi a ranníaocaíochtaí agus cairdeas go fliúrseach.

Bhí mé sásta a fheiceáil cairde ó dhá sheiminear leis Liam MacDomhnall agus Caoimhin Ó Néill fós. Bhailigh muid leis mic léinn atá caite agus faoi láthair ar chéile ag an poll dóiteáin faoi na gréine. Bhí sé ina lá cothrom chun freastail ar ansin, gan amhras.

Faoi deireanach, d'ith muid ag an bialann Eureka leis Leon agus Chaiside. Bhuail mé an fear bocht óg le coiléan nua. An bhialann a íocadh a béile lena fiancess, duirt sé orm. Duirt sé liom go mbeadh sé íoc ar ais an tseachtain seo chugainn nuair a bhí íochta aige féin.

D'ólann muid leann blásta. Bhí maith liom giotán le leann Strawberry Sour (Almanac) agus La Folie Sour Brown Belgian (New Belgium) agus Ritual Red, ach is brea liom Patsy's Coconut Rye Stout (Barley Works, Costa Mesa) agus le déanaí Heart of Dankness le Ritual, an IPA áitiúl an chuid is fearr. Tósta muid di Kathryn.

A memorial service.

We have driven to Redlands often. But we have not gone out there to attend a different occasion than for our older son, Leo. All the same, we went there today.

We attended a memorial service for Kathryn Green. I wrote about her lately on this blog. Death took her out of this life very suddenly.

We joined a circle at the University of Redlands this afternoon. Layne and many other friends remembered Kathryn with love. People spoke about her contributions and friendship in abundance.

I was happy to see friends from two seminars with Bill McDonald and Kevin O'Neill too. We gathered with students who were past and present together at the fire pit under the sun. It was a lovely day to gather there, without a doubt.

After, we at at the Eureka restaurant with Leo and Cassidy. I met a poor young man and his new puppy. The restaurant was paying for his meal, he told me. He told me he would pay them back in a week when he was paid himself.

We drank tasty ale. I liked a bit of the Strawberry Sour (Almanac) and La Folie Sour Brown Belgian (New Belgium) and Ritual Red, but I loved Patsy's Coconut Rye Stout (Barley Works, Costa Mesa) and finally Heart of Dankness from Ritual, a local IPA the best of all. We gave a toast to Kathryn.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hades and Proserpina
Six weeks ago, I commented in "Free Speech Can Be Scary" about "safe spaces" and the growing inability of certain college students to handle challenges to their worldview, identity, and psyche. Today, I found in my FB feed from an Irish colleague this. She shares my caution that particular elements may well set off sensitive responses, but that education for adults demands they take risks. Apparently, some at Columbia fear, again, the invasion of a student's mindset, based on tolerance and sensitivity.

An op-ed in the student paper summed up a young woman's reaction to scenes of rape in her assigned reading. These upset her, as "a survivor of sexual assault." The article explained how "Ovid’s 'Metamorphoses' is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background." Hades' rape of Proserpina, like many episodes in Ovid, is violent, but surely, many passages of beauty also linger.

I share the image of Bernini. If the mythological context is known by the viewer, violence may arise. If not, this might be taken as erotic bliss, foreplay and seduction captured in unforgettable marble. This tension, for me, might better enliven and enrich a classroom discussion or writing prompt, than a fearful rush to eliminate any depiction of nudity or sexuality from my syllabus or a student's view. As Scott Timberg sums this up in Salon: "Why start protecting students from Ovid in a TMZ world?"

To me, "like so many texts in the Western canon" is its own touchy trigger. How much of the humanities and social sciences can be taught and examined if we fear the content? Do we bowdlerize the readings, so as to censor offending passages? Twice when I showed one of many, I recall, "R-rated" features in my Literature and Film course, some Christian students asked to be excused. I was told by my supervisors that I had to grant them this, and I had to come up with an alternate assignment to meet their needs. Further, as another professor I knew had to do, disruptive content itself might be removed, unless the material had no substitute, or there was a way the course guidelines could be met without the specific example. Say, Huck Finn was assigned, but one might, say, replace it with a slave narrative, or an historical account that lacked the n-word trigger event.

Once I taught that novel to a predominantly black enrollment, at another college. As the Net was barely up, and as shortcuts were lacking for hard work, to their credit, they read it but lacked much enthusiasm. One woman loved the Grangerford episode, but for the sappy eulogies that Twain parodied. My gentle efforts to convince her that these were satire failed utterly. I am not sure if it was me, the content in American Literature (which I made very multicultural while also integrating the canon), or the fact they attended one course after another in a group, after work at Bell. Maybe they were tired of each other after so long. Perhaps I seemed elitist, even if I'm from a low-enough "income background" to have received Pell Grants. Among those "of color" of any tinge, the humanities, whittled from a Norton Anthology, must daunt many business and management majors.

That connects with my other posts about a decline of liberal arts. In a Twitter age, we lack attention for stamina. I was told by a dean that the average attention span of a student is 7 minutes, and that at least every 15-20 minutes, we need in the classroom to shuffle it and them about. Like kindergarten?
(Image: Hades and Proserpina, Bernini.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tim Parks' "Where I'm Reading From": Book Review

Echoing a title of a Raymond Carver story collection, Tim Parks names his own collection tellingly. Over three-dozen brief, interlocked essays confront how contemporary authors increasingly write in "the changing world of books" for an international market. Where they are coming from, therefore, fades; where they aim at, outside of their native language and distinctive culture, looms large.

This rankles Parks. After college, he moved from England to Italy in 1981. He married and raised his family there. He is ideally placed, as a professor of translation in Milan, and as a prolific novelist and a critic for the New York Review of Books. His memoirs of life in Verona, the education of his children, and his explorations of Italy by train widen our insight into his adopted land. "Reading It Wrong" here offers a glimpse at how his Italian students tend towards "slippage," transferring their innate mindsets into their versions of D.H. Lawrence. More such comparisons and contrasts, from what Parks labels from his previous texts mediating Italian mores for Anglophones as "ironic anthropology," would have deepened this book's contexts.

Parks prefers to roam abroad for intellectual stimulation. He marshals Gregory Bateson, Christina Stead, and Henry Green, for example, as well as Thomas Hardy, Samuel Beckett, Philip Roth, and Virginia Woolf, to exemplify worthwhile predecessors. He dismisses a few of their successors, such as "know-it-all" Jonathan Franzen. Parks distrusts literary festivals and creative writing programs. He wonders why so many M.F.A. products of such churn out narratives of failure and novels of idealism.

Recent authors, he suspects, peddle expectations that writing about sex and violence can prepare readers for the real-life shock and intensity of these encounters. Parks resists this. Provocatively, he advises that the "power of narrative to shift or at least threaten our attitudes" may cause us to wisely "avoid certain books as unhelpful" at crucial periods or vulnerable moments in our lives. This may be a surprising judgment from an author or a critic, but it demonstrates Parks' contrary or clever stance.

Even on issues as theoretically dry as copyright, Parks sustains a thoughtful reaction. "The lapse of copyright is a concession to the author's dreams of immortality at the expense of the family." He examines the debate as technology weakens an artist's hold over one's creative production. "Can one really expect all countries to defend the rights of foreign authors, when the majority of international bestsellers come from half a dozen countries and overwhelmingly from the United States?" This is not a marginal subject. Where one writes and reads from plays into this collection's greatest concern.

Translation for a global market leads to loss of the indigenous, and a profitable gain in "universal appeal." Parks argues how authorship grounded in the here and now faces erosion. Storm threatens. Akin to "a Hollywood costume drama or indeed an extravagant computer game," these "well-established, globally shared tropes" may wipe out narratives locally based, now endangered by trade.

He hints at a related shift in his Italian Ways, where the rail system proved a test case for exposing a nation's distinctive attitudes. There, he charted how Italian itself syntactically has begun to shift towards English models. Parks does not use the linguistic terms code-switching or calquing or creolization. But these impacts are evident. This clash reverberates. For Italian writers, and those of many languages, must struggle to choose. They may remain voices for what distinguishes them from the lingua franca. Or they may make their prose simpler, their references generic, and their plots easily translatable into global media, where English offers lucrative royalties and media adaptations.

Parks does not focus much on Italian writers. His two previous anthologies of essays, mainly book reviews collected in To Hell and Back (2002) and in The Fighter (2007), critiqued some of them. (One small absence persists. If indication of when these pieces were written was inserted, and if data as to their previous publication were appended, that would help a reader appreciate their formation.) Parks takes pains, still, to arrange the contents so the short essays carom off of one another. This deepens their impact on the reader as the pages accumulate. While the essays gathered in Where I'm Reading From tend to be much briefer than his reviews, they approach epigrams by their terseness.

Terse also characterizes the tone Parks takes. He sounds rattled by the capitulation of so many of his fellow authors towards giving in to the multinational corporation with its tempting crossover tie-ins.
Therefore, a pair of later essays offer slight hope for the idiosyncratic and the innovative mavericks.

Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone (1817-1832) itself has a title that refuses to escape its origins, as if a indigestible "hodgepodge." Leopardi compiled philosophical reflections into almost 5000 pages of handwritten entries. These in mood anticipate his near-contemporary Schopenhauer as well as later curmudgeons such as Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, and E.M. Cioran with their "gloomy content and emphatic style." One closes this collection convinced Parks, despite his gloomy tendencies in evidence in abundance throughout this slim volume, will channel his own emphases by a style capable of rousing the peculiar, headstrong, and quirky creative talents who stave off sameness.
(To New York Journal of Books, 5-12-15)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's a Professor to Do?

A former doctoral classmate, a few years ahead of me at our alma mater, now teaches at Emory. He was one of the stars of the English Ph.D. program then, and it's no wonder he has continued as a commentator as well as critic of the system that has shifted, as younger generations seek cash back rather than wisdom accrued. His essay in Sunday's New York Times ranks #1 for "most e-mailed." He looks back to when students emulated professors, and they held them in awe. He was one of them, as was I. He reflects: "I saw the same thing in my time at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the early 1980s, when you couldn’t walk down the row of faculty offices without stepping over the outstretched legs of English majors lining up for consultations. First-year classes could be as large as 400, but by junior year you settled into a field and got to know a few professors well enough to chat with them regularly, and at length. We knew, and they knew, that these moments were the heart of liberal education."

His op-ed piece asks: "What's the Point of Being a Professor?" As face-time shrinks, the utilitarian function of professors grows. That's all we're good for, and in an era where not 18% as in 1960 but 43% of students earn an "A," why complain? Only 8% of students frequently hear “negative feedback about their academic work;" 61% report in a national survey he cites that their profs treat them as colleagues or as peers. I think of my older son's new alma mater, where all are on first-name basis.

I find it odd that the writer does not mention the related shift away from the four courses, two in Shakespeare, one Milton, one Chaucer, that distinguished English majors there until recently. In the Wall Street Journal, Heather Mac Donald asked if UCLA's humanities had forgotten their humanity. My former classmate at my M.A. program in Claremont told me that only four out of 52 colleges surveyed now require Shakespeare, which at my undergrad program was required for all in English. What replaced them at UCLA are courses in gender, race, and theory. I have no objection to these. But they fail to ground undergrads in literary tradition, which they can then challenge all they like.

He continues: "I returned to U.C.L.A. on a mild afternoon in February and found the hallways quiet and dim. Dozens of 20-year-olds strolled and chattered on the quad outside, but in the English department, only one in eight doors was open, and barely a half dozen of the department’s 1,400 majors waited for a chance to speak." When I was in Rolfe Hall, I don't recall the hordes my colleague did, but I did wait slumped on the linoleum outside an office, waiting my turn, in a time when we all carried enormous backpacks full of texts and notebooks, and kept slumped, reading on. I never developed a close relationship with any of my professors, keeping them at a distance in college and since, but I did get to house-sit a week for one of my diss. advisers when he went on vacation. I never addressed him or others on my committee as other than "Professor"-X, out of respect and habit.

I assume at my both my sons' colleges, that has changed. Perhaps as when children call parents of their friends by their first names, a lurch into informality that missed me, as discipline gave way to permissiveness outside my own circle. Now, in a career-driven mindset, the liberal arts, for the few still taking it. UCLA continues to have a very large English department compared to many of its sister institutions, as a proud "public Ivy." My fellow graduate avers: "When college is more about career than ideas, when paycheck matters more than wisdom, the role of professors changes. We may be 50-year-olds at the front of the room with decades of reading, writing, travel, archives or labs under our belts, with 80 courses taught, but students don’t lie in bed mulling over what we said. They have no urge to become disciples." I assume he's closer to 60 than 50 by now, but the truth holds here.

With a bit of an emendation. I don't lord my august presence over my charges. Unlike those at elite institutions such as UCLA and Emory, my students are often vets, single moms, middle-aged folks downsized or out of a job, immigrants and first-generation strivers not attending college on the largess of well-off relatives or families abroad. I work with them, and I struggle--teaching a snippet of Greek culture or Impressionist art in one course, the Industrial Revolution and Neolithic progress in another. They sit, at night, tired out from days that may begin before dawn. I try my best, again. 

Often in this blog I remark if in somewhat occluded fashion about my own career. I've taught, thanks to adjunct and grad school work, far more than 80 courses. My full-time gig of nearly twenty years went from three 15-week terms of five courses each to eight-week terms averaging three courses, so I quail at doing the math. All I know is I've had some courses dozens and dozens of times by now. But I tinker with them, they get updated, and I update. One on technological culture from a humanities perspective has warped and woofed myriad ways since I started it in '97, while I teach Shakespeare somehow in less dramatic changes as I sneak a bit of the Bard into two weeks of an intro to lit class. 

My students are different from those my near-peer teaches. They can enter with a GED. They enroll for practical reasons rather than philosophical ones. A new marketing campaign addresses those who aren't trying to "find" themselves, but who already know what they want and how to get it is a degree. Still, last term, on a printout for submission online of a student's teaching evaluation, by whose scores we are rated in turn by deans, I did see "Best Proffesor Ever!" in ballpoint on a verification form.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Anything to Say?"

Italian sculptor Davide Dormino unveiled three of his statues in Berlin's Alexanderplatz.They depict Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning, all vilified in the U.S. by many of my fellow citizens and nearly all of those who claim to represent me as leaders in our government and military. “They have lost their freedom for the truth, so they remind us how important it is to know the truth,” Dormino succinctly states. The piece, titled, "Anything to Say?" invites our participation and perpetuation.

At the Free Thought Project, Jay Syrmopolous notes: "The artwork is not only an ode to the courage of these three whistleblowers, but also serves as a call to citizens to take a stand, as the three are standing on chairs with a fourth empty chair next to them." As this article mentions, it reminds me that a month before, New York City police removed within an hour a statue of Snowden. I think a hologram projection of him was, however, beamed onto the vacant pedestal, an eerie representation.

I'm not much for statues or pedestals. I've always had an iconoclastic streak. But I do, as a teacher of the humanities, appreciate the busts and monuments and public places that do dignify people, past and present, who bring more dignity and less hatred to our world--and promote that among ourselves.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Librarians Strike Back vs. the Evil NSA Empire

Well, The Nation's headline isn't as dramatic, but it does summon up the nature of the battle. Defying time, the May 25th issue is already out, and Zoe Carpenter reports on ""Librarians vs. NSA". My friend and anti-censorship activist Carrie McIntyre posted this on FB, so I was pleased to see it as the cover story. The admissions of Edward Snowden, so well if teasingly documented in Citizenfour, continue to embarrass and confront our government. Whether Bush's GOP or Obama's Dems, the post-9/11 security state is rotten. I champion those brave enough to expose its suppression and to unveil its surveillance. After Snowden and Chelsea Manning, the ability of sympathizers to uncover abuse will surely have been curtailed, but at least we have these insiders who alerted us to the evil, imposed in the name of safety.

I've wondered in my public library if patrons are safe online or in what they check out. Carpenter reports: "Under the Patriot Act, the government can demand library records via a secret court order and without probable cause that the information is related to a suspected terrorist plot. It can also block the librarian from revealing that request to anyone. Nor does the term 'records' cover only the books you check out; it also includes search histories and hard drives from library computers." I know working for an educational institution that our privacy code does not cover any federal investigation. Our government has total power over what it can demand from any of us.

So, what hope do we have for privacy, against unlawful searches and seizures, and for the 1st Amendment? After 9/11, allegations that plotters used public libraries to plan led to a crackdown. The Patriot Act followed suit. "Section 215 allows the FBI to request “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, without having to show probable cause that the 'thing' is actually connected to a terrorism suspect. The provision applied to library circulation records, patron lists, Internet records, and hard drives, and it prohibited any library worker who received such a request from discussing it with anyone." Carpenter reports on what mirrors what I've been told in my institution.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


How many were burned for witchcraft? Feminists in the 1970s asserted in "The Burning Times" that nine million women met this fate. Anne Barstow's Witchcraze estimated 100,000. However, recent historians lower this to 40,000-50,000. Also, about a fifth were men, further complicating figures on this controversy.

My FB feed today generated a Halloween 2013 essay  "What Witches Have to Do With Women's Health." In Salon, Soraya Chemaly links to Barstow as "the latest scholarship."
As Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English explain in the 2010 revision to their classic book “Witches, Midwives & Nurses,” between the 14th and the 17th centuries, tens of thousands of people were killed as witches. Estimates range, but the latest scholarship puts the number at roughly 100,000 people, 80-85 percent of them women. By the mid-16th century there were villages where all but one woman had been killed for practicing witchcraft.
Looking this up, I figured nearly twenty years ago may not be the most recent research. In the preview of the Ehrenreich-English book online, on pg, 14, they explain in the 1973 original (only the introduction is updated) that they relied on figures of between 50,000-100,000, and that others have claimed as many as a million murdered. They cite the leading American historian of the witch hunts, John Demos, in a necessary aside, that those killed were but a fraction of those accused or suspected.

I did find in my reviews medievalist Jeffrey Burton Russell's 2007 revision of Brook Alexander's A History of Witchcraft. This expert on witchcraft reckons 60,000 victims hanged or burned for heresy. Russell and Alexander remind us of the difficulty of defining victims. "Sorcerers, heretics, and pagans" comprise a triple definition of a "witch". If 4:5 are women, this may align with the estimate  accepted by reputable scholars today. Relying on accusers, as on hearsay, may lead to devilish errors.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fat Cats + Thin Mice


With the "clown car" of GOP candidates scrambling against the foregone nominee Hillary Clinton, I received the news that, after all, Bernie Sanders would be running as a pragmatic Democrat rather than as his (technically, since this democratic socialist votes with that caucus anyway) independent affiliation with guarded hope. I've turned so disenchanted, perhaps since seeing Watergate unfold in junior high, with the Beltway and party politics that dominates the headlines and corporate life with which it has become inextricably tangled, that the reluctant left-libertarian in me surfaces more desperately as I age. Idealistically, I keep wishing grassroots, non-coerced, decentralized decision making could be our option--at work and in conducting our lives. But I distrust, as Founding Fathers did, the mob-rule of the demos and I mistrust the way that powerful demagogues can sway a populace by nepotism, favors, back-room deals, and cronyism.

Robert Reich, who perhaps repents of some of his sins under Mr. Clinton's administration, remains an advocate for the kind of message Sanders might favor. Reich warns that it's up to politics and not the economy to force the change that Hillary panders to (in her 180 consultants hired, I suppose, to advise her to eat at a Chipotle in Iowa she has been driven to in a van) in posting as an ordinary citizen. She, finger to the wind, figures the banker pals in '08 won't convince us, post-downturn. But maybe we will forget Obama's bailouts and TARP if we see her forcing a laugh, and accept her faux-folksy quality, as we do her male opponents who wear flannel, visit diners, and stand in tanks.

Opposing this grandstanding (I wonder if he will when Hillary does so?), Reich wrote in Salon about our nightmare economy: "Workers worried about keeping their jobs have been compelled to accept this transformation without fully understanding its political roots. For example, some of their economic insecurity has been the direct consequence of trade agreements that have encouraged American companies to outsource jobs abroad. Since all nations’ markets reflect political decisions about how they are organized, so-called “free trade” agreements entail complex negotiations about how different market systems are to be integrated. The most important aspects of such negotiations concern intellectual property, financial assets, and labor. The first two of these interests have gained stronger protection in such agreements, at the insistence of big U.S. corporations and Wall Street. The latter—the interests of average working Americans in protecting the value of their labor—have gained less protection, because the voices of working people have been muted." Insecurity deepens.

While many assume more degrees are the answer, he and I remain skeptical. If wealth keeps flowing up to the fat cats and not down to the many, diplomas (and debt) will not free many "thin mice" up into this system to realize greater gains and higher wages. My friend told me now that college debt and retirement are being consolidated by financial planners. If a fifth of workers lack stable full-time employment, and as firms figure out how to outsource, offshore, contract out, and cut back steady hires, those left behind will further be slowed as automation, globalization, and cost-cutting expand.

Reich concludes: "Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority, whose incomes have stagnated and whose wealth has failed to increase, join together to demand fundamental change. The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress." I wonder how we will fare, if either Hillary with her $2.5 billion to spend or her deep-pocketed, lobbyist-courted GOP contender triumphs in '16.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fast-food education

My good friend Bob, at an adult educators' conference in Universal City ( the Sheraton's full of Buddha and Schwarzenegger icons, a magnificently tacky monstrosity that sums up L.A.'s facade, he avers) stopped by for dinner last night. As he mentioned unionization and the SEIU last night, I was intrigued to find in my FB feed today this compatible article. Paul Rosenberg at Salon--a publication I often dismiss as either full of sex-teasing fluff or outrage over "privilege"-- does post educational coverage.

It's often the same message I repeat. "They Turned College into McDonalds" addresses what bugged me about this month's cover story in the Atlantic. Amanda Ripley reports at prolific length on Starbucks' underwriting of its workforce to earn online degrees from Arizona State University, but "The Upwardly Mobile Barista" never asks the following. 1) How does ASU handle 13,000 new students? 2) Who teaches them, and how are such instructors paid?  3)  Are these professors given cookie-cutter course platforms to "facilitate"? 4) What is the quality, if as acclaimed, one of the baristas can do most of her coursework via her iPhone? 5) Is this the kind of graduate we want?

Rakesh Kurana, dean of Harvard, contrasted a transformative from a transactional education to incoming freshmen last fall. How can the type of education marketed now to those far from the elite aim at the more traditional, idealistic, soul-giving accomplishment? I know my students seek a get-it-done, get-it-quick practical training with as few liberal arts courses as minimally required. However, in the inevitable caveat or qualifier, I do strive for fairer conditions for my students, who pay tuition not that different than for Ivy League schools, but who receive a degree by "blended" or online modes that relies on non-tenured faculty, many earning very little money to teach them.

Rosenberg does the math. He cites a lecturer at my undergrad alma mater in deep debt from grad school, who then was let go from his "contingent" position as "visiting faculty" two years on so he could not claim rights to sue for tenure-track. Many of us teach full-time without tenure, and most covering the rise to 3/4 of all professors as off-tenure seem to think it's merely part-timers effected.

Consider the profit earned here. The author quotes an instructor who "works for an online for-profit university," who then "provided more detail on the mismatch between student costs and teacher pay:
Considering that students pay $565 per course, and that there are approximately 20 students per class, adjuncts are paid approximately 4% of what the university takes in even though we execute the core requirements of the university. As an open enrollment university with 86% Title IV students, dedicated adjuncts must provide extensive, time-consuming feedback frequently up to 20 hours per week, which averages a wage of less than $10 per hour."
A colleague of mine did similar calculations. Ads and recruitment at a for-profit total far more (sometimes twice) the budget for instructional pay. I reckon it takes very few students to "pay off" the salary of the instructor (full-time or part-time), and the disparity works greatly in the institution's favor. Especially if online courses enroll three-dozen students, and charge the same fees as onsite. Having only twenty students, I and my colleagues would agree, would be a welcome change for us.

Some of you reading this may scoff. You may dismiss this as whining by the privileged. But many of us with Ph.D.'s have earned them slowly, working as we progressed, for in the U.S. humanities model rather than overseas, grants are few, and coursework supported by T.A.-ships stops around the same time that the dissertation stage arrives, so it is common to take a decade to complete one's doctorate.

During that time, rents must be paid, fees kept up for the advisory process, and you've got to eat and commute too. Debts accumulate and now, with the cuts in governmental aid for non-STEM degrees, the situation is dire. I know we knew what we were getting into, and this is one slight annoyance I have with some interviewed who act as if colleges owed them the cushy appointments once secured.

Still, this points to a dire downturn. If rates can always go up for students, and down for teachers, that portends a cruel reckoning for many in once-coveted positions. Many of us sought to leave humble backgrounds behind and achieve a grasp on the ladder to pull us up into the academic world. Now, we hold on to a lower rung. We find ourselves stuck, on a "contingent" perch due to our aspiration and our debt, unable to climb up. Those tenure-bound step on us, determined to never back down.

This may be a straitened predicament more find themselves locked into. Rosenberg again: "Covering the strike for Salon, Josh Eidelson made a number of key points. First, that far from being peripheral, fast food jobs represent a de facto employment paradigm for today’s America:
Fast food is becoming an ever-larger and more representative sector of the U.S. economy. “We should think of these jobs as the norm,” said Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren, “because even when you look at the high-skilled, high-paying jobs, they’re even adopting the low-wage model” of management. That means erratic schedules, paltry benefits, and – so far – almost no unions. “These are the quintessential example of the kinds of jobs that we have now,” said Warren, “and of the kind of job that we can expect in the future for the next few decades.”
I wonder as we endure another presidential campaign who will champion workers against bosses? Robert Reich warns, in this economic nightmare we endure: "Under these circumstances, education is no panacea. Reversing the scourge of widening inequality requires reversing the upward distributions within the rules of the market, and giving workers the bargaining leverage they need to get a larger share of the gains from growth." Keep in mind as millionaires ask for your vote. May Day has passed, Haymarket is barely remembered, as labor shifts into cubicles and contingency. Those who dominate more of our nation's workforce may toil long beyond 9-5. Teachers as well as students might be tapping away at Starbucks, while their "associates" or "colleagues" sign on for their degrees.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Clan Committment: Armenia + Ireland, 100 years on

This photo, "Remnants of an Armenian Family," reminds me of photos taken from An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, known popularly if not exactly correctly, according to many, as the Irish Famine. Change the costumes or headgear, and these five could be an evicted family from a stone cottage far northwest.

Nothing to Celebrate in ANZAC in Solidarity Net criticizes those who from colonies and dominions were encouraged to fight in useless battles for capitalism, imperialism, warlords, and false ideals. It questions the tributes to troops at Gallipoli. About 88,000 for the Ottoman and 44,000 for the British Empire died there. This slaughter and that in Armenia echo, as death returns in a region today. Small nations hunted and hated by armed fanatics, hunted for their allegiance, their clan, their religion.

James Connolly, when asked "What Should Irish People Do During the War?", after denouncing cooperation with the Crown to defend its Empire and admitting if Germany could free Ireland from Britain, that would not be rejected, finally rallied against Kaiser or King. "Should the working class of Europe rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world."

Reflecting this May Day on an Irish history full of invective against its nearest and oldest enemy, I wonder about the psychic cost of raising generations a century later on what riled and inspired our families' desperation: to rage against rulers, to take up arms, to revenge eras culminating in ravaged decades filled with famine, rape, emigration, rack-rent, landlords, conscription, death fast or slow. 

While for years much of my reading and writing focused on The Cause, I find the past few years, and after all nearing two decades since truces were called and arms decommissioned and dumped in Ireland, I'm a bit weary of a sustained diet of study of these events. How, I mulled over as I studied Judaism, can people craft careers in analyzing the records of the Shoah, or literature of the Armenian genocide? It reminds me off hand somehow of the professor of Hitler Studies in White Noise, but no parody is intended by me. Primo Levi's books are being retranslated this autumn and reissued, and the publisher has to remind the press and audience he's not only a survivor-testifier from the deathcamps. 

Watching the shows that John Walsh produces as his son was killed years ago and led him to produce America's Most Wanted as the first of many successful get-tough programs on t.v., my wife and I muse over what that career must do to one's spirit. How far do you capitalize, however well-intended, on death or harm caused to you or your family? Does that market or brand you always? Levi wrote fables like his fellow storyteller Italo Calvino; he dramatized the life of workers, he crafted stories, and he told some of his best tales set before the war, in The Periodic Table, as when he hiked with his little dog. Those moments tend to get subsumed into the great drama. Some veterans never get over the most vivid and harrowing moments of their service, and I suppose for prisoners, hostages, those freed from slavery or torment, kidnapping or disaster, the life after can never create the same energy. 

Meline Toumani, an Armenian-American writer originally from Iran, warns in the New York Times: "Armenians Shouldn't Let Genocide Define Us." She speaks of how Jews are accused of self-hatred if they take issue with the prevailing notion that one must conform to the narrative of what I borrow from the saga of the Irish as "Most Oppressed People Ever." (MOPE: I don't agree with much of that last link's writer, but it's for ease of cyber-reference for this acronym.) Historian Alvin Jackson, a more reliable source, cites colleague Paul Bew who reminds us of the dubious claim "that the most oppressed people in Europe in the 1940s were to be found in Ireland." (671; Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History.) It's almost, but not quite given the fatal lack some carry now, superfluous to say that this was a decade which few countrymen and fellow sufferers who were interned with Primo Levi survived. So, that takes us back to Toumani. Noting Kim Kardashian's support of the centennial, Toumani submits her thesis: "Watching the dubious intersection of celebrity worship and genocide commemoration, I couldn’t help but reflect on some of the less obvious things Armenians have lost since 1915: not just people and property, but a kind of existential confidence. The genocide recognition campaign itself, in the name of restoring Armenia’s losses, has been so all-consuming as to stand in the way of other kinds of development--in Armenia and in the diaspora." It should not be all Armenians, admittedly a long time away from this event, should focus on for their identity.

She argues that it's too limiting to expect members of small ethnicities and their diasporas should or must conform to a narrow range of banal exhortations to carry on or insistent dehumanization of the enemy nation or empire which committed the violence. She went to Turkey to try to learn from the other side's intransigence and denial. Therefore, in her estimation, she has been accused of "self-hatred." She defines this: "The idea is that you are embarrassed by your true nature — your ethnic nature — and so you mock it or speak out against it. The label is used not to engage in meaningful criticism, but to dismiss such criticism by chalking it up to shame. And yet the behavior labeled self-hating often reflects the opposite of shame; it reflects confidence." Comparing the plight of Armenians to that of the Jews, she continues: "The common phrase, 'Is it good for the Jews?' is implicitly present, too, for Armenians: but what does it mean to be 'good' for the Armenians, if survival means blocking out uncomfortable ideas and clinging to simplistic symbols?"

No, neither she nor I are denying horrors perpetuated. Turkey's refusal to take responsibility, Britain's collusion to worsen the potato blight's devastating impacts by pushing millions off the land and on the emigration boats if not the sides of the road to starve, or the black whirlwind of the Shoah all stand as blots on the record of what we do to each other. But how long do we stand in as "survivors"? 

Back to Ireland, similar questions can be raised. I am no great fan of the revisionists who try, as one wag put it, to tidy it all over, as if the English had a small misunderstanding with their subjects. Yet,  as the commemoration of the Easter Rising's centennial looms and politicians and pundits bicker over whether to invite the British, this drawn-out fracas, to some apart from the scrum, appears very petty.

Toumani concludes, for her small ancestral nation (one that like Ireland has clung long to an ideal of an embattled faith, a bastion of learning amid idiocy, an outpost of beauty and tradition and language apart from its brutish neighbors far greater in power, greed, and cunning): "But the question of what healing looks like beyond the use of a single word; of how children can be taught about their histories in a way that does not leave them hating the descendants of their ancestors’ killers. Of how a country can grow in meaningful ways so that there won’t be a Kardashian-size gap in its national confidence. Taking positions that don’t track with your ethnic group’s orthodoxies, or indeed living your life in a way that is not defined by clan commitment, are not signs of self-hatred but rather an indication of learning to value oneself. And this is at the heart of what it means to be not erased but fully alive."

My friends in Ireland are learning slowly how to learn a more inclusive history, as that nation itself becomes more diverse than any other time, rapidly, ever before. Some like me one generation apart from the homeland grapple with that old language, not easy to learn at home, but far more difficult pverseas, at least from my struggle. Many at home and abroad begin to drift from from clerical orthodoxies, and those who do not feel emboldened to speak out against ecclesiastical abuse. Those of us in the diaspora, passing on our heritage to our children, grapple with how much to pass on about past wrongs, and whether so much of our identity consists of commemorating ancestral pain. Clan commitment remains. But our pride does not overshadow an awareness of nuance or honesty.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Chéim leis Leon ina dTailte Dearg

Ag deireanach, mo mhac sine ag céim amach le hIonad Mhic Eoin ag an Ollscoil na dTailte Dearg.  Thóg Casaideach dha grianghraf seo os cionn. Is feidir leat a fheicéail ár theaglach, agus Leon 'leis 'lei' agus Niall rua, an dá deartháir, ar cheile, fós.

Ina theannta sin, fheadfaidh tú ag fheicéail mise féin, Niall, mo bhean a tí Lena, Leon, agus a chailín Chaiside. Bhí an lá nios an-teo ansin. Bhi an grian gheal ansuid.

Mar sin, chuaigh muidsa ar ghrúdlann áitiúil in aice láimhe. D'ol mé gíotan na leann hIndia an-blasta ag ainmithe "Hop Daddy" nó "Hop-a-Matic." Is maith Lena agus mé an leann Beilge a thugtar "Bishop's Tipple" freisin.

Níos déanaí, thiomaint muid go bialann Mheicsiceo. D'ith iasc ag cócaireacht leis gairleog. Is brea liomsa seo agus an h-anlann.

Ar deireadh, bhí ar ais ag dul an gailearaí ealaíne ar lár ina ar baile na dTailte Dearg. Rinne Casaideach agus a cara Eric suiteáil ann. Chríochnaigh muid am i gchuimne, gan amhras.

Graduation with Leo in Redlands

At last, my older son graduated from Johnston Center at the University of Redlands. Cassidy took these two photos above. You can see our family, and Leo "with lei" and Niall in red, two brothers, together too.

Furthermore, you can see myself, Niall, my wife Layne, Leo, and his girlfriend Cassidy. It was a very hot day there. The sun was bright out there.

Therefore, we went ourselves to a local brewery nearby. I drank a bit of the tastiest India Pale Ale named "Hop Daddy" or "Hop-a-Matic." Layne and I liked the Belgian ale called "Bishop's Tipple" too.

Later, we drove to a Mexican restaurant. I ate fish cooked in garlic. I loved this and the salsa.

Finally, we went back to an art gallery in the center of the town of Redlands. Cassidy and her friend Eric made an installation there. We finished a memorable day, without a doubt.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Social Justice Bullies

My son and I were discussing a professor at his experimental liberal arts alma mater. She taught a feminist comedy course. She admitted she was open to any humor, but then she denied that rape could ever be funny. For her and her students, she insisted no humor could be found in that action.

Then my son and I joined my wife, and his classmates and me, to watch an Amy Schumer episode that my wife, who'd seen her onstage recently with her female friends, liked. It has gotten a lot of attention for the "last f-able day" actresses (hey, I like that word) commemorate their transition in one skit. But the one preceding it, parodying Friday Night Lights, is funnier: "Football Town Nights."

Even that po-faced and cynically PC-"outrage" clickbait-generating site Salon liked this skit. So that may be progress. The point is, my family and my son's friends from said college, male and female, gathered to watch what their professor judged as the one topic that was forbidden to any comic's repertoire. Not to belabor the point, but Schumer's specialty is the queasy and unspoken, made sexual. She confronts her mostly female audiences with this honesty--and she finds laughs in it.

Aristotolis Orginos the past April 8th at Medium speaks for the generation closer to my sons and their classmates. I am not sure how many of them find laughs in Amy Schumer, but they have been schooled, at least at colleges were Orginos or my sons went, in meticulously parsing any utterance according to strictures which call out any supposed or real, conscious or accidental, "privilege"-claim.

He examines claims of a campus "rape culture," he analyzes the factoid promoted that insists 1:5 women will be sexually assaulted during their university studies, and he reminds us of Orwell's Newspeak as promoted by the media (even if he leaves out Salon). He concludes: "Those who need to hear this message will probably respond that I am 1. too privileged to understand 2. tone-policing the oppressed (and that I shouldn’t tell the oppressed how to treat their oppressors) and 3. really just a closet racist/sexist in a liberal’s clothing." After four years at NYU, he's heard it all before. But, he moves forward to call on his audience to be less timid in speaking up about another type of abuse.

"The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable." This form of ad hominem attack, Orginos emphasizes, spreads intellectual dishonesty.

He wraps it up by comparing "separate but equal" to the Left's call for "safe spaces." "But the fact of the matter is — anyone unwilling to engage in productive, open, mutually critical conversations with people they disagree with under the moral protection of liberalism and social justice are not liberals, are not social justice advocates, and are not social justice warriors; they are social justice bullies."

Greg Lukianoff on April 16th at the Huffington Post criticizes Garry Trudeau. Doonesbury's creator, speaking of privilege, carries a lot himself. Descended from the Dutch founders of New York, prep-school and Yale '70, he emerged from this background to satirize the conservatives, as not one of them, the voice of the hippies as they moved like him into the Me Decade and beyond. Trudeau's comic always struck me, like much of Jon Stewart's on Comedy Central, or shows like MASH, as smug. (However, to its credit, Inside Amy Schumer is also on that network. Just as Fox Network can be edgy too!) Even if Stewart is but a year younger than me, most who champion this orthodoxy that Orginos challenges seem either quite a bit older--as with Trudeau and his hippies, or as with the millennials, quite a bit younger than me.  I guess Schumer's right in the middle, more than a decade older than my sons, two decades younger than me. Although I'm five weeks separated in birth from Obama, I ally with another voice, closer still. Ricky Gervais and I share the same birth date/year.

Gervais also takes on those who claim to act one way and secretly get away with being another. This two-faced nature enlivens his own characters, but it reminds me too of those in power from my generation, if Obama counts, and those from Trudeau's, such as the Clintons. A frequent dissenter to these political powers (and their court jesters Trudeau once, Stewart now) is the conservative columnist at the New York Times, Ross Douthat. His April 17th column, "Checking Charlie Hebdo's Privilege," cites Trudeau's defense of Islam against those who dared to mock it. For they were “punching downward ... attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority.” This was both a moral and an aesthetic failing, because “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny — it’s just mean.

Misattributed to Voltaire, "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize" still seems good advice. (Even if a variant of this as documented there comes from a source that I doubt few who cite this phrase on the Net would, thus informed, and chastened, affirm.) What Christopher Hitchens predicted when the "Danish cartoons" incited violence has come to pass: any one speaking out against Islamism, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali has from first-hand experience, is ostracized.

Demonstrating this reaction, and blaming the victim who blamed others' victimization, six writers declined to attend a recent PEN award for Charlie Hebdo. After quoting various dissenters among the prominent authors, a NYT piece concluded with a particularly credible source. “If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” [Salman] Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter [Carey] and Michael [Ondaatje] and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

How "powerless" or "disenfranchised" can a significant portion, say 12%? of Muslims, be? That totals hundreds of millions out of 1.2 billion worldwide, plus non-Muslim sympathizers. If they're a "minority," so are Catholics like Douthat, a declining billion out of seven billion, by the way. As no religion worldwide comprises a solid majority in this tallying, what's to claim? Douthat continues: "Trudeau is hardly the first writer to accuse the Hebdo cartoonists of “punching down.” For: "That phrase, and the critique it implies of 'Je Suis Charlie' solidarity, has circulated on the Western left ever since the massacre. And understandably, because it reflects a moral theory popular among our intelligentsia, one that The Atlantic’s David Frum, in a response to Trudeau, distilled as follows: In any given conflict, first 'identify the bearer of privilege,' then 'hold the privilege-bearer responsible.'”

This circles back not only to Origis, but to Schumer. She deflates the force of the rape joke by her parody, as it's repeated in such doggedly stupid terms by such simpletons it loses its hurt. Similar perhaps to how the n-word has deflected racism by those allowed to use it or reclaim it from within their community, or the use of "queer" from within that community (or "Jesuit" for that matter way back!) the subversion and deployment of coded humor by its victims made standard-bearers changes the way the larger community--even if they aren't supposed to be in on the joke or twist--responds.