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July 31, 2007 [feather]
Behind the scenes in Indoctrinate U

Evan Coyne Maloney had far more footage than he could use when it came time to assemble the final cut of Indoctrinate U. As the film prepares to go on the road--seven major cities are slated for screenings and three more will follow soon--Evan's publishing segments he couldn't use. Check out the first one, set at Columbia.

Erin O'Connor, 9:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Ways with words

This looks fun. And if you like this sort of thing, you might want to try out for the Word Cup.

Erin O'Connor, 4:27 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Should the IRS go to college?

Most of our recent discussions about government's role in ensuring that colleges and universities receiving federal funding live up to their legal obligations center on the Solomon Amendment, military recruiting on campus, and ROTC. As anyone who hasn't been asleep for the last two years knows, the Supreme Court ruled in early 2006 that higher education institutions that allow their political opinion of the military to interfere with students' rights to explore employment in the military or to train as an officer will forfeit their federal funding.

The Solomon Amendment was written with this sort of regulatory intention in mind--and it has gone a long way toward preventing schools from putting their desire to protest DADT ahead of their obligations to student choice and expression. But are there other laws that could have the same sort of power if enforced?

Brooklyn College's Mitchell Langbert thinks so:

Although agenda-driven groups like the American Association of University Professors and the New York State United Teachers claim otherwise, universities no longer defend academic freedom as the freedom to debate ideas and theories based on scientific deduction and evidence. Instead, today's professoriate defines academic freedom as the academic collective's freedom from external expectations. But no institution ought to enjoy complete freedom from legal and social norms. Universities have no freedom to harass Jewish students; to propagandize; or to support liberal political candidates. These limitations on are not just ethical. They are enshrined in tax code section 501 (c) (3) and related regulations that grant universities tax exemptions worth tens of billions of dollars and allow donors to deduct their donations.

The possibility that established universities might incur tax liabilities, to include partial penalties, when they propagandize or engage in anti-Semitism is virgin territory for the Internal Revenue Service. Governmental agencies, including the IRS, have deferred to universities' claims of collectivist academic freedom. But things have gotten out of hand. It is time for the IRS to take a closer look at universities' violations of the tax code's legal requirements upon which their tax exemptions are based.

The educational exemption under section 501(c) (3) is predicated on the principle that 'no substantial part' of what universities do can involve political activities, propaganda or attempting to influence legislation. The IRS has been inclined to interpret these restrictions liberally with respect to universities. However, the IRS has not allowed the educational tax exemption to white supremacist groups that voice anti-Semitic views. Since universities have increasingly become anti-Semitic fonts, they have veered across the line that distinguishes David Duke from Duke University.

Moreover, last year, the New York Sun quoted Brooklyn College's now-retiring provost, Roberta Matthews, as having said that 'teaching is a political act.' Literal or over-zealous application of Provost Matthews's opinion would disqualify a university from eligibility for tax exemption and tax deductibility. Section 501(c)(3) prohibits institutions from engaging in substantial degrees of political activism.

The case law concerning section 501(c)(3) is in flux, but its direction is established. In the 1959 case of Cammarano v. United States, the Supreme Court decided that monies spent for the exploitation of propaganda and lobbying are not deductible by not-for-profits like universities. In the 1979 case of Taxation with Representation of Washington v. Regan, the Supreme Court held that section 501(c)(3)'s restriction on legislative activity does not violate the First Amendment. Charities and educational institutions are free to lobby, but they have no right to a tax exemption when doing so.

With respect to propagandizing and anti-Semitism, the federal courts have held that organizations are not educational in nature when they propagate particular ideas or doctrines. Regulations have defined educational activities as involving 'full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts so as to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.' In the 1980 case of Big Mama Rag Inc. v. United States, which concerned a feminist newspaper, a federal appeals court decided that the 'full and fair exposition' rule was too vague. In the 1983 case of National Alliance v. United States the IRS addressed the federal courts' vagueness concern by introducing its current methodology test, under which the IRS bases the meaning of educational on the methods that an organization uses.

The National Alliance, a white supremacist group, had engaged in pseudo-educational activities aimed to arouse in white Americans of European ancestry 'an understanding of and a pride in their racial and cultural heritage and an awareness of the present dangers to that heritage.' The IRS argued that National Alliance's methods were not educational because they failed to provide factual foundations. According to the IRS, factors indicating that an organization is not educational include presentation of viewpoints unsupported by facts; distortion of facts; use of inflammatory and disparaging terms; and express conclusions on the basis of strong emotional feelings. Yet such factors are present in today's universities, especially in such fields such as Middle Eastern studies.

The IRS has not brought any important cases against established educational institutions. Yet, there is little question that violation of the section 501(c)(3) standards is common in universities.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud gave $20 million gifts to Georgetown and Harvard Universities. Also, the United Arab Emirates donated $200,000 to Columbia University to establish a chaired professorship. Gary Tobin, Aryeh K. Weinberg and Jenna Ferer's 2005 book Uncivil University points out that Middle Eastern Studies departments around the country are little more than propaganda organizations characterized by poor scholarship and dominated by a specific political outlook. Such Middle Eastern Studies departments are no more deserving of tax exemption than are lobbying organizations like the Committee on America Islamic Relations or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that do not receive tax exemptions. The IRS has permitted universities an illegal tax break.

There is a lot more, all difficult, and all worth thinking about.

I imagine that the prospect of the IRS auditing the content of academic scholarship and teaching would strike most academics as outrageous, impossible, threatening, and wrong. But at the same time, Langbert is pointing out a liability that higher ed institutions may well have opened themselves up to with their ongoing refusal to police themselves. And in pointing out that the IRS has made legitimate rulings on the content of other organizations' "teachings," Langbert raises real questions about the extent to which academic freedom can reasonably be invoked as a buffer against accountability--which is how, increasingly, defenders of the academic status quo like to use the concept.

Erin O'Connor, 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Movement in the accountability movement

The push for accountability legislation isn't going away. Rich Vedder outlines the most recent model legislation:

I was encouraged yesterday when the American Legislative Exchange Council brought two pieces of model legislation closer to adoption. They are proposing a Higher Education Sunshine Act and a Higher Education Accountability act. The first proposed law to be introduced into state legislatures would require universities to provide information as to the extent of intellectual diversity on campus and encourage universities to promote intellectual diversity in carrying out its mission. Colleges are more interested in skin color diversity than idea diversity, and the free flow of different ideas is critical to a vibrant university environment.

The accountability legislation would require universities to report in a consumer and legislator friendly manner all sorts of data on an easy to find web site --admission standards, data on costs, crime statistics, transfer policies, teaching loads, average time to degree, etc. -- the kinds of things parents and students want and need to know. Some states are already doing that, and legislators need to nudge others to do so.

Naysayers argue two things: that such requirements are an assault on academic freedom, and that they create unnecessary and unwieldy bureaucracy. As such, they continue, these requirements are massively anti-intellectual Trojan horses erected by the VRWC to cripple noble, liberal academe.

But a look at the fine print of such legislation--I am thinking particularly of ACTA's--shows that it is designed expressly to protect academic freedom. And it's just bad faith for universities--which have willingly bloated themselves out of all proportion with their diversity bureaucracies--to whinge about the burdens of a little additional paperwork. Surely there are streamlined ways of architecting accountability reporting. Surely the intellectual diversity aspect of that reporting could grow naturally and economically out of campuses' existing diversity machinery. And surely it's worth it, for all involved.

Erin O'Connor, 12:05 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 30, 2007 [feather]
More academic misconduct

Amid the Ward Churchill uproar, it's important to remember that his is not an isolated case. Misconduct in academe is common, and is actually something that the system of peer review and self-governance--designed to ensure integrity--can enable. Consider the case of Freakonomics author and University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt--who just settled a libel case filed against him by John Lott.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

In documents filed on Friday in federal court, the two parties outlined a settlement that requires Mr. Levitt, who is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything, to send a letter of clarification to John B. McCall, a retired economist in Texas.

Mr. Lott's lawsuit alleges that Mr. Levitt defamed him in a 2005 e-mail message to Mr. McCall. In that message, Mr. Levitt criticized Mr. Lott's work on a special 2001 issue of The Journal of Law & Economics that stemmed from a conference on gun issues held in 1999.

By some measures, Mr. Lott appears to have won little from his 15 months of litigation. No money will change hands, and the settlement does not require a formal apology from Mr. Levitt.

But on certain points of reputation and pride, Mr. Lott might take some satisfaction. Mr. Levitt's letter of clarification, which was included in Friday's filing, offers a doozy of a concession. In his 2005 message, Mr. Levitt told Mr. McCall that "it was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal." But in his letter of clarification, Mr. Levitt writes: "I acknowledge that the articles that were published in the conference issue were reviewed by referees engaged by the editors of the JLE. In fact, I was one of the peer referees."

Mr. Levitt's letter also concedes that he had been invited to present a paper at the 1999 conference. (He did not do so.) That admission undermines his e-mail message's statement that Mr. Lott had "put in only work that supported him."

In his letter of clarification to Mr. McCall, Mr. Levitt said, "At the time of my May 2005 e-mails to you, I knew that scholars with varying opinions had been invited to participate in the 1999 conference and had been informed that their papers would be considered for publication in what became the conference issue."

That looks like scholarly misconduct to me--and it looks as though the University of Chicago would be remiss to let it pass.

Lott has additional claims against Levitt that he will continue to pursue. Meanwhile, Levitt's publisher, HarperCollins, is footing his legal bills.

Erin O'Connor, 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)

July 26, 2007 [feather]
Why Hank Brown fired Ward Churchill

So often in university bureaucracies, personnel decisions are made by no one. In the collectivist space that is academe, decisions are made but nobody makes them; committees and boards are surrogates for responsibility, entities that somehow absolve the individuals who make them up from blame. So people are confidentially hired--and, more drastically--fired (denied tenure, "not renewed," or terminated for cause) without the possibility of really grasping who determined their fate or why.

University of Colorado president Hank Brown bucks that trend in today's Wall Street Journal with an op-ed entitled "Why I Fired Ward Churchill." Brown wants the world to know that he was an active agent in this decision--and in framing Churchill's firing as an autonomous act he dramatizes the broader point about accountability that he wants to make:

While no action was taken by the university with regard to his views on 9/11, many complaints surfaced at the time about his scholarship from faculty around the country. The university had an obligation to investigate. The complaints led to the formation of three separate investigative panels -- which included more than 20 of his faculty peers and which worked for over two years -- to unanimously find a pattern of serious, deliberate and repeated research misconduct that fell below minimum standards of professional integrity.

The panels found that Mr. Churchill rewrote history to fit his own theories. When confronted, he asserted he was not responsible. According to one report, "Professor Churchill has, on more than one occasion, claimed that certain acts that appear to have been his were instead the responsibility of some other actor: his editor or publisher, his assistant, or his former wife and collaborator." The report goes on to note that "we have come to see these claims as emblems of a recurrent refusal to take responsibility for errors . . . and a willingness to blame others for his troubles."

But his case is about far more than academic misconduct. It is about the accountability that public universities must demonstrate. Mr. Churchill's difficulties in facing up to his academic responsibilities are in many ways emblematic of higher education's trouble with accountability. Too often, colleges and universities tend to insulate themselves in ivy-covered buildings and have not been as diligent as necessary to ensure that the academic enterprise is conducted rigorously and honestly. This elitist attitude is simply outdated, and our university has made tenure reforms -- precipitated by the Churchill case -- that will ensure academic integrity.

Universities, particularly public research universities, are accountable to those who have a stake in their success and efficient operation. At the University of Colorado, this includes the people of Colorado who contribute $200 million in taxes annually, the federal agencies that provide some $640 million annually in research funding, the alumni who want to maintain the value of their degrees, the faculty who expect their colleagues to act with integrity and the students who trust that faculty who teach them meet high professional standards.

And just as the public has high expectations for us, we expect our faculty members to be accountable for maintaining high standards of scholarship. A public research university such as ours requires public faith that each faculty member's professional activities and search for truth are conducted according to the academic standards on which an institution's reputation rests.

Accountability can't be something others do. It has to be something that emanates from each individual agent. This is why Brown describes himself as firing Churchill--not because he alone did it, but because he played a part in it, and he accepts responsibility for the act. Accountability also can't be something that committees or other faceless cooperative entities do--it has to be something that every individual who sits on a committee or similar entity must take on as a personal duty. In this era of ongoing academic culture wars, we have become accustomed to saying that universities are resistant to calls for accountability. But perhaps we should phrase the observation differently, stop allowing "the university" to stand in for the individuals who are the real stonewallers, and name names.

Academic bloggers who write anonymously might want to consider the role they play in contributing to the culture of blame and irresponsibility Brown recognizes. They trot out every argument in the book for why they won't sign their names to their commentary. But in the end, what it all boils down to is an unwillingness to own their own words--to be accountable to others for the things they write.

Erin O'Connor, 9:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

July 25, 2007 [feather]

Currently reading:

Wilkie Collins' The Law and the Lady, one of Collins' many B-novels, which are lots of fun, but nowhere near as amazing (and I do not use that word lightly) as the four novels he wrote during his peak in the 1860s: The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale, and The Moonstone. The Woman in White was so sensational that the Victorians created an entire new sub-genre to try to contain it (the sensation novel); The Moonstone is arguably our first fully fledged detective novel. The inbetweens show Collins moving from thriller to mystery, by way of various experiments in narrating stories about crime, detection, and secrecy. Collins was unusual in peaking early--and his success had much to do with his friendship with Dickens, who mentored him and annoyed him by turns, and who helped him sharpen his vision both by example and by trying to interfere with his work in ways that forced Collins to clarify for himself why he was doing things the way he was doing them and to stick by them. His later novels are weaker, baggier, reliant on tricks he derives from techniques of the 1860s, and slackened considerably by an addiction to opium that took the edge off more than just the pain from his chronic bouts of gout.

Published in 1875, The Law and the Lady is a product of Collins' later, duller days. It's still great fun to read, and it bears the main hallmarks of Collins' style--tight plotting, determined central characters who stubbornly bring logic to bear on horrible situations others wish to ignore, eccentric and deceptive minor characters who are foils for the relentless logic of the detecting main character. But the book also bears the main hallmarks of another novel by another major writer of the day--in its basic outline, it owes a great deal to Anthony Trollope's Phineas Redux, which was published four years earlier, and which also features a man wrongfully accused of murder, a justice system unequal to unearthing the truth, a lady detective whose love for the accused leads her to feats of detection that clear the accused's name and so secure their love; there are also, in both novels, lots of scenes centered on nearly mad, disabled Scottish men who have it in their power to ease the sufferings of the principals but who refuse to do so out of spite.

All of which means that if you enjoy reading Victorian novels, you should read both The Law and the Lady and Phineas Redux--which means you also need to read Phineas Finn, which comes before Phineas Redux, so that you can read the sequel as a sequel. It's complicated, and it's a lot of pages. But it's worth it.

Erin O'Connor, 8:47 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Right and wrong in the Churchill debate

The University of Colorado was right to fire Ward Churchill, for the reasons I've laid out here. But it's still possible to be very wrong about why Colorado was right. Sean Hannity was way wrong last night when he interviewed Churchill's lawyer. Hannity actually came right out and argued that Churchill should have been fired for his 9/11 comments--an uninformed and ill-advised argument that only cheapens the care with which groups such as ACTA and FIRE have differentiated between the wrongful persecution of Churchill for his speech (both groups defended him) and the rightful investigation of his scholarly conduct (which was done with scrupulous attention to his due process rights).

While Hannity had it embarrassingly wrong, David French gets it exactly right:

I was concerned that FIRE's supporters would be squeamish about our support for such a repugnant individual. That was, of course, a rookie mistake on my part. FIRE's supporters "get it" that there is a crying need for a consistent defense of the First Amendment, and they universally applauded FIRE's stance in the case.

But then the case moved on from Ward Churchill's protected speech to his long (and checkered) past. The radical academic left could hardly have chosen a worse standard-bearer. An under-qualified, arguably fake Native American with a long history of not just plagiarism and other forms of academic fraud, but also a disturbing tendency to threaten and intimidate his critics, it turned out that Churchill was the kind of person who could only exist within the coddling atmosphere of either a radical activist organization or a university ethnic studies department (as if those things are different). Faced with overwhelming evidence of misconduct, it took well over a year for Churchill to face his day of reckoning.

As he received more due process than any ordinary American ever receives in the course of their professional lives, Churchill's dogged fight to keep his job only reinforced to many Americans the notion that faculty view themselves as a breed apart - entitled to lucrative lifetime employment no matter what they do. And that may well end up as the lasting legacy of the Churchill case: the tipping point that led an increasing number of ordinary Americans to view the academy as an out-of-control, disconnected bastion of spoiled and petulant entitlement. The academic left decries the "chilling effect" of Churchill's termination, but the only individuals who should feel "chilled" are those professors publicly spewing deranged invective at that same time that they conceal a professional past rife with fraud and abuse. No, the real (and important) legacy of the Churchill case is that he became the most famous professor in America, and he was the worst possible ambassador for an academy that is under ever-increasing scrutiny.

Amazingly, the academy doesn't seem to see this. Or at least its loudest voices don't.

Erin O'Connor, 8:21 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 22, 2007 [feather]
Literary portkeys

From Alpheus, a classicist who has not read the Harry Potter books, but who has nonetheless been unable not to notice Rowling's substantial use of allusion:

Rowling seems to love language. Even if she isn't, herself, a master of English prose, her skill with nomenclature clearly indicate that she understands the beauty and power of the English tongue: a thing English-speaking readers will respond to as long as our common speech endures. And it's not only the power of English she admires. As a classicist, I have to give props to Rowling's allegiance to Latin and Greek. Latin and, to a lesser extent, the Romance languages seem to be as much of an influence as English in her inventions of names. I especially like the names of Draco Malfoy ("Snake Badfaith") and his father Lucius -- that most suspicious of Latin praenomina, attached to such ruthless figures as Sulla and Catiline.

And how can I thank Rowling enough for having her books translated into Latin and ancient Greek (though I gather there remains some faint mystery as to whether Rowling herself was behind the latter decision)?

Rowling's devotion to the Greeks appears to be no shallow thing. I suspect that she has even been inspired, to some small extent, by the modern Greeks. This morning, when my girlfriend's copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows arrived, she pointed out to me the epigraph, a choral passage from Aeschylus's Libation-bearers about the terrible cost involved in defeating the "evil within." (This is accompanied by a second epigraph from William Penn's Fruits of Solitude.) Trust me: Bobby Kennedy may have quoted the Agamemnon at Jack's funeral, but only someone who's pretty hardcore quotes the Choephoroi. By the way, this epigraph pretty much confirmed to my satisfaction all the speculation that this book will involve a lot of soul-searching, and a whole lot of blood.

I still doubt whether Deathly Hallows will turn young readers on to Greek tragedy, but if I start hearing that the seventh book lives up to the promise of its epigraph, then -- who knows? -- even I, someday, may have to try to read these books after all.

In Rowling's series, a portkey is a magical object that transports those touching it to a designated location. Readers will recall that Harry and the Weasleys travel to the Quidditch World Cup via a portkey masquerading as an old boot, and that the Triwizard Tournament Cup is a portkey that transfers Harry and Cedric Diggory straight to Voldemort. Above, Alpheus raises the possibility that allusion might be Rowling's most remarkable portkey--one that can reach beyond characters to transport readers to the worlds opened by other works, languages, moments, and ideas.

Erin O'Connor, 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Gyring and gimbling in the wabe

If you thought beachcombing wasn't a viable professional skill, think again:

Beachcomber extraordinaire Dean Orbison has been assidiously recovering some of the 28,800 rubber duckies, turtles, beavers and frogs lost at sea when a cargo container holding them in 1992 "splashed into the mid-Pacific, where the 45th parallel intersects the International Date Line (44.7 N, 178.1 E)."

At Sitka's second annual beachcomber fair held on 25 July 2004, Dean Orbison and son Tyler Orbison, 22, exhibited a hamper full of 111 toys they'd beachcombed nearby Sitka during 1993-2004. The basket held comparable numbers: 18% turtles, 35% ducks, 26% beavers, and 21% frogs. During years at sea, the ducks and beavers faded to white while the turtles and frogs remained original blue and green, respectively. Animal bites and the surf smashing them against rocks had ruptured many.

Through the years, Dean patiently recorded the date and location where they found ninety of the fist-sized toys. This astonishing record reveals peak recoveries in five years with intervening gaps of 2, 4, 3, and 3 years, i.e., 1992-1994-1998-2001-2004. Each year, Dean and Tyler conducted comparable beachcombing effort so the peaks in the time line are not the result of differing times spent along the shore. The first peak occurred before the Orbisons began recording, but a year in which other beachcombers reported hundreds. We may safely assume an initial peak in 1992, the year the playthings first invaded Sitka.

Why should the rubber duckies wash up in Sitka in clustered patterns? Enter oceannographer Jim Ingraham. The duckies were riding a vast circulatory current in the ocean called a Gyre.

If course, this raises pressing questions of immense historical and literary import. For example, can we now say with some certainty that a slithy tove is a rubber duck?

I'm kidding, of course. But it's fun all the same to note that rubber squeak toys date to the late 1800s--precisely the moment that Lewis Carroll wrote his most famous nonsense poem.

Erin O'Connor, 11:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 20, 2007 [feather]
What's your allegory?

Allegorical readings of novels are often sadly telegraphic and reductive ... but at the same time, they can tell us a lot about the cultures that give rise to them. Harry Potter is a classic instance. As Daniel Nexon notes in The New Republic, Rowling's novels can be and have been allegorized every which way (witch way?):

... reactions to Harry Potter highlight the worldwide character of clashes between various forms of traditionalism and modernism. To many religious conservatives, Harry Potter represents yet another assault by the mass media, public institutions, and other manifestations of secular culture against their traditional values. In the United States, Russia, Thailand, and Australia, some Christian conservatives have condemned the books for, among other things, promoting occultism and Satanism. Harry Potter and his friends, after all, use magic and witchcraft, not only as part of their everyday lives, but also as part of their struggle against the forces of evil. Christian critics of Harry Potter argue that the Bible makes clear that all magic stems from demonic sources. By teaching children that witchcraft is acceptable and by encouraging them to play with wands and cauldrons, Harry Potter risks seducing them away from Christianity and into occult practices. It may even, the argument goes, bring them into contact with the very real demons that haunt our world. According to the American Library Association, Rowling's books were the fourth most challenged library books from 1990-2004, and the most challenged from 2000-2005.

Members of other religious movements also find fault with Harry Potter. The series is enormously popular in Indonesia, the Gulf States, and many other Islamic countries. But the Wahhabist tradition, as Peter Mandaville, assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University, and Patrick Jackson, associate professor of international relations at American University, have noted, strongly opposes "various esoteric and mystical practices that...entered popular Islamic practice." For Wahhabists, those who practice such "heterodox" forms of Islam amount to "magicians and witches." Thus, it comes as little surprise that some Wahhabist authorities, as well as adherents to other conservative Islamic traditions, view Harry Potter as promoting paganism and undermining Islam. Although the specifics of the doctrinal objections differ from their Christian counterparts, the parallels remain striking.


The Harry Potter books lend themselves well to real-world political debates, because their plots themselves intersect with a surprising number of themes in real-world politics. The evil Voldemort and his Death Eaters, both in their organization and tactics, bear a striking resemblance to transnational terrorists. Their hatred of the impure--particularly those "mudbloods" who, despite their magical powers, lack wizarding parentage--and thirst for power genuflects in the direction of fascism, whether of the traditional or, as some might see it, the "Islamo-" variety.


For those concerned about sacrificing civil liberties and democratic values to the war on terrorism, Rowling has much to offer. Innocents frequently find themselves imprisoned in the dreadful dungeon of Azkaban, which some might read as the Potterverse's own version of Guantanamo Bay.


the global Harry Potter phenomenon has outgrown the specifics of the books. Entrenched as they now are in the public consciousness, the characters have become symbols--abstract representations rather than the specific products of Rowling's imagination. Thus, during his 2002 election campaign, for example, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende proudly embraced comparisons between himself and Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter to help promote his image as, according to Agence France Presse, "reliable and upright but not stuffy." But, when the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, described Balkenende as "a mix between Harry Potter and a worthy burgher, a man in whom I detect no trace of charisma," it strained relations between the two governments. Liberals in the United States, for their part, affix bumper stickers such as "Republicans for Voldemort" and "Cheney-Voldemort '08" to their cars. Voldemort may be fast on his way to becoming a general symbol for evil.

A few years ago I saw Paul Krugman speak. He spent much of his talk discussing our vice president--by calling him "Voldemort." Thus did he assert an analogy between U.S. politics and those of the wizarding world, and thus did he also indicate that in his opinion, he who must not be named is not Voldemort, but Dick Cheney. One suspects he did not fully think through his opportunistic and cheap mapping of Rowling's imaginary world onto ours. As Hermione asserts early on, "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." In any case, we reveal ourselves in our allegories--in what we are willing to name, and in what we are not. In this regard, it has been recently noted, Gordon Brown bears a striking resemblance to Cornelius Fudge.

How do you read Harry Potter? And--just an aside--where do you suppose the missing horcruxes are?

Comments welcome -- but spoilers not.

Erin O'Connor, 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

July 18, 2007 [feather]

I am so glad Withywindle has started his own blog. He's a big part of why I read Tim Burke's Easily Distracted, and it's great to see him launch his own forum.

Erin O'Connor, 9:54 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

July 17, 2007 [feather]
Gene patents and hair salons

I have two reviews in the current issue of Knowledge@Wharton: One on Next, Michael Crichton's thriller about genetic engineering; and one on Kabul Beauty School, Deborah Rodriguez's memoir about helping Afghan women become wage earners by teaching them how to do hair and makeup.

Erin O'Connor, 3:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The grad school scam

From Rich Vedder:

...probably the biggest scandal and scam of all relates to graduate education. A half century ago, it was common for persons to get their Ph.D. in four or five years and some, including myself, did it in under three years (at age 24 yet). Today, a majority of those entering graduate programs do not have their degrees in six years, and in the humanities, a majority of Ph.D. candidates have not completed their degree in TEN years!!! Of those who DO get their humanities Ph.D. within 10 years, a majority have not received the degree after six years. The dropout rates are about as high as for undergraduate education --but the resources used to unsuccessfully educate many students at the Ph.D. level are much greater per student than for undergraduates.

Educating Ph.D. students is damnably expensive. Moreover, the students are unusually bright and capable, and if they were not in Ph.D. programs most would be making good money at relatively productive jobs. Thus the resource wastage is unbelievably great.
The Council of Graduate Schools suggests part of this relates to financing, which may well be true. But part relates to the fact that universities love to have graduate students hang around, for at least three reasons. First, in some states, public university subsidies are enrollment-driven, and Ph.D. students are good for big subsidies. Second, university professors don't like teaching survey undergraduate courses, and force graduate students to do that dirty grubby work for them (which is doubly reprehensible, since those students are the raison d'etre of most universities to begin with). Lots of graduate students have meant lower teaching loads for tenure track faculty. Third, graduate students help them get research done, and provide them with intellectual synergies that stimulate their own research.

In one respect, of course, having a lot of graduate students around could be cost effective. Substituting cheap labor (grad students) for expensive workers (tenured faculty) can theoretically lower costs. But the reality of it is that the increase in the use of non-tenured faculty in the classroom, including both grad students and adjunct faculty, has been accompanied by falling teaching loads for regular faculty, so it takes more regular faculty to do a given amount of teaching than a generation ago.

Why state legislatures don't crack down on their research universities is beyond me. Deny any state subsidies for students in Ph.D. programs more than six years. Restrict tax exemptions for private schools which have lousy six year Ph.D. graduation rates. The Feds should deny loans to students after four or five years. Schools that do not have, say, 90 percent of those ultimately successful in getting Ph.D.s graduating within six years should lose their accreditation. If law and medical schools get students out extremely well trained in three to six years (including residency in the case of medical schools), why can't graduate schools? This is the Mother of all higher education scandals.

Time to graduation is not the only problem -- the humanities are maintaining and graduating more Ph.D.s than the academic job market can handle, in no small part because grad programs serve tenure-track faculty's ends. Having grad students around is convenient, as Vedder notes (in English departments, they do most of the composition teaching); it's interesting (grad students are considered by many faculty to be more "fun" to teach than undergrads, not least because they afford faculty the chance to teach highly specialized niche courses in their areas of interest); and it's prestigious (in the status-seeking world of academe, a university department without a grad program isn't much of a department).

I could go on but I have to be somewhere. Comments are welcome.

Erin O'Connor, 1:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

Thank you!

I've been so busy with so many things that this blog has languished a bit of late. But this is a real shot in the arm:

Thank you!

Erin O'Connor, 1:06 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Citizen Moore

From Michael Moore's biographer, Roger Rapaport:

During more than 250 interviews with insiders central to his career, I discovered that many film-makers had never actually seen a Moore movie. Neither had close friends in Flint, nor the monsignor who was one of his seminary instructors (not many people realise that Moore is a practising Catholic). Radio talk-show presenters, including some here in London, admitted that they had never made it to one of the Moore's films.

One reason that people skip his work are rumours about his rough handling of co-workers. For example, one London talk-show presenter told me recently that she skipped Moore's films because she'd heard that he was hard on members of staff at London's Roundhouse Theatre during his One and a Half Man Show in 2002.

But a more likely reason ties in to the most-asked question I've been hearing from audiences and interviewers: "Are his films documentaries, or are they fictional comedies?" Since Moore gets the credit for making documentaries as popular as dramatic films, let's turn to the first cameraman Michael that ever hired, Kevin Rafferty, for the answer. This famed cinema-verite film-maker, who is also George W Bush's first cousin, gave Moore his film debut in Blood in the Face, an expose of the "racialist right". The then Flint journalist Moore scored a major coup when he helped Rafferty's team film a Michigan Ku Klux Klan rally where two lovebirds said their marital vows in a ceremony illuminated by the glow of a burning cross.

Rafferty says that he was stunned when he arrived in Flint and Moore handed him a terrific shot-list for Roger & Me. This was simply not the way cinema verité documentaries were made: a director would create the storyline after shooting was finished. Two-and-a-half years later, Rafferty was even more astonished when he saw that the shot-list had become the movie. Instead of shooting first and editing afterwards, in the traditional manner of documentaries, Michael had scripted Roger & Me like a dramatic feature.

Another problem is a lack of trust. There are nagging questions about well-documented omissions. Moore's decision to leave two filmed interviews with the General Motors chief executive Roger Smith on the Roger & Me cutting-room floor raises questions he has not answered. The ethics of launching his career by falsely claiming that he couldn't get an interview with the head of General Motors creates a credibility gap. Is it a good idea to rewrite history so that it creates the storyline and publicity necessary to reach an audience that normally skips documentaries?

After years of dodging the subject, Moore confirmed my story that he did, in fact, film an interview with Smith. Then he made the mistake of arguing that this event took place before he began working on Roger & Me. According to his commentary on the documentary's DVD, shooting began in February 1987, three months before the first filmed interview at a GM annual meeting in Detroit. The second deleted interview, a "home run" according to the soundman, also Moore's friend and Ralph Nader's attorney, Jim Musselman, took place in January 1988.

There's much more.

Erin O'Connor, 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Filling in your tree

New at Ancestry.com: U.S. County Land Owenership Atlases, c. 1864-1918.

If you know where your ancestors were living, and if they owned any land, you can look at a detailed map that plots their property right alongside that of their neighbors. Too cool.

Erin O'Connor, 11:41 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)