Category Archives: lamentations

October 9, 2009, 6:27 pm

This being my only comment this season on the state of the academic job market in philosophy.

There’s something strange about the popular area of specialization this year:


September 25, 2009, 11:13 am

Speaking of university administrators who aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are…

…I give you UC President Mark Yudof. A sample of his comedic stylings:

Question — U.C. is facing a budget shortfall of at least $753 million, largely because of cuts in state financing. Do you blame Governor Schwarzenegger for your troubles?

Mark Yudof — I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.

Question — And education?

Mark Yudof — The shine is off of it. It’s really a question of being crowded out by other priorities.*

Question — Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.

Mark Yudof — Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the…

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September 4, 2009, 11:10 am

“Execution of a legally and factually innocent person would be a constitutionally intolerable event.”

I apologize for being a bit late to the party, but if you haven’t already read David Grann’s reported essay in this week’s New Yorker, you really should. Grann looks at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed by the State of Texas in 2004, though he very well may have been innocent. It’s a beautifully reported and written piece, and one of the most terrifying explorations of the state’s power that I’ve read in many years. Seriously, set aside an hour or so — it’s a long article, and you almost certainly won’t be able to stop once you start — and begin reading.

(The title of the post, by the way, is a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor.)

August 31, 2009, 8:39 pm


On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’

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April 5, 2009, 9:39 pm

Briefly noted

America is too exceptional; and American soldiers are people too.

Updated: here’s Obama’s ‘exceptionalism’ answer:

In one sense, of course, it’s nearly vacuous. But in “threading the needle”, as someone put it, in building a principled frame within which cake may be both eaten and had, it resembles the lightning-strikes of insight familiar from psychotherapy or religion.

March 4, 2009, 5:12 am

Why, oh, why can’t we….shoot the press corps?

Pity the poor debt collector, who must needs collect on the debt of one who has departed this vale of tears with no estate to settle his earthly obligation.  Observe her stress, her yoga mat.   Ponder the careful control of her emotions and voice, the sympathy with which she calls the family of the deceased.  How hard she works to convince them that this is the final rose to lay upon the grave….

…. ignore the fact that one of the risks of being a credit card company is that your customers may die without the assets to repay you, and the business has insurance  to protect them against such eventualities.  Ignore the fact that paying the debt is not merely a nice gesture, but transfers responsibility for the debt to a family that may be struggling.  Ignore the fact that the collectors are not required to state that family of the deceased is under no obligation to pay debts….

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January 28, 2009, 3:31 pm

Hard, it’s always been that way.

It’s not the trouble you see, it’s the distance you have to fall.

Dating A Banker Anonymous (DABA) is a safe place where women can come together – free from the scrutiny of feminists– and share their tearful tales of how the mortgage meltdown has affected their relationships.

Psst: it’s not “anonymous” if you tell the New York Times your name. Also, this is a put-on, right?

January 27, 2009, 1:10 pm

Gosh, I can’t think where. And whatnot.

Jonah Goldberg was on BBC Radio 4′s Start the Week this week, promoting the UK publication of Liberal Fascism:

It takes no moral or intellectual courage to point to the things you don’t like and say, “that’s fascist”. It takes real intellectual courage to point to the things you do like and say “gosh, where could this take us”.

Which caused me derisively to hoot, as I have seen the very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care in action, and watched this Goldberg bowl ludicrous accusations ad sinistram like a toddler lobbing kumquats at the family pooch.

But then I repented my ungenerous reaction. I wondered to myself in this wise: I say, Self, have you been unfair to the Goldberg? has his study of the Swarthmorofascist menace caused him to plumb the measureless depths of his own soul, probing whether he might himself be susceptible to …

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December 17, 2008, 7:19 pm

Pre-inaugural disappointment.


Rick Warren? Really? I’m afraid so. Rick Warren, who compares homosexuality to incest and pedophilia. Rick Warren, who labels advocates of the social gospel Marxists. Rick Warren, who makes common cause with James Dobson and his ilk. Rick Warren will give the invocation when President-elect Obama is inaugurated.

What does this mean? In terms of policy, let’s hope very little. But in terms of symbolism, a great deal. As a statement from People for the American Way notes, this elevates Warren, who has already airbrushed his rough edges so effectively that many observers think he’s a moderate, into a position of bipartisan authority. And that’s a real shame, although I suppose it should help boost bumper-sticker sales.

Update: John Cole provides a reasonable counterargument. I remain unconvinced.

Update II: As jazzbumpa notes in the comments, Bérubé brings the hammer…

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December 1, 2008, 3:21 pm

Or root for terrorists. Either way.

I’m sure everyone’s seen this.  Were these starving people, desperate for the last potato?  Out of bread?  Clean water?  The last match in the frozen North?

Well, Walmart had some really good deals….

I can’t quite describe how angry this news made me, but to describe it as making me want to be madly religious just for the curses I could call down* begins to approach it.

What the hell is wrong with us?  Jesus wept.

*You know, like D&D clerics.  Holy Smite.

October 20, 2008, 10:12 pm

“To things immortal time can do no wrong”

Man with Small Beard

Would it surprise you to learn that in rural Wisconsin, at the end of the 19th century, there was poverty, failure, vandalism, arson, domestic violence, disease, depression, alcoholism, insanity, suicide, and murder? Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip (1973, reissued 2000) is built on the assumption that it will. The book consists largely of clippings from the Badger State Banner, of Black River Falls, Jackson County, WI, and images by Charles Van Schaick, a local commercial photographer. After some 200 pages of grim citation, Lesy steps in to comment directly:

Pause now. Draw back from it. There will be time again to experience and remember. For a minute, wait, and then set your mind to consider a different set of circumstances….

The book certainly made a strong impression on me when I saw it as a boy. Reading it now, I have to wonder what the fuss was. The people in the pictures…

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August 12, 2008, 9:08 am

Isaac Hayes

It’s sad that Hayes might be remembered for Chef and Shaft as much as for anything else, because he had a lot more going on musically than the parody-ripe lascivious baritone routine. Keep in mind this was the guy who co-wrote hits like “Soul man”* and “Hold on I’m comin” and also helped produce a lot of the Stax mid-60s output.

Samples from his solo career: try Walk on by from Hot Buttered Soul. (If it sounds familiar it might be because a loop of the intro is playing in Jizzy B’s club when Charles Johnson shows up to kill him. I hope hip-hop wrote him a big check.)

If you must, here’s a live Shaft with an intro by Jesse Jackson. But if you want something from that record, try Soulsville (Eric will enjoy the robust reality of this one) or a short version of Do Your Thing.

Never can say goodbye.

*it’s not the song’s fault, really.

August 1, 2008, 12:00 pm

I wish I found this more surprising, 2.

Walmart is scared that a rising Democratic tide might mean a reinvigorated labor movement. And when Walmart is scared, we should all be scared, right? Because Walmart is America. And organized labor is the Soviet Union. Or something.

Once again, via Stephen at cogitamus. I’m telling you, if you’re not reading that blog, you should be. Although, come to think of it, if you start, my links will be even more boring. Hmm, I seem to be trapped on the horns of a dilemma.

August 1, 2008, 12:01 am

I wish I found this more surprising.

July 25, 2008, 9:58 pm


On this day in 1999, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. It was the first of what would be seven consecutive victories for Armstrong in the most difficult and magnificent bike race in the world. At the time, I was a fanatical cyclist; I shaved my legs and everything. And I had followed Armstrong’s career from the early years, when his was the name everyone knew, when he was this incredibly gifted, brash kid (Must all Texans be described as “brash”?) who later would win a World Championship and two Tour stages. He was going to be the next Greg Lemond.

Then he got cancer, which very nearly killed him. And I, like most everyone else paying attention, assumed he was finished as professional bike racer, a gig widely regarded as among the most physically demanding pursuits in the world of sports.

So it was that the 1999 Tour became such a transcendent moment — and not just for…

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