Fox's John Gibson

Normally, the quality of what passes as "news" on Fox News is such an affront to journalism, good taste, and a fact-based perspective on the world that criticizing Fox News becomes an exercise in arguing against a lunatic. A good rule of thumb: Don't argue with a fool, because people won't know the difference.

However, recently John Gibson, one of the Fox talking heads, made a statement that bears examination.

On 11 May 2006, as part of his show The Big Picture, John Gibson made the following pronouncement, in response to demographic data showing high birth rates among Hispanics:

"By far, the greatest number [of children under five] are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic. To put it bluntly, we need more babies."

When I studied eugenics (back in another life, when I was a history major at Cal) I came across innumerable such statements expressing white fear in the early twentieth century of a creeping "ethnic" population takeover. This fear was, in part, responsible for atrocities such as California's forced sterilization programs. California's aggressive sterilization of those "unfit" to breed in the early twentieth century was later used as a model for Nazi sterilization efforts, which were planned on a scale that would allow the Nazis to use the entire population of the Soviet Union as slaves, yet make that generation the last generation of Soviets, because these workers would be sterilized en masse.

Here's another quote:

"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."

This isn't from some raving Fox News talking head, but from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Oliver Holmes, writing in the infamous 1927 Buck v. Bell decision.

I had thought that such pseudoscientific nonsense had long since passed into the region where only ignorant rednecks espoused such views as they denied the Holocaust, argued that mercury in their fillings was poisoning them, and feared the Trilateral Commission.

Sadly, I now see, eugenic views have crept back into the public discourse, and hardly a peep of protest is heard. Score: Fox News 1, America 0.

I don’t get HBO, so I have to wait for the shows I love to come out on DVD, and still it takes a long time for me to see them. So it was only yesterday that I saw the series finale of 6 Feet Under.

I was deeply jarred and disturbed. I cried continuously through the finale, and then intermittently for the next hour. Even today I find myself tearing up. Every time I hear the Sia song Breathe Me I start weeping anew. My throat is so choked up now that I can barely swallow. The final sequence, where Claire drives away from the Fisher home to start her new life in New York, while she has visions of the deaths of all her family, including herself, collapsed something inside my heart. I just lost it—and I can’t find “it” again.

Why did this disturb me so profoundly? Granted, the final four minutes showed how each of these characters I had come to know and love met their demise. Such a wrap-up was expected from a show in which every episode dealt with a death and its aftermath. I think what got to me so much was Claire’s story.

Claire accepts a job in New York to pursue a career in photography. At the last minute the job falls through, but her dead brother Nate advises her to not tell anyone and just go anyhow, banking that she will find something else soon enough. This is perhaps the point where Claire pushes through and I have failed. I am so overwhelmed by my anxieties and fears that unless a job is 100% secure, and I have an apartment lined up in a good neighborhood, and all this incredible bullshit list of worries is satisfied, then I can’t go. Perhaps these fears will never end, never be satisfied, and I’ll never go.

I’ve thought as I’m driving to teach some class that I should just keep driving past the college, past the Central Valley, past the Sierras, out of the suffocating claustrophobia of California, and be well into Nevada before I get out of the car. John Kennedy Toole, after he wrote Confederacy of Dunces, drove all around the country, aimlessly, going to the houses of famous writers, going to the coast, before he stopped on lonely road and directed a hose from his tailpipe into his sealed car. I feel as if I should cut myself off from everything I’m doing now. Start a new life. Get another chance. Have an adventure. Fall in love. Raise a family. Buy a house. Start my life. Feel, in some small corner of my heart, a measure of happiness. Yet, I know that none of these things will ever, ever happen for me if I continue like this.

Am I David then? David keeps the family business going when while Nate goes off to Seattle. He’s playing the father role even before his father dies (episode 1). Is this responsibility such a bad thing? Or do I feel drawn to responsibility as an escape from fear?

Recently I explained to a friend how little I’ve traveled, how I’ve never been to Europe or New York for example, because I figure that if a trip is going to cost me $2k, then I should really pay off $2k of debt before I incur that sum in debt again. Responsible, she judged—but boring.

Why do I feel such overwhelming fear over imaginary problems, and yet so little trepidation over real dangers? When that punk popped my tire on Telegraph while my brother-in-law and I were sitting in the car, and we confronted him and ran him down in the street, my pulse didn’t even rise. I see how my life is spiraling downward and yet I don’t feel an impetus to act, to do something, anything. I don’t know what to do. This isn’t the life I hoped for, yet I have no idea how to change it, or where it went wrong.

I thought graduating from Berkeley would help me find some sort of future, but there are just no jobs anymore, no real jobs with benefits and a livable wage. There are plenty of part-time, no benefit, no advancement dead ends. In theory there are real jobs, but I never got the offer, I never got the entry-level position I needed to move away from jobs where I ran a cash register. How many times after I graduated did I break down crying and think that I had it all completely backwards, that I should have studied a trade like plumbing? That I should join the military? When I was a student I imagined that the years of scraping money and worrying about how I was going to pay rent were only temporary, that this would change after I had a degree. If I could go back, would I tell my younger self that this was only the beginning? That a dozen years later I would still struggle to pay rent, be far in debt, never have enough money, never take vacations, always be scratching just to live and not have a hope of any financial security. That I still wouldn’t have health care? Maybe I wouldn’t tell my younger self how life was going to turn out—at least back then false hope kept me going.

So why do I keep going now? I really cannot say. Claire’s death scene involved her lying in bed, at 102, surrounded by photographs spanning her illustrious career. I suppose that on some level I still hope for success, I hope for love, though my experience so far suggests that these won’t be mine. I have hope that somehow the gnawing, terrible hunger will go away and I’ll lose weight before I go crazy and cut off my excess rolls of fat with a knife, claw the skin off my fat face.

Why do I get up in the morning? As Beckett said, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Why don’t I give in to the dark, melodramatic, self-pitying urge take that last, final stroll over the Golden Gate? I can’t say why, but I won’t give up, not yet, even though I feel I have failed so miserably in so many ways, that I am such a disappointment to myself and to my family, that I cannot form even a basic human connection other than to tell trite, meaningless jokes and perform mediocre impersonations. Perhaps this is the core of why I feel so inspired by Claire’s departure to New York. Perhaps it is not too late for me yet. Here Tolkien speaks to me: Despair is a theological error, as one does not know how the story ends, so the hobbits struggle on, without hope but without despair.

matthew barney

I dreamt I was in a Matthew Barney movie, the sculptor who works in giant blobs of Vaseline.

I was touring a college campus, being introduced to the rooms where I would teach. One was a giant amphitheatre, such as the ones at Cal that accommodate 1000 students. But this auditorium was slanted oddly. The podium was the highest point, and all the students’ seats descended downwards, so that they would look up at me. As I was touring, a class in criminology began, and I was handed a test. I struggled but couldn’t answer any of the questions.

Then as I tried to leave, I found it impossible. Stairways turned me back into the auditorium. I waited for elevators, but they were too small for me to fit in. Finally I emerged o the outside, where it was not night. As people milled about, I saw strange flashes. I looked at a homeless man on the ground in a sleeping bag, and FLASH! I saw that he was some sort of grotesque demon.

This happened on the sidewalk too. As I wandered around, FLASH, and the people would reveal themselves as monsters.

Far, far away from the classroom, on the summit of a grassy hill, was a set of elevators that would take me to another part of the campus. I was very angry at having to walk through mud and grass just to get to where I was going.

A constant feeling throughout this dream was the Americans with Disabilities Act, and my anger that this campus was not built to ADA standards. Sure—I could walk through mud now, and jump fences to get to where I needed to go, but what if I broke a leg? None of the elevators connected to where I had t go. I was walked, walking around this campus until I was quite tired.

I had an argument in a hallway with a student about gangs. I told her she need not worry about minor street gangs, as they were small time. I suggested that she should instead be worried about gangs such as the IRS, because they had so much more power.

As I wandered, I found myself swimming, then diving into mucky, distasteful water. I saw a car submerged. It looked old, grown over with weeds, as if it bad been there a long time. Yet there was pounding coming from inside the car, as if someone were trapped there.

FLASH—I would see a man and a woman making love, then FLASH! I saw that it was actually a demon, a small blue demon, forcing himself into her mouth. She could not see what I saw.

Blobs of Vaseline became more and more part of the landscape. Soon I was wading through Vaseline as I solidified. I sought escape, but there were only the elevators that led no where.

from Thomas Hart Benton

I think this says what I feel especially well. The name is a pseudonym, of course, for fear of retaliation for speaking the truth. :)

http://chronicle. com/jobs/ news/2006/ 06/2006060901c/ careers.html
Friday, June 9, 2006
A Tough-Love Manifesto for Professors
By Thomas H. Benton

An Academic in America
"Thomas H. Benton," an assistant professor of English, offers his take on academic work and life.

Ask any older employer of recent graduates and you'll hear that most bachelor's degrees are inferior to the high-school diplomas of a generation ago, and, what's more, there is a gross sense of entitlement among today's students, even after they become employees. Somehow they think their employers exist to serve them.

"How much do you pay? Is this interview over, or what?"

One reason for that is obvious enough. Those job applicants just spent the last four years regarding highly educated adults as customer-service representatives. Why? An entire generation of professors has been weakened by the transformation of higher education into a part-time, no-benefit operation. The steady erosion of tenure and the use of student evaluations as a faculty-culling device are turning college teachers into spineless crowd pleasers.

"Please, please hire me! I'll do anything! I'll keep the students entertained and give them all high grades because everyone's special and who am I to judge anyway?"

The last two months I wrote about the relationship between the "7 Deadly Sins of Students" and the "7 Deadly Sins of Professors."

My argument is that a student culture of self-indulgence is enabled by the failure of professors to maintain expectations in the classroom. At many institutions, courses have been gutted to the point that students receive high grades for minimal effort, and the lowest grade many professors can risk assigning is a "B+." Even that will produce imperious complaints from students who think they are destined for greatness: "I worked really hard. Your class is not fair. Raise my grade or I'm taking it to the provost. Just wait till you get your evaluation!"

The consumer mentality of students results in their desiring less rigorous instruction because they are paying more for it. They use the cost of tuition -- which I acknowledge, is far too high -- as a justification for lowering standards. So they will pay again later when they discover that their degrees are a form of inflated currency and that employers will not treat them like little geniuses but expect them to actually work without complaining. Even if one accepts the instrumentalist view of education, we do our students no favors by letting them leave with so little knowledge and so much attitude.

Students, even if they are paying tuition, are not "customers" because, at most institutions, their tuition covers only a fraction of the total cost of their education, which is paid for by the state, donors, and accumulated institutional capital. The professors are also making a major contribution by working for far less than comparably educated professionals.

Nevertheless, students think they are customers because the majority of college teachers know they are "employees" who will be fired for displeasing those customers. The 2005-6 version of the American Association of University Professor's "Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession" shows that in the last generation or so the proportion of faculty members teaching part time has doubled. It was 23 percent in 1971; it was 46 percent in 2003. It's probably more than 50 percent now.

That percentage does not include all of the teaching assistants who log most of the student contact hours at large universities. It's probably safe to say that more than two-thirds of college teaching is now done by people who are routinely punished for maintaining standards. The professional survival of untenured faculty members depends on processing large numbers of students without making waves.

After at least 10 years of trying to balance idealism and reality, I am finally one of the faculty members in a position to fight the trend: I was awarded tenure this spring. And already I see that my perspective on the teacher-student relationship is shifting as a result of having job security.

So I am tinkering with a list of things that will structure my relations with students in the coming years. It's my "Tough-Love Manifesto," and I am thinking about putting it on my syllabi:

I. Students are not customers. Teachers are not employees.
II. Students and teachers have obligations to each other.
III. Here is what I expect from students:

a.. You will treat everyone in the class, including the professor, with the respect due to all human beings.
b.. You will attend every class, give your full attention to the material, and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner.
c.. You will agree to do the work outlined in the syllabus on time.
d.. You will acknowledge that previous academic preparation (e.g., writing skills) will affect your performance in this course.
e.. You will acknowledge that your perception of effort, by itself, is not enough to justify a distinguished grade.
f.. You will not plagiarize or otherwise steal the work of others.
g.. You will not make excuses for your failure to do what you ought.
h.. You will accept the consequences -- good and bad -- of your actions.

IV. Here is what students can expect from me:
a.. I will treat you with the respect due to all human beings.
b.. I will know your name and treat you as an individual.
c.. I will not discriminate against you on the basis of your identity or your well-informed viewpoints.
d.. I will manage the class in a professional manner. That may include educating you in appropriate behavior.
e.. I will prepare carefully for every class.
f.. I will begin and end class on time.
g.. I will teach only in areas of my professional expertise. If I do not know something, I will say so.
h.. I will conduct scholarly research and publication with the aim of making myself a more informed teacher.
i.. I will return your assignments quickly with detailed feedback.
j.. I will pursue the maximum punishment for plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of academic integrity.
k.. I will keep careful records of your attendance, performance, and progress.
l.. I will investigate every excuse for nonattendance of classes and noncompletion of assignments.
m.. I will make myself available to you for advising.
n.. I will maintain confidentiality concerning your performance.
o.. I will provide you with professional support and write recommendations for you if appropriate.
p.. I will be honest with you
q.. Your grade will reflect the quality of your work and nothing else.
r.. I am interested in your feedback about the class, but I am more interested in what you learned than how you feel.

If you are going to be tough on students, you have to be much tougher on yourself. Your autonomy as a professor comes from having the strength to stand for something more than keeping your job for just one more semester.

Begin with small steps. Cut and paste the Tough-Love Manifesto into your syllabi with, perhaps, some customized modifications. Now, repeat after me: "I have principles. I demand respect. I have high expectations. I am a professor." Say that 10 times a day, at least. Can you handle that?

In one semester, I predict, you will begin to feel your educational biceps growing. In two semesters you will have six-pack academic abs. But you have to stay on the program, even when the grade-grubbers and accidental plagiarists start to line up outside your office.

Students and professors have entered into a mutual pact of low expectations, and somebody has to be the first to re-arm. The popularity of programs like American Idol in the college-student demographic shows how hungry they are for honest criticism. On some level, they want the hard truth instead of the "everybody is a winner" nonsense. They will rise to high expectations if teachers are firm and resist sending mixed messages. And we teachers should want, most of all, to be respected rather than liked, even if that means having to grow some backbone and take some risks.

It is absolutely true that I can act with authority because I have tenure, though, of course, the scope of that authority is limited to the classroom. Most untenured faculty members who maintain high expectations are eventually unemployed faculty members. There is such a thing as duty to one's students regardless of consequences, but untenured professors also have obligations to their families not to lose their jobs.

College students seem more immature than ever before, and, as a consequence, more likely to bring disgrace upon themselves and their institutions. Tom Wolfe was not exaggerating in I Am Charlotte Simmons. You just have to watch the news to know how serious the problem of character has become at American universities. Maybe it's time to restore in loco parentis? I believe most parents would support that, even if it meant granting more authority and protection to the faculty members who would have to fill that role.

Parents, legislators, administrators -- are you reading this? If you want educated, disciplined graduates who are willing to work hard and become productive citizens -- who will not disgrace you -- then you have to reverse the de-professionalizat ion of college faculty members. And that means saving tenure before it is downsized out of existence for the sake of bigger athletic facilities, fancier dining halls, and better campus landscaping.

This is not a partisan issue. Yes, tenure also protects a small percentage of highly visible, career-driven, ideological extremists. But they are disdained by the majority of moderate professors. Freedom of speech sometimes means letting the Klan demonstrate. And education with character means giving teachers the protection they need to uphold standards. Otherwise, you might as well send your children on a four-year cruise.

It's time to restore tough-love to higher education or just call the whole thing off.


I was flipping channels the other day when I recognized a voice. It stopped me cold and I spent twenty minutes transfixed. My embarrassing discovery: I had stumbled into Oprah's show.

The voice was that of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and survivor of Auschwitz. Oprah had featured his magnum opus, Night, in her book of the month thing, but this tv program showed Oprah walking with Wiesel through Auschwitz, past the glass-encased displays of mounds of hair, shoes, pictures, childrens' clothes. It was deeply moving to see Wiesel talk about this, my own personal Virgil guiding a tour of Hell. His low, steady voice was firm that others should know what happened there.

After this show, I felt moved. I went to the framed, signed letter from Elie Wiesel that I have (on loan from a close friend, to whom he sent it). I started listening to a reading of Night in my car as I drive.

The question Oprah did not ask, and the question that has haunted me ever since reading Night at about age 12, was this: How do you leave? How do you leave the exhibits at Auschwitz and go on with the rest of your life? How do you ever smile or laugh again? I got a Bachelor's degree in German history trying (unsuccessfully) to answer these questions.

Every time I feel some bit of joy, I also feel a bit of guilt. Perhaps this comes from the Puritan roots of America. But I rather think it's a reminder to me not to live trivially, to live and think and write as if it mattered.

I was an atheist long before reading Night, but I think it was this book in particular, and Primo Levi's autobiography Survival in Auschwitz, that made me understand that the Holocaust disproves even the possibility of a benevolent God. I think of that scene where the young boy is being hanged by the Nazis, and the other prisoners are made to watch; the hanging doesn't go right, and the boy is held by the rope for 10 minutes, kicking and choking, 20 minutes, swinging and gasping, and it just will never end. And the cry goes up among the prisoners: Where is God?

I don't want to imagine a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen. I don't want to imagine the God who gave my cousin leukemia. Don't get me started on pediatric brain cancer. If there were such a God, then I would hope that upon death I could have the opportunity to express my feelings with my fists, against the bridge of His nose. Perhaps the Gnostics were right: We're not going to Hell, this world is Hell.

I once told my friend, from whom I have Wiesel's letter, of Wiesel's importance for my atheism. She replied that even though Wiesel remains religious, he would understand. Here's a man who remembers as a teenager standing before Dr. Mengele, and yet continues to write, to live, to teach. Such is the greatness of the man from whom we all have something to learn.

how i spent my summer vacation

I know how to work, but I never learned how to enjoy time off. I finished grading finals early this term, because I wanted to make the very most of the time I have off. But now that I'm off, I find it's very hard to get anything done, and I'm beating myself up over not doing it.

I feel this constant, nagging voice telling me to leave, to go somewhere. It's as if the "down time" I get during the term is no longer valid. Now every second is ticking, ticking. I try to pack in so much fun that I'm not having any fun. If I'm shopping too slowly, I feel the pull of the clock. If I'm sleeping, I feel an urge to get up and prepare for a trip.

Planning and preparing for trips causes me anxiety; I always worry and over-pack. But once I'm on the road, my anxieties melt away. Only once in my life did I feel a sense of utter abandon, where I could just pick up and leave without guilt. This was immediately after my summer field geology course, where I had been living in tents for 6 weeks. Once the class was over, it was another two weeks before I slept in a bed regularly, because I felt such an impetus to just _not be home_. Having running water and electricity didn't seem right anymore. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom to grab my tent and sleeping bag and just go.

The trips I'm planning are all solo. I think that is the root of some of my anxiety. It's not particularly dangerous to backpack alone, but I have on one occassion shifted a rock by standing on it so that I was pinned. Luckily, I had a partner that time who helped free me. Otherwise ... I guess it would have been time to sever my foot. :) This isn't what worries me, though.

What worries me is the long days and nights alone, without distraction, with only the poor company of my thoughts. Sometimes I feel distressed if I drive even a short distance without the radio playing. I need something in the background to keep the thoughts at bay.

Of course, having these long periods of silence is what appeals to me. I have spent days where I haven't spoken a single word. I have spent days where I haven't seen another human being. I have gotten to know myself better, and what I know is that I would be much happier with company. :)


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