Friday, May 29, 2009

why I'm a better choice than Sotomayor

Dear President Obama,

Now that Sonia Sotomayor's unfortunate statement, in a 2001 speech, that having grown up as she did might make her decisions better than a white man's, has become the big news of her nomination to the Supreme Court, it's clearly time for you to reconsider her as your pick. By Newt Gingrich's logic, her claim is racist, and therefore equally racist to any other racist speech or action - which is to say, the word "better," in this context, is like Sotomayor was lynching all white men. How could anyone deny Gingrich's logic? I mean, he's Newt Gingrich! He has an impeccable record on ethics!

In any case, this nomination-debilitating scandal will no doubt require a new nominee, despite the fact that there's little groundswell of objection other than from people of Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh's ilk. In politics, the loudest voice wins, right?

So, if you're looking for a nominee with absolutely no skeletons in his or her closet, and especially no embarrassing public speaking past, I'm your man. No one records anything I say publicly, and if they did, they'd find a consistent record of saying nothing that would indicate any particular bias against anyone or anything, except marriage, child-bearing, the CSU administration, the Gubernator, members of the California and federal legislatures, Wal-Mart, equal marriage rights opponents, Dodge vehicles, the McDonald's corporation, drivers in Tulare and Madera counties, air travel, and Brussels sprouts.

Furthermore, I myself keep no record of any kind - electronic, analog recording, written, or in memory - of anything I say, in public or private. I am a clean slate. Again, I'm your man.

Enclosed, please find additional materials in support of my candidacy for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The recipe for mahi-mahi in tomato and cream sauce is excellent, if I do say so myself.

Yours sincerely,
Chris Nagel

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

wearing latex gloves

It's the start of exam week!

I stay away from the campus as much as possible during exam week. I collect final papers via email, read them on my iBook, and return to campus to file grades (I do it the old fashioned way, on paper).

Unfortunately, it's not going to happen that way this week. I have to be on campus two whole days during exams. Well, okay, for a couple hours each day. Alright, 90 minutes each day. The point is, I hafta be in Ickyschoolblecchfehyuckyland on two separate occasions.

This has been a looooooooooooooong academic year, so if I'm feeling petulant, and a little childish, I think it is understandable.

Monday, May 18, 2009

public intellectuals

Today's Inside Higher Ed newsletter published a story about Boyce Watkins, a finance prof at Syracuse who has had a feud with Bill O'Reilly, over some fairly stupid comments by O'Reilly. Apparently, Watkins is a bit of a firebrand. He's also a self-styled "public intellectual."

I believe randomly, this phrase has crossed my path a few times recently, which is a few more times than it usually does. During the last three weeks of sessions, the Cow State Santa Claus academic senate heard a resolution in support of Tom Ammiano's bill legalizing marijuana in California. During the debate over the resolution a couple faculty argued that the senate had no business considering the issue, but they were countered by an unchallenged claim that such matters are the business of the senate, because faculty are public intellectuals with the privilege and duty to speak on matters of public concern.

I don't seriously doubt faculty have the right, as individuals, to speak publicly, in any forum they like, about any issue they like, expressing any view they like. I also agree with the implicit premise that faculty have expertise and ability to think rationally and clarify and articulate issues in ways that could be a boon to the level of public discourse. I do wonder about this public intellectual business, though.

For one thing, there isn't much of a tradition in the US of public intellectualism. The fact that one of Watkins' credentials as a public intellectual is that he has appeared on O'Reilly's show suggests something about how much weight we give to public intellectuals. Their cultural currency doesn't have a high exchange rate.

Watkins' tenure battle might also indicate that those who stake a claim to being public intellectuals aren't terribly well regarded by their colleagues or their institutions. This is dicier, because it isn't so much his being a public figure that's at stake here, as the tone of the nonsense with O'Reilly, and, apparently, his use of the phrase "magic Negro." In the article, Watkins says, "The rules of academia change when you are part of a powerless group." True, and no one knows this better than the 70%+ of college faculty in the US who are not on the tenure track. It's hard to imagine a large number of my part-time and job-security-less colleagues experiencing the privilege and duty to speak publicly about anything. They probably wouldn't be recognized as intellectuals in the first place.

I'm not saying this is the fault of tenured faculty whose privilege it is to determine who has this privilege, what it means, and what legitimately can be done with it. It is largely their fault, but that's not my point. My point is that this ideological self-conception grossly overestimates faculty's political authority, where it doesn't misconstrue public intellectualism as speaking as an expert in a particular, narrow field of specialization. Other than the alleged effect on his candidacy for tenure at Syracuse (and other than the firing of Ward Churchill, to cite another example), it profoundly doesn't matter what the public intellectual says.

(The academic senate passed the resolution in support of the marijuana bill. No word yet on whether, as one faculty senator put it, the local community now regards us as a bunch of pot-heads.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

finally, some good environmental news

Hooray! We're slightly less doomed!

If sea levels only rise 10 feet, rather than 16 feet, well then, everything will be just peachy. I plan to carry this in my heart through the weekend.

That and Governor Schwarzedoofus' latest budget plan farce. The basic gist here is that he's threatening the folks opposing the nonsensical ballot propositions that were part of the equally nonsensical February budget deal. If those don't pass, the budget is back to the drawing board, almost at the end of the fiscal year, and the Gubernator is antagonizing voters and the opponents of the insane ballot props by offering a new plan (same as the old plan, incidentally).

His ransom demand "budget proposal" cuts education (including $1 billion from higher ed), releases prisoners, requires every household in the state currently earning more than $45,000 to take in at least one prisoner or one college student without compensation for room and board, and will sequester 37% of all state tax receipts for a special fund with the line-item name "Public Employee Butt-Kicking."

In a few years, we'll all be paupers out here, especially in the Central Valley, but hey, we'll have ocean-front property by then.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

a second open letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I have yet to receive a reply to my letter of 1 May, applying for the position of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I am writing today to re-affirm my interest in the position, amid ongoing public and media speculation about potential candidates. Let me be quite candid: I am the best qualified candidate available.

And when I say available, I mean that I may be imminently available, for this or any other position, I mean, like maybe in a week or so. (Many of my colleagues will definitely be looking for work as well, but, you know, screw them. This is a nation built on the principle of competition.)

As a reminder, my qualifications include:
* I am not an attorney.
* Thus, I am not inclined toward legalistic obscurantism.
* Which means, I don't buy their mumbo-jumbo.
* Thus, I am not going to be tricked by some fancy-pants who argues in Court.
* My legal opinions, such as they are, shall therefore remain unaffected by sleazy legal come-ons, gifts, favors, offers of free hookers and booze, etc., unlike some Supreme Court Justices I could mention.
* In fact, because I am immovable, I will be able to spend hours in Court doing valuable service for the nation, like polishing the furnishings of the Court and/or Justices Breyer's and Scalia's foreheads.
* In addition, because I am not an attorney, whatever my own foibles, they simply can't compare, right? You've never seen me in one of Rehnquist's private clubs!

Rest assured, I have mastered the essential legal concepts guiding this country, and would be ready, willing, and able to begin applying them to every case that comes before the Court, continuing our nation's history of justice. I am totally familiar with "don't ask, don't tell," "three-fifths compromise," "administrative immunity," "sanctity of marriage," and "separate but equal."

Most of all, I am willing, as I said before, to take the position at a discount. I am now willing to accept $85,000 as a starting salary. You can't beat that with a stick.

The media report that you'll be likely to want to appoint a woman, preferably Latina. I understand that. I can work with that. My partner thinks I look good in a skirt, and I have got long hair, if that helps. I can speak a little Spanish, too.

Yours sincerely,
Chris Nagel

Friday, May 01, 2009

an open letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to apply for the position of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. I trust that you will give my application serious consideration, and I thank you in advance for your time and energy.

Because I am not a certified member of the Bar, in any state, nor in possession of a juris doctorate or other law degree, I feel I am uniquely qualified to serve on the Court. Because I have not studied law, I am free from bias with regard to case-law precedent in most areas, which will allow me to weigh the legal issues with greater care. In those areas where I am somewhat knowledgeable of Court rulings (mainly First Amendment rights and certain decisions regarding rights of patients), my biases are informed by my years of having taught philosophy classes, rather than by ideology.

Indeed, after 13 years of college teaching, all of it as temporary faculty, it's no longer possible for me to afford an ideology. I teach whatever I'm required to teach, whether I believe in it or not. Consequently, Senate confirmation will be a breeze: I'll tell them whatever they want to hear.

I understand the meanings of terms like Miranda rights and habeas corpus, ex post facto and gerrymandering. I can both read and write legalese. I can decipher some legislation.

Current salary for associate justices is $208,100 (which is less than each of the 23 Presidents of the CSUs make). I'll gladly accept a discounted salary, which has to help in tough economic times. Let's say $120,000. I think I can live with that, seeing as how it's more than double what I've ever made in a year.

Enclosed, find my curriculum vitae, letters of reference, a writing sample, and 3 8x10 glossies - 1 black-and-white head shot, 1 color posed shot (reclining), and 1 color 1/4 profile.

Chris Nagel