Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It is rather amazing that there have been only two viable political parties in the US for lo these many years, especially since they offer virtually no choice regarding policy (look it the hell up: Obamacare is practically a carbon copy of the bill Romney signed in Massachusetts, and both of them will make their friends donors in the insurance industry very happy).

So, I'd like to ask my readers for their help, guidance, and support, as I kick off a brand new venture, a new political party that I think will be a viable third option. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I believe I have a strategy that will get our candidates elected, help us raise all-important campaign dollars, and draw even-more-all-important media attention.

It's too late to really make an impact on this year's general election, but we can get a start, and this is where you come in. What I want you to do is, on your ballot, write in a candidate of your choice, but, more importantly, state that candidate's party: Full Of Shit.

Here's what I have so far as the party platform of the Full Of Shit Party:

We will lower taxes on wealthy people. This will make them happy. It will not create jobs, but say, over and over, that it will. Call these wealthy people something like "job creators," but don't use those words, because the Republicans have a copyright on them, and that'd just get messy. How about "slave wage providers"? Or "tricklers"? (Remember "trickle-down"? Remember how that worked?)

Lower the deficit. We won't say how.

The Full of Shit Party will continue to make America a place where small businesses can thrive. The entrepreneurial spirit is, after all, what makes America great, and as we all know, America is the greatest nation on earth. It's also what has made Chevron, Walmart, and Comcast such lucrative firms. Their contributions to our economy and society need to be encouraged, through effective tax rates of zero or below.

Maintain the $7.25 minimum wage, since, obviously, any increase in the minimum wage will hurt small businesses and force manufacturing jobs, like putting together a Big Mac, overseas. If you don't want to see fast food manufacturing jobs end up in China or Bangladesh, you have to support maintaining a minimum wage that would provide a full-time income of $14,500 a year (though none of those jobs would be full-time, of course).

Cut government services wherever possible. DId I say "services"? I meant "waste," of course. As everyone knows, any time the government spends a dollar, God kills a kitten it is entirely wasted and no economic activity is created as a result. (Of course, this is not true at all regarding the defense department. Every time the government spends a dollar on the defense department, God kills three kittens God kills terror the world becomes safer for capitalist accumulation democracy.

The Full of Shit Party believes in equality and freedom. We believe it is every American's right to pursue happiness. We support the rights of same-sex couples the unborn undocumented workers donors all true Americans whose behavior we tolerate who have donated to the Party. However, we won't do jack shit to advance their cause.

Remember, on election day, write in "Full Of Shit."

Monday, October 29, 2012


I woke up at around four AM. I'm not really sure why. Between my Loveliest and I, lately, there's someone up at nearly every hour of the day at our place.

I spent the first twenty minutes of my morning lying in bed with random thoughts swirling around in my head. One recurring thought was about the likelihood of trouble in transit this week. So I got up and checked the east coast weather.

The problem isn't the weather per se, but the backlog of flights now that 9000 flights have been canceled, today through tomorrow. The Philadelphia airport is closed today. All flights are canceled by every US airline in and out of Newark, New York, DC, Baltimore...

And again, we're not going any of those places. We're going to Rochester, up on the Lake Ontario coast, where Hurricane Sandy will provide about 48 hours of constant rain. Given what's happened to Atlantic City already today, I'm hoping there's still enough Rochester above water to fly to.

But the main problem isn't in Rochester, it's in the airports. I'm not a good air traveler, I loathe and feel dehumanized by the non-place of an airport, the non-people of crew members, and the non-service they work so diligently to provide.* Perhaps we'll get lucky, and the airline employees and travelers will have gotten the mean spirit of Sandy's aftermath out of their systems. Perhaps flight schedules will have returned to normal by Wednesday afternoon when we're supposed to transfer at O'Hare.

I might be on east coast time before then. We do have to leave here a little after four AM Wednesday.


* I take these terms from George Ritzer's The Globalization of Nothing. "Nothing" is Ritzer's term for the placeless, featureless, ubiquitous crapola that global capitalism produces and sells so much of. RItzer's other concept, of "McDonaldization," helps explain how, where, and by whom "nothing" is produced and consumed. "Non-people" is a modification of Goffman's idea of a non-person, and the rest should be pretty simple to tease out.

My favorite bit is his account of the scripted interactions of non-persons during commercial exchange (i.e., overwhelmingly most of our daily, commodified interactions). It's one of the things about air travel that most offends me. Maybe I'm wrong, but when flight attendants start to run through the safety card information, their dead eyes unfocused on anything in particular, never making eye contact, I experience a sense of their icy hatred of every person in the plane. I believe we all know that the safety information is not for our safety, but that of the airline, specifically, from liability. (Remember when Southwest used to have "joke" safety information? That was just as offensive, because it was that gutless mild kind of writing that isn't actually humorous -- I'm sure they hired a writer from a sitcom on ABC Family Channel.)

Then there's the "in-flight service," a non-service in every way Ritzer talks about. It seems as though the typical non-service amounts to one 8-ounce plastic cup filled with off-tasting ice and a soft drink filled to the rim, per two hours of flight time. On flights over four hours, they sometimes provide a plastic bag containing 2 ounces of mini pretzels (approximately eight), and the smart airlines are now providing free stupefaction pacifiers television. As the plane lands and taxis, when they say "welcome to __" and "your final destination," and tell us to have a good day, I can tell they really mean "get the hell out of the plane so I can wash the dreck of your repulsive presence off of me," or, you know, words to that effect.

Friday, October 26, 2012

current events

I've been away awhile. How are you? You look well. Really? Sorry to hear that.

It's not all cycling here at Doc Nagel, Inc. No indeed: there's classes to teach, papers to grade, and proposition 30 to vote for and proposition 32 to vote against.

Times are tough for prop 30, which could mean times will become very much tougher at the CSU, at the UC, at the community colleges, and at K-12 schools. Honestly, the only way I can conceive of someone who doesn't make $250,000 a year choosing to vote against prop 30 is stupidity. To me it looks like this: either you can have a bowl of yummy ice cream, or a shiv to the neck, and about half of Californians say they want the shiv.

"Really?" I say to them in my fantasy, "'cuz, ya know, the shiv'll hurt, like, bad."

"I know. Want the shiv," says half of California.

"Look at this ice cream, though," says I. "It's way more delicious than being stabbed in the neck, don't you think?"

"I do," says half of California. "Want the shiv."

"It's a stab wound, you realize that, right?"



This is like a brief conversation I had the other day about prop 34, which would ban the death penalty in California. The pro-34 arguments are as follows: (1) the death penalty costs far more than life imprisonment would, (2) sometimes innocent people are convicted of murder, and so, when we execute those innocent people, our society effectively commits a murder of its own, (3) in states with the death penalty, it's likely that the murder rate is higher, so it does not serve as a deterrent. The student understood all these, but was still against 34. In fact, the student said that a person who has committed murder loses all rights to live -- a position I hear again and again, and which is entirely baseless in our political heritage of natural rights. I suggested that this assumes we only convict the actually and legally guilty, when things like the Innocence Project have determined that many death-row inmates are wrongfully convicted. The student repeated that a murderer has no rights -- completely ignoring my argument.

I offered that the only logical argument I could see in favor of the death penalty is if you assumed the only way to restore justice is with a reciprocal act (Kant argued this). This did not impress, apparently, because the student did not need or want a rational position. The student wanted vengeance. And a shiv.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

freedom and precariousness

Today in Professional Ethics we're discussing an article about ethical failures in accounting. The author criticizes "academic accountants" for failing either to develop a theory of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or to take an active role in critiquing the accounting practices exemplified by the scandals involving Enron, Worldcom, and the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. The research they do, according to this author, is mainly methodological, and mainly read only by other academic researchers. In other words, the research does not serve the public interest.

The question follows: whose interest does it serve? I can only conclude that it serves the interest of the academics themselves.

Publishing, in academic fields with which I'm most familiar, primarily serves the purposes of advancing a claim to deserve tenure or promotion. It is always carefully--not to say obsessively--recorded in a c.v. and in tenure/promotion "files" (which tend to be muliple enormous three-ring binders containing every piece of anything that academic has touched). At major research universities, the benefits of tenure and promotion are often significant financially and in terms of prestige and job security. At most levels of higher education, the financial and prestige rewards are more modest, but job security is highly prized.

This has the result that the article suggested was endemic to academic accounting research. In class, I used academic philosophy as an example. In this field, there is a tacit but near-universally recognized division between publication that "counts" and that doesn't count. The publication that counts includes publication in peer reviewed professional journals, monographs published by academic presses, and, to a lesser extent, book chapters published by invitation of the editor of an anthology.

In my view, academic publications in philosophy are, for the most part, dead letters--better yet, still born. At the moment of publication, the thoughts and ideas expire. Unless you are a highly prestigious academic, if the publication is read at all, the only response it is at all likely to elicit is to be cited somewhere. I have received no response whatsoever to the most significant article I've published (academically speaking).

Yet it is vital for candidates for tenure or promotion to generate these publications, in order to advance their careers. The situation for tenure candidates is the most dire, since career survival is at stake for many: publish or perish.

Thus it comes as no surprise that I have heard so many newly-tenured faculty say, "now I can research things I'm interested in!"

This is the price of job security. For six years of probation, and likely for several years prior to that, academics in many fields sacrifice their freedom of expression, thought, inquiry, and behavior. By the time they have tenure, how many of them have atrophied capacities for free inquiry or free expression? How many of them have been emotionally, socially, or physically crippled by the bloody-minded pursuit of security?

I am in my 16th year since completing my Phd. I am, for that and a variety of other reasons, a very poor candidate for a tenure-track position anywhere, and getting poorer by the day. The only job security I have had is a three-year appointment, from which I can be laid off with 45 days' notice.

I will never say, "now I can research things I'm interested in." I have no incentive to research anything but what I'm interested in, because the only reward for my research is the research itself. I have never had to hold my tongue, never had to attend a dinner at the campus president's house. As I've stated before in this space, I probably do not have academic freedom, but neither do those on the tenure-track; however, I have the advantage of academic license.

I am more free. I am also in a more precarious situation. So I wonder, now, whether precariousness is the price of freedom, just as freedom is the price of security.