Thursday, June 26, 2008

5 Thoughts On A Thursday: Turbo Edition

It's been awhile since I gave an update as to my happenings. I don't really have the time for a full report right now, but just so you know:

1) I owe several of you e-mails/essays/Facebook messages. They are coming. I haven't forgotten. Sorry for the delay.

2) The Cubs are a league best 33-9 at home this year. But when I go to see them, they're 0-2. I think that management is considering banning me from Wrigley Field.

3) I am currently in the midst of an intensive three week German language course. So if you see me and I start to you like this speaking, or I use words like Officefortheworklesspeopleoftherepublic, that's why. Entschuldigung Sie, bitte.

4) I'm done with this class in two weeks, and by that time I need to have a real job. So if any of you know of any job in the Chicago area that pays at least $30,000 a year, provides full insurance benefits, has flexible hours, does not require a car or any prior experience, and needs someone with a background in 19th Century philosophy with a remedial knowledge of French and German, let me know. I'm your man. Oh, and is OK with me leaving at any time to go back to graduate school.

5) Gratuitous Philosophy Quote:

"How fortunate I am, Meno! When I ask you for one virtue, you present me with a swarm of them, which are in your keeping. Suppose that I carry on the figure of the swarm, and ask of you, What is the nature of the bee? and you answer that there are many kinds of bees, and I reply: But do bees differ as bees, because there are many and different kinds of them; or are they not rather to be distinguished by some other quality, as for example beauty, size, or shape? How would you answer me?" - Socrates

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Groundless Opinions and the People Who Make Them

This morning, NPR had this brief little story about Mayhill Fowler, a blogger for the Huffington Post, who recorded Barack Obama's speech about "bitter" white Americans clinging to their guns, and who also recorded a monologue by Bill Clinton in South Dakota responding to the critical article about him in Vanity Fair. In both of these situations, Fowler was able to get access to a politician that would not have been given to a journalist by not disclosing her intentions to record, quote, and publish their comments. Obama's fundraiser was closed to the press; Clinton met Fowler on the rope line after a rally, and it was not at all clear whether or not he understood that he was being recorded.

The Huffington Post calls its contributors "citizen reporters," and invites its readers to join by submitting their own stories. It also calls itself an "Internet Newspaper." Obviously, these labels are (trying to be) signs of the times - an all electronic publication garnering enough respect and journalistic integrity to be able to call itself a "newspaper" and its contributors "reporters." There's only one little thing missing: journalistic integrity.

This, I believe, has been a growing problem in American media, one that I guess started with the inception of Fox News. Now, I don't lament the vertigo-inducing fall of newspaper circulation or readership in the United States. I have about as much sympathy for the plights of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times as I do Ford or GM. But what these papers realize is that it's not just the printing press that makes them newspapers. It's that they adhere to certain standards of objectivity, transparency, and accountability that makes them reliable news sources. Their reporters have to cite their sources, present the facts, refrain from presenting their own opinions without warning the reader, and be held accountable when they make mistakes.

Mayhill Fowler is not held to any of these standards. And I'm not saying that she should be. But until she is, she shouldn't be labeled a "reporter." Indeed, the entire concept of a "citizen reporter" is contradictory. A reporter is precisely NOT a citizen. The duties of being a reporter require him to suspend his duties of being a citizen, such as having or expressing a (political) opinion, or favoring those near and dear to him. In addition, being a reporter requires qualifications and credentials. To say that someone could be a "citizen reporter" is as absurd as saying that someone could be a "citizen surgeon," (just pick up a scalpel and start cutting!) a "citizen constitutional lawyer," (you can teach yourself the law! How many precedents for this case could there be, anyways?) or even "citizen biology teacher." (This week's assignment: Leviticus 11:13, where we learn that bats are a kind of unclean bird!) ("This is why you need to read more Hume," said R.A.)

This, however, is part of the necessary battle we're going to have to fight in this new age of the internet, when any jerk with a computer can have instant access to an international audience, like the tallest, cheapest, loudest soap-box ever made. We can't - and neither should we want to - stop people like Mayhill Fowler (I keep wanting to write her name "Mayhill Flower." She should consider the change.) from writing. But we should be aware enough to be able to distinguish a reporter from a blogger, even when that blogger is going around calling himself a "citizen reporter." The best way I can think of doing this is to never get one's news from the blogs. Read the Times or the Herald Tribune, watch PBS or even NBC or even even CNN first, to get the actual information, and then go to the blogs to be told how you feel about them. For even as much as bloggers abhor the MainStreamMedia for being too conservative/liberal/corporate/Satanic/anti-American/pro-rutabaga, the fact is that that Media still has to uphold certain standards that do not (yet) apply to "internet newspapers" like the Huffington Post.

Except for Fox. The only reason for anyone ever to watch Fox news is for when it's 2 am, you've got a case left in the fridge, and you've run out of drinking games to play.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

5 Thoughts on a Thursday

1) I am finished with my Master's Thesis! All 44 pages of "Authority, Justification, and Intelligibility in Fear and Trembling," have been written and turned in! I also wrote an 18-page paper for Jean-Luc Marion's Negative Certitudes class entitled "The Self Under the Knife: A Phenomenological Interpretation of Surgery," that I think is pretty good and that I might consider expanding on in the future. I also wrote a 16-page paper for Robert Pippin called, "On Logic and Language in Nietzsche's The Gay Science and On the Genealogy of Morality," and even though I think that that paper was decent, it wasn't nearly as good as the topic demanded. But we'll see. So if anybody out there is interested in a little Summer reading, let me know and I will be happy to hook you up.

2) Of course, just because I'm done with my thesis paper does not mean that I have gotten my degree yet. I have to take one more class for credit this Summer, and I have chosen three weeks of Intensive German from June 23 - July 11. And personally, I can't think of a better way to spend my Summer than being in a classroom in 100-hundred degree weather for four hours a day four days a week reciting over and over again different verb tenses and noun cases while mein Herr Professor glares over my shoulder with his switch in hand. It'll be just like Summer camp! [Insert inappropriate Holocaust joke here.]

3) I saw a girl on campus wearing one of those "Blonds Have More Fun" t-shirts today. The thing was, she wasn't a blond. Not even close - she was most definitely a dark, dark brunette. Was she being ironic? Was she in a sad, tragic state of extreme self-deception? Or was she merely stating the fact that Blonds do have more fun, and that that proposition is an objectively factual statement regardless of who makes it?

4) R.A. and I were in Oregon this past weekend for Younger Sister's high school graduation. (I would say "Little Sister," but she is in fact much, much taller than me.) While we were in Portland, we stopped by The Looking Glass Bookstore to buy some, um, books. They had a nice selection, complete with respectable philosophy section. Most of their philosophy books were actual philosophy, not those Pop-Zen, Self-Help, "The Secret" kind of books that you find way too often in the philosophy sections of your Border's and your Barnes and Noble's, but they were also mostly your canonical mainstays: Hume, Kant, Plato, Nietzsche, etc. One exception was the little book "Wittgenstein on the Arbitrariness of Grammar," by Michael Forster, who also just happened to be the faculty advisor for my Master's Thesis. I took this as a sign, and purchased the book.

When we reached the checkout counter, the saleswoman was ecstatic. "Oh, wow!" she said with big, wide eyes, "You two really know your philosophy! Wait right here, I have just the thing for you!" She nearly skipped into the back store room and came back with a little poster that had a crazy cartoon drawing of Walter Benjamin on it, and was apparently some kind of advertisement for his essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanic Reproduction." (Which I have not yet read.) "I've been holding on to this for a while," she said, "But I think that you two should have it." So she put it in a paper bag with our purchases and let us leave with it.

There was something so practically kind about that exchange that it made me miss living in Oregon. Even Portland, with over half a million people, still has that feeling of being a town where everyone knows everyone else. Of course that can be a great reason for leaving Oregon. But maybe some day, when the job market recovers, and the mortgage crisis ends, and the cost of living in New York and Chicago gets so high that only a select group of the super-rich who spend their free time rocket-chariot racing each other and developing a class of robot slaves to destroy the proletariat once and for all can afford to live there, we'll move to Oregon and find a home there.

5) And to Younger Sister: Congratulations! I am so proud of you! I hope that you have a good Summer and are excited about starting college next year. I had a good time at your graduation ceremony, even though we couldn't actually see the stage and the little boy in the seat in front of me kept turning around and looking at me like I was a Martian. My only real complaint is that the ceremony couldn't quite get from start to finish without someone reciting Dr. Seuss' "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" No offense to Dr. Seuss - he's a genius - but I hate that book. There are so many other motivational songs, stories, books, myths, adages, aphorisms, and quotes that one could cite at a graduation, that express more or less the same sentiment, but no. They only go with the Seuss.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pomp and Circumstance, Indeed

It's June, and that means that the year is winding down here at the University of Chicago. Final exams finish up this week, and the former flood of stressed out, sleep deprived students madly trying to finish their term papers has been reduced to a trickle. (Of course, that trickle is most likely in deep, DEEP trouble at this point.) The whole campus seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief, and seems ready to say goodbye to a year of panic and stress and finally embrace the carefree summer that it deserves.

And what better way for the Administration to mark this joyful time of celebration than to have its annual Alumni weekend, when all of the University of Chicago's famous and not-so-famous graduates are invited back to the ol' alma mater for a weekend filled with sunshine, champagne, and reminiscing about their glory days while silently judging all of their less successful classmates. Plus, they can bring their cheque books with them, too!

In honor of the descent of all of these distinguished, well-endowed guests, the campus at the University of Chicago has undergone a metamorphosis that is nothing short of miraculous. The fenced off construction site by my bus stop is now a quaint little park filled with brand-new benches. The campus center quadrangles have gone from being a sink-hole filled, ankle twisting mudfield to a perfectly manicured lawn complete with tulips and lilacs that match the school's colors. The construction scaffolding that has been up all year-long is being taken down to reveal the elegant, 19th Century church underneath. The sidewalk holes and cracks have all been fixed. The drinking fountains all work. None of the toilets are backed up and flooding out into the hallways. Everything has been carefully arranged so as to give off the impression that the University of Chicago is an intellectual paradise, a Utopia of Academia where the classes all start on time, every student is fully funded, and they may be just seconds away from finding that cure for cancer/AIDS/world hunger/pink eye.

I used to think that Bard College was unique in how far it would go to mis-represent itself to guests and potential donors, investors, or tuition payers. For example, the calendar was set up so that your parents would only come at most three times a year: to drop you off in September, for parents weekend in October, and to pick you up again at the end of May. And on all of these occasions the Hudson River Valley was sure to be on its "A" game, with the foliage either at the height of its fall colors or having just finished its spring bloom, with the weather warm yet crisp, and with the sky the color of angels' eyes. (All angels have blond hair and blue eyes, right?) Your folks would most likely look around themselves in awe, and say to you, "What an idyllic, pastoral place this is! This is the perfect setting to be contemplative and to study the great works of Western Civilization! And then, when you're done with your studies, what better way to enrich your soul than by frollicking through the pristine forest! How lucky you are!"

Little would your parents know that, from November through April, Bard College was a muddy, icy, cold, dark, gray, shoddily landscaped swamp that was cut off from the modern world and deprived of such first world necessities as reliable transportation, decent health care, and multiplex theaters. And while they were right about the propensity for students to go running through the woods, that was usually due to either having someone eat the Eyeball acid when they should have had the Spiderman, or the rumor that there was a bear on campus, or the disturbingly regular occurrence of a freshman getting stuck in a bog down by the Tivoli Bays and their friends having to fetch Cliff the security guard to pull him out. Either way, the woods there were filled with terrors and hippies and bottomless pits. All things considered, life at Bard was nothing like the forty-eight hour catalogue photo that was presented to parents, alumni, and prospective students once every Fall and Spring.

But the University of Chicago has one-upped Bard in this category of mis-representation. Because in addition to the unusually well-manicured lawns and the frightfully well-catered buffets that are no where to be seen between November and April, Chicago has the added benefit of reminding visitors that the University doesn't, in fact, need them, that it is doing just fine without their donations, thank you very much, and that, by the way, did you know that Barack Obama used to teach at the law school here? To emphasize their total and absolute superiority to you, they have surrounded the campus with garish, Soviet-style posters portraying famous graduates like John Ashcroft (J.D., '67), Paul Wolfowitz (Ph.D., '72), David Brooks, (B.A. '83), and Susan Sontag (B.A., '51). I mean, how could you ever hope to compete with great minds like these? You might as well just give up now and have another shrimp cocktail. Constantly here, one is reminded of one's absolute insignificance, as one is also reminded simultaneously of how much better one would feel about one's self if one would just make a small donation to the University. But, y'know... they don't really need it. Just if it makes you feel better about your wasted life.

And the fact that you totally used to give David Brooks swirlies after history class every Tuesday.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Basketball Jonez

Well, the NBA and its network affiliate, ABC, finally got their way.

The Finals start tomorrow night, between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. I'm sure that David Stern, the commissioner for the NBA, and all the execs at ABC are breathing a sigh of relief that they don't have to endure yet another year of Spurs vs. Pistons, of trying to find a way to market fundamental, team-oriented basketball based on winning through good defense and consistent free-throw percentages. No longer do the producers have to try to find some way of making soft-spoken and well-mannered Tim Duncan into a superstar, nor do they have to find a way to force every Rasheed Wallace outburst into their narrative of, "He is such a talented player, and could be a Hall-of-Famer, if it weren't for his Achilles' Heel of being an asshole."

No! Instead, they get the gift-wrapped Finals that dreams are made of, Lakers vs. Celtics! Every storyline is prefabricated for them: Kobe Bryant trying to get his first championship sans-Shaq, the Celtics trying to win a title just one year after a total over-haul, Phil Jackson trying to pass Red Auerbach as the coach with most championships. And the history, oh the history! Expect lots and lots of cuts to old banners hanging from the rafters, video montages showing the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabar wrestling a bear during halftime. Believe me, the networks are going to milk this for every penny it's worth, and then some.

But where does that leave the rest of us? Consider this: Since the founding of the NBA in 1950, there have been 58 Finals. 36 of those have featured at least one of the Lakers or the Celtics. This will be the eleventh time that they have played each other, with the Celtics having one eight of their ten previous Finals matches. After this year, the two teams will have combined to win thirty of the 58 titles - that's more than half. It may not be as bad as the Yankees, but let's face it, these two franchises have dominated professional basketball.

But, more importantly, where does that leave me? What happened to my dreams of a New Orleans vs. Toronto match-up? As someone who usually roots for the underdog, how do I choose between a match-up of Goliath vs. Goliath, of two No. 1 seeds, of the two winningest franchises in NBA history? Simple: I'm rooting against Kobe. If you tortured me, I would eventually have to admit that he is, far and away, the best, most valuable, and most talented player in basketball today. But reading this article on confirmed what I already knew about Kobe: not only is he a jerk, but he's an obsessive-compulsive, sociopathic, narcissistic jerk. And I don't know about you, but I'm still bitter about how quickly he got off of that little "rape" incident in Denver a few years back. No one can say whether or not he was guilty, but the fact that the whole case got dismissed and then quietly swept under the rug did nothing to lower my eyebrows of judgment.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Bet That The Czechs and The Slovaks Aren't Too Happy About This Either

I feel kinda bad because I haven't posted in a while. Mostly that's because I have been desperately trying to finish all of my final papers in time to go home to Oregon next week, but it's also because I am lazy. And to show you all how lazy I am, instead of doing an actual post, I am just going to put up a YouTube video that was on the Daily Kos a few weeks ago, that R.A. pointed out to me, and that I have watched like, every day many times a day for the last several weeks. (It starts to get good at about the four minute mark.)