Category Archives: Language

More Lies about Education

The President of Arizona State University seems to be more interested in publicity than education or the truth.  Michael Crow landed media attention by forming a 21st-century Axis alliance with Starbucks.  The cover story consisted of this narrative: people who cannot afford a college education on the low salaries paid at Starbucks would be helped out by Starbucks and ASU, and they could obtain university degrees that might not have been available otherwise.  “It turns out Starbucks isn’t contributing any upfront scholarship money to an online college degree program it introduced this week.”

Let’s imagine what might have happened. Michael Crow, whose last name tells you a great deal, wanted to bolster ASU’s profile again.  The usual means of becoming, over the course of the years, a great university were rejected in favor of a quick hit, a parasitical publicity release that would gain immediate attention. Crow perhaps needed a name to attach to the scheme.  Maybe Google was busy or Gucci executives were focusing on the World Cup in Brazil.  Starbucks came through, offering its name recognition and global clout.  That’s what ASU needed, not the truth.  No one wanted to say that Crow had prostituted ASU in a deal where the partner did not even have to put out (a dime, i.e., the hourly wage of Starbucks’ employees).  Oh, wait — that last parenthetical statement is a lie, but now you are accustomed to those, thanks, according to the news report, to Michael Crow and Starbucks. At a great university, you would learn that “lying” is a synonym for “entrepreneurial.”

Creative Commons photo provided by Noel WorliThe genuine narrative (four paragraphs from the bottom of the AP story) uttered by Starbucks’ spokesperson Laurel Harper is that Starbucks would simply encourage employees interested in higher education to go into debt (Pell grants) to achieve their goal.

The Nate Silver Generation?

He said he wanted his attack to be more effective than Adam Lanza‘s shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary.

photo of Foster the People album

A Poverty of Possibilities among the Rich

photo of money - Creative Commons

With an Ivy League education, and years of association with some of the brightest people in Washington, D.C., Tim Geithner is still unable to think of any alternative to what happened in 2008.  He missed one of the lessons of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is that people’s money/labor is theirs, and that the bank is a place where collective wealth exists, and can be used for collective good.  In other words, the achievement of the James Stewart character in the film is to show the viewer how to live without banks and bankers, whose interests have little to do with Bedford Falls.  Geithner has convinced himself, in a grand gesture of rationalization, that no alternative existed, and still does not.

It’s like the power grid. You have to make sure the lights stay on, because if the lights go out, then you face the damage like what you saw in the Great Depression or It’s a Wonderful Life. More people lose their jobs, more people lose their businesses, lose their homes, their savings, and they’re devastated. There is not way to avoid those outcomes or protect people against those outcomes, unless you keep the lights on. That requires doing things that are terribly unfair and look deeply offensive. It looks like you are rewarding the arsonist or protecting people from their mistakes, but there is no alternative.
— Geithner in The Wall Street Journal‘s Money Issue (June 2014)

Slavoj Žižek indicates the same problem is at work with Thomas Piketty’s new book on capitalism. The capitalists don’t know how to do without capitalism.  They are incapable of Hegelian negation.  “[Piketty] accepts, as a good Keynesian, that capitalism is ultimately the only game in town; all alternatives ended up in fiasco, so we have to keep it.”

What’s worse about Geithner is that he knew what he did looked “like the opposite of what makes sense.”  It’s a Wonderful Life, on a most superficial reading, shows neighbors rescuing a neighbor, friends helping friends, townspeople pulling together for a person in trouble.  Those are alternatives that do not make sense to readers of The Wall Street Journal and to Tim Geithner. They cannot leave important financial decisions up to common people who cannot comprehend why anyone would say it’s utterly plausible to do what is “terribly unfair.”

 

STEM Researchers Love “My Cousin Vinny”

This in from the Moö State U blog run by a philosopher intent on showing the lack of standards in what are supposed to be the top disciplines at many universities, the so-called STEM disciplines.  Someone could get credit for a rigorously peer-reviewed article that is utter nonsense. Who needs David Lodge?

  • Paragraph #2 of the introduction, on the first page itself, says: You should read any paragraph that starts with the first 4 words in bold and italics – those have been written by the author in painstaking detail. However, if a paragraph does not start with bold and italics, feel free to skip it because it is gibberish auto-generated by the good folks at SCIGen.
  • One section of the paper consists entirely of dialogues from the movie “My Cousin Vinny.”
  • And the conclusion section of the paper actually has this: And we’ve managed to reference Hilbert, HHGTTG, Sholay, My Cousin Vinny, Jeff Naughton, the Wisconsin Database Performance Paper, Xeno’s paradox, Meeta Kabra and the wogma.com website, and we even referenced the Sokal Affair in the heading of the paper (actually in the name of the institute that the authors are from, but you get what I mean, right?) proving once and for all that nobody has read this paper.

photo from My Cousin Vinny

Shakespeare’s Social Network

A new book by Bart van Es will be available in North America next month, but we can learn some things already, thanks to a review in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Shakespeare in Company is a meticulous account of the institutional and economic forces that shaped the plays themselves and an acute analysis of the ways in which this shaping occurred. For instance, in 1594 Shakespeare became a sharer in the Chamberlain’s Men and, as such, an “attached” playwright. Unlike Kyd, Chapman, Jonson, Ford, Webster or Beaumont, Shakespeare wrote for a single company, an arrangement, claims van Es, that he “initiated”. This facilitated the composition of roles with particular actors in mind and “a new concern with the process of casting individual performers [which in turn] enabled the creation of psychological depth”.

Celebrating a Contrarian

Sometimes it helps to have someone say “no.” The naysayer often deserves gratitude. Think of it as appreciating the black smoke during the pope’s election.*  Didn’t some of us feel a little bit better when the vote did not produce a new pope?  Evgeny Morozov is our non-pope. I imagine that when all the well-to-do tech gurus were rushing toward Second Life, now a piece of internet detritus, Evgeny was there yelling, “No!”  And, “In what craziness are you people engaged?” However, no one listened. Shall some of us try listening to him by reading his new book?

What makes today different is that the overall excitement about “the Internet”—I find this concept so sickening and suffocating that I use it in scare quotes throughout the book—makes us blind to the pitfalls of solutionism and justifies many silly interventions and reform agendas. Why not do all these things—eliminate hypocrisy or crime—if “the Internet,” this revolutionary technology, allows us to? — Evgeny Morozov

*Yes, of course the black smoke is a metaphor for the black soul of the church, in the same way the dark smoke signals the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West in the film version of The Wizard of Oz. Is it an accident in light of Evgeny’s new book that WWW should be her initials?

Photo of Wicked Witch of the West

Do Hipsters Think of Themselves as Supreme Beings?

This is an etymological puzzle, probably a false one, maybe not an entertainingless one.  While preparing notes for a course, I dipped into Moses the Egyptian by Jan Assmann, and came across this sentence: “The belief in the ‘Supreme Being’ (Hypsistos) has a distinctly cosmopolitan character” (51).  Maybe it was the linking of Hypsistos and cosmopolitanism that caused me to think of hipsters.  The Urban Dictionary definition of “hipster” cites the cosmopolitan element.

supremes