Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shinseki: Sacrificed for the Status Quo

Shinseki: Sacrificed for the Status Quo
P. Schultz
May 31, 2014

            And so it came to pass that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was sacrificed to preserve the status quo. As is often the case, such resignations are a way of moving an issue from the front page to the back page, as it were, and from there people lose interest and genuine reforms are stymied. But by then no one really notices or cares. And so ABC news reports:

“In this crisis, it became clear to the White House that the solution to the problems identified in news accounts and in a damning report from the VA's inspector general were endemic and would take time to turn around, let alone correct.”

            Ah yes, those “endemic” problems that “take time to turn around” and “correct.” So, the message is: Don’t expect anything much to happen with regard to genuine reform at the VA. After all, the problems are “endemic” and we all have some to know that government and our politicians cannot deal with such problems, to say nothing of solving them. You would think, though, that after awhile people would catch on and replace those politicians who treat problems as “endemic.”

            But, hey, we know that administration is trying. For, after all, Shinseki has been sacrificed despite the facts that he “is a very good man," Obama said . . .”I don't just mean he's an accomplished man. I don't just mean that he's been an outstanding soldier. He's a good person who's done exemplary work on our behalf." Oh, isn’t life so demanding at the top?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Peek Behind the Curtain, #2

A Peek Behind the Curtain, #2
P. Schultz
May 27, 2014

            Below is a link to an article that appeared in the NY Times,  on May 26th, entitled “Veterans Fire Back at Letter by Senator,” referring to an open letter sent by Senator Richard Burr, R-NC, to the nation’s veterans criticizing the leaders of some veterans groups because, allegedly, they have sold out during the current scandal. This is so, apparently, because only the American Legion has called for Eric Shinseki to step down as head of the Veterans’ Administration.

            Now, while I look favorably on any action that would get Shinseki out, as this seems justified as this scandal unfolds, it is important that Burr’s actions have other consequences as well, viz., dividing veterans’ organizations and attempting to marginalize some of them, while making the American Legion seem “mainstream.” Why would Burr seek to do this? Because it is a way of dividing those who are protesting the loudest at the treatment – or actually the lack of treatment – of the nation’s veterans. And why seek to do this? To deflect these protests, which are of course directed at the current political class, both Republicans and Democrats, as they should be. And as these protests have the potential to undermine the current political class, given the heartless and shameful treatment of the nation’s veterans, Burr’s actions are intended to preserve the status quo.

            So it is quite ironic that Burr is accusing these veteran groups of serving the status quo. To wit: “Mr. Burr, angry that only the American Legion has called for the resignation of the veterans affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki, accused the groups of being “more interested in defending the status quo within V.A., protecting their relationships within the agency, and securing their access to the secretary and his inner circle” than in helping members.” And it is not at all surprising that these groups have responded as angrily as they have, given the utterly shameful charges levied by Burr.

            But leaving aside momentarily the particular issue here, what is interesting to me is how the powers that be try to manipulate events, control story lines, in order to maintain the status quo. This particular example illustrates this as well as anything could because, it seems to me, the current political class senses their vulnerability should this issue of how they have manipulated the care – or lack thereof – of war veterans “go viral.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Peek Behind the Curtain: A Two Party Farce in One Act

A Peek Behind the Curtain: A Two Party Farce in One Act
P. Schultz
May 26, 2014

            Below is a link to an article in Politico dealing with the scandal involving the Veterans’ Administration and especially VA hospitals. Here are a couple of paragraphs from that article: 

Unlike in October, when Republicans focused their message on calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to be fired, they’ve gone broader now, saying this is about more than VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, whom most have avoided calling on to resign or be fired.
This, they say, is much, much bigger: The phrase that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his colleagues have been emphasizing is “systemic failure.”

            Now, don’t be fooled by the language here, that the Republicans have “gone broader now, saying this is about more than VA Secretary Eric Shinseki….” What this means is that the Republicans, for reasons not specified, don’t want to focus on the VA and the scandalous activities that have been taking place at their hospitals. Hence, they “have avoided calling on [Shinseki] to resign or be fired.” This is classic redirection and the question, not addressed by Politico or anyone else I have read, is, Why? 

            I am not at all sure but I will hazard the guess that this is because both the Republicans and Democrats have no intention of actually working to solve these problems or to reform the VA. Hence, even a dissenter with the credentials of Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, has said that "by and large, the quality that veterans receive in this country is good to excellent." And this quote appeared in an article entitled “Miller: VA Scandal ‘Much Larger’ Than Shinseki,” which also appeared in Politico, referring to the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller (R-Fla). 

            Of course, those being “served” by the VA know that this is all just part of an effort to avoid dealing with this issue. These veterans know, in other words, that even those who claim to care most for our military are willing to screw them over once again when they leave military service. And no one with any power objects. But then why should we be surprised? 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Oligarchs," Not "Conservatives"

“Oligarchs,” Not “Conservatives”
P. Schultz
May 22, 2014

            A rather simple phenomenon became clear to me just recently, viz., why our “conservatives” are not, that is, are not and cannot be “conservatives” on their own terms. These people are “oligarchs,” not “conservatives.

            Why aren’t our contemporary “conservatives” actually conservatives, that is, supporters as they claim to be of “small,” less powerful, and less intrusive government? Because they are advocates of inequality. And when inequality or, rather, inequalities exist, small, less powerful, less intrusive government is just not feasible. Why not? Because inequalities, always and everywhere, whether social, economic, racial, or sexual, breed resentment and resentment breeds civil unrest, resistance, even rebellion. Hence, government, large, powerful, and intrusive government is necessary, even essential.

            The evidence? Take an extreme form of inequality, slavery of any variety. Without a large, powerful, and intrusive government, slavery of any form cannot exist. The equation: More inequality = more government. More equality = less government. And there is no getting around this formula.

            This helps explain why those who are labeled “liberals” support a humongous bureaucracy. They do so because they recognize that the pursuit of great wealth produces significant inequalities and their hope, utterly vain, is that the bureaucracy can ameliorate these inequalities, thereby preserving social stability. This also clarifies the “quirk” in contemporary “conservatism” whereby although “conservatives” claim they want “to get the government off the backs of the American people,” they end up supporting and even extending the reach of our pervasively powerful national government, e.g., NSA spying or the reach of the FBI. Of course, they justify this as necessary for protecting “national security” which is OK so long as it is remembered that “national security” can be undermined by internal “threats” like black power, communists, “socialists,” or labor unions.

            Today’s “conservatives” – and even today’s “liberals” – are actually “oligarchs,” seeking ways to support while ameliorating the effects of inequalities, and especially economic inequality. And as oligarchs, they end up supporting large, powerful, and intrusive government. They have no choice. The best they can do is disguise their acceptance of a pervasively powerful government as necessary for “protecting national security,” or for sanitizing or cleansing society, say, of drugs or crime or both, or for defending “traditional social arrangements.” But the bottom line is: our political class is oligarchic and, hence, must support and even extend the leviathan that exists is Washington, D.C. To expect a different result, even or especially from our “conservatives,” is to delude ourselves.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Some Great Political Humor

Some Great Political Humor
P. Schultz
May 17, 2014

            Here is some of the best political humor I have ever read or heard.

“The American people today are tired of disorder, disruption, and disrespect for the law. America wants to come back to the law as a way of life, and as we do come back to the law, the memory of this great man, who never left the law as a way of life, will be accorded even more honor….” [The Subversives, p. 492]

            Why is this so funny? Because these are the words of President Richard Nixon, honoring J. Edgar Hoover at Hoover’s funeral in the year 1972, or shortly before Nixon had to resign the presidency because of his illegal acts and not all that long before the nation learned of the extent of Hoover’s disrespect for the law. You can’t make stuff like this up.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rand Paul's Foreign Policy: An Email Exchange

Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy: Email Exchange
P. Schultz
May 16, 2014

Here is an email exchange on Rand Paul and foreign policy. Enjoy.

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 8:10 PM, Peter Schultz wrote:

On May 16, 2014, at 2:23 AM, M B wrote:
"Paul has met with donors including the staunchly pro-Israel mega-donor Paul Singer; Wall Street types like Emil Henry, a former George W. Bush Treasury official, and last month a gathering of former Romney backers; he has spoken with people with Republican Jewish Coalition, an organization strongly opposed to a nuclear-armed Iran, in part out of concern for what that would mean for Israel.  Paul has appeared at pro-defense bastions such as The Citadel in South Carolina; one professor there, Mallory Factor, has publicly gone to bat for Paul.  And he has brought on Lorne Craner, a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain, to serve as one of his foreign policy advisers.  He has also gone to Israel since entering the Senate and impressed some observers at the time with his enthusiasm" (

“OK. There is nothing here, I suspect, that distinguishes Paul from others, except some rather vague assertions that are meant to placate, not the imperialists as the article contends, but rather those labelled "isolationists." As long as Paul is coming on like a "balancer," seeking to balance "involvement" with some "disengagement," "involvement" will prevail. That is what "balancing" is meant to do: It is, in actuality, a disguise for involvement, making it look like the person is actually calculating whether to be involved or not. 

“Look at it this way: In constitutional law circles, there is a concept labelled "balancing," viz., balancing individual rights, say the freedom of expression, against the good of society. Well, guess what happens? Yeah, the "balance" almost always tips in favor of the good of society, the exceptions being when the "threat" posed by the assertion of individual rights is minimal. So "balancing" a way of limiting or restricting rights while pretending to be concerned with their protection. 

“I suspect Paul's foreign policy "evolution," as one person described him, is of the same character. I also suspect that the powers that be know this and express their "concerns" about Paul to make us think that there is a real debate about foreign policy going on when, in fact, there is not. And insofar as Paul "evolves" into a "realist," then "realism" and its credentials are strengthened. "See, folks, there is no sensible alternative to 'realism,' as the evolution of Rand Paul illustrates!" And the status quo is not only preserved but fortified, even while the political class pretends to be debating alternatives. These guys in the political class are shrewd. Of course, they are nothing but shrewd but we Americans are convinced that that is enough, aren't we?” 

"When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?" [Song: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"]


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Obama, 9/11, and Foolishness

Obama, 9/11, and Foolishness
P. Schultz
May 15, 2014

            A museum dedicated to the attack on 9/11 was opened and, among others, President Obama spoke. This is part of what he had to say.

“President Obama on Thursday dedicated the long-awaited museum commemorating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with a mournful elegy to the victims, a stirring tribute to the heroes and a firm resolve to never let terrorists shatter the spirit of America.” [NY Times, May 15, 2014]

            Here is what confuses me: How could terrorists ever “shatter the spirit of America?” I mean, the shattering of “our” spirit is not something that can be accomplished by any attack, no matter how devastating – and certainly the attack on 9/11 was hardly a terribly devastating one except psychologically. But “the spirit” of a nation is not “shattered” by attacks, as you would think we would understand by now, that is, post WWII and post Vietnam, where the US thought that it could, via massive bombings, “shatter” the spirit or undermine the resolve of our enemies.

            So why this foolishness from the president? After all, he is not a fool. Well, it is because he has to make something out of 9/11 that it wasn’t. Or, perhaps, I should say that he has to continue to make something out of 9/11 it wasn’t. After all, 9/11 wasn’t even an attack that was part of a broader war on the U.S. as evidenced by the fact that we have not been attacked since and any apparent attacks were rather more like eccentricities than parts of a broader war being controlled by a few enemy leaders. But this doesn’t sit well as we in the U.S. obsess over that attack. It seems we have to think that, for example, nothing was the same after the 9/11 attacks and this, even though, as Putin has reminded us, things are pretty much the same as they have always been.

            Obama’s rhetoric reminds me of the rhetoric used when the Boston Marathon was run this year and it was said that Boston was being quite “defiant” in holding the marathon. But who were the Bostonians defying? One of the bombers was dead, the other was in custody and the mother was somewhere in central Europe still claiming, I imagine, that her sons had been scapegoated by the U.S. government. Apparently, there was no one Bostonians were defying but they had to think there were others threatening to bomb the marathon again or their feelings would seem more narcissistic than would otherwise be the case.

            The president also said:

“No act of terror can match the strength or the character of our country,” Mr. Obama told a crowd that included family members of those slain and other invited guests in the cavernous underground hall of the National September 11 Memorial Museum. “Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today,” he added, “nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.”

True enough, Mr. President, but its truthfulness is matched by its triteness. No,
“nothing can break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.” But some might say: Too bad because some change in who we are as Americans might actually improve us.  Just sayin’.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The American Empire

The American Empire
P. Schultz
May 13, 2014

            Immediately below, some interesting passages from an essay on the American empire and its current state. The link follows the quotations. 

“The U.S.A. accounts for close to 40% of the world’s military expenditures, compared to some 10% by China and 5.5% by Russia.  The Aerospace and Defense Industry contributes close to 3% oi GDP and is the single largest positive contributor to the nation’s balance of trade.  America’s three largest arms companies—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing—are the world’s largest, employing some 400,000 hands, and all but corner the world’s market in their “products.”  Of late defense contracting firms have grown by leaps and bounds in a nation-empire increasingly loathe to deploy conventional boots on the ground.  These corporate contractors provide an ever greater ratio of contract support field personnel, many of them armed, over regular army personnel.  Eventually, in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom private contract and regular military personnel were practically on a par.

“This hasty evocation of the tip of America’s military iceberg is but a reminder of President Dwight Eisenhower’s forewarning, in 1961, of an “immense military establishment” in lockstep with “a large arms industry. . . [acquiring] unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,” injurious to democracy.  At the time Ike could hardly have imagined the gargantuan growth and political weight of this military-industrial complex or the emergence, within it, of a corporate-contract mercenary army.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

Win Battles But Lose the War

Win Battles But Lose the War
P. Schultz
May 12, 2014

            Below is a link to an article in the NY Times about how a Christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, has won some cases defending what they see as “religious freedom,” such as the recent case in which the Supreme Court said that the town of Greece, N.Y. can begin its public meetings with a public prayer. The article also points out that this group is hoping for a victory in the Hobby Lobby case, where it is being argued that forcing companies to provide birth control as part of its health insurance is a violation of “religious freedom.”

            Well, this is correct: Forcing companies to do such a thing when it violates the religious principles of the owners is a violation of religious freedom. Hence, the Supreme Court might well side with the Alliance Defending Freedom. But that is a long, long way from getting us where the Alliance – and others – would like us to go, viz., to a nation that puts religion ahead of politics. And in my not so humble opinion, this nation will never go there because it is, fundamentally and deeply, committed to a secular view of religion, a view which is embedded in the very Constitution the Alliance appeals to in order to defend religious freedom.

            What is labeled “the separation of church and state” is actually “the separation of religion and politics.” Moreover, this “separation” was created as a way of subordinating religion to politics or of religion to the secular. Evidence of this? Well, most simply put: It is the state, the government that decides how far the freedom of religion extends against the demands of the political, the secular. So, the government can decide that all will serve in the nation’s armed forces if that is what it thinks best. There is no constitutional right of “conscientious objection,” not even for Quakers. Moreover, the government decides if parents have the right not to treat their children medically when their lives are at stake. Again, there is no constitutional right to refuse medical treatment for one’s children. There is even no constitutional right not to send your children to public school, at least through the grades that precede high school, as decided in Yoder v. Wisconsin, where the Court did find that the Amish did not have to send their children to high school. But note: The case did not involve grade children nor did it involve young people of high school age who wanted to go to public high schools. As Justice Douglas reminded the court, it would be a horse of a different color were a case to arise where some Amish children wanted to go to public high school and their parents were, on religious grounds, objecting. It is difficult to conceive of a court decision in favor the parents’ freedom of religion at the expense of the children’s right to attend a public high school.

            The point is this: There is a realm of religious freedom that exists under the Constitution by virtue of the first amendment. But the extent of that realm is decided by the government exercising its judgment about what the good of secular society requires. So it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be under this Constitution.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

American Politics: The Real and the Unreal

American Politics: The Real and the Unreal
P. Schultz
May 11, 2014

            Here’s the thing: Today as I was surfing the net, I looked at a web site I have bookmarked, “The American Conservative,” where there are published essays some of which are devoted to understanding the American political order and, most importantly, its underlying principles. For example, there is one entitled, “Recovering the Founders’ Foreign Policy.” There are others devoted to distinguishing between the progressives and the founders. And they are or can be interesting.

            But they seem to have nothing to do with understanding what is really going on in America’s political arena. For example, I am currently reading a book entitled The Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” by Seth Rosenfeld. In this book, which is based on a bevy of documents the author got via a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit and interviews with participants, it becomes clear that the FBI, with the full cooperation of the established political class, not only spied on but actively sought to “neutralize” what it deemed “political radicals,” socialist, communists [allegedly], black power groups, hippies, and the New Left. In fact, the FBI planted undercover agents in some of these groups, agents who then took the lead in moving these groups toward violence, which of course was then blamed on the “radicals.” For example:

            “[J. Edgar] Hoover order his agents to investigate the TWLF [the Third World Liberation Front] on the ground that it potentially threatened internal security and civil order. But one of the strike’s most militant leaders had a long – and until now secret – history of working as a paid FBI informant. His name was Richard Aoki, and at the bureau’s direction he had infiltrated a succession of Bay Area radical organizations. He had given the Black Panthers some of their first guns and weapons training, encouraging them on a course that would contribute to shootouts with police and the organization’s demise. And during the Third World Strike, he encouraged physical confrontations that prompted Governor Reagan to take the most severe law-enforcement measures against the Berkley campus yet – ones that ultimately would have fatal consequences.” [pp. 418-19]

            So, in the 1960’s, the FBI or, more precisely, the national government was involved in activities meant to neutralize political activity that was otherwise legal that it thought would “combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.” [p. 414] In this particular case, the FBI worked with Ronald Reagan, a man who claimed as a conservative to distrust “big” or “intrusive” government, to infiltrate and neutralize political groups that threatened the status quo. And, just as troubling, this activity had the support of the prevailing political class, both “left” and “right,” both “liberal” and “conservative.”

            What do the alleged “founding principles” of our political order have to do with any of this activity? Put differently, why should we wile away our time discussing those “founding principles” when such activities are taking place? There can be only reason, as near as I can tell: To direct attention away from these activities, to make them disappear into the background while we try to determine whether the “founders” were “progressives” or “natural law” proponents or some proponents of some other political category that has no relation to what is actually transpiring in this nation.  

            Look at this way: What sense does it make, i.e., in what way is our situation clarified by labeling Ronald Reagan a “conservative,” an opponent of big, intrusive government if he was willing to form an alliance with the head of the FBI to suppress political activity with which he disagreed? I submit such a categorization of Reagan – or any one else, even the alleged “liberals” – just obfuscates our situation. It is as if we live in the presence of giant and constantly running fog machine, which renders us almost blind when it comes to what is actually happening. And then, when something happens, say something like 9/11 or the assassination of JFK, we are shocked and we are unable to do more than shake our heads in disbelief that such a thing could have happened. And, heaven forbid, for anyone to say something like, “Well, the chickens have come to roost’ for we didn’t even know we had any chickens or that they were in danger.

            It is a most interesting state of affairs and it is nice to think that it cannot go on for very long. But I am afraid that too is as thought that the fog machine contributes to. Because as it does go on, and on, and on, it is harder and harder to persuade people that they are not in touch with reality. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Blood on Our Hands

Blood on Our Hands
P. Schultz
May 10, 2014

Blood on our hands.
Who’d of thunk it?
What’s that you say?
Some blood is from your dead son?
Gee, so sorry, but it had to be done.
Even if the war couldn’t be won!
Here's a flag for when your spirits sag.
We give it with our thanks, no gag.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Condi" A Poem

“Condi” A Poem

P. Schultz
May 7, 2014

Condi proves that
The shuck and jive
Is still alive.

And for thousands, say, thirty-five,
You can see it live
And surely not in some dive.

Condi will speak
But it’s not cheap,
For after all, she is a “Doc.”

So if she speaks ad hoc
We should not mock,
But, really, applaud her schlock.

So when Condi speaks
Just send this tweet
“Bullshit never sounded so sweet.”  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Education Exchange

Education Exchange
P. Schultz
May 5, 2014

Here is an email exchange about education that was the result of a posting of mine on Facebook. First, you have my friend’s contribution and then there is my response. Enjoy.

“Our kids have jobs that keep them in the public eye so I can't comment on Facebook. 

“””I went to a public college for undergraduate and private for graduate school.  I graduated in 1974 so my experience is as old as yours.  Our kids went to private and public colleges for daughter and public then private for son.  Both finished their doctorates about 5 years ago.  Daughter from University of Virginia and son from Harvard.  Both got an excellent education and are married to folks who went to public university for daughter and private university for son. I frankly don't see any difference between the level of education that each received at any point of their education.  Because of strides in affirmative education and pushes by the institutions to diversify, there is much more integration of social and economic groups than you infer, in my opinion.  

Our daughter-in-law worked for several years in admissions at Tufts and said that their push to diversify was real and strong.  Our son's classmates at Harvard throughout his years there appeared to be very diverse as well.  We spent several occasions with these folks and they seemed pleased with where they were and cognitive of the doors they would open for them.  (our son) feels that his engineering degree from West Point and PhD from Harvard got his foot in many doors but (our daughter ) feels that her pure math degree from Bentley and PhD from University of Virginia in research methods and pure math did the same for her.   Both have zoomed up through their professions at what I view as the same rate.  Both left me in the dust years ago.

So....although I think you may be correct in some cases I think you are far from the reality of it in the small cohort of our family.  I think that you may be right with the few who think the institution is more important than the education received but that doesn't last long in the real world which relies on results more than pedigree.

“I will now descend from my soap box.  Harrumph .”

My response:

I may be incorrect, as this has happened in the past, once or twice. ;-) [A joke, I say, as humor doesn't always play well in this virtual world.] It would be nice to think that this country is not becoming increasingly inegalitarian but most of the stats don't support that conclusion. Also, while colleges and universities have shown increasing concern for diversity, at the same time they have gone up the socio-economic ladder in their search for students. I saw this at Assumption, know it was happening at places like Boston College and Holy Cross, and see it clearly here at my alma mater, Wake Forest. As one of my classmates posted on Facebook, the Wake Forest we went to doesn't exist any longer and I am pretty sure I would not be as happy today at Wake as I was from 1964-1968. But I suspect this trend is just a reflection of what has been happening for past 50 years or so in our society, which has become increasingly unequal as the middle class and lower class move further and further away from the upper class, a trend which in my opinion is facilitated by both Republicans and Democrats, with no end in sight.

C. I did not mean to impugn anyone's efforts to fight this trend nor to belittle efforts, which work, to increase diversity. In this regard, Wake Forest is a much different place than it was all those years ago, when there were very few blacks on campus and no other minorities at all. Today, Assumption College looks, racially, like what Wake looked like in the 60s. But Assumption, which began as all male institution, is now about 2/3'ds women and 1/3d men. In that regard, things are much better than they were. So, yes, I would agree with your daughter that the push for diversity is real and strong, and has been successful. But it does not seem to extend to much socio-economic diversity and at times is sacrificed for the sake collecting the better off. Why?  

D. I  suspect that much - and personally I would say a lot - of this at the college and university level is due to the fact that most of them have become merely business enterprises, more concerned with the bottom line than anything else. They go where the money is. Up the socio-economic ladder and big time athletics, the latter of which impacts greatly on quality education. This is just the way it is. It does impact these institutions, however. Some years ago, it was said that Holy Cross and Boston College decided to keep their admissions at 50% male and 50% female. I suppose they did this because they were concerned with donations later and history indicates that males give more than females. While I thought this was short-sighted given the changing roles of women in our society, it was fine with me because it meant Assumption got some women students we would not have gotten otherwise. But more often than not I think it is the bottom line that dictates policy. Another example: Now more than 50% of the professors in the US are adjuncts or in non-tenure track positions, which is also economically "efficient" and, of course, empowers the bureaucrats at the expense of the faculty, as intended. These positions, adjunct and non-tenure track, usually amount to little more than exploitation and will impact the quality of education. And the bureaucratization of colleges and universities has increased exponentially, again, with not an insignificant impact on the quality of education. All of this will then be hidden by what are being called new measures of "assessment" which are being imposed on colleges and universities by federal law. Just another part of the plan to make colleges and universities businesses and serving businesses, as if that were the goal of "higher education."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Debate Over "Privilege" at Princeton

Debate Over “Privilege” at Princeton!
P. Schultz
May 3, 2014

            Below is a link to an article from the NY Times about some guy at Princeton University who, apparently, “ignited” a debate over “privilege” because he wrote an essay objecting to someone else who, allegedly, told him to “check his privilege.” He seemed to take this as the ultimate put down, leading him to describe his family’s history going back at least as far as World War II.

            Now, to me, this is weird for a couple of reasons. First, why was Tal Fortgang so riled by being told to check his privilege? I mean, is his ego so fragile that this “request” rattled it significantly? I know or read that he is not from Jersey, but he is in Jersey, where put downs are far more brutal than this. I don’t know what New Rochelle, N.Y. is like but I guess it doesn’t help young people develop thick skins.

            But, of course, Mr. Fortgang isn’t really in “Jersey,” is he? He is attending Princeton University, one of the most elite universities in the nation, to say nothing of what it is in New Jersey. There is something almost inexplicable about saying that there is or even could be a debate over “privilege” at Princeton, at least such a debate where someone was participating who could be said not to be enjoying the privilege of a Princeton education. Why should anyone take this particular debate seriously? It would be a lot like taking seriously a debate over torture between Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Not much of a debate.  

            After I retired from Assumption College, a small, allegedly liberal arts Catholic college in Worcester, Mass., I did a “part-time” gig at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., which is part of the Massachusetts state university system. I had been at Assumption for 21 years and was aware that when I left the students were no longer part of the same socio-economic class as when I started. But it was my experience at Bridgewater that brought home to me just how different, how “elitist,” Assumption and its students had become between 1989 and 2010. This is, I suspect, OK but I wondered if I was witnessing what in fact was happening throughout our society, a “segregation” of citizens into two distinct classes whose interaction is, to say the least, limited and whose experiences are as different as night and day.

            If we are going to have a “debate” over “privilege” then it needs to be a real debate, not a debate among the privileged over who, within their ranks, are “privileged” and who are not. If Mr. Fortgang wants to think he is not “privileged,” and that others should not tell him to “check his privilege,” he is free to think that way. But that doesn’t change the fact that so long as he has the privilege of a Princeton education, this privilege distinguishes him from a great many others who never even had a chance of enjoying this or other privileges Tal Fortgang has enjoyed and will enjoy. Rather than “checking his privilege,” I would recommend that Mr. Fortgang “check his [alleged] outrage” at being, as he put it, spoken down to.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Patrick Deneen and Allan Bloom

Patrick Deneen and Allan Bloom
P. Schultz
December 24, 2013/May 1, 2014

“Today we live in a different age, one that so worried Bloom—an age of indifference. Institutions of higher learning have almost completely abandoned even a residual belief that there are some books and authors that an educated person should encounter. A rousing defense of a curriculum in which female, African-American, Latino, and other authors should be represented has given way to a nearly thoroughgoing indifference to the content of our students’ curricula. Academia is committed to teaching “critical thinking” and willing to allow nearly any avenue in the training of that amorphous activity, but eschews any belief that the content of what is taught will or ought to influence how a person lives.

“Thus, not only is academia indifferent to whether our students become virtuous human beings (to use a word seldom to be found on today’s campuses), but it holds itself to be unconnected to their vices—thus there remains no self-examination over higher education’s role in producing the kinds of graduates who helped turn Wall Street into a high-stakes casino and our nation’s budget into a giant credit card. Today, in the name of choice, non-judgmentalism, and toleration, institutions prefer to offer the greatest possible expanse of options, in the implicit belief that every 18- to 22-year-old can responsibly fashion his or her own character unaided.”

                  These passages are from a review by Patrick Deneen of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, long after its publication. I believe Deneen is wrong in the following ways. First, this is not “an age of indifference.” That institutions of higher learning are no longer interested in certain books and authors is not due to indifference but rather to a commitment to a “practical” education, or what might be called an “economically” driven education. It is not that the colleges and universities are not interested in a particular kind of curriculum; rather, it is that they are interested in curricula that serve the interests of our corporations or the globalized economy. Call it what you will but this is not indifference.

                  Hence, the conflicts over curriculum that once described the institutions of higher education have been short-circuited, as it were. Like tenure, they are being undermined indirectly, as it were. Evidence of this is the degree to which now administrators, bureaucrats who have never been in a classroom or taught, have assumed so much power in these institutions that it is all-too-common to hear pleas for “shared governance” in these institutions, pleas most often or always heard coming from the faculty, not from the bureaucrats. And both of these developments, the rise of a bureaucracy not populated by former faculty members and the demise of tenure via adjunct and not-tenure track positions, are in the service of an education that serves the interests of our corporations.

            So, when Deneen writes that “Today, in the name of choice, non-judgmentalism, and toleration, institutions prefer to offer the greatest possible expanse of options, in the implicit belief that every 18- to 22-year-old can responsibly fashion his or her own character unaided,” he is wrong. What he sees as “the greatest possible expanse of options” is actually a tremendous narrowing of the options thought respectable at our institutions of “higher learning.” It is not relativism that is undermining our institutions of “higher learning.” Rather, it is capitalism or the alleged demands of globalization. It is not that these institutions think the young “can responsibly fashion [their] own character unaided.” Rather, it is that these institutions will fashion their characters for them and that these “characters” will be thoroughly bureaucratized so that they will fit into the “globalized” world, the “capitalized,” “corporatized,” or “bureaucratized” world we live in.

                  I believe what Deneen fails to appreciate is how hard it is for humans to embrace what he calls “relativism” or what Bloom called “nihilism.” Both seem to think that relativism or nihilism are easy pills to swallow for human beings when in fact they are not. Yes, humans may say relativistic things, but saying and doing are two different things and when humans do something, they have to justify those doings. This is, it seems to me, just human nature. Hence, when Americans held slaves, they had to justify that and, as a result, they came up with “theories” of racial inferiority and superiority. And when Americans had to deal with having “nuked” the Japanese, they had to embrace notions of Japanese inhumanness. Or to take a simpler example: One of my professors said, a long time ago, that no one is a relativist after a dinner guest has stolen some of the family’s silver, no matter how committed they might be to tolerance or relativism in the classroom! One could see the same phenomenon occurring after 9/11, when there were no relativists in the U.S. that I could see.

                  So, I am skeptical when I hear people speaking about alleged relativists or nihilists who are taking over our institutions of higher education. And it is not that these institutions are not in danger; they are. But the danger does not arise today, as it did not arise in the past, from relativism or nihilism. Rather, it arises from prejudiced or parochial notions of what is the just way for human beings to live. We now have embraced, some of us anyway, the idea that those in the business of business are the virtuous ones, and the larger and more profitable the business, the more virtuous are those who control or own it. It is even said, over and over, that business virtue is political virtue. So why shouldn’t it be confused with intellectual virtue as well? This is, as strange as it may seem, what is endangering that which is or should be “higher” about our educational institutions.