Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Ah well, only a few more hours and we all get a clean slate, right? Bring on 2009, I say. One of my New Year's resolutions will be to return to regular posting on this blog, which I have let languish too much in the past few months. Thanks to all of you who are sticking with this site and reading regularly... I'll do my best to repay your kindness in the coming year.
Signing out for the last time in 2008... this is Dr. J saying:
Read more. Write more. Think more. Be more.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
But the real story of the game last night was the epic matchup between a couple of Giant Spaniard Brothers, Pau and Marc Gasol (pictured above). Pau Gasol played for the Grizzlies last year and won the NBA Rookie of the Year award before being traded to the Lakers. Now, the Grizzlies have his younger (and only slightly less formidable) brother Marc, who actually played high school basketball here in Memphis when his older brother was still a Grizzlie. There were a couple of nice one-on-one matchups between the Gasol brothers during the game, which were fun to watch. I suppose nobody ever gets too big to overcome the pure pleasure of schooling his brother on the court... not even these very big guys.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.
As many of you already know, part of my dissertation work dealt with forgiveness, amnesty, pardons, clemency and other examples of personal and political exceptionalism. My research was primarily concerned with these phenomena in the context of Truth Commissions, which historically have taken place amidst extraordinary political circumstances. Of course, suspensions of the law should always be in some way "extraordinary" (from the Latin, extra ordinem, "outside the order"), so I find even the more mundane occurances of these phenomenon very fascinating. As my research work has turned more toward issues of human rights, political torture and terror, and their philosophical justifications, I find myself constantly confronted with this issue of legitimizing exceptions to the law.
But back to President Bush for a moment. As noted above, Bush is reported to be one of the "stingiest" Presidents in U.S. history with regard to his awards of pardon, clemency and commutation. If that evaluation were true (or simply true), it would suggest that, under the Bush Administration, we have enjoyed a time in which the "rule of law" was the least interrupted. If cases of pardon, clemency and commutation were the only measure of a sovereign's determination of "exceptions" to the law, then we could say that President Bush has been the one of the most lawful sovereigns in U.S. history by virtue of his reported "stinginess." But, of course, we know that is hardly the case.
What is the case, and what is both interesting and frightening about Bush's time in office, is that his reluctance to exercise his Consitutional right to suspend the law in cases of pardon, clemency and communtation has been been accompanied by an over-zealous enthusiasm for exercising all sorts of non-Constitutional rights to suspend the law, that is, to determine extra-judicial "exceptions" to the law. In Judith Butler's essay "Indefinite Detention" (from Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence), she argues that the practice of "extraordinary renditions" and "indefinite detentions" are evidence of the emergence of a "new" kind of sovereignty, which is primarily justified by and arises as such only in the context of the suspesion of law and the corresponding declaration of a "state of emergency." (As an aside, I highly recommend the film Fall of Fujimori, about Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, for its frightening similarity to the Bush story as well as its treatment of just the sort of "new sovereignty" that Butler analyzes.) What Buter identifies as the new sovereignty is found exactly in the sovereign declaration of "exceptions," the power of establishing a domain in which the rules no longer apply. In the suspension of their application, the power of the sovereign is both constructed and reinforced at the same time that it is exercised.
In Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Agamben addresses just this strange relationship between the law and exceptions to the law in his analysis of sovereignty. There, Agamben writes:
"... what is excluded in the exception maintains itself in relation to the rule in the form of the rule's suspension. The rule applies to the exception in no longer applying to it, in withdrawing from it." (Homo Sacer, 18)
The point that both Agamben and Butler are making, of course, is that sovereign exceptions do not "negate" the law/rule so much as they establish the meaning and power of the law/rule as such... as something that can be excepted. The "new" sovereign power, such that it is, is the power to establish domains or determine actions/persons/spaces that can be "taken out" of the domain in which the law/rule applies. ("Excepted," from the Latin excipere, ex- "out" + capere "to take") So, what is particularly curious about Bush's "stinginess" with pardons-- which are, curiously, lawful exceptions to the law-- is that he has been anything but stingy in his determination of other exceptions, particularly ones not established by the law. He has, in effect, reversed the relationship between the rule and its exception in his exercise of non-Consitutional exceptions and, what's more, he has done so so often as to make his kind of exceptionalism the new order, the new "rule."
In sum, don't be so impressed by Bush's stinginess with pardons. Those are the least objectionable exceptions.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I handed out a narrative evaluation form in each of my classes at the end of the semester that was mainly designed to measure the students' experience with blogging in the classroom. One of the questions asked: "If you had it to do all over again, would you rather blog or write traditional (short or long) papers?" Out of a total 58 students, only 3 reported that they would not want to blog again. About 8 or 9 of them reported that they might prefer to write papers in addition to blogging, but those students unanimously spoke in positive terms about their blogging experience. Of the remaining students, the overwhelming majority of them were major fans of their class blogs.
But, I know that you're probably wondering about specifics. So, let's start with the negatives:
First positive: On the whole, my experience is that the quality of students' writing (and what they were writing about) was heads-and-shoulders above what I've gotten in the past. I attribute this largely to the fact that they got to write about things that interested them, and not only things that I assigned them to be interested in. But I also think that their writing was better because of peer pressure. I notified each of my classes that their blogs would be viewable to anyone in the world (though only members of the class were authorized to post or comment). So, not only did they have to worry about embarrassing themselves in front of their classmates, but also in front of any-old-body who happened across their little corner of the blogosphere. LESSON LEARNED: Raise the stakes for students and they rise to the challenge.
Monday, December 15, 2008
A mere 37 days before leaving office, our Lame-Duck-in-Chief President Bush was all the news yesterday. During a press conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite Iraqi journalist (Muntadar al-Zeidi) stood up and threw one of his shoes-- and then the other-- at President Bush's head, missing Bush by a hair both times. Al-Zeidi is reported to have shouted in Arabic: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." He was quickly wrestled to the ground by a hoard of Secret Servicemen and Iraqi journalists before President Bush composed himself and quipped: "All I can report is it is a size 10."
Strangely enough, I do not find this story funny at all. I find it embarrassing, and sad, and frustrating... a depressingly acute reminder of how far our country has fallen in the esteem of the world. The Leader of the Free World is a laughing stock and, what's worse, an oblivious laughing stock. I have no particular nostalgia for the "Founding Father" type, but seriously, whatever happened to statesmanship? Whatever happened to the dignity of the Office?
There are a lot of things to complain about in the last 8 years: the rolling back of civil (and human) rights, the pandering to corporate and capitalist interests that have decimated our economy, the unchecked hubris of American neoimperialism, the assault on science and good sense in the name of "values," the legitimated disdain for diplomacy, the wars. As Hugh Laurie said in his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live this weekend: "What an amazing year it's been. On the plus side, you've had the most exciting election in the history of American politics. And, I suppose, on the minus side... everything else."
One of the things that I look forward to most about Obama's presidency (and, to be honest, this would have been true of McCain too, I think) is the return of some modicum of decorum and stateliness to the Office of the President. Frankly, I just don't have it in me to laugh at episodes like Bush's shoe incident anymore. As cynical and sardonic as I may wish to be, as much delight as I may want to take in that circus show, it's just too old and too tired and too disappointing now. I'm ready for a change I can believe in.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
This year is my first time on the other side of the process, and I can report that it's not much better from this vantage point. We received over 300 applications for our position. That means, if everything else were equal, each applicant would have only a 0.oo3% chance of getting the job. That's 3 thousandths of a chance. But everything else isn't equal, of course. Many of the applicants don't fit the job description; many of them don't look like they'll finish their PhDs in time; many of them aren't the "liberal arts" type. Even still, after all of those obvious cuts are made, the chances of any one of them getting the job are still depressingly slim.
In fact, when I first saw the complete array of boxes that held the applications, my first thought was: How does anyone ever get a job??!! (Followed closely, of course, by: How in the world did I get a job??!!) The truth is, most of the applicants are qualified. They're PhDs or very close to it. They have interesting research projects and evidence of good teaching. They've published. They are reported to be good colleagues. So, in the end, it seems to come down to finding the right "fit" for our department.
And there's the rub.
I was on the m**ket recently enough to remember how much is riding on what I am doing now, so I'm probably a more sympathetic reader of files than your average search committee member. Even still, no matter how much I try, I know that the odds are that I will somehow miss a "gem" amidst the 300+ files. So, I want to extend my sympathies and encouragement to my many friends who are on the m**ket this year. Here's hoping your file rises to the top, and survives to the end.