11 March 2008

On Seltzer--Again

According to Inga Muscio, a friend of Margaret Seltzer’s (and who only discovered Seltzer’s deception when ‘phoned by an agent, Faye Bender, who worked for both Muscio and Seltzer), Seltzer has collected government cheques on the basis of her Native American “ancestry.”

Seltzer managed a long-term masquerade, and she took numerous people in. Among them, Ms. Muscio, Ms. Bender, and Seltzer’s ethnic studies professor. Are these people somehow at fault for believing what appears to have been a well-researched, well-presented character role? No. Ms. Muscio and Ms. Bender have resisted defending Seltzer’s actions, but the good professor’s apologia, however sympathetic and well-intended, backfires in several ways. In my estimation, the most significant is the patronizing element in excusing a white woman’s “giving voice” to a community that Seltzer (and the professor) characterize as “silenced.”

The professor is a kind and generous person. I’m unsurprised that he lent support to a former student undergoing so public an excoriation; however, I am surprised at his means of offering said support.

10 March 2008

"Plagiarizing Other People's Trauma" ?

A middle class white female, Margaret Seltzer (a.k.a. Margaret B. Jones), was raised in a California suburb. She attended an Episcopalian school, and went on to spend some time at the University of Oregon. At some point, she decided to assume a new identity. She claimed Native American ancestry, that she grew up in South Central L. A., that she was passed from foster family to foster family, that she was a drug-runner for a notorious gang, and so on. Then Seltzer publishes her “experiences” as Love and Consequences.

This last week, Seltzer’s sister revealed that the story is fraudulent. Seltzer concocted everything she related as lived experience; she even made up an anti-gang foundation that she claims to be associated with (and publicized on the book’s jacket). And no, she did not graduate from the University of Oregon with a degree in Ethnic Studies.

People are outraged--but for differing reasons. I offer two opinion pieces of the work (there are hundreds available, of course--see Google--but I found these intriguing):

Stolen Suffering," by Daniel Mendelsohn at The New York Times, argues that Seltzer has appropriated people’s pain for psychological and financial benefit (this blog post's title comes from Mendelsohn's article).

Fine Line Separates Memoir, Novel” by Gordon Sayre, at The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR), argues that what matters is whether the work is well-researched, that Selzter communicates on behalf of excluded voices, and that we might consider why we want to read about other people’s pain.

So then, is it only a matter of marketing here? Or has Seltzer done more than misfire in presenting Love and Consequences as an autobiography? Has she committed some great intellectual, social, or cultural sin? Is authenticity important?
More on this later.

09 March 2008

On the Sunday Times, Obama, and Middle Names

After a long day reviewing student projects, I’m itching for a lovely bit of Glenmorangie; however, considering that I have, as they say, “gone on the wagon,” I’ve settled for a some black tea and political news instead.

On Sunday, The New York Times began running a series of stories on the presidential candidates. They kicked off with a front-page story on Obama’s Senate history. The story painted Obama as an eager-to-please, but rather ineffectual, neophyte who, the story implied, had already begun eyeing a presidential campaign when he first entered the U. S. Senate. In effect, the man’s a celebrity but little else. The "empty suit" analysis (as a news story rather than as an op-ed piece) prompts me to recall that the Times endorsed Rodham Clinton some time ago.

Ah, “Rodham Clinton” reminds me of something that's been grating for a while ( bear with me here): on Barack Hussein Obama’s middle name: deal with it. It is the man’s name, and it’s not something for him to hide. What is arguable--risible--is the context and tone in which his name is used--as when certain blowhards from the left or the right refer to “Hussein” as some juvenile shorthand for “closet terrorist.” The whining defense of such inflections tend to fall along the lines of “So? If he's ashamed of his name, why didn’t Obama change it? I didn't name him 'Barack Hussein Obama.'")” Aside: I can nearly hear Uriah Heep simper these lines while wringing his hands, eyes downcast. That’s my bias speaking there. The other defense is “Well, Hillary Rodham Clinton--she uses her middle name.” Well, no. She doesn’t. Clinton’s middle name is “Diane.” “Rodham” is her maiden name; “Rodham Clinton” is her surname.

Rather than drawing awareness to possible hidden allegiances, attention to such trivialities as a person’s name points only to the increasingly petty, childish tenor of American politics. And yes, I'm playing along by blogging about it.

I'd like to note that the Times also ran a sympathetic story on John McCain's cancer history. I didn’t know this, but the puffiness of his left cheek is due to surgery that removed a lesion and lymph nodes in his neck when he’d been diagnosed with melanoma. Crikey. McCain’s a seven year cancer survivor, and he’s going strong (bless 'im), so there's some positive news to share.

06 March 2008

Silly Season Update

A followup to an earlier post, (which I am posting in brief so that I remember to actually follow-up on it--does that make sense?)

Larry Sinclair has reportedly told the folks at Big Head DC that he's postponing all media appearances for the time being. It seems he wants to focus on his various, and numerous, lawsuits. Good luck there, Mr. Sinclair.

Meanwhile, DBKP presents an ongoing critique of Mr. Sinclair's actions: a recent post suggests that Larry Sinclair has lost his "credibility," while another entry provides a rundown of Mr. Sinclair's attempts to shake down Whitehouse.com (perhaps "shake down" isn't the correct phrase, but you get the picture). You might also want to stop by Hbee Inc. for an energetic take on the Sinclair situation.

You'd think the man would know when to call a halt to his accusations; seriously, the 'net notoriety has gone to his head. How can the man believe that he's due for some mainstream news coverage based on a series of unsubstantiated claims that could truly destroy someone's life?

I've noted that numerous (alleged) Clinton supporters are backing Sinclair, and they appear to see this brouhaha as similar to the ruckus surrounding the Clintons in the '90s (I'm not referring to Ms. Lewinsky). The reasoning seems to be, somehow, that because Bill and Hillary (or Billary) were victimized by scurrilous rumors, then Obama is--or even should be--fair game. Yes, people threw wildly unsubstantiated dirt at the Clintons too, but how many legitimate news organizations treated The Clinton Chronicles, or the accusations of rape, as appropriate news material? And you simply cannot compare the Sinclair story with Whitewater (Rezko, maybe...and I anticipate that we'll know about the association with Obama shortly as Rezko's trial has commenced).

And one more thing: I've always resisted the "the Democratic party, despite its favor for identity politics, maintain a closeted racism" argument. But, folks--the longer the Obama/Clinton battle continues, the basis of that argument is being revealed. The Democratic party seems no less racist (or sexist, or anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic) than any other party: it's just better at masking its prejuduce (as well as its privileging of the status quo). I know I've made several claims that need further support, but it's late, I'm tired, and I'm damned grumpy, so I'll elaborate tomorrow (that's the goal, anyway).

Aside: Maureen Down offered a fine editorial piece today on how the Democrats are being hoisted by their own petard as identity politics threatens to fragment the party: "Duel of Historical Guilts."

Update (3/9): The comments left at Big Head DC have now gone absolutely bonkers. Accusations over Obama's and Clinton's sexuality abound, Obama's been associated, obliquely, with everything from dead choir directors to voodoo. Granted, such posts are invented by people trolling the Larry Sinclair fans, but they are entertaining. Then there's this.

03 March 2008

Why Aren't There More Conservative Profs?

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent study conducted by professors Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner (the former politically conservative and the latter politically liberal) discusses why universities seem overloaded with left-wing professors. Apparently it’s not some conspiratorial moonbat bias against right-wing thinkers. Rather, conservative scholars don’t appear to drawn to the ivory tower.

The Chronicle's article, “Conservatives Just Aren't Into Academe, Study Finds,” offers an overview of the project's findings, but you can read Woessner and Kelly-Woessner’s paper, titled “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates," here. The researchers have moved on to investigate whether “professors indoctrinate students by expressing a political ideology in the classroom [for this study] The Woessners surveyed 69 political-science classes in the fall of 2006 and again in the spring of 2007 and asked 1,603 students about their ideology at the beginning and at the end of each course” (Chronicle of Higher Ed). Considering the near-hysteria we've witnessed inthe past few years over what constitutes "academic freedom," and what viewpoints, if any, are being "suppressed," Woessner and Kelly-Woessner's conclusions should prove provocative--as should David Horowitz’s response--whatever the outcome.

As an aside, while I don't agree that moderate or right-wing points of view are necessarily suppressed in academia, I do agree that such perspectives are, as a general rule, unpopular and some instructors and students dismiss or ignore conservative students' articulations--but is this the same as suppressing? Not unless those conservative students are told to shut up or ship out.

Of course, I've not witnessed anti-conservative treatment directly, but conservative students have shared their experiences of feeling isolated with me, and I feel for them.

I will say that it's often assumed that because you're at university you're somehow invested in a liberal-leaning ideology, and I have experienced this directly--an assumption that, for example, I support Hillary Rodham Clinton or that I resent the Current Occupant (as Garrison Keillor addresses GWB). I won't reveal whether either of these is true, because that is beside the point, which is that, as an academic, I must be liberal.

I will also add that I've encountered several conservative profs who insisted on the righteousness of their own positions. For example, the community college physics instructor who decided to spend (nearly) an entire fifty minute period railing about abortion's immorality. Or the political science instructor who posited that an aristocracy is necessary to maintain order amongst the "mobs" (yes. I swear he said "mobs"). Granted, in my experience, these folks are relatively few in number--and as anecdotal evidence, it ain't worth jack. I'll just wait for Woessner and Kelly-Woessner to publish their findings for some "real" facts.

02 March 2008

BBC's Newsnight arrives in North America. Sweet!

Dude, Paxman is here!

Last week, BBC America premiered its North American version of Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman (knighted "the thinking woman's crumpet" by some wag or another). The current affairs program airs at 10:00 pm EST every Friday. Sadly, we only have a once-weekly feature rather than the Monday-Friday broadcast enjoyed by the British. Paxman, a famously direct, “non nonsense” interviewer, has been making public officials squirm since 1989; for example, from Variety:

"Pols have left the studio in despair at being caught on the rough end of Paxman's tongue.

At least one walked out midway through an encounter. And Paxman famously once asked then-government minister Michael Howard the same question 14 times in an attempt to elicit a straight answer.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, inevitably, has suffered from the Paxman treatment. In a special program, when Blair made his case for invading Iraq, the interviewer asked if he and President Bush 'prayed together' to which a visibly annoyed Blair replied: 'No, Jeremy ... we don't pray together.' "

One politico who departed "midway through an encounter" was none other than Henry Kissinger. Mr. Kissinger walked out of an interview/debate during Paxman’s radio show, Start the Week, due to Paxo’s less-than-gentle-questioning (here’s The Guardian’s report of the incident).

Yes, Mr. Paxman can be abrasive, but it’s refreshing indeed to encounter a journalist who refuses to cater to politicians, big business, and (other) media figures. Moreover, he does this without editorializing (although his facial expressions tend to give away his thoughts on the matter under discussion. And, fine, yes he has a tendency towards arrogance--but do you prefer a rollover reporter or a skeptic who actually questions public figures?). If you’ve got access to BBC America, brush aside the too-familiar talking heads and give Paxman an hour. Mark your television guides: 10:00 pm EST Fridays.

Two Punks, One Grob

The Sundance Channel has been replaying its series, One Punk Under God, which focuses on Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Fate Bakker. After the Bakkers' very public downfall in the late 1980s, Jay ran into his own difficulties--among them, an awareness of the too-common hypocrisy and destructive self-righteousness among certain Christians and Christian organizations. Jay also developed a drug problem.

Nowadays, Jay is clean, and he's come to terms with religion--at least, he's come to terms with God. He's shed conservative notions of Christianity; arguing that "Jesus is the Savior, not Christianity," and "religion kills," Bakker embraces and encourages a non-toxic, inclusive Christianity. The Younger Bakker's image of Christ presents Jesus as a loving redeemer who accepts people for who and what they are--regardless or lifestyle or religious affiliation. Jay Bakker's church--called Revolution--meets at Pete's Candy Store (a Brooklyn bar), and the group welcomes everyone. Take a look at Revolution's site. It's an admirable effort at unity and acceptance.

On another note, the heavily tattooed, pierced, and bearded Bakker looks significantly like a man named Terry Grob, who sported much the same look, albeit without tattoos and piercings, in the 1980s and 1990s. Terry Grob was a punk promoter ("Grobal Productions") of the highest order: he went above and beyond "normal" promotional duties to publicize and aid numerous struggling bands in the pacific northwest. Terry was sincere, take it or leave it; this means that the man could be too direct, too honest--and he could be offensive. He was poor (he saved and saved money to open his own club. He carried a huge wad of cash in his trouser pocket). People gave him boots when his own pair began to fall apart. He didn't drink, nor, to my knowledge, did he engage with the drug scene, but he did love his chocolate milk and cigarettes.

Terry had epilepsy. He used to have to leave his own shows if a band used strobes or similar lighting effects. Sometimes he'd get outside in time and he'd just kick around, smoking cigarettes and throwing overly-suggestive comments at nearby women (a breast man all the way, Terry could get pretty obscene if he wanted to).

I moved away for a few years, and I lost contact with Grob. I saw him last in 1997 or 1998. In late 2000, someone emailed me to let me know that, during a show, Terry had experienced a seizure he didn't survive. Friends, colleagues, and scenesters attended memorials for him in Portland and Spokane.

Terry was one of a kind--a man without hypocrisy, sycophancy, staged aggression, or mock outrage. I miss him like mad.

(a musician's remembrance of Terry here; an obit here)

01 March 2008

The Silly Season? Just Mad March

I sat here mulling over various clever re-introductions (considering that I've been away for a while), but you know how wit is: never there when you need it. I briefly considered "I'm back bitches," but that's banal (and silly), so never mind.

I was also going to write a bit about a fellow named Larry Sinclair, but. . . What? You haven't heard of him? Goodness. You must be new to the Internets. In 1999, Mr. Sinclair alleges, he engaged in illicit drug use and illicit sex with a current presidential candidate (and it ain't Nader). Mr. Sinclair has also filed a lawsuit against the candidate.

I'd planned to go on and on about this story, but, to tell the truth, I'm just burned out on it at the moment, so instead of going on and on about
A) Sinclair's victimization at the hands of the DNC and MSM, or
B) the presidential candidate's (okay, Obama's) victimization at the hands of a scurrilous kook,
I'll just leave some links that review the story /debate whether Sinclair's tale bears any veracity:
The lawsuit at The Smoking Gun
Reportage and commentary at Death by 1,000 Papercuts
A summary and some commentary at Wonkette
Dear Murray's take on the matter
Big Head D C spoke with Sinclair (the interview here).

Cranking up the drama, Whitehouse.com offered to pay Sinclair if he took a polygraph. He did so; they said he failed, he said the test was rigged. Threats ensued, and Whitehouse.com has, aparently, removed all Sinclair-related materials. Whatever.

From either perspective, the whole seamy scenario is just barking batsh*t. And, sorry, I don't buy Mr. Sinclair's tale. Although he has offered hotel receipts to prove his presence in Mr. Candidate's (Obama's) hometown in 1999, he's offered no other evidence to support his claims (wait! there's a limo driver. . . and he isn't coming forward? alrighty then). But that's okay; plenty of consipiracy-minded folks have fallen in with Mr. Sinclair anyway (and they seem to include a whole lot of Clinton supporters. Fancy that!)