The Ministry of Silly Thoughts

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Richard Cloward, Public Intellectual.


Richard Cloward being awesome.

Cross-posted from the US Intellectual History blog. Which explains the first sentence.


Few questions are brought up more frequently at this blog than the question of the public intellectual. Who is a public intellectual? What does a public intellectual do? Conversely, who isn’t a public intellectual? Often, these discussions revolve around problems of definition – if we are going to debate what we mean by a “public intellectual,” we must surely define what we mean by “public” and “intellectual” in the first place. Moreover, as L.D. Burnett has recently pointed out, we would do well to decide which portion of the term – the “public” or the “intellectual” – is the most important to our conception of the title. By way of one of the primary figures of my dissertation, sociologist and social activist Richard Cloward, I am going to hazard offering my own answers to each of these questions.

Before addressing what makes an intellectual “public,” it of course seems necessary to grapple with the whole idea of what comprises an “intellectual” in the first place. As many discussions here have attested to, this is a task fraught with epistemological and ideological problems – the collected baggage of race, class and gender are inevitably incorporated into our conceptions of the intellectual, and therefore to some it seems of little value to try and salvage the idea at all. Yet my response to this problem – however admittedly related to my inability to divorce myself from my own middle-class romanticism – is not to abandon the term, but to attempt to reinvent it by dressing it down. A democratic notion of the intellectual, in other words, would be one with remarkably minimal standards for admission – as I once argued in a review of the delightful documentary The Examined Life, all one need possess in order to qualify as an intellectual is a genuine, passionate interest in ideas and their consequences for the lived experience of being human. This does not require any set standard or amount of knowledge – although when the interest is sincere, a certain amount of education is usually acquired one way or another – nor of course a college degree or publically scrutinized body of work. For even the quest of the classic privileged white male intellectual is, ultimately, a deeply human one, and it is in this broadly shared humanity which can be found the lustful yearning with which we recognize each other as intellectuals.

Yet if this standard seems excessively broad and undiscriminating, fear not – I’m about to get much more stringent. If it does not take much to be considered an intellectual, it takes quite a lot, in my view, to be considered a public one. For in order to be endowed with the title of a public intellectual, one must produce thinking which is publically relevant – one must take a position on The Way We Live Now. And ultimately, if pursued honestly and fully, this means one has to become political – in the deepest sense of the term. A public intellectual, in other words, is an intellectual who takes a position on contemporary power arrangements.

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Enlightenment Reactionaries: Sexism and Racism in the Atheist Community

Note: This is an essay I wrote which I am cross-posting from a great feminist blog, Disrupting Dinner Parties, which you should all check out. There are a few slight edits in this version that I added after the post went up.


Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

In the beginning, there was “Elevatorgate.” Rebecca Watson, a feminist atheist blogger, politely explained how not to hit on women. Richard Dawkins, the most famous leader of the “New Atheists,” then decided he needed to condescendingly explain to Watson that since she is not a Muslim woman, it was self-indulgent of her to speak about her experiences of sexism. Not coincidentally – as far as I am concerned – Dawkins decided this after sitting on a panel with Watson where she extensively explained how being a skeptic and a feminist netted her the delightful catch of a plethora of e-mails – from other skeptics – offering alternatively to pleasure her like no one else had before (the “fan mail”) or, to rape her violently to set her straight (the hate mail). I think all this talk about sexism in the skeptical community made Dawkins very uncomfortable – but then he realized, no worries: there’s nothing a little comparison to the Muslim Barbaric Other can’t fix.

Over the next few years – the controversy over “Elevatorgate” began two years and two months ago, to be exact – the feminist atheist community blossomed. We now have conferences organized for skeptical, non-believing women; we have multiple bloggers who focus on the intersectionality of race, gender, and religion; and we have an association of atheists, called Atheism +, which defines itself explicitly along the lines of giving a shit about these other social ills.

What we also have, however, is a community of people devoted to attacking feminist atheists. The most polite of these express their position with the classic reactionary posture of “reverse discrimination” – by talking about white privilege and male privilege, feminist atheists are actually irrationally stereotyping all men/white people, and are on a quest to destroy anyone who disagrees with their dogmatic, unfounded social analysis. The worst of them, on the other hand, create web sites and twitter feeds devoted to attacking these women endlessly, threatening them with rape and calling them cunts, whores, and every other invective in the book. They fill these same women’s inboxes with these verbal assaults every day.

Meanwhile, other shit has gone down outside of the interwebs as well. At conferences, in particular, there have been numerous reports of white privilege, mansplaining, and sexual harassment. Increasingly, women started to come out about these experiences and often informed the organizers of these conferences about the incidents. Sometimes, however, the leaders of skeptical organizations would fail to respond adequately and then, later, blame feminist atheists for the lower attendance of women; all this talk about harassment was overblown and “scared them off,” apparently.

And now, a few weeks ago, an unnamed source informed PZ Myers – one of the most relentless defenders of feminist atheists and an overall pretty awesome human being – that Michael Shermer, one of the most well-known members of the community, had gotten her very drunk at a conference and then had sex with her without her consent. No legal action is being pursued – the woman simply wanted her story out there to warn other women. Myers, cognizant of the legal and social risks of making the information public, decided to do the right thing and posted the woman’s report anyway. The shit has not stopped flying since – and you can very well imagine the torrent of abuse this unnamed woman and all of her supporters have since endured.

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Every Game A Season: or, how I learned to live with losing.

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres

“Some will win, some will lose – some were born to sing the blues.

Oh the movie never ends –  it goes on and on and on and on.”

 So our last two posts here have been somewhat serious in tone, so I thought to take a break from getting angry at CNN anchors and libertarian bloggers and instead write another post on the relatively lighthearted topic of baseball.

This, however, actually presents a bit of a challenge – for as most who pay attention to baseball probably know, right now is not the grooviest time to be a Giants fan. In short, we’ve been sucking it – inexplicably, consistently, and heartbreakingly sucking it. (Exactly how many times in the past two months have we had bases loaded with not a single run to show for it? Someone out there, I’m sure, knows the precise number.) So here we are, at the bottom of the NL West, while the Dodgers do their Dodgers thing and anyone who wants to believe a team can’t buy a championship is feeling a bit disconcerted. My only comfort is that the Oakland Athletics, which is my number two team that I most enthusiastically love despite their number twoness, are doing pretty well. (And of course, accompanying the increased attention I’ve been giving to the A’s has been the development of corresponding crushes; and Eric Sogard, outperforming by leaps and bounds all of his teammates, has won the prize of my heart – I mean really, I simply cannot resist those glasses. ((And when he takes them off to clean the dust! – I swoon. #Nerdpower!))

Yet it seems a bit silly and spoiled to be complaining in the first place – the Giants have won two out of the last three World Series, so we can afford to suck for a little while much more so than most teams. (Or at least, the fan base can handle the psychological torture more, especially since we specialize in that.) However, I was amongst those poor, sad, ignorant souls who do not watch baseball for the first of those championships, so to me, it feels more like we’ve won just one. And, moreover, the whole experience of becoming a Giants fan last year, in particular, has made this sucking thing a little tricky.

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How Don Lemon ruined my afternoon.

Note: This was written the evening of July 28th.


I’ve been busy lately. I am preparing a course on American history from Reconstruction until the present, and I’ve been spending most of most days writing lectures. Yet I had planned to devote today to writing for this blog, and maybe one or two others I am involved in, and I had a whole slew of sparkling, glee-inducing ideas on what to write about. On the top of this list was a post on cursing – why it’s awesome, what is misguided about criticisms of it, and why no, I’ll never stop using “foul language.” I was really looking forward to this. A whole fucking lot.

But then I made the mistake of watching CNN while working out at the gym this afternoon. And then I suffered the extreme misfortune of listening to Don Lemon deliver his talking points (during a segment laughably entitled “No Talking Points”) on what is wrong with the black community, and what solutions should now be pursued in order to stop white people from suspecting that young black people are criminals – and thus stalking and murdering them. His recommendations were as follows:

1)       Stop wearing baggy, low-hung pants,

2)       Stop using the word nigger,

3)       Stop littering,

4)       Finish high school, and

5)       Stop having babies if you are not ready to have babies.

When presented with something like this, it is very difficult for me to know where to start. Should I open with the strategy of vulnerability, explaining how sad – (not even sad; hopeless) – it makes me feel to hear this kind of thing, once again, being pounded into the heads of Americans? Or should I go straight to the outrage that precedes that hopelessness, that fills my eyes and my chest with the frustrated rage of impotence? Or perhaps, should I try to begin a discussion by finding common ground – by placing a little white flag of maybe-truce on those parcels of discourse which both I, and someone like Don Lemon, can agree fall within the realm of reality?

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“Elective Affinities” and Intellectual History.

I’ve been following the debate over Corey Robin’s recent article on Hayek’s Nietzschean-like vision of  gross Politick fairly closely the past few weeks. Fortunately, people far more familiar with the intricacies of Hayek’s thought have carried on that end of the debate quite extensively, and as a consequence, I’ve learned a lot about the Austrians. (I was already very familiar with Nietzsche, with whom I have a sort of sordid, complicated past.) So since I’m a relative novice when it comes to the particularities of economic theory, I have nothing to contribute to that particular discussion. Another issue raised by the debate, however, has been romping around in my mind quite a lot, especially since it bears very directly on a question I ask and answer in my dissertation.

That is the concept of “elective affinities,” and in particular, the debate over whether Robin’s argument makes such a tenuous connection as to not be any connection at all. To be quite frank, I am really confused by the confusion over this concept. While I think perhaps a more helpful phrase than “elective affinity,” could be devised, the idea itself is actually remarkably straightforward and, furthermore, hardly trivial at all. Now, perhaps I am in fact misunderstanding what Robin, and others who think there is value in the idea of elective affinities, are arguing, which is partially why I am writing this post – to make sure I am not confused. So here is my attempt at explaining the concept, in a perhaps dumbed down, but as clear as I can make it manner:

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Loving Baseball on the Left: A Few Confessions.

pennant win 2

“Take me out to the ball game — take me out to the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks — and I don’t care if I never get back.”

Prelude to a post about baseball.

It has been too long since I’ve been in a regular habit of writing. (Two “been”s in one sentence, she thinks; perhaps I’m rusty?) I suppose writing a dissertation ought to be counted as writing, but there’s something particular about being able to control your topic and tone so completely, that you are freed from the normal rules of academic discourse and allowed, in the most straightforward sense, to be yourself. So now that the dissertation is done and uncertainty looms ahead, I’ve been thinking about how to get back into this groove – which is in many ways a process of becoming reacquainted with a substantial portion of myself left sadly neglected in recent years.

The first question I immediately face, of course, is what to write about. And I have a list. And it’s decently long, and mostly consists of unsurprisingly political and academic-like choices. But as in most things, writing works best when it flows naturally, and honestly, out of the thoughts and concerns of the author. And so, I think it only appropriate to write about a topic which has been on my mind a lot lately – and by lately, I mean not only the past few days, weeks, or even months, but for about a year. I think I’m going to write about baseball.

But don’t worry, I’m not going to write a fan piece, per se. I won’t simply be glowing over how different the experience of baseball is to me from all other sports – how soothing its rhythm, how skilled its various tasks, or how deeply rich and satisfying its history is. I’ll do a bit of those things on the way, but only in the course of talking about what I’m really interested in – what’s been on my mind ever since I realized (with a feeling not entirely unlike deciding to join a church) – that I had become a baseball fan. Because as a baseball fan, what I’ve really become, in a larger sense, is a sports fan – and participating in sports fandom in our modern, market-driven American world is no small thing. In fact, it can be a very messy thing.

 Proper beginning of post about baseball.

Somewhere out there, I am sure someone has written a book about the conflict between sports fandom and our contemporary culture of capitalism. In fact, it seems to offer itself so obviously to analysis that I am sure a quick google search would turn up dozens of articles and books expounding on the question. But as I’ve not yet run into any of these on my own, I’m going to first type out what has occurred to me independently of any reinforcement or suggestion, so that I might then compare and contrast and not lose track of what my initial thoughts and experiences were, unclouded by any outside suggestions.

Of course, I could imagine a perfectly understandable reaction of surprise that I would open with declaring that there are a host of tensions between being a sports fan and participating in our market-driven society. What else could be more compatible?, one might ask. The opportunity for corporations to use the exposure of major league sports, and the popularity of their heroes, for relentless advertising campaigns is perhaps unsurpassed by any other forum. Most sports teams are owned, moreover, by assholes of the 1 percent, and the majority of the profit ends up pouring right back into their hands. Even more fundamentally, the very nature of sports fandom seems to leave the field overwhelmingly vulnerable to market exploitation and the spirit of consumerism – for when you love a team, and you love a player, you just fucking want the jersey, the hat, the World Series sweatshirt. You just do. Like crazy.

Or ok, let’s stop speaking in generalities and get real here – I do, at the least. Indeed, for being a Giants fan for only about a year, I have an obscene amount of Giants stuff. The first item of apparel – and I suppose this mitigates the guilt of the whole messy addiction perhaps a bit – was a gift; a surprise from my boyfriend for no particular occasion, and what a good surprise it was. Sitting at an unexceptional dinner one evening, he asked me what that orange thing was in my tote bag – and lo’ and behold, there was an orange and black Giants t-shirt with Timmy’s name and number on the back. I could not have been more pleased. It quickly became one of the most common items in my (actually worn) wardrobe, and just as quickly, I started making plans for what other Giants apparel I wanted to buy.  A few weeks later we went to a game in San Francisco to celebrate our mutual birthdays, and I added on a Posey t-shirt and a hat. (Also perhaps in my defense, the hat was purchased out of sheer necessity – after passing up a more muted style in the main shop before the game, we took our seats and discovered that when you sit directly in the sun during the middle of the afternoon at AT&T Park, you need a hat. So I made a trip to one of the smaller shops next to the stands and got myself a more traditional, black and orange cap.) So at two shirts and one hat, I would say that I probably reached the level of the average sports fan, and could have stopped there.

But then the World Series happened. We won it, to be precise. And I simply could not control – indeed, it never seriously passed my mind to restrain – the urge to buy “FUCK YEAH WE WON THE WORLD SERIES!” merchandise. I mean this was my team, after all, and I had to remind everyone I saw on the sidewalk, ever, that this was my team, and oh by the way, we won the World Series, again.  So I added a black sweatshirt with my preferred World Series Champions design on it, and a cozy winter hat to match. The sweatshirt fit perfectly, and since it arrived in the mail sometime in October, it has been my primary go-to clothing item to keep me warm. A few times, I thought I had lost it, and a genuine sense of loss clasped my heart until I located it again, like a kid looking for his blanket. I frankly love that sweatshirt. I think I might cry if I ever really lost it.

And we are still not quite done with the list of items consumed, either. At a night game against the Phillies this year – during which I finally got to see Timmy pitch, and during which we, appropriate to that particular experience, lost – I also got a Romo t-shirt, which I had been desiring for months. I mean, how could you not love Sergio Romo? Honestly, you’ve got to have one of those. And yet, my desire for Giants merchandise remains unquenched! I held back last time, but the next game I go to, I entirely intend to get a Crawford t-shirt – because truly, that man is underappreciated and his shortstop game is amazing – and one of those wife beater tank-tops with the Giants logo scrawled across the front. Because in the heat, you know, that would be comfortable – sometimes I can’t wear my longer sleeved Posey and Romo shirts even when I want to because the summers in the Central Valley are not exactly mild.

And in listing all this, I’ve forgotten I actually have two Timmy t-shirts – a friend of my boyfriend’s visiting from Israel was kind enough to buy me one for sale at Target for three dollars, as a kind of thank you for the use of my car and, I’d like to think, general good company. So that was three dollars. But you know, while we are the emptying the skeletons in my closet, might as well come completely clean.

So alright. We’ve established that I am completely under the spell that the owners of the San Francisco Giants want me to be under. And every time I purchase Giants merchandise, I know that some portion of the proceeds goes right into hands of 1 percenting assholes, which very well might then turn around and use that money to fund the political campaigns of even more 1 percenting assholes. And yet, I can’t help myself. Or I can but do not really want to. (Same thing, really.) Now, considering I spend a very significant portion of my waking life thinking about all the ugly of American life – capitalist exploitation, consumerism, sociopathic ideals of competitive individualism, oh how the list could go on – why do I nonetheless gleefully take part in one of the domains of American life thoroughly captured by the evil powers that be? Why do I still choose to participate in this?

On one level this represents, first and foremost, a choice that is consistent with my views about the problem of navigating life in a society that frankly, runs on processes that you oppose justified by ideals you despise – you can’t avoid participation entirely. You just can’t. There’s no way I could never consume products put together by exploited workers, never buy a ticket to a show that gives the proceeds to some asshole out there, never enjoy an activity that much scholarly analysis tells me is designed to assuage my discontent. (No Harlem Shake for you!) Correction – there is no way I could do this within my current budget and, moreover, without giving up a not insignificant amount of experiences which bring me genuine joy. Unless I want to be a monk. But I don’t want to be a monk, or a martyr, and for myriad reasons I’ll talk about elsewhere at some other time, I don’t actually think that would make me more successful at helping to create a better future for the majority of people who exist as they are in this society right now, today. There are certain things I won’t do, because I just can’t stomach them – such as shop at Abercrombie & Fitch or eat the vast majority of pork – but I’m no Puritan. That’s neither my style nor my philosophy. And in this sense, my enjoyment of baseball is perfectly consistent with that viewpoint. It is just too damn fun, and it makes me too damn happy.

But it is also more than that. Lots of things are very fun and enjoyable, but baseball has brought something even more substantial into my life. It has brought, to be embarrassingly sincere about it, a sense of community. If I were to sum up the allure of sports fandom in one phrase, I would borrow from how someone in a book I once flipped through put it – sports fandom provides you with the joys of tribalism.[1] Here is this team that just happens to be the most successful and well-known baseball club near where I live. (And yes, I am an A’s fan too and no, I don’t view that as a contradiction.) That my boyfriend enjoyed baseball, and then introduced me to this team in particular, is all very arbitrary and carries no profound, larger significance attached to my particular historical heritage. And yet, here I am, feeling the wins and the losses of the Giants as though they were members of my family – members I am fiercely loyal to, even when they are sucking it, and even when I’m angry at them for sucking it. And there I was, nine months ago during the NLCS, fantasizing about going up to Matt Holliday in a big black sweatshirt, roughly pushing him into a wall, and asking him what his fucking problem is – completely ready to throw down. (The absurdity of the idea of me picking a fight with Matt Holliday just adds to the charm of this fantasy, in my opinion.) And every time I’ve seen Holliday at bat since that day, I boo, and I taunt, and I tell him to go fuck himself – and I’m pretty sure I always will. How serious am I? Not terribly, and mostly it is just for fun. But I really did experience the response of a loyal tribe member when he slid into Scutaro, and I reveled in the Tweets promising revenge sometime soon on the plate. And when Cain hit him with a pitch several games later – well, that was fucking awesome.

And yet, it was not awesome when Kennedy hit Greinke with a pitch in the head. It was not awesome when Dodgers fans beat a Giants fan nearly to death, leaving him crippled with brain damage for the rest of his life. So my playful flirtation with the violence of tribalism runs pretty shallow, and gets dampered down very quickly once anything becomes serious. At that point, the first and most important thing about the game is clearly that it is just a game. If you actually become violent over it, you’re destroying what is so beautiful about being a sports fan – tribalism without too much of the ugly.

Because by tribalism, I do not primarily mean aggression towards “the Other” – although clearly, sometimes it spills over to this as well, especially at say, European football matches – but again, that cheesy word, community. When I am watching a Giants game at a sports bar full of Giants fans, we are instantly united over something. Something which is, yes, in a sense very shallow – but by the same token, we’re not merely enjoying the rooting for our team together; we are also sharing our love of sport, and in my case in particular, our love of baseball. We’re experiencing the highs and the lows together, the elation of a walk-off home run and the heartbreak of a lost elimination game. And then, we either celebrate or mourn together.

And the most beautiful thing about this sudden community I have gained is that the requirements for acceptance into the tribe are so minimal – enjoy baseball, root for the Giants. That’s it. And because of these low standards, it means that I am in a community that is incredibly diverse. Almost too diverse. There have been times when I have seen Giants fans behaving in boorish or confusing ways which has made me pause and think, holy shit, I am in an imagined community with these people? But on the other hand, baseball has allowed me to connect to people I never would have before. Sitting in a Tahoe casino one night, watching the Giants battle the Diamondbacks, Eran and I ended up talking to and joking with a handful of blue-collar, working-class men about our players, the play-offs last year, our team’s uncharacteristic pitching problems, and even when our spouses started watching baseball. The bartender who was from Milwaukee told us his memories of being a Brewers fan, and taunted us for having recently been swept by them. I’m a very noisy celebrator, and after a few good breaks, a woman from across the casino came over to tell me that she and her friends were enjoying hearing my responses – their TV was a few moments delayed past ours, so they always knew when something good was *just* about to happen. (And something bad; there was a very loud “FUUUUCK!” let loose that night.) So here I am, a thoroughly middle-class white girl about to get a Ph.D., who struggles with her discomfort with non-politically aware, intellectually involved people about as much as anyone I know (not a virtue, I know), carrying on a very sustained conversation with people who, previously, I would have struggled to find something in common with, despite no lack of curiosity on my part about their stories – but indeed, half of the problem is that I wouldn’t know how to strike up a conversation in the first place. But through baseball, we can know each other, even if just a little bit.

And that’s why I find it so hard to resist buying that merchandise. I want people to know, when I walk down the street, that I’m following the games closely and I’m a devoted fan – that’s why I save my Lincecum shirts for days Timmy is pitching. I want to give people the same small spike of elation I feel when I see someone with Giants gear out and about – “yes, I’m one of you!, wasn’t the game amazing last night?” we secretly say to each other with just a look and sometimes a smile. Sometimes we say it out loud – the first day Timmy pitched this season, I passed a woman who had a “I ❤ Lincecum” shirt on, and she stopped me in the middle of sidewalk. “Hey!, we’re the Lincecum brigade!” she exclaimed, and we exchanged high-fives. It’s that sudden, unexpected moment of recognition and affinity that breaks through the usual disjointed, alienated experience of our contemporary public space that makes being a sports fan so great. Even if it’s just a game – (but oh, what a great game it is!) – we’re not just strangers passing each other by. We’re somehow connected in this big, disconnected society.

And yet, the beauty of this is undermined by the institutions that bring baseball to us. I know this, and it makes my heart ache. Our beautiful parks are named after exploitative corporations. Our teams are owned by a handful of assholes with a couple of decent people, perhaps, sprinkled in. Those same assholes tear down low- income neighborhoods to build the ball parks which will net them millions. Our players are not organic members of the community (yet what’s organic, anyway?) but hired workers that can be bought and sold and switched to the other tribe without the consent of even a single member of the fan base. Sometimes, the assholes who own a majority of sports teams even tear the teams away from the communities which they are beloved by, where they seem like such a part and parcel of the local fabric that losing them feels like, as Billy Crystal put it about the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn, “a death in the family.” And yes, the players make too much damn money.

As detailed in Ken Burn’s excellent documentary, these things have not gone uncontested – when Dodgers fans realized the team might actually be moved to Los Angeles, they resisted and protested. An argument was put forward by some that sports teams should be considered as at least partially public institutions, owned by and responsive to the communities in which they originate. Unfortunately, not enough people listened, and the people in power almost certainly didn’t care. Thus we lost a chance to turn baseball (and hopefully, all sports) into a public institution with public meanings– to take the spirit embodied by the loyal fan and elevate it into something not merely about escape from alienation, but truly eroding alienation. To my dying day, I will resent that our beautiful ballpark, where I feel a Zen-like sense of calm and childlike happiness, is named AT&T Park – and I will not go to that park whenever its concession workers are on strike for their fair share of the massive profits the 1 percent reaps from Giants fans. Some might respond that we need these corporations to bring us the beauty of baseball on a large scale, but that’s merely the bullshit logic of privatization and neo-liberalism that you see everywhere. And in turn, although I’m not the biggest fan of the NFL, this is why you always, always root for the Green Bay Packers.

Many people have noted the irony that baseball is often associated with a rural lifestyle, for it really got its start in urban areas. But urban or rural, there is, as others have noted as well, something decidedly pre-industrial about the rhythm of baseball – near the top of any baseball lover’s list of why it is superior to all other major American sports must always be the fact that there is no damn clock. That is, at least, how I feel when I am at a game – when the slowness and purposefulness of the execution of every pitch, every strike, and every swing takes me out of a world of repetitive tasks and monotonous duties and into a world of skill and simple mindfulness. When there is no work to be completed or clutter to be cleaned but merely the slow, steady observance of a beautiful sport on a beautiful day in a beautiful, open public space. I have a beer, or maybe two. I cheer and I boo. I high-five the fans behind me. And somewhere, quietly in the corner of my open, relaxed mind, I dream of a better world.

[1] For the life of me, I can’t remember what the book was. Something my sister had and I only glanced at briefly.


Well the Giants have been sucking it the last three days (at least they’ve been sucking it to the benefit of the the A’s, the only silver lining), but to cheer ourselves up about it Eran and I wrote a little song about one of our favorite Giants — and by far the one with the best at-bat approach and affect — Marco Scutaro. Enjoy :). 


From behind his war paint his eyes flicker:

He waits, he takes –

He’s no ground-ball one-pitch hitter. 

Looking back, he squares the pitcher’s glare –

With a compact swing, he hits a line drive and it’s fair!


Oh Scut-scut-Scutaro,

How you make the Giants go –

And always deal the ball a blow,



A little man who plays small ball:

He’s chill, he’s still –

And rarely gets a strike-out call.

And when he’s hot this bad-ass can’t be stopped –

For his bloopers always seem to fall!


Oh Scut-scut-Scutaro,

How you make the Giants go –

And always deal the ball a blow,



Yeah!, Scut-scut-Scutaro,

How you make the Giants go –

And always deal the ball a blow,





So huzzah!, I’m done with my dissertation and I have my degree. Hopefully that means I’ll be posting more things here in the weeks to come, since I’ll theoretically have time to spare. But first things first — here are my acknowledgements, which I’ll post here so that people can have access to them without having to download my entire dissertation, and because I can’t figure out how to make a “note” on facebook.


(Dedication, on previous page: For John Cleese & Tim Lincecum)


Contrary to popular myth, any accomplishment is the end product not only of the individual will and skills of the person accredited with the final product, but the influence, assistance, and generosity of untold numbers of people and institutions surrounding the supposed author. In this sense the list of people and places I am indebted to would indeed be endless – I could thank my favorite downtown coffee shop for providing me with a soothing space to focus on my work, I could thank the state of California for providing me with eleven years of high quality public education, and I could even thank random genetic chance for endowing me with an inquisitive mind and, mercifully, the ability to write drafts of dissertation chapters very, very quickly.

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Monty Python and Hobbes’ “Leviathan”

Turns out, Monty Python sketches prove to be remarkable pedagogical devices for teaching Hobbes’ Leviathan. Allow me to illustrate:

See “The Argument Clinic” to spark a discussion on whether Hobbes has a point with his obsessive need to strictly define every term involved in discussing human nature and political theory, lest we be unable to even know what we are talking about or understand each other during political discussions:

For an interrogation of whether Hobbes is correct that human laughter is merely the “sudden glory” of feeling superior to another, consult what is widely considered the funniest sketch of all time, “The Dead Parrot Sketch,” which employs strategies (such as surrealism and word play) not easily fitted into Hobbes’ narrow definition, yet also seems to contain some elements that reinforce it:

And to explore Hobbes’ suggestion that people who get very passionate about things are, in some sense, crazy, see the “Dirty Fork Sketch”:

Personally, I found these remarkably effective in engaging my small group of students. Discussion all around! I’d like to keep doing this for the next two weeks; can you think of more connections between Python and Hobbes?

Whistle Blowing Day

Students for a Democratic UC, an organization I am a member of, recently organized an action called “Blow the Whistle on Privatization,” where we all called in on the same day to the UC-wide whistleblower’s number to repeat on all the violations of ethics related to privatization. I gave a short speech for the occasion, and thought to include the text here — I’ve left in all the emphases I used to guide my delivery, because you know, it’s a speech, and as Nietzsche tells us, writing is only good insofar as it gets “the signs” right…*

*Or something like that. I can’t remember the exact quote at the moment…


          Good afternoon everyone, it is awesome to be out here with you. My name is Robin Marie, I am graduate student of US History here, and I wanted to talk a little bit about what we are doing out here and why it matters. But I am going to start with a bit of an embarrassing story. About nine years ago, I wrote a story in the student newspaper at UC San Diego, where I went to undergrad. The story was about a recent student protest against rising fees, and I argued that while it was unfortunate that student fees were going up, the fact of the matter was that there was a budget crisis in California, and ultimately we all have to cut corners and sacrifice in order to get California out of the red. This, of course, is a common way of thinking about fee increases and budget crises and is often what we’re told when we demand that public education in California be made affordable for everyone.

 But I was wrong. Because what I did not understand then, is that budget crises do not just appear, naturally, out of thin air. Budget crises are the result of politics – in short, the result of the struggle over resources and power that takes place every day. And right now, and for almost two decades now, public education in not only California but the whole country has been losing this struggle – less and less public money has been provided to the UC, while more and more private money has been supplementing this loss. All of you out here know this – a major source of this new private money comes from hiking up your fees. But what not everyone understands is that this has not just unfolded willy-nilly, the result of a million unintentional actions. On the contrary – there is a powerful coalition of people throughout this country, from bankers to manipulative politicians in both parties, who have an interest in privatizing the UC system. We are here today to blow the whistle on this bullshit. We are calling in to the UC-wide Whistleblower’s Number, which is 800-403-4744 to report on all the ways in which UC administrators and the UC Regents have been violating standards of ethics in the process of either encouraging privatization or refusing to stand up against it.

 Let me give you just one example of such a violation. Richard Blum, a member of the Board of Regents, is the largest investor in two firms devoted to for-profit education. What this means is that Richard Blum has an invested interest in the death of public education – for the more people who are pushed out of attending the UC system because of rising fees, the more likely that they will be driven into the private education options he has an invested interest in. This is what is commonly known as a conflict of interest. Why should this man be on the governing board of a system of public higher learning? But Dick Blum is only one man, and the problem is much deeper than that. Almost everyone on the Board of Regents is a member of the 1 percent – these are not people invested in public education, these are people whose interests, associations, and ideology aligns them with the same forces which are leading to privatization. How the hell are they overseeing the well-being of the UC?

In case I am being confusing, let me be clear: this situation is seriously fucked-up.  (SLOW DOWN) Public education in California is currently in the process of being destroyed. This is not going to happen all at once, and there will be set-backs to this process – I am happy, for example, that Prop 30 passed this fall; this will provide important emergency funds to the UC. However, do not think, for one second, that this means everything is fixed now; that the people and the power behind privatization have gone away or been defeated. Politics in California and in this country was not reversed by this single ballot initiative. So we have to continue to fight, and refuse to passively be a part of this process.

  Let me close with a thought on why this matters. Why should we want to throw ourselves in this fight against privatization? After all, I know most of you right now are just worried about what the hell you are going to do once you get out of here – if you are going to be able to find a job, and if you’re going to be able to avoid having to take a job that will make you miserable. I know it’s frightening, and I know it might seem easier to keep your head down, get your degree, get out and enter the race. But here’s the thing : Every society needs spaces and institutions not dedicated to generating profit for private gain. Every society needs spaces and institutions where public goods, such as knowledge, citizenship, and democracy, are the purpose of the institution. Unless this is the case, there is no place in society where we can go where we will be anything other than commodities. You may think you just want to get out of school now, but where will you be headed to? What kind of jobs will you be getting? How will you be treated there? Are these jobs going to be enough to sustain a life of dignity for yourself and for your family and for your friends? In this time of rising inequality, these are serious questions which are seriously related to the question of privatization. Because here’s the thing – if you let them commodify you here, in this university, then there will be nothing to stop them from commodifying you out there, in every nook and cranny where you try to make a life for yourself. And is this what you want to be the rest of your life, a commodity? Is this how you wanted to be treated, as a product rather than a human being? Because let me tell you, I sure as hell do not.

 So let’s do something about this fucked-up situation and refuse to hand over some of the last remaining public institutions of America – let’s stand up and say, I am a student of the University of California, and I will NOT BE COMMODIFIED.