Pulling Out the Savoy Truffle

Reflections on music, literature, politics, and pop culture from retired rock musician, writer, and college professor Jim Booth. Email comments to Jim at jim@jimbooth.org.

Location: Advance, North Carolina, United States

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

March Madness

"...And so be true to your school...."
Brian Wilson

I have a couple of good friends with whom I talk hoops. One is a UNC fan. The other is a Wake Forest fan. I'm a Duke fan.

Yes, we're talking ACC hoops. I'm from North Carolina. There's a state law. Like for smoking....

Anyway, about this time of year, my Carolina friend goes berserk. (For those of you not in the linguistic know, "berserk" is an old Norse term meaning "I've lost all sense of perspective.")

Anyway, he just sent me a picture of a boy about 10 years old watching the MD-Duke ACC tournament final Sunday. He's a Duke fan and he's upset because Maryland has won the game. He's hanging on to his dad for comfort.

He evidently thought this was an amusing practical joke aimed at his otherwise sane friend who's a Blue Devil fan. I know he meant it in good fun. He's a dear friend.

I, on the other hand, was taken back to early 1963. I watched Duke lose in the national semi finals of the NCAA's to Loyola of Chicago.

Though we were watching on TV, like the kid in the picture, tears came and I stood by my dad's chair. He's the guy who made me a Duke fan. Like the dad in the picture, he comforted me as best he could even through his own pain.

The experience made me love my dad and Duke even more.

Even through the difficulties of adolescence in the late sixties and early seventies when we were far apart on every other issue of importance for parent and child, our love of the Blue Devils united us.

It does to this day.

Thanks for the picture, bro. And for the memory.


Friday, March 12, 2004

For What It's Worth

"Nobody's right, if everybody's wrong...."
Stephen Stills

I'm disenchanted with the academy these days.

I'm reminded of a story my first boss, a high school principal we'll call Mr. C for our purposes (a wise and thoughtful man whose guidance I miss), used to tell about a student who took a shotgun and blew a hole in his French book before he turned it in to his teacher at the end of the academic year.

"George grew disenchanted with French," Mr. C said in explanation of the student's action.

That's the sort of disenchanted I am with the academy right now. If the academy were a French book, I'd lean it against a tree, load up the old 20 gauge, and....

Let me tell you a bit about a friend of mine. He's in his 40's now. He got his undergrad degree from a prestigious institution in our home state, then did his master's degree at one the most prestigious universities in the country, then traversed this great nation and did his doctoral work at yet another of our country's most prestigious seats of higher learning. During this time he taught at the second of those schools, then at another highly prestigious school in the same state. He wrote his dissertation and received his advanced degree. He wrote and published articles. His students won awards for their writing and research.

He seemed primed for a distinguished career as a scholar and professor at one of our great universities.

Only one problem: he can't get a real professor's job. Despite his numerous merits as a person and as a scholar, he keeps coming up short in job interviews for tenure track positions - for real, salary paying, benefits providing, retirement building posts. He continues to subsist on post-doc fellowships and short term teaching assignments where he's treated like little better than a serf by already posted professors who couldn't hold his jock, to cite the old sports insult....

He is philosophical about this. As he explains, "'Lesser' schools see me as 'too qualified' and I'm not sufficiently, ah, 'diverse' for the top schools."

But he's also in pain: "But this wearies me. I should like some permanence, as well as retirement benefits and a real salary--that sort of small thing. Growing older without these things makes me feel older. Is it too much to hope, that one should grow rich in one's work, that one should enjoy something of the unhurried leisure of others in which to work?"

Here's part of my ranting reply:

"Something is badly, badly wrong when a man and scholar of your merits and achievements is left outside looking in by a system that seeks to pat itself on the back for being 'liberal' and 'diverse.' If they cut you, do you not bleed? If they lock you out of benefits and retirement, do you not end up homeless or managing a $#@#@ Denny's? (No, of course not, they feed you scraps like 1 or 2 year fellowships to keep you swimming in the wake of their great ship Academia in hopes you'll be brought aboard at some point.)

"Rare sons (and daughters) of bitches, indeed.

"It has to do with a generation of swine doing some of its members wrong so that it can feel that its pseudo liberal politically correct ego has 'coverage' with the other simpering tweedy Marxists at conferences.

"'To each according to need,' my ass. To each according to some preset notion of what a 'diverse' group should be as long as one's own bailiwick is well protected.

"And don't get me started on diversity in the academy. Forgive me, but I believe political correctness has done as much or more harm than all the right wing plotting and finagling and frothing at the mouth has done. If it's evil of Mel Gibson to blame the Jews in his film, The Passion..., why isn't it evil to blame you or me for the unfair treatment of people of color? Being a white male shouldn't be any more of a liability than being a woman of color. Isn't the idea and ideal fair and equitable treatment of everyone based on individual merits, not ethnic or cultural background? No, it isn't. The idea is to force 'diversity' (as patronizing as any other idea the 'radical chic' have had) down our throats, even at the cost of intellectual quality. And that is as unpalatable, at least to me, as forcing creationism down our throats in the name of religious freedom."

My friend remains philosophical, if disenchanted: "My own sense of 'diversity' is that its premise, 'multiculturalism,' vitiates its political content. If schools were serious about diversity then they would actually hire people whose political anger makes real diversity something more than a
comfortable affirmation of 'difference.'"

Hear, hear. A little righteous political anger from the academy over something besides pay raises for themselves might be a very good thing these days. We wouldn't seem quite so intellectually and spiritually bankrupt.

My feeling is that if schools were looking to be the best schools they could be, they'd be clamoring to hire my friend to help themselves achieve that goal....

None of this ranting of mine fixes the problem. None of it helps my friend.

But at least it lets the academy know that I'm disenchanted.

Disenchanted like old George referenced above...and I'm oiling up the verbal 20 gauge.....

Friday, March 05, 2004

Bad English

"It's only words/And words are all I have...."
Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb

See the following article from the New York Times.

(Many thanks to my buddy Sam from The Lullaby Pit for this item.)

I make my living with words.

I've written this novel and this novel, I'm at work on two more, and have yet another in notes and a few sketches....

I direct the writing program at a large state university. I do workshops (including one that starts Monday) to teach faculty members how to use writing in their classes both to help students learn more and learn how to write more effectively in their professions. I even advise faculty occasionally and offer them assistance with their writing.

I write this blog just so I can write with regularity and keep my own writing sharp.

Now in all this writing that I do and that I talk with others about doing, I emphasize one thing: revision. That means looking again at what one has written and making any revisions (additions, deletions, changes, or reorganization) and edits (grammar, spelling, punctuation, or format) to the text to make sure that what one has written communicates clearly and correctly what one means.

Now we all know about the law.

The law is complex and is based on precedent and deals in, far too often for the general welfare, the obtuse, the ambiguous, the purposely obfuscated.


But when the law seeks to move beyond these already enigmatic, problematic, phlegmatic areas into the illiterate, I think we've got to draw a line.

I think lawyers should have to pay fines for bad writing.

Why? Lawyers live by words, just as I do. But unlike me, the words lawyers create can cause all kinds of mischief if not properly policed.

My suggestion is that the Department of Justice begin looking at lawyers' bad writing. I think they'd be protecting us all more if they did so.

Weird Science

Thomas Dolby's old professor....

See the following article from the Washington Post.

Hope I get this right. If I don't, my friend Steve will set me straight.

He's a scientist.

He's the real thing. He has a lab and everything. He works for our government. He does this phenomenal, brilliant cancer research that is helping and will help save lives.

Steve thinks that the kind of research that could be done using, say, stem cells from embryos could speed up cures for cancer and other horrible diseases that rob us of friends and loved ones would be well worth the use of those cells from embryos which couldn't survive anyway.

Steve also thinks that the stuff they taught him when he got all those letters after his name that helped him get his own lab and be the terrific scientist he is today, doing research that saves lives, etc., is correct. That's the stuff like, oh, evolution....

Steve doesn't think people should play politics with science. He thinks playing politics with the careful, reasoned methods of studying and understanding how the world, organisms, and diseases work that scientists have been struggling to develop in the last 500 years (facing menaces to their work like the Inquisition, witch burnings, alchemists, the Scopes Monkey Trial, Nazi pseudo-science as murder rationale, the co-opting of pure science by the American pharmeceutical business of the last 25 years) or so is unethical.

He thinks the Bush administration's decision to use politics to prevent stem cell research which could save lives even faster than the research he does is unethical.

I think he's right.