Journalists vs. Academia: The Case of William Deresiewicz and Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

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Everybody seems to have a problem with academics these days.  We've known for a long time that the American right hates us for our intellectual elitism and armchair radicalism, but now the mainstream left-leaning media has also acquired a taste for the game.  A number of recent articles and op-eds in newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic have taken humanities professors to task for everything from their "tin-eared arrogance" (Ron Rosenbaum) to their "bat-shit analysis" (Rebecca Schuman), for being "too sociological" (editors of N+1) and for not paying enough attention to contemporary society (Nicholas Kristoff).  We are condemned for our tenured loafers … [Read more...]

Much Ado about Nothing: The Times’ Non-Story about Eduardo Galeano’s Non-Apology

Eduardo Galeano

Last Friday The New York Times published an article claiming that Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano now “disavows” his seminal work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (Open Veins of Latin America). The book, originally published in 1971, “argued that the riches that first attracted European colonizers, like gold and sugar, gave rise to a system of exploitation that led inexorably to ‘the contemporary structure of plunder’ that he held responsible for Latin America’s chronic poverty and underdevelopment.” For generations of Latin American leftists and students of Latin America Las venas abiertas has been “the canonical anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist and anti-American text.” It has been … [Read more...]

Hicks Camp: A Mexican Barrio

Queen of Hicks Camp

“I remember the Queen was beautiful, and the parade came down from Hicks Camp to Medina Court. The Streets were decorated like in Mexico and it was real pretty. Cinco de Mayo they made the fiesta and we had to dance in the street” – Lucy Flores “We didn’t have much, the roads were made of dirt, some homes were made of cardboard, but we were all one family” – Richard Pérez From the 1910s until its demolition in 1972, Hicks Camp was one of the most vibrant barrios, or neighborhoods, of El Monte. Named after the family who owned the land, Hicks Camp (later renamed Hicksville) grew from several dozen people in 1915 to over a thousand in 1930.[1] Never recognized as an official part of El … [Read more...]

The Sad Decline of The Daily Show

Bullets over Benghazi

With Stephen Colbert departing for CBS to replace David Letterman in 2015, I’d like to preemptively ring the death knell for the great hour of Swiftian satire that Comedy Central gave us Monday through Thursday for nearly the past decade. The Daily Show (TDS) with Jon Stewart, of course, will be sticking around, but it’s becoming increasingly timeworn, even uninteresting. Conservative critics of the show predicted it would lose its poignancy with the election of President Obama and Stewart’s chief bête noire, the Bush administration, out of power. And while they seemed to have a point initially--Jon Stewart seemed to have a hard time finding his footing after the first Obama … [Read more...]

i Paid for Your iPhone: Mariana Mazzucato’s Spirited Defense of the Public Sector and Its Crucial Role in Innovation

mary tyler moore intro

The State makes things happen that otherwise would not have. - Mariana Mazzucato Thomas Piketty isn’t the only European economist making headlines lately—though his 700-page juggernaut has tended to dominate the discussion everywhere from the New York Times and Economist to Slate and The Nation, where Tim Shenk wrote an epic and slightly snotty piece putting the book in its place. As Piketty himself pointed out in the introduction to Capital in the Twenty-first Century, economics is truly the coin on the realm in the United States—the academic discipline that probably gets the most deference and respect in policymaking circles, as well as American media and popular culture more … [Read more...]

Reasons for the Left to Be Optimistic

Optimistic Left

Being a liberal/lefty/whatever in America has never been easy, and it has seldom involved optimism.  Ever since Werner Sombart wondered “Why is there no socialism in the United States?” the Left has often seen itself as a chronic loser in US history, and especially since the historic routing of the New Left in the 1960s and the right-wing counterrevolution of Reaganomics in the 1980s, progressives could be regularly counted on to outmatch Eeyore in a dolefulness contest. In recent years the triumphs of corporate power and the Christian Right have meant that most on the Left have focused on defending what they’d already achieved rather than imagining anything better—hence the slogan “Another … [Read more...]

Newsmax vs. Truthout: The Mind of the Right and Left in Your Inbox

obamacare microchips

“Democrats,” the Cato Institute recently observed, “are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents…”  But it then described Republicans as “hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe… that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.”  What gives? The libertarian organization was simply filing a very funny amicus curiae brief (words not often seen together) in a Supreme Court case that deals with Americans’ right to say terrible things about each other.  The … [Read more...]

Bed-Stuy, the Illuminati, and the Importance of Fungus Identification: Best of AHA 2014, Part 1

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Going to conferences is one of the great mixed blessings of the academic life.  On one hand, it offers the chance to get away (to New York or LA, or sometimes even exotic destinations like Richmond, VA) and travel, like an Actually Important Person (AIP), sometimes with your department or university picking up the tab.  We get to reconnect with old friends and have more than the appropriate number of drinks--on the pretext, of course, of "getting a feel for the city" (or in Richmond's case, not). On the other hand, there is the actual conference itself--a dreary procession of monotonously recited presentations, ranging from the navel-gazingly esoteric to the merely boring.  And if it's … [Read more...]

Meet Dr. Rad, the Georgia Democrat Who’s Challenging Michelle Nunn from the Left

Dr. Rad speaking to Medicaid activists

2014 looks to be a dolorous year for Democrats, unless some sudden shift in public opinion intervenes between now and November.  The Democratic Party's hold on a Senate majority appears to hinge on President Obama's slipping popularity and a range of vulnerable incumbents in states like Louisiana and North Carolina, where Democrats who won election in the anti-Bush wave of 2008 hope to hold on to their seats. Liberals see few bright spots on the map, except for Kentucky, where Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes poses at least a plausible challenge to unpopular Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Georgia, where Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Democratic Senator Sam … [Read more...]

Making Sense of North Carolina’s Political Mess

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As the late, great Larry Goodwyn might say, it all goes back to Populism.  The roots of today’s right-wing putsch in the Old North State, which has seen resurgent Republicans in the General Assembly and Governor’s Mansion push an extreme agenda against the poor, minorities, education, the environment, voting rights and reproductive freedom, stretches back over a century, long before the rise of Barack Obama or the Tea Party. It has been hard for many observers to square the state’s recent sharp turn to the right with its reputation as among the most moderate and even progressive of Southern states.  The long, ugly career of Jesse Helms notwithstanding, North Carolina could boast of its … [Read more...]

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