Friday, April 29, 2011

What This Blog is About.

        Despite the subject matter of my first three postings, this web-site will not simply be about politics, or forgotten  vintage TV shows, or the travails of an adjunct. Rather, this web-site will try to offer  "something for everybody.   A few years ago, I had a much more elaborate web-site called "Intellectual chowder.".  It included book and film reviews,  polemics, profiles of under-ratd or little known writers and thinkers,  essays on sports and games, and a journal. I also featured a roving correspondent and occasional texts by other friends. Finally, I had a sort of bulletin board for the classes I teach.

While that web-site is now defunct, it was mildly popular and even had a bit of a following. This web-site will be a sort of condensed and simplified version of the old site. I will offer a variety of comments on current events, politics and religion. I will also offer "little reviews " of books, films, movies, and even television programs. I hope readers will find them interesting, enlightening, and even vocationally infuriating.
 My political views are independent enough to offend people on both the right and the left, while my religious views, while broadly Catholic, are rather idiosyncratic as well.

    I trust my readers will enjoy; they may even be provoked. At least, I hope so.

Life in (adjunct) Hell.

               Here I am winding down to the end of  yet another school year, and reflecting on my peculiar life as an adjunct.   When I finally finished my inordinately long doctoral thesis in 2004, I hoped I had finally built my launching pad to a good teaching job.  Now it is six years later, and I still barely scrap together an existence as an part- time instructor in a community college.  I have worked, for one term as an instructor at a second- tier university ( Oakland), however, almost all this time, i have been a toiler at Macomb Community College, getting by on approximately 14, 000 dollars a year. For a time , I had a good post doctoral fellowship from a think tank at the University of Virginia., but that has now run out ( it had a three year time limit).

              My existence is a difficult one. I have never learned how to drive, and must depend on friends and family to take me places. I pay 350 dollars a month  to a health insurance company that doesn't pay my most expensive medical bills. Fortunately, I have friends and family who love my virtues and tolerate my vices. If it were not for that, I would probably be knocking on the door of the nearest Trappist Monastery.

                Why I do I persist? Why do I live in adjunct hell? ( And I will say that some of my colleagues have much more onerous lives than me.) Well, for one thing, my job is not without its gratifications.  Most of my students like my teaching; in fact, they even love it. only afew days ago, one of my best students told me it was fun to have a teacher who just didn't drone from the textbook, and who discussed issues and ideas. Another student ( Who is Chief of Police in Port Huron .), wrote  a  letter of reccomendation  for me in which he praised my passion for my subject and my ' quirky', but learned approach.

              I will confess that I live for  such gratifications. They remind me that  I'm a teacher. Its just a shame that I am not adeuately compensated for my work.

               One last problem. My college has not given me any classes to teach this summer. All the classes have been given to a senior, retired  full -timer. That leaves me with no classes and no income. How do I propose to make it through the coming summer? Do I have any reasonable expectation of ever making a better life for myself?

 That will have to wait for a future installment.  Right now, I'm busy watching The Royal Wedding.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Where Have You Gone, Mr. Slattery?

                From 1964  to 1965, there was a television drama on CBS called Slattery's People. It was created by James ( Ben Casey ) Moser and starred Richard Crenna and ( in his first TV series) Ed Asner. Slattery was the minority leader of  an unnamed state legislature, and the "people " of the title were his often eccentric constituents and his fellow politicians. The show  was loved by critics and by those fans who appreciated its literate, thoughtful scripts and its excellent acting. Crenna was nominated for two Emmies and a Golden Globe, and the guest stars on the show included Pat O'Brien, Elsa Lanchester, Warren Oates, James Whitmore, Martin Milner, Vera Miles, Richard Kiley, Ricardo Montalban, Ed Wynn,  and Robert Lansing. The show was not afraid to tackle complex social and moral issues such as  abortion, wiretapping, zoning, "Good Samaritan" Laws, sports gambling, and funding for the arts and sciences. Almost every episode was a minature lesson in how democracy works, and in the inner workings of state legislatures. Every episode began with Richard Crenna uttering these words:  "Democracy is a very bad form of government, but, I ask you never to forget, all of the others are much worse."

                        I bring up this almost forgotten TV show, not to beg CBS to finally release it on DVD, ( Though it would still be an excellent teaching tool for my state and local government classes) , but to ask a very different question. Not, " What happened to the TV show, Slattery's People', but what happened to the sort of politician represented by Jim Slattery? Slattery was portrayed as a thoughtful, hard-working, honest, and tough- minded politician, who cared about his constituents, worked well with almost all his colleagues, and who tried to craft legislation that dealt with  important public issues.

                        Which brings us to my question. ( Every episode title in the show's first season was in the form of a question.) Were have all the Slattery's gone? It is a serious question.  The conscientious, thoughtful, principled politician seems to be a dying species. One of my favorite books about American politics is by the political scientist James Bessette.  It is called The Mild Voice  of Reason, and argues that  good legislatures  do not just make deals and compromises, but instead see their principal legislative task as deliberation., approaching public problems in a thoughtful, conscientious way. Bessettte's book is full of examples of thoughtfully crafted, public-spirited legislation. However, almost none of them are from recent times.

                  In different ways, Slattery's People and The Mild Voice of Reason point to something profoundly disquieting about our public life and about American  politics. More and more, our politiciians must wage "permament campaigns". This has a two- fold meaning. First of, reelection, at any cost, has become paramount.  Electioneeering is not evil in itself, but  contemporary methods of electioneeering inculacte all sorts of political vices. I recently saw  one-time US Senator  James Buckley- a conscientious and skilled legislator in his day, and respected even by many who did not share his brand of conservativism- on C-Span, lamenting the fact that too many politicians  today must spend an increasing portion of their time in fund- raising, rather than deliberation. In addition, spin doctors and media consultants have helped fashion a politics of sound- bites and pseudo events.
                    Even worse,  bipartisanship is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Our politics  is increasingly a matter of taking no prisoners and winning at any cost. As recently as a few years ago , a legislator as liberal as Paul Wellstone was capable of drafting legislation in tandem with men as conservative as Sam Brownback and Pete Domenici. Now bipartisan cooperation is becoming rarer and rarer. Politicians no longer espouse public philosophies;  they are driven by public  ideologies. ( There  is a difference.)

                      Slattery's People may be almost forgotten. However, we must never forget that a healthy democracy needs leaders- and citizens- who are dedicated to public spirited, thoughtful democratic deliberation. It is a lesson we need to relearn today. It may even have been a difficult lesson to learn in the mid-nineteen sixties. After all,  Slattery's People only lasted a season and a half. Viiewers preferred The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The End of The Affair: Thoughts of a (largely) disillusioned Republican

        As most of my friends know, I have been an active Republican for almost all my adult life.  My greatest hero, politically and intellectually, was Abraham Lincoln. In political philosophy, my great exemplars were Burke, John Adams, Michael Oakeshott  and Tocqueville. I have read National Review, fairly faithfully for nearly forty years. I was always quick to defend Dwight D Eisenhower and even Ronald Reagan. I was offended when facile liberal mocked conservative politicians and commentators. I was, in short, a loyal conservative Republican, and I had no problem voting for most Republican candidates. I even held my nose and supported  'Dubyah "..

        However, all that is now changed, changed utterly. A disillusioned Republican has been born. The party I once loved has become alien to me. The reasons for this are complex. For one thing, the teaparty members have driven the party crazy. Their Ayn Rand worshiping Libertarianism  leads  most to despise Teddy Roosevelt . Worse, it leads most of them to despise LINCOLN. Other party factions are just as bad. I am a Christian; at least, I often try to be one. Increasing members of my party espouse a pharisaic biblical literalism. Some are obsessed with fundamentalist readings of Biblical prophecy; others think the world was created in six days slightly over six thousand years ago. Then there are the neo-conservatives geniuses who devised our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

          When we turn from the party's rank and file to its erstwhile leaders, matters become even worse. Look at the would be Presidential candidates. We begin with two reality TV stars:  Donald " Where's the Birth Certificate" Trump and Sarah "Caribou Skinner Blues" Palin. Then there is Tim "Mr Excitement" Pawlenty, Mike  " My successful diet qualifies mne to be President" Huckabee,  and the distinguished historian and Bible scholar Michelle Bachman. The closest thing to a qualified candidate the GOP possesses is Mitt Romney. Granted, he has administrative skills, some intelligence, and a handsome profile, he is also profoundly mistrusted by many of his own party.

            All is not yet quite lost for the party, but it will require mature and responsible leadership, and a rank and file that has learned to eschew a sterile biblical and constitutional fundamentalism. Sadly, neither of these things is  on the horizon anytime soon.

             Having said this, do not think that I have become a Democrat. I have lost my faith; I have not lost my reason.