Tuesday, 03 January 2006

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MLA: "English Studies and Political Literacy" Jonathan's response to Nick Gillespie's first article hits all the notes mine would have. Since Jonathan couldn't attend the "English Studies and Political Literacy" panel Gillespie addresses in his second article, I will. Some preliminary remarks: Gillespie's response contains some cogent remarks about the necessity of what I'll call "the Third Way" in composition and/or critical thinking courses. That the editor of Reason praised The Valve's Mark Bauerlein for suggesting that instructors bring Reason magazine into the composition classroom didn't surprise me. What did was that his ideological—one could almost say utopian—commitment to libertarian principles caused him to misdiagnose the etiology and symptomatology of the positions espoused by the panelists. First an example of his utopianism: Mindich's exam seems ridiculous on the face of it -- and his view of the FCC as something other than a negative force on public discourse seems positively nostalgic. Certainly, the last 20 years or so -- precisely the period in which cable and satellite services gave viewers a end-run around the FCC-regulated broadcast networks -- have seen a massive flourishing in all sorts of informational programming. The 'Net? Digital cable? Satellite radio? Yes. Yes. Yes. Corporate consolidation of the aforementioned media? The gutting of regulations designed to create diversity in local and national news outlets? A return to yellow journalism? Yes. Yes. Yes. Only people who think everyone acquires their news from the internet or expensive cable television packages thinks the 1995 Telecommunications Act had a salutary effect on American media. For the average news consumer it has been an unmitigated disaster: no more local investigative reporters; no more local reporters period; an eighty-five percent increase in the number of "canned" news stories; &c. I could on but I think I've made my point. The privilege subtending the libertarian position undermines its ability to convince me that those who propound it have thought through their statements with eyes not their own. His blindness to the needs of those who could work themselves to death but never into opportunity focuses his critique on those panelists who suggest government intervention. When he (and most libertarians for that matter) say that structural economic inequalities "hardly neccessitate a massive [social] program," the first words from my mouth are "What would?" The answer is invariably "an inequality which cannot be better corrected by allowing market forces to run their course." "Such as?" "We'll let you know when we find one." And there you have the crux of my complaint against rhetorical libertarianism. It can always invoke—sans evidence or with the ever effective feint, borrowed from Communists sympathizers, that we cannot rely on evidence because their philosophy has never been applied in its pure form—the idea that libertarianism could work better than the system we currently have. It could ... but to date deregulation rates a Far From Impressive in the game of practical politics. Wonderful rhetoric and all, but barring the appearance of proof or pudding, color me unconvinced. All of which is only to say that while...
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Some Serious Airplane Literature; or, Fly More Often or Face the Wrath of President Jeb What is it about airplanes that turns average Americans into readers? As I made my rounds on the flight from Ronald Reagan National to George Bush Intercontinental I noticed people reading Stephen King , Brian Greene , Robert Jordan and even Joan Didion . On the flight from George Bush Intercontinental to John Wayne Airport I noted two fellow flyers reading Kenneth Davis' Don't Know Much About History with more than a hint of self-satisfaction, one bored soul flipping the pages of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals with obvious disdain and one man sighing (with pleasure? in exasperation?) as he cut a swath through Freakonomics . How should one react to this crass manifestation of reading for pleasure? Praise people for not staring at the back of a seat for hours on end? Castigate them for not being able to afford a soon-to-be-ubiquitous personal DVD player? Or mock them for choosing to cram works of contested quality into the few airborne hours of their lives? To my mind, the only reasonable response consists of buying more things to jumpstart the American economy so more people will fly more frequently and therefore read more frequently thus enriching our economy and raising the general informedness of The People. Then and only then can we be certain the words "President Jeb" will never pass our lips. Political literacy may begin in the home. It is certainly maintained in the pressurized cabin.

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