L’Affaire Salaita

The current teapot tempest in academia these days is the unhiring of Steven Salaita, who accepted a job offer in American Indian Studies at the U of Illinois’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign, only to have the rug yanked out from under him when people noticed a series of anti-Israel tweets during the recent unpleasantness in Gaza. Given that Salaita had already resigned his position at Virginia Tech, this left him in an awkward spot.

Now, the whole business of whether Salaita’s comments rise to the level of so-called “hate speech” (and whether such a concept should matter at all) can and will be handled elsewhere. What interests me today is a look at Salaita’s c.v.

For a would-be professor of American Indian Studies* at a major (Big 10) university, it seems curious that he would only have three published articles that explicitly deal with Amerind issues. The vast majority of his work has concerned the Middle East, and particularly issues regarding Israel and Palestine. His vita seems to suggest that his principal interest in American Indian stuff is analogical, along the lines of Israel:Gaza::White Settlers:19th-C. Indians. The Indian stuff seems really to be more of a stalking horse.

And I would suggest that this illustrates an underlying flaw in the notion of some Identity Group studies programs. Ultimately, it seems, the Identity Group may even be fungible (How delightfully PoMo!). What matters is the claim of oppression and the will to/assertion of political power. But of course, if the Identity Group doesn’t really matter, then a question arises: Why have the alleged “academic discipline” to begin with?

* I find it an interesting coincidence that UIUC’s American Indian Studies program came to light in 2004-05, about the same time that the controversy over the University’s Native mascot hit one of its boiling points. Not that I’d suspect that someone was being thrown tenure-track bones here, but again, I think it’s a remarkable coincidence.

Posted in Culture, Education, Politics | 3 Comments

Cheese Was

One of the less obvious disadvantages to an ever-expanding government is the barrier it creates to entrepreneurism. And of course, even small companies that have been around a while require entrepreneurial spirit to survive. But when the costs of regulation pass a certain point, that spirit can be extinguished.

Consider the Kalona Cheese Factory in Illinois. Founded by Amish and Mennonite dairy farmers in 1946, the company’s cheese curds have become a staple in the Midwest. However, the factory is shutting down, not because it has run afoul of the government, but because new regulations have made staying in business not worth the trouble.

Ankeny-based Proliant Dairy Ingredients, which shares ownership with owners John and Joanne Roetlin of Kalona, said the closure follows “significant change within the dairy industry.”

“From advanced food safety and quality assurance requirements to more stringent environmental regulations that would require substantial capital investment,” said Gary Weihs, president of Proliant Dairy Ingredients, in a news release. “As a result of the changing environment, we have decided to close the Kalona facility. This is a difficult decision and we will continue to explore other opportunities for the facility.”

The facility employed 50 people. Impacted employees will receive compensation, severance pay and job placement assistance, the release said.

The makers of Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, meanwhile, are large enough that they’ll be able to afford the additional regulatory burden. Seems pretty cheesy to me.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Legal Insurrection.

Posted in Culture, Politics | 2 Comments

Dear Universe…

Why do you hate me so? Why?

I find it ironic that the activities of a Baptist preacher would drive me to these questions of theodicy.

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Late-Night Football and Other Potpourri

The Mid-Century Mondohaus had a guest this past weekend, as the Mad Dog swung by for a couple of days. The centerpiece of the weekend was to be Mondoville’s home opener in football, which was scheduled to begin at 6:00 on Saturday evening.

But then came the rain. A very slow-moving front brought thunderstorms to town, and because NCAA rules prohibit play if there has been lightning within eight miles of the field within a half-hour (and every lightning strike restarts the clock), the game was initially delayed until 7:30, and kickoff finally arrived at 9:45, with the game concluding at 1:05 Sunday morning. One advantage to living next to campus is that we weren’t stuck in a parking lot or similar billet, so we strolled over just before game time and stayed for the duration.

As football games go, it wasn’t too much of a contest. Mondoville’s opponent is in its first season of football, and after a sloppy first half, the home team woke up and squashed the other guys by fifty points. But it was a great deal of fun hanging out with the Mad Dog, who may be relocating to a home much nearer to Mondoville. We’re already looking forward to getting together in November. With luck, it’ll be drier. And now some odds and ends…

In other news, one of my ancestral lands seems to be considering disuniting the United Kingdom. P.J. O’Rourke is excited about the prospect.

Know someone who has a Che T-Shirt? Expand their wardrobe! (Or maybe just for fans of the school’s Mid-American Conference rivals… just sayin’…)

Finally, back in Boone County, KY, a woman I know is in a situation I know too well, as the trial of the man accused of murdering her sister gets underway. May she be granted the patience she will need.


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Plugging a Friend’s Work

I’ve mentioned my colleague John Carenen’s work before — his first novel, Signs of Struggle, was an interesting balance of the tough guy, the amateur detective, and Christianity, and more essentially, a very good read. If you haven’t read it, you should.

And besides, it’ll be a nice warm-up for the second book in what is now a series. A Far Gone Night has been released, and Thomas O’Shea is back in small-town Iowa, facing mayhem and other distractions while he continues to rebuild his life. You should read it, even though John’s Iowa Hawkeyes edged my beloved Ball State Cardinals last Saturday. I’m no sore loser, and I’d bet John’s new book is a winner.

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In Which the Prof Discovers a Very Minor Superpower

Went to my local ophthalmologist earlier this week for a checkup. When I was a kid, I wore glasses, and when I hadn’t misplaced them, continued this off and on into adulthood. However, when I moved to SC, I passed the drivers’ exam without them, and haven’t worn them since.

After running the usual gamut of tests, the assistant said, “You have monovision. That’s really cool.” I found this slightly disconcerting, as my past experience with health care professionals suggests that one should avoid having interesting conditions. So later when I went home, I looked up what this means.

The short version is that apparently God has equipped me with bifocals. My right eye works very well for close vision, but poorly at distance. My left eye is the opposite — great for reading road signs, but not so good for books or computers. However, my brain is somehow wired so that whichever eye is needed dominates as it is needed. Consequently, while presbyopic folks like Mrs. M have to buy reading glasses at Wal-Mart, I can do my thing with no problem. But conversely, my distance vision perks right along as well, and my eyesight “averages out” to a functional 20/20.

There are minor drawbacks, mostly involving depth perception. I suspect this is why I’ve always been lousy at hitting a baseball and shooting baskets, and perhaps why those “magic eye” hidden 3-D pictures have never worked for me. All the same, as I see my friends needing longer and longer arms to read the menu, I seem to be fine. So I guess the assistant was right — it is really cool, even if I didn’t have an awareness of it (or a name for it) until this week.

Posted in Culture, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

In Which the Prof Discovers a Grand-student

This is my twelfth year at Mondoville, which is a long time in some respects, but a very short one in others. Yesterday, I had something happen that has not to my knowledge happened to me before.

My freshpeeps are working on a paper — a response to Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” At the end of class, one young woman said to me, “You know, I read this in high school. My English teacher was a student of yours.” I felt my eyebrows rise, and asked who her teacher had been. She told me, and thank Heaven, it was a student I remembered well (and with whom I stay in touch via Facebook.) We talked about the former student a bit, and then my current student said, “Yeah, she told me to take your class.” And after another pleasantry or two, she and I went our separate directions.

As I think about it this morning, I realized that although I talk about my job sustaining the stories, poems, and tactics of good writing for another generation or two, I really hadn’t absorbed the idea that I might be part of some sort of legacy. I’m teaching the students of my students now. Eventually, I may teach the children of my students (not that uncommon in the lower grades, but an experience I haven’t had yet.)

It’s a little frightening, but it’s also pretty cool, and one of the nicer things about having decided to bloom where I’m planted, here in Mondoville.

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