Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Philosophy 2014 Year in Review: The M&M Report

Each December since 2010, I've dedicated a few posts to subject-specific "Year in Review" lists. (You can view my previous years' lists here.)  In the past, these lists have customarily appraised the highs and lows of politics, music, film, literature or pop culture for whatever year was drawing to its end.  That is to say, I've tended in the past to cover ALL of the main topics regularly treated on this blog except "philosophy."  I think we'd all concede that it's a rare year when Philosophy's truly, incredibly, even microscopically small corner of the Universe manages to generate enough news to warrant its own year-end list.

Not so for 2014.  We made the news. Would that it weren't so.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


We did it!  From start to finish, the #JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis project was completed in less than a week. In fact, the studio recording and video editing were done in less than 48 hours!  To get some idea of what an undertaking this was, read the backstory here.  One of my favorite quotes about Memphis (from Robert Gordon's excellent book It Came From Memphis) has always been this:

"Memphis is a place where nothing ever happens, but the impossible always does."

This definitely seemed like an impossible project. It taught me once again, though, to never underestimate the talent, ingenuity and generosity of spirit in the 901.  I'll write more about how we got it all done in a few days when I recover from sleep deprivation, but let me take this moment to express my deepest and heartfelt thanks to all those who participated: Arean Alston, Carla Barnes, Chris McDaniel, Brandon Tolson, James Rigney, Coleman Garrett, Matt Isbell, Vince Johnson, Suavo Jones, Preston McEwan, Robbie Randall and Jeremy Powell.  Also thanks to Ardent Studios for helping make this a reality.

Here it is, a gift of holiday love from Memphis musicians to the city:

The video is also posted on YouTube here and you can download an mp3 of the song PUT ALL THAT JOY ON YOUR PHONE/IPOD by clicking here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

#JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis Project (The Backstory)

I've never before posted about one of my rando (and, if you happen to be keeping score at home, only inconsistently successful) projects in advance of it actually being finished, *unless* I was relatively positive that said project would see itself to some non-embarrassing completion. (See: American Values Project and/or WORKING IN MEMPHIS: The Documentary for evidence of my better work).  Today's post is an exception.

I'm currently engaged in a project that I've (executively) dubbed #JoyfulJoyfulOdetoMemphis.  We're less than 24hrs now from it coming to fruition, and I'd put the odds at about 70/30 on whether or not it will be a monumental success or a complete disaster. Fwiw, I'm dispositionally inclined to be optimistic, especially with regard to my own endeavors, so if you're betting, you should adjust the odds with those extra details in mind.  But seriously, on average, I'm a pretty solid bet.

Here's the short backstory of my #JoyfulJyfulOdetoMemphis project:
Basically, I just came up with this idea last week (on Tuesday) when I was taking a muc-needed break from grading, sitting at home, messing around on the guitar and thinking that "Ode to Joy" could be rearranged into a really cool Memphis-themed holiday song. So, on Wednesday afternoon, I put up a post on my fb page asking if anyone would be interested in working on something like that. Then, in the way that only the Fount of Memphis Talent overflows with generosity... well, it just sort of became a *real* project. The next day, I called up one of my former students, James Rigney (who is a composer) and we collaborated to put together the (AWESOME) arrangement we have now. I rewrote the lyrics, my friend Preston McEwan (drummer for Ghost Town Blues Band) got us some time at Ardent Studios to record, I started reaching out to other music people around town to fill out what we were missing, and that's about the whole backstory.

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Four)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Four, 11:22am
Dear Charles, 

I post this report on my station during a brief tho welcome respite. Forgive my wretched penmanship. I write quickly & without doubt I shall be summoned back to the front ere long. 

You may recall Josiah, that feckless and Thick-headed mail-boy of whom I spoke during the last Grading War campaign. I regret to report that Josiah is enlisted among our ranks now, where his inborn vices of Gossip, Drunkenness & Scandalmongering have found fertile soil. But to the point. Josiah spreads Rumor in our camp that several nearby Divisions just yesterday declared victory (God bless them if so!) and are at this very moment returning home. 

Could this be true, dear Charles? Our Company does observe ever shrinking numbers among the Opposition day by day in fact. But still they continue to appear each morn, ready for battle. I cannot help myself but to count them again each battle—such Torture those counts! why do I still count?—and my own records confirm they ARE diminishing, a number of Souls fewer each time we meet them. 

Woe to me if I am indulging false hope! If it is so and I am tangled in a web of Lies woven by Josiah’s forked tongue once again, I shall surely die of humiliation before I die of despair, for in my Soul I know that he is not to be trusted. 

Send a True report, post haste, dear Charles. I await such in solidarity, in Friendship and as ever
Yours in Cautious Hope,
 Leigh M. Johnson

Friday, December 19, 2014

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Three)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Three, 9:33am
My Dear Friend Charles, 

Your letter from yesterday was rec’d in due time, and would have been answered ere now, but for the extra duties that have occupied me. It appears our Quartermaster broke ranks and departed to home—a long & lonesome expedition, I suspect, not to mention a slow one. Imagine the extra weight of Cowardice he must be carrying! Alas, as consequence, the principal duties of that Turncoat’s department have now fallen to me, and to one not regularly brought up a Quartermaster, I’ve found the acquisition & distribution of Supplies & Provisions no trifling set of responsibilities. Our troops’ tastes are simple—they subsist for days at a time on salted Pork, skillygallee, hardtack, beans and Bully Soup—but their appetites are ferocious. 

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day Two)

These are the letters from the second day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day Two, 3:05am
My Dearest Leigh,

You cannot imagine my joy upon receiving your letter! I worked ceaselessly to fend off any and all of the dark scenarios that encroached upon my thoughts with regard to your welfare. It does my heart well to know that you were, at least for a moment, comforted – by Rabbit and Potatoes no less! You are quite right – a favored dish of mine. I shared a similar fate when the dreadful call came down to rejoin the ranks for this latest campaign. I was enjoying the company of our good friend Paul Taylor (who sends his greetings). We were licking our wounds and telling lies about earlier battles. Foolishly, I had grown comfortable in my home, with friends and family. I knew The Call to Battle would come; it always does – it is Relentless in that way. And yet, while I knew it would come, some small part of me resisted its inevitability. But, that is all irrelevant now. Here we are, once again, at The Ready, facing a foe that, at times, seems to know no fatigue, and is unremitting in its dubious determinations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Grading War Letters to Home, Winter 2014 (Day One)

These are the letters from the first day of the 2014 Grading War.  If you landed here by accident and don't know what you're reading, click here for the backstory.

Day One, 12:40am
My Dear Leigh,
It has been far too long since I’ve written to you. For this transgression, I can only hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. Due to the current campaign, I haven’t had a dog’s chance of putting pen to paper. And it has been far too long since I’ve heard from you. It is my sincere hope that my letter finds you well, and in good spirits. I pray that this cursed Grading War has not gotten the best of you. From my vantage point, the casualties mount with a grim regularity that sickens and saddens me. It is Loss that will haunt me for the rest of my days. If the War has claimed you as well, my Despair will know no bounds.
This cursed Grading War – it deforms the soul and corrupts the most noble of intentions. None of us have escaped its Wrath. With each passing day, my uncertainty grows. I know not whether I will see the other side of the execrable conflict. I am distant from my comrades. Food has no taste. Even the weather has turned against us – the ceaseless grey skies mock us at every turn. The Dead March of Time offers me no comfort, no sanctuary. However, I truly fear for many of the young people in my charge. I fear that I’ve not been able to protect them, and give them the guidance they so desperately need in order to survive this monstrous ordeal. Many of them are irreparably harmed by this War. They cower in the face of firm instruction. They feign understanding and claim comprehension, yet many of them utter balderdash when asked to produce simple reports. I’ve tasked many of them with producing reports containing primary source materials – the very stuff of History. And yet, after months of instruction, I’ll have to acknowledge the corn and admit that much of their performance has been less than desirable. I know what awaits many of them. They will get my assessments back, and their eyes will dim. Their backs will curve and the air will leave their sails. Many of them will eventually absquatulate, in a vain attempt to make their way home. It is a sad and awful thing to see, and my heart sinks in the wake of their collapse. But, I must hold firm. While I know I can always improve my instruction, it is incumbent upon those under my command to steel themselves for the journey that lies ahead of them. I fear many who claimed to be fully prepared for this torturous odyssey have only now found out that they were sadly mistaken.

Grading War Letters To Home, Winter 2014 (The Unabridged Collection)

My good friend and colleague Charles McKinney and I are continuing our #GradingWarLetterstoHome correspondence this term.  If you're unfamiliar with the backstory of how this hilariously ridiculous endeavor got started, I refer you to the archive of last year's correspondences here, which also explains the origin and style of these letters.

To save you a click (though you *really should* click because last year's letters are pure gold!),  here's the summary explanation of #GradingWarLetterstoHome: Chuck and I write letters to each other, Civil-War-style, reporting on our miserable struggles with end-of-term grading.  Yes, we exaggerate.  No, we do not intend to make light of real wars. If you cannot hear our tongues firmly in our cheeks in these #GradingWarLetterstoHome, you should stop reading after the first.

As I did last year, I will use this post as the "home-base" for this year's letters. You can click on the links to each day from this round of correspondences (below) to read the letters for that day.  Chuck and I also customarily post our letters to our respective Facebook profiles.  (Here's a link to mine.)  If you're interested in playing along, we welcome you to join in and contribute your own letter to this year's archive, which you can do in the following ways:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Public Philosophy LOOKS Like

A pen (or keyboard) has, for millennia, been both the preferred and most essential tool of a philosopher, but I consider my camera to be a very close second as a 21stC philosopher.  Since completing the American Values Project in 2012, I've come to understand my camera as another weapon in the struggle against ignorance and, even more so, as an indispensable instrument for doing what sometimes gets called "public philosophy."

Philosopher Gilles Deleuze once said (in Nietzsche and Philosophy): "Philosophy does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power.  The use of philosophy is to sadden.  A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy,  Philosophy is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful."

One of the most egregiously shameful forms of stupidity, in my view, is unreflectively willful ignorance-- a form of stupidity of which I think professional Philosophy tends to be particularly guilty.  Any philosophy that neglects to look outward and around, that pays no attention to the world in which it conducts its business and also that disowns its responsibility to acknowledge the real lives of the real people who inhabit that world has not only failed its foremost charge-- to wonder and question, to sadden and annoy, to evaluate and critique-- but also failed to legitimately take up its historical inheritance in any way that barely approximates a love of wisdom,

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Waiting for Ferguson

We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone.  On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence."  In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.

But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Missing: An Image of "The Worker" Today

This semester I have the very good fortune of teaching a graduate course in the History of Theory and Criticism at Memphis College of Art. (Check out my syllabus here and the class blog here.) For their final projects, my students are required to employ one of the theories we studied during the semester to present a thorough critical analysis of a single artwork.  In last night's seminar, one student presented a Marxist analysis of the 1897 etching to your left, March of the Weavers by Käthe Kollwitz, This piece was one in an extended series of works by Kollwitz, inspired in part by Emile Zola's Germinal and depicting the uprising of Silesian weavers on the eve of the revolution of 1848. I was struck by the fact that, throughout our seminar discussion last night, we all consistently referred to the figures in Kollwitz's etching as "workers"-- this despite the fact that the title of Kollwitz's piece explicitly indicates that they are a particular ilk of workers, namely, "weavers."  We all clearly shared some implicit, generic recognition of what representatives of the category "workers" look like.  We knew who the workers were, what they represented, what they meant, what they stood for and what they opposed, how we were permitted and/or forbidden to talk about them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

#SPEP14 Tweeter/Absentee "Buddy System"

Daniel Brunson (@danieljbrunson) asked me if I could figure out a way to connect (1) people who won't be attending #SPEP14 but who are interested in hearing specific panels and (2) Tweeters who will be live-tweeting those same panels. I think something like a digital-philosophical "buddy system" is a great idea, especially for those unfortunate souls who won't be able to make it to New Orleans.  (Incidentally, I've been in NOLA for two days already, and I'll be here through the end of SPEP.  I'm happy to report that the weather is beautiful, the food is delicious, the drinks are strong, the music is loud and the people are as endearingly weird as ever.  Looking forward to seeing you all in a few days!)  Anyway, here are a few suggestions for how we might make the #SPEPbuddysystem work:

First, SPEP-Tweeters should use the comments section below this post in the next few days to list sessions that they know they plan to attend/tweet, along with their Twitter handles.  Those not attending can check that list, see if anyone will be tweeting the session you're interested in, and "follow' that Tweeter during the live session.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Leiter/PGR Archive Is Now Closed (and, A Note from Your Archivist)

This has been a strange month for academic Philosophy, for professional philosophers and, as a more or less direct consequence, for this blog.  A little less than four weeks ago, on September 24, I began collecting various posts, essays and articles related to what I then anticipated was going to be, at the very least, a semi-significant series of events vis-á-via the controversial behaviors of one of Philosophy's most prominent bloggers, Brian Leiter, and his controversial (but highly-influential) rankings of Philosophy graduate programs in the Anglophone world, better known as the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR). In the weeks since I first posted what I called an "Archive of the Meltdown," that Archive has had a number of "hits" that is nearing 2x the number of members in the largest professional organization for Philosophers in the world, the American Philosophical Association (which, if you're doing the math, has a membership of roughly 11,000). A shorter version of the Archive, which I posted as an Interactive Timeline of the Leiter/PGR Controversy, has gotten about half that traffic (which still outnumbers professional Philosophers in the United States).  All that is just to say, my original suspicion that this was going to be a semi-significant series of events for professional Philosophy was more than confirmed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

CFT (Call For Tweeters) #SPEP14

Last year's meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (SPEP) was the first such conference, as far as I'm aware, that was live-tweeted by a significant-enough number of participants to be noteworthy.  I was one of the SPEP Twitterati last year in Eugene, and I wrote a post about that experience after I returned home from the conference.  If you're interested, take a look at the tweets from #SPEP13, which Chris Long (@cplong) of Penn State collected and "Storified" here to be preserved for posterity.  This year's conference in New Orleans is coming up in just under two weeks (Oct 23-25), so I wanted to send out a CFT for #SPEP14 as well as provide a central place for SPEP-Tweeters to find (and follow) one another.

[First things first:  I'll be at SPEP and I'll be live-tweeting it again this year.  My Twitter handle is @DrLeighMJohnson.  The Twitter handle for this blog is @RMWMTMBM.  You can easily "follow" both of us by clicking the appropriate icons in the Twitter columns to your right.]

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Interactive Timeline of the Leiter/PGR Controversy

As readers know, I have maintained an Archive on this blog with links to most (if not all) of the public essays, statements and posts regarding the recent controversy surrounding Brian Leiter and the Philosophical Gourmet Report.  A lot as been said over the last few weeks and, if you're interested, you can trudge through all of it day-by-day by visiting the Archive.  On the other hand, if you only want the highlights, what follows is for you.

I've created a curated an Interactive Timeline of the 2014 Leiter/PGR Controversy.  The interactive timeline only traces the general narrative arc of the last several weeks (and leaves out most of the nuance and detail) so please read it with that caveat in mind.

I will continue to update the (detailed and exhaustive) Archive of the Meltdown as long as it seems necessary.  I also ask those who wish to share the interactive timeline to please link to this post (rather than linking to the timeline directly).  Of course, I welcome any any comments or suggestions you may have regarding the Archive or the Timeline, which you can post in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

What You Can Do To Support PIKSI (which you *should* support) OTHER THAN Donating Your Money (which, if you are able, you *should* also do)

It's been a busy (in fact, record-breakingly busy) month here on RMWMTMBM, so I wanted to take a momentary break from the Leiter/PGR/SeptemberStatement brouhaha--about which this blog has more or less unfortunately become something akin to professional Philosophy's version of TMZ-- and instead remark upon an initiative as important to our discipline as, and not wholly unrelated to, the recent Sturm und Drang vis-á-vis "civility" and "rankings." In the interest of performatively enacting for intro-Philosophy students everywhere the importance of an appropriately-situated thesis statement, let me just explicitly avow here: IF you are a professional Philosopher who has bothered to take an even passing glance at the demographic data of our (unfortunately and WOEFULLY retrograde) profession, you OUGHT consider yourself ipso facto obliged to contribute whatever discretionary material means you have at your disposal to support PIKSI (aka, the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Note on "The Archive"

This is just to let readers know that I continue to update the Archive of The Meltdown daily.  I'm trying to catch everything substantive that shows up in re the recent events surrounding Leiter, the PGR and the September Statement-- and I'm aiming to avoid redundancy as much as possible-- but there has been a lot of material and I cannot, alas, read the whole Internet every day. I am sure I've missed some things.  If you see glaring omissions, please leave links to them in the comments section below the original Archive post (or below this post), or you can email them to me at .

Predictably, and thankfully, it appears that the focus of many posts are moving away from the particular case of Brian Leiter or the PGR toward more general considerations of professional civility or the merits/demerits of rankings, respectively. To that end, I want to make note of a new page established by Richard Heck that aims to collect "Discussions of Philosophy Rankings"and to encourage readers to notify Heck when you write/read something that would be appropriate for inclusion at that page.  I will, of course, continue to add the same to my ongoing Archive here.

Until the number of relevant posts diminishes past the point of being worth tracking, I will continue to update the Archive on this blog daily, though probably only once daily (in the evening) going forward.

Thanks for your patience and assistance.  You can follow this blog on Facebook here or on Twitter here for more regular alerts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Professional Philosophy Triage

Justice tempered by Mercy
Because I'm maintaining an Archive of (what I've called) The Meltdown here on this blog, I think I've read most, if not all, of what professional philosophers have said publicly in the last several days' scrum regarding  Brian Leiter's objectionable behaviors (or "civility" more generally) as well as the merits and demerits of the PGR (or "rankings" more generally). What professional philosophers are witnessing now must look, to non-philosophers, like something straight out of a Jonathan Franzen novel, replete with all of the deep, intra-familial dysfunction that tends to play itself out in brutish arguments over allegedly "shared" values via impossible-to-decipher shibboleths, subtext-laden misdirection, condensing, cathecting and projecting.  In my view, it would be flatly obtuse at this point, if not also egregiously unreflective and irresponsible, to not concede that something is very, very wrong here.  Professional philosophy has continued to run an infirm engine at full throttle, unattended and obviously overheating, for a long time now.  An incredible amount of cultural pressure has been building up, unabated, and now it appears we have have blown a gasket.  The blistering steam we see being released, from various fissures and clefts that have appeared where there were once (at least in principle) corrigible vulnerabilities, is manifesting in a number of predictable ways:  frustration, indignation, resentment, exasperation, vexation and, of course, anger.

It's time to triage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Archive of The Meltdown [Now Closed]

If the current results of Brian Leiter's poll (which asks whether or not he should continue producing the Philosophical Gourmet Report) are any indication-- it's 1709 to 1118 in favor of "No" votes as I write this-- and if Leiter intends to take those poll results as some sort of mandate, then Philosophy may very well be witnessing the end of the PGR as we know it.

That's a pretty big deal all by itself... but it's happening coincidentally with what appears to be a bigger deal, i.e., the public unravelling of Leiter himself, one of the "biggest" (in terms of exposure, if not also influence) personalities in professional Philosophy.  Over the last 48 hours, Leiter has been publicly exposed as (and widely chastised for) being at best intemperate and uncivil, at worst bullying and threatening.  Things happen quickly and non-centrally in cyberspace, so I've decided to try to collect a running archive of the articles, letters, posts, petitions and the like related to  this incident, which may be a significant turning point in the professional life of academic Philosophy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Normalizing Civility, Policing Critique, Enforcing Silence and Misunderstanding Collegiality

How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now.  (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.)  Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Witch-Hunting in the Digital Age

Much to my own embarrassment, I've neglected to post here on the Steven Salaita controversy thus far, an affair with far-reaching implications not only for how we determine what constitutes both the civic and academic limits to the "right to free speech," but also for a number of hiring-and-firing practices that are customary within the Academy but verboten (if not also illegal) under almost any other employment conditions.

The facts of the Salaita case are, minimally, as follows:  Steven Salaita, tenured Professor of English at Virginia Tech University, was offered a position at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (henceforth, UIUC), which he accepted.  As is customary in academia, Salaita's new position came "with tenure" (after already having been thoroughly vetted for and awarded tenure at Virginia Tech) and, as is also customary in academia, Salaita resigned his position at Virginia Tech at the end of the last school year in advance of taking up his position at UIUC in the fall.  In the interim, however, and as a consequence of a number of tweets that Dr. Salaita posted over the summer in response to the increasingly violent Israeli-Gaza conflict, UIUC withdrew its offer of employment to Dr. Salaita (who is Palestinian and whose tweets were critical of Israeli state policy).  only two weeks before the he was to take up his new position at UIUC  According to UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise's official statement, the offer was rescinded because Dr. Salaita's tweets constituted a violation of UIUC principles, i.e., Salaita's tweets "demean[ed] and abuse[ed]" those whose views disagreed with his and, consequently, that they also constituted sufficient evidence that Salaita would be unable to discharge his duty to "allow new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed inside and outside of the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner."

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Ferguson Lesson: Another Way To "Take Up Arms"

As someone who has spent the better part of her career researching, analyzing and teaching not only about the structure and nature of oppressive power regimes, but also better and worse ways to resist or transform such regimes, I've nevertheless been unable to settle in my own mind, to my own satisfaction, my position with regard to the moral or political value of revolutionary violence.  I can say that my core moral intuitions (for whatever those are worth) definitely incline me toward favoring nonviolence as a principled ethical commitment... though, over the years, I have found those intuitive inclinations fading in both intensity and persuasiveness.  As a philosopher, a citizen and a moral agent, I continue to be deeply unsettled by my own ambivalence on this matter.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ferguson Syllabus for Philosophers

Many of you have probably seen the excellent "Ferguson Syllabus" created by Sociologists for Justice, which has been circulated widely over the last several days and which provides a collection of research articles used to inform the arguments and positions represented in their Statement on Ferguson.  I strongly encourage you to keep circulating that document, and to use Sociologists' for Justice suggested hashtag #socforjustice when you do.

If you work in academia but outside of a Sociology Department, as I do, I suspect you've thought to yourself how helpful it would be if a corresponding syllabus were produced and circulated for your own discipline, as I have.  (Would that it were the case that professional Philosophers could agree on something like a"Statement on Ferguson," but I'm not holding my breath for that!)  Below, I've attempted to BEGIN the construction of a "Ferguson Syllabus" for the discipline of Philosophy.  The list of materials I have here is, of course, non-exhaustive and incomplete, so I welcome any amendments or additions from readers who specialize in Philosophy, Political Theory, Critical Race Studies and the like.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Democracy Must Always Be Severe

"Democracy must always be severe. Without either desire or dread of paradox, we may go even further. Democracy must always be unpopular. It is a religion, and the essence of a religion is that it constrains. Like every other religion, it asks men to do what they cannot do; to think steadily about the important things. Like every other religion, it asks men to consider the dark, fugitive, erratic realities, to ignore the gigantic, glaring and overpowering trivialites. It rests upon the fact that the things which men have in common, such as a soul and a stomach, such as the love of children or the fear of death, are to infinity more important than the things in which they differ, such as a landed estate or an ear for music, the capacity to found an empire or to make a bow. And it has, like any other religion, to deal with the immense primary difficulty that the unimportant things are by far the most graphic and arresting, that millions see how a man founds an empire, and only a few how he faces death, and that a man may make several thousand bows in a year and go on improving in them, while in the art of being born he is only allowed one somewhat private experiment. In politics, in philosophy, in everything, it is sufficiently obvious that the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal. And the thing which is most undiscoverable in all human affairs, the thing which is most elusive, most secret, most hopelessly sealed from our sight is, and always must be, the thing which is most common to us all. Every little variety we have we gossip and boast of eagerly; it is upon uniformity that we preserve the silence of terrified conspirators. There are only two things that are absolutely common to all of us, more common than bread or sunlight, death and birth. And it is considered morbid to talk about the one and indecent to talk about the other. It is the nature of man to talk, so to speak, largely and eagerly about every new feather he sticks in his hair, but to conceal like a deformity the fact that he has a head. This is the secret of the permanent austerity of the democratic idea, of its eternal failure and its eternal recurrence, of the fact that it can never be popular and can never be killed. It withers into nothingness in the light of a naked spirituality those special badges and uniforms which we all love so much, since they mark us out as kings or schoolmasters, or gentlemen or philanthropists. It declares with a brutal benignity that all men are brothers just at the very moment that every one feels himself to be the good grandfather of every one else. To our human nature it commonly seems quite a pitiful exchange to cease from being poets or vestrymen, and be put off with being the images of the everlasting. That is the secret, as I say, of the austerity of republicanism, of its continual historic association with the stoical philosophy, of its continual defeat at the hands of heated mobs. It strikes men down from the high places of their human fads and callings, and lays them all level upon a dull plane of the divine."

--G.K. Chesterton, The Fortnight Review, Vol. LXXIV., July to December, 1903.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Somehow Philosophy Got Left Behind"

There's a really great essay by Eugene Sun Park entitled "Why I Left Academia: Philosophy's Homogeneity Needs Rethinking"  that appeared yesterday on HIPPO Reads.  Stop whatever you're doing and go read it now.

I've posted a fair bit of material on this blog addressing the racial and gender disparity in professional Philosophy, which remains truly embarrassing, but Park's first-person narrative of his experience is a telling account. After stipulating that Western academia has long been guilty of excluding women and minorities both from the Academy and from the canon, Park (citing Hollinger) concedes that much progress has been made in the last half-century to correct these errors and to broaden the humanities... BUT (Park notes in a transitional sentence that speaks more truth than its syntactical position suggests) "somehow Philosophy got left behind."  Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, Philosophy remains woefully "behind" when it comes to the inclusion of women and minorities not only in its professional representation, but also in "publications, citations and overall disciplinary influence."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

American Apartheid

For they know they are not animals. And at the very moment when they discover their humanity, they begin to sharpen their weapons to secure its victory.
--Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

America has always been and remains an apartheid state.  The latter part of that sad but increasingly undeniable fact was made apparent last night in Ferguson, Missouri to a group of peaceful protesters amidst tanks, deafening LRADs, a haze of tear gas and a firestorm of rubber (and real) bullets.  The other tragic fact made apparent in Ferguson last night is that America is only ever a hair's-breadth away from a police state... if we understand by "police" not a regulated body of law-enforcement peacekeepers empowered to serve and protect the citizenry, but rather a heavily-armed, extra-constitutional, militarized cadre of domestic soldiers who provoke and terrorize with impunity.  Much of the time, we are able to forget or ignore these unfortunate truths about contemporary America-- and by "we" I mean our elected officials, our bureaucrats and financiers, and a lot of self-delusionally "post-racial," though really white, people-- but the mean truth of gross inequality, both de facto and de jure, remains ever-present in spite of our disavowals, simmering steadily just below the allegedly free and fair democratic veneer of our polis.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The CIA Report Is The Purloined Letter and Obama Is The Prefect: My Break-Up Letter to President Obama

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some 
things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things 
that were right, but we tortured some folks.
-- President Barack Obama, Press Conference (Aug 1, 2014)

"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, 
who had a fashion of calling everything "odd" that was
beyond his comprehension, and thus lived in an absolute 
legion of "oddities."
-- Edgar Allen Poe, "The Purloined Letter" (1845)

I don't suspect that President Barack Obama reads most of his mail. I am 100% certain that whoever reads his mail would certainly not pass this letter on to him.  That said, I am confident that there are millions of Americans who have, as I've often described my situation to Ideas Man PhD, had their political (and real) hearts broken by President Obama over and over again.  This is my "I quit you" letter to our Commander-in-Chief, who is not up for re-election, of course, but it's gotta be said.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Join, or Die: Neoliberalism, Epistemontology, Social Harmony and the (Invisible) Invisible Hand

There's been a good bit conversation recently about the merits and demerits of "public philosophy" and, as someone who considers herself committed to public philosophy (whatever that is). I'm always happy to stumble across a piece of remarkably insightful philosophical work in the public realm.  Case in point:  Robin James (Philosophy, UNC-Charlotte) posted a really fascinating and original short-essay on the Cyborgology blog a couple of days ago entitled "An attempt at a precise & substantive definition of 'neoliberalism,' plus some thoughts on algorithms." There, she primarily aims to distinguish the sense in which we use the term "neoliberalism" to indicate an ideology from its use as a historical indicator, and she does so by employing some extremely helpful insights about algorithms, data analysis, the mathematics of music, harmony, and how we understand consonance and dissonance.  I'm deeply sympathetic with James' underlying motivation for this piece, namely, her concern that our use of the term "neoliberalism" (or its corresponding descriptor "neoliberal") has become so ubiquitous that it is in danger of being evacuated of "precise and substantive" meaning altogether.  I'm sympathetic, first, as a philosopher, for whom precise and substantive definitions are as essential as hammers and nails are to a carpenter. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I'm sympathetic with James' effort because as Jacques Derrida once said "the more confused the concept, the more it lends itself to opportunistic appropriation."  Especially in the last decade or so, "neoliberalism" is perhaps the sine qua non term that has been, by both the Left and the Right, opportunistically appropriated.

Friday, July 11, 2014

AMERICA! F*CK YEAH!... or, Dinesh D'Souza and the Chocolate Factory

It is indeed difficult to imagine the world without America, which is what the one-sheet movie poster for Dinesh D'Souza's America dares us to imagine. After all, America is every bit as much a symbol, an aspiration and an idea as it is a nation-state. However, it is not difficult to imagine the world without D'Souza's "America" or its cinematic rendering, a film that is part costume drama, part morality tale, part manifesto, too much revisionist history and a whole lot of  downright D'Souzian fantasy.  Those already suspect of D'Souza's worldview (not to mention his political cronyism and/or personal moral fortitude) will likely view this movie, if they view it at all, as right-wing propaganda, at which they will snort before promptly dismissing it. Those inclined more favorably toward D'Souza's worldview, on the other hand, are likely to crank up the Team America theme song ("America! F*ck Yeah!"), wave a flag and pat each other on the back for their patriotism, happy to have at last been able to steal one free breath in the suffocating liberal environment that they call Obamastan.  I saw the film last night in a theater filled with the latter group--I surmise as much from the audience's enthusiastic applause when the credits rolled--and after I righted my head from the "wait, whaa?" side-cocked position in which it had been stuck for the last 103 minutes, I genuinely didn't know how to react.  Should I be offended? disgusted? disheartened? afraid?


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

On Trigger Warnings, Codes of Conduct and Self-Policing in Philosophy

The blogosphere has been all abuzz with commentary on the merits and demerits of “trigger warnings” (henceforth, TWs) of late, which has sparked an interesting conversation not only about what sorts of norms we ought to strive for in the Academy but also how we can or ought police those norms. With regard to TWs specifically, the debate seems to be over how much accommodation should be afforded to individual students’ personal (sometimes traumatic) experiences and, correspondingly, how to weigh that accommodation vis-à-vis professorial interest in and responsibility for maintaining the academic integrity of course-content. As is the case with many other issues of this kind, disputants are largely divided along philosophical/ideological lines: those who tend to prioritize individual responsibility and accountability (e.g., Jack Halberstam) on the one side and, on the other side, those who advocate a more cooperative/communal sense of self-care (e.g., Angus Johnston). Two quick disclaimers before we get into things, though: (1) I'll concede that I've just employed grossly-generalized characterizations of the two sides, and (2) those generalizations are also non-comprehensive, as they leave out an important third category of disputants (see Natalie Cecire's recent contribution) in the TW controversy, namely, those who are helpfully and productively engaging in meta-critique, who recognize the limitations of both dominant “positions” in this conversation and who are interested in articulating how those positions are both mutually-implicating and mutually-contaminating.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 28: A Song That Reminds You of Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend (if you don't have one, make one up)

The official prompt for today asks for "a song that reminds you of your boyfriend/girlfriend" but also hilariously includes the parenthetical stipulation "(if you don't have one, make one up)".  Let's all just take a second to guffaw out loud at that one.

I don't currently have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but I've had both many times and for various durations in the past, which (curiously enough) doesn't make it any harder or easier to imagine the right song selection for today.  My guess is that today's prompt would be equally difficult for the committed and the uncommitted.  That is to say, if you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, then you're obligated to choose a song that reminds you of him or her as they actually are, warts and all, which could make for a very delicate selection.  And if you don't have a girlfriend/boyfriend, then you're likely inclined to choose a song that might remind you of some perfect person to whom you imagine yourself committed, but who is probably impossible to realize in a real person, as fantasies always are, making your selection either moot or childishly naive. So, the best that I am able, I'm going to try to walk the tightrope of that divide with my choice today.

Full disclosure: I chose this song for Day 5 ("A Song That Reminds You of Someone") in the first round of the 30 Day Song Challenge that I did in 2011.  You can read my whole account of that story here, but the long and short of it is that I said this song reminds me of the way my father is reminded of my mother.  I won't recount the whole thing again; I'll just say that I don't think this is the most traditionally "romantic" or ideal or fantastical song to capture whatever it is that love feels (or ought to feel) like, but I do think it's real, and really poignant, and really honest, and a whole host of other things that, for better or worse, I'd hope reminded me of the person I loved n real life.

My song pick for today is Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman," performed live here:

Never before in the three years that I've been doing the 30 Day Song Challenge have I reprinted the lyrics to one of my song selections in their entirety... but for today, I will, and I will have nothing else to add.

She can kill with a smile / She can wound with her eyes 
She can ruin your faith with her casual lies 
And she only reveals what she wants you to see 
She hides like a child / but she's always a woman to me 

She can lead you to love / She can take you or leave you 
She can ask for the truth / But she'll never believe you
And she'll take what you give her as long as it's free 
Yeah, she steals like a thief / but she's always a woman to me 

Oh, she takes care of herself 
She can wait if she wants / She's ahead of her time 
Oh, and she never gives out / And she never gives in 
She just changes her mind 

She will promise you more than the Garden of Eden 
Then she'll carelessly cut you and laugh while you're bleedin' 
But she'll bring out the best and the worst you can be 
Blame it all on yourself  'cause she's always a woman to me 

Oh, she takes care of herself 
She can wait if she wants / She's ahead of her time 
Oh, and she never gives out / And she never gives in 
She just changes her mind 

She is frequently kind / And she's suddenly cruel 
She can do as she pleases / She's nobody's fool 
But she can't be convicted / She's earned her degree 
And the most she will do Is throw shadows at you 
But she's always a woman to me

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 27: A Song You Make Fun Of

I'm just going to go ahead and concede that I am also guilty of all the things I make fun of in this post.

My pick for today is the song that everyone loves to ridicule while also acting ridiculous.  I don't know if there is an official organization for professional wedding/reunion/conference DJ's-- if not, there should be, 'cause y'all have nothing to lose but your chains, yo!-- but if there is such an organization, I am 100% confident that one of its by-laws must include a requirement that all members play that funky music at every event.  And I'm not talking about any old funky music, of course.  I'm talking about THAT funky music.

You know what I'm talking about, white boy.

If you've ever been to a wedding, a reunion, a conference reception, a dance party-- hell, if you've ever stuck around to hear a dive-bar band play past midnight-- you have most certainly heard the one-hit wonder by the (otherwise faded-into-obscurity) American funk-rock band Wild Cherry, "Play That Funky Music."  Among its many, even if highly questionable, virtues is that "Play That Funky Music" was released near the tail-end of the Disco Era in 1976 and (at least according to Wikipedia) represents one of the last impassioned cries by bell-bottomed, tassel-vested, funk-loving people that we DO NOT LET DISCO DIE.  The 80's came and went, of course, and in the course of that decade disco took a pretty mean beating by punk and hard rock and new wave... but disco didn't die.  Thankfully.  That's due in large part to the feisty resilience of disco's constitutive parts-- funk, soul, Latin and psychadelic music--  none of which have ever laid down for nobody, but more so due to the fact that disco is and has always been about dancing, about night life and club life, not to mention also about sin and sex and drugs and loving to love you, baby.

It's hard not to make fun of "Play That Funky Music" when you hear it, even as you wallow in the pleasure of it like a pig in shit.  Just go ahead and try not to dig this shit:

I'm not gonna even pretend that it isn't the case that one of the things I love most about this song is that, when played live, it somehow convinces every single white boy, regardless of how little rhythm or groove he has, to lay down and boogie when he hears this song.  C'mon really, is there anything more satisfying to make fun of than a white boy who isn't funky, but who is FEELING IT and, what is more, who is being called to feel it in the very lyrics of the song?!  There's something adorably pathetic about that whole spectacle, kind of like the audition rounds on American Idol, that just makes you point and laugh and at the same time say "awww, poor baby, you go on and GO with your bad self."

So, in the future, just when it hits you, when somebody turns around and says play that funky music, white boy!, remember that you can ridicule all you want, we all do it... just as long as you also lay down and boogie and play that funky music so disco never dies.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 26: A Song By Your Favorite Band

My choice for a favorite band will come as no surprise to readers of this blog.  I'm an unapologetic, unrepentant, unreserved and incorrigible Rolling Stones fan, through and through.  I wrote a longish post here on this blog a few years ago about my love for the Stones (for a contest sponsored by No Depression magazine) entitled "Why Exile On Main Street Gets My Rocks Off."  And in the two previous years that I've done this 30 Day Song Challenge, the Rolling Stones have showed a number of times, including for the categories of my favorite song, for a song from my favorite band and for a song you want played at your funeral.   With some slight modifications in the prompts, I could easily do a 30 Day Song Challenge just using songs by the Rolling Stones.  (For the record, I think I could also do 30 days of Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin and maybe also Etta James.) I won't rehearse again here all that I've said about the Stones before, but suffice it to say that they are about as close to a perfect band that I know.  They are the loud and messy roux-- that thickening combination of country, blues, folk and gospel-- that makes rock n' roll taste so sinfully delicious.

Since I've picked Stones' songs so many times before on this blog, I thought I'd go for one of their more obscure and under-appreciated tracks for today's selection.  It's a track off of my favorite Stones album, Beggar's Banquet-- also, and not un-coincidentally, the most Memphis-sounding of their albums-- recorded in 1968 at Olympic Studios.  This is a winning album from start to finish, but I have a particular fondness for Track 3, "Dear Doctor," a hilarious account by a fully-soused and reluctant groom, attempting his best to leave his bride-to-be (who he describes as a "four-legged sow") at the altar.  Be ye not afraid, though, it all works out in the end:

Just two quick things that I particularly love about this song.  First, the opening line: Oh help me, please Doctor, I'm damaged / There's a pain where there once was a heart.  Such a great lyric, made even more fantastic when one discovers the utter INsincerity with which it is being delivered.  And, second, the fact that the song ends, musically, on an unresolved chord, just as it does lyrically.


Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 25: An Acoustic Song You Love

At this point in my life, I've been playing guitar for about twenty years.  I never had a lesson and I'm not what you would call a very good guitarist, but my skills have been passable-enough to make do in several bar bands and around many a campfire over the years. I got my first guitar at age 19 in a trade for rent money from one of my roommates.  There were nine people living in our large and largely-unkempt house in Boston then, in the early-90's, five of whom were members of a local band, no kidding, called "Bob." So, when one of the guys couldn't make rent one month and offered to give me his old acoustic guitar if I'd cover his part, it seemed as good an opportunity as I'd ever have to try to learn an instrument.  I used to take my guitar down into our basement, where Bob practiced, and just watch them play for hours... then, I'd climb back up the stairs, sit in my room, try to mimic what I saw the guys doing, and (in the words of Bryan Adams) play until my fingers bled.  I only lived in that house with Bob for about a year, but that was enough time for me to learn the 6 or 7 chords necessary to play country, blues and rock n' roll.

Without a doubt, that was the best $85 I spent in my entire life.

It wasn't until many years later that I began writing songs myself and, more generally, feeling comfortable taking some creative liberties with the songs I played.  That's when playing the guitar became really fun, not to mention also therapeutic, and when I probably developed the most as a player.  Still, as anyone who plays an instrument knows, there are also times that one's skill-level kind of plateaus, when you find yourself just playing what you know over and over and over.  Those can be long-lasting and frustrating intervals, when you feel like you're in a rut, like there's nothing new or interesting about your instrument anymore.  And that is a miserable feeling.

About six years ago, I was in one of those ruts when Beyonce Knowles' B'Day album came out. One of the hit singles off of that album was "Irreplaceable," and everybody everywhere was letting you know the box you own was "to the left, to the left."  Anyway, I found myself sitting around in the living room with some of guitar-playing friends and "Irreplaceable" came on the stereo and I thought to myself: that's a pretty straightforward song, and it begins with a guitar strum... I wonder if I could play it?  So, I did. And, in doing so, I climbed out of my miserable guitar-playing rut.

Since then, I've discovered that one of my favorite things to do with a guitar is to play acoustic versions of whatever is on the radio.  The less "acoustic" the original song, the more I like to do it acoustically.  As it turns out, Queen Bey herself also thought that "Irreplaceable" was a pretty good contender for acoustic performance.  Here she is, irreplaceable and unplugged:

For the record, my second favorite non-acoustic song to play acoustically is Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean."  I kill that one, f'real.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 24: A Cover Song

As anyone who has ever played in a band knows, performing cover songs can be a very tricky business.  Most of the time, you want your performance of a cover song to stick close enough to the original that it remains recognizable to your audience-- I mean, that's why you chose to play it, presumably because it's a great song that people want to hear-- but you don't want to play so close to the original that you appear to be copycatting.  Departing from the original in small or large ways, although necessary, is really a sink-or-swim venture.  If you sink, the audience will turn their noses up and huff and think that you "ruined" a classic.  If you swim, they'll be reminded again of why they love that song on the radio and think how great it is to hear live.  But if you really nail it, you just might capture the Holy Grail of cover song performance, i.e., you just might achieve the Better Than The Original (henceforth, BTTO) designation.

The BTTO category is occupied by very few cover versions of great songs, in my opinion, and the contenders for inclusion in that category are passionately argued for and against by music lovers everywhere.  I've heard really good, though ultimately unconvincing, cases made for the White Stripes' "Jolene" (originally a Dolly Parton song), Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" (originally a Leonard Cohen song), Grace Potter & the Nocturnals' "White Rabbit" (originally a Jefferson Airplane song), Bon Iver's "I Can't Make You Love Me" (orginally a Bonnie Raitt song), Nirvana's "The Man Who Sold the World" (originally a David Bowie song) and, of course, the two covers widely considered to be noncontroversial inclusions in the BTTO category:  Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" (originally Dolly Parton) and Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" (orginally Bob Dylan).

I had a hard time making my pick for today.  It basically came down to two contenders.  The one I didn't choose was Three Dog Night's version of "Try A Little Tenderness", mostly because it would take me too long to make the case for any Otis Redding cover being BTTO.  (I still think Three Dog Night managed to pull it off, though!)  Instead, I'm going with Johnny Cash's cover of Three Inch Nails' song "Hurt."  You can listen to the original here, and below is JC's version:

"Hurt" was one of Johnny Cash's last recordings before he died, and you can hear the wear and tear of many years of hard living on this track.  He's an old and lonely man, his body and his voice are failing him, but there's an undeniably rich fount of wisdom in his weakness.  Perhaps that has something to do with my affection for this song, but no more than the absolutely brilliants orchestration and performance by The Man in Black.  One of the markers of a great cover is when the performer can make the song sound as if he or she wrote it originally.  In Cash's many covers of gospel tunes, I've always thought he was a genius at doing that, making them sound like the words were his.  His version of "Hurt" sounds exactly like that, too.  

I recognize that it's more than a little ironic that my pick for my favorite cover song today is a song by Johnny Cash, probably one of the most frequently covered musicians in the history of country and rock n' roll.  But that seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of Johnny Cash and the relationship he had to "roots" music, the music of folk, of poor people and suffering people and people looking for some beauty in this world.  All our songs are variations on pain and triumph, love and heartache, sin and glory.  We humans are just the mouthpieces for those stories.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Monday, June 23, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 23: A Song That Makes You Angry

If you judged only by the tone of our public discourse, you'd have good reason to conclude that we're a very angry country.  According to a recent study by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic magazine, America is feeling much more pluribus than unum these days.  A different study (by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press) confirmed the same, claiming that "Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines-- and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive-- than at any point in the last two decades."  There are many causes to which one could point in explaining this deep and extensive antipathy, some of them known, some of them unknown, many of them occupying the curious Rumsfeldian categories of "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns."  People are angry for different, often opposing, reasons, but what they seem to hold in common is a deep dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.  If it's true that misery loves company, America may be the easiest country in the world to find a companion right now.

Not to oversimplify things, but I think there are basically two types of angry Americans: (1) the type represented by and in Toby Keith's song "The Angry American" and (2) the type who are angered by the type represented in (1).  You can count me among the folks in Category 2.  This song was written shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, released a few months later in May 2002, and it definitely captured a particular variety of American anger that resonated with a lot of people attempting to deal with the new-- unpredictable, precarious and perilous-- world we found ourselves in post-9/11.  According to Keith, the song was meant to memorialize his recently-passed father's patriotism and to lift the morale of American military troops.  It was immediately controversial and continues, I think, to represent a characteristic divide in American political sensibilities.

The official title of the song is "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."  Unfortunately, the "courtesy" in the title refers to, among other aggressions, getting "a boot in your ass, the American way."  Here's the song:

This song makes me angry as an American, because what it represents is exactly the opposite of what I think should be celebrated about our country.  It's hostile, militaristic, imperialist, unsympathetic, naively nationalistic, full of hubris and blind to the consequences of its aggression.  It makes me angry to hear it and it makes me angry to think that my fellow citizens would concede to being represented that way.

I'm with the Dixie Chicks on this matter, whose response to Toby Keith and his song expressed an anger that I can call my own.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 22: A Song That Would Be The Theme Song To A TV Show About Your Life

That painting to your left is probably my favorite piece of 20thC art.  It's "Sugar Shack" by African-American painter (and former NFL defensive tackle) Ernie Barnes. Barnes once described this painting in an interview as illustrating how dance "utilizes rhythm as a way of resolving physical tension."  I've always appreciated that description of dance, and I've always thought the elongated forms and implied movement of his painting captured it perfectly.  In 1976, Marvin Gaye asked Barnes if he could use the painting as the cover for his album I Want You, lending the painting and Barnes international exposure.

Interestingly, "Sugar Shack" was also featured in the credits of the 1970's television series Good Times, which is how I came to first know the painting.  Good Times, like most 70's sitcoms, had an excellent theme song, which I also happen to use as the ringtone for my wake-up alarm.  Whatever happened to all the good television theme songs, anyway?  Maybe everyone thinks this, but I think a very good case can me made for my childhood years (the 70's and 80's) being the Golden Age for great TV theme songs.  Remember The Greatest American Hero, The Jeffersons, The Facts of Life, Cheers, Diff'rent Strokes, Gimme A Break, The Brady Bunch?  Theme songs had been around since the beginning of television, of course, but they were really perfected in the television of those two decades.  Then, it seems like people just gave up on theme songs sometime in the late 80's.  Weird.

Anyway, if I had to pick a song to be the theme song to a TV show about my life, it would be the theme song from Good Times.  Here it is:

Not getting hassled.  Not getting hustled.  Keeping your head above water.  Making a wave when you can.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Here's your quick-access link to the entire 30 Day Song Challenge 2014 prompt-list and my picks for each day.