Category Archives: General


What do we do in the Humanities? I mean, in those classes and language-centered activities classified and pluralized on our UCSC administrative shelves as philosophy, literature, history, history of consciousness, linguistics, American studies, feminist studies, language and writing? Are they immaterial, uncompetitive (gasp) and self-defeating activities that a little engineering might revitalize? Yes they are, I’m afraid, and I can’t help, because looking for the "vital" in revitalize is deadening, as poems and prophetic-style literature keep reminding me.
Speaking of poems, here is one I like by Eugenio Montejo:

The Mill
Turn your blades, old mill, grind
without pause the hours of these days
tossing off husks.
Erase the poems in which I lied,
words that didn’t rise like fingernails
from my flesh; erase
the black guitar of my shadow,
failing to sing as it goes.
Grind this room full of books,
crush its walls stone by stone
until the window alone lifts like a bird
and bears me off on its wings.
Continue to turn at the edge of the world
between my eyes and the wide field.

(translation by Kirk Nesset,
*The Kenyon Review* 28.3[2006], 37)

UCSC strategic academic plan

The text of this strategic plan is available here. Page 28, in the section on the division of humanities, one reads that the third priority is to “maintain the strengths of the Language and Writing programs to continue academic service curriculum.” What do those last words exactly mean? The language program has lost many of its third-year courses, has also lost most of the equivalencies it had to do the follow-up and advising of students in their majors, and has seen the number of students enrolled in its courses jump from an average 17 to an average or 24 in about 4-5 years. The students need more third- and fourth-year courses that should be designed as widely as possible (theater, literature, sociology, history, etc.).


Personal and person, from Latin [i]persona[/i], theatrical mask (perhaps from Etruscan φersu. On my way to campus, I see four workers putting the last touch to a landscaping job. I have noticed them at work for a couple months now, removing the old soil, re-doing the retaining walls, installing a fountain, new smooth walls, painting them ochre, putting new soil, special grasses, bushes, and trees. The name of the landscaping company that employs them appeals to the person-enhancing aspect of its business, meaning that the personality of the owner of the property is ideally reflected in the landscaping job. And perhaps it is…. It might be a better reflection of the workers’, no matter their lack of access to similar property, propriety, and personality.


The US are said to seek ways to apply pressure to the “Iraqi government” they themselves put in place. The major goal is to rein in the militias (whether Shiite, especially the two major ones—the Mehdi army and the Badr Brigade— or the Sunni insurgents). This supposes that this puppet government, working from under the umbrella of US firing power, uses force, and quite a bit of it, to break those militias. In other words: the US is apparently encouraging a movement towards dictatorship to take care of its problem which is that it has painted itself into a corner politically and militarily.
I would think that the Maliki government is seen as weak by most Iraqis, because it was chosen by the US, it was selected on the basis of its connections to religiously significant, well-organized and armed movements, and it can’t deliver on promises of order and safety. The inherent weakness of this government means that any of its attempts to reduce the militias’ influence will lead to their further development, since they are the only organizations perceived as capable of delivering a minimum of protection. Unless great force is applied, that is, full dictatorship. In which case, a few hundreds of thousands of people will have died in about 3-4 years because of a war aiming among other things at removing a terrible dictatorship and having another kind of dictatorship as its immediate result. That alone is a terrible result.
But another effect of the war is to strengthen the hand of Iran, Syria, China, and others, without their having to do anything but watch very closely. From a capitalistic point of view (not mine!), it seems that the goal of maintaining control over the financial, political and military aspects of world energy production and consumption has been set back. Good job, white house strategists! The superficial decision-making done on the basis of the neo-cons’ moral and pro-market agenda has had the effect of moving the world towards an uncontrolled, conflict-enhancing, reallocation of resources. A disaster, unless the major actors can read their self-interest through the others’ eyes. The US just showed it couldn’t. Why would others be wiser?

Iraq and elections

A general or two, here and in the UK, talk about adapting to the situation in Iraq. James Baker, friend of the Bushes and ex-secretary of state, presides over a commission that finds there must be a midway between victory with a big V and “cut and run.” Many “sensible” Republicans (Warner first of all in the Senate) want a new strategy. Why now? The elections are looming, and the push for vast reforms in pension funds, social security, taxation, banking, commercial laws, etc. may be threatened. So time to retrench so as to safekeep the most important parts of the reactionary agenda. No thought here for the poor Irakis and neighbors whose life, past and future, we messed and are messing with. Their lives are not as important as safekeeping the essential, which is a capacity to rake it in globally. Terrorism? It was a useful theme and may be used again, but it is not the endgame.

Piracy and empire

What Augustine of Hippo says in Civitas Dei of banditry and empires reads well still today when the US empire doesn’t even admit to the name out of quaint and useful moral hypocrisy:

Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? Quia et latrocinia quid sunt nisi parva regna? Manus et ipsa hominum est, imperio principis regitur, pacto societatis astringitur, placiti lege praeda dividitur. Hoc malum si in tantum perditorum hominum accessibus crescit ut et loca teneat, sedes constituat, civitates occupet, populos subiuget, evidentius regni nomen adsumit, quod ei iam in manifesto confert non dempta cupiditas, sed addita inpunitas. Eleganter enim et veraciter Alexandro illi Magno quidam comprehensus pirata respondit. Nam cum idem rex hominem interrogaret, quid ei videretur, ut mare haberet infestum, ille libera contumacia: Quod tibi, inquit, ut orbem terrarum; sed quia id ego exiguo navigio facio, latro vocor; quia tu magna classe, imperator.

Take away justice, then, and what are governments but great confederacies of robbers? After all, what are confederacies of robbers unless they are small-scale governments? The gang itself consists of men, it is directed by the authority of the chief, it is bound together by a pact of mutual support, and the loot is divided in accordance with an agreed law. If, as a result of the recruitment of desperadoes, this evil grows to such an extent that it takes control of a territory, establishes bases, occupies cities and subjugates peoples, then it assumes the name of a government, the more openly because this is now plainly applicable: not because the robbers have renounced their rapacity, but because they are no longer at risk of punishment. The reply that a captured pirate made to Alexander the Great was apposite and legitimate. For when the ruler asked the man how he could justify making the sea a dangerous place, he answered, with defiant outspokenness, ‘In exactly the way that you justify doing the same to the whole world. But because I do it with a single paltry ship, I am called a robber; while you do it with a large navy, and are called an emperor.’

Civitas Dei, 4.4 (translation by Gillian Spraggs)

At the end of 4.6, after discussing the duration of the Assyrian empire, Augustine continues: “to make war on one’s neighbors, to go from there further afield, to reduce to submission peoples who have not attacked, out of pure greed for domination, how should one call this if not banditry on a monumental scale?” Latin: Inferre autem bella finitimis et in cetera inde procedere ac populos sibi non molestos sola regni cupiditate conterere et subdere, quid aliud quam grande latrocinium nominandum est?

Bush approves torture

Evening came and I can look at the paper. The first page of the NYTImes shows president no-name (I am practicing early damnatio memoriae) walking away from the lectern behind which one can see the vice-president, attorney general, and many other officials, after he signed a bill on the interrogation and trial of terrorism suspects. The military commissions struck down by the Supreme Court in Hamdan vs Rumsfeld (6/29/06) to the annoyance of our fearless leaders can be re-established, and they don’t have to abide by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Not surprising that McCain was not at the “ceremony” and was out campaining. The pre-November political game counts on the naïveté, indifference, complacency, and complicity of voters who may accept the idea it “will save American lives” (dixit the prince) and it is “a way to deliver justice to the terrorists we have captured.” Replace “justice” with “vengeance.”
NYT writes that “More than 500 habeas suits are pending in federal court, and Justice Department officials said Tuesday that they would move swiftly to dismiss them under the new law.” (p. A14) There will be countersuits since the stripping of habeas corpus is widely seen as unconstitutional. So perhaps the use of torture will not accelerate…
But in all of this, what strikes me is that it looks as if “globalism,” the euphemism for capitalism, requires a considerable dose of violence, legitimate violence naturally, and the only question now is: how much, how far? It is not surprising to learn almost at the same time that large corporations working in China (and elsewhere) are fighting attempts to secure human rights and better working conditions.

Mortality in Iraq

An excess mortality of 654 965 people in Iraq since March 2003 was the new estimate reported by the Lancet yesterday. 601 027 of those deaths are attributed to violence, mostly gunfire, in this Johns Hopkins study of 1849 households randomly chosen in 16 of the 18 governorates of Iraq.About 30% of those deaths would be attributable to US military actions. For a positive evaluation of this study, see Juan Cole’s Informed Comment page. For understandably negative views, see the UK Foreign Office, or our own president.On 12 December 2005, President Bush said about 30,000 Iraqis had been killed since the war began. On what basis did he give this number? Perhaps the Iraq Body Count at the time. But the Iraq Body Count keeps an unscientific tally that is simply based on news reports. Its numbers today for civilians killed by military intervention in Iraq are 43 850 (min)—48 693 (max).

Mérimée on Breton language

Mérimée on the Breton language:

Vous saurez d’abord que c’est vers la Bretagne, la douce et la bretonnante, que se sont dirigées mes courses cette année(…) Quant aux naturels du pays hélas! c’est la province sans soleil. Croiriez vous que j’ai fait quatre cent lieues en Bretagne sans déboutonner ma braguette. Impossible de toucher sans pincette les personnes du sexe de Brest, Morlaix, Saint Brieux (sic), Rennes, Vannes, Quimper. Ce n’est qu’à Nantes que la Providence m’a envoyé soulagement(…) Au lieu de votre joli patois dont on comprend toujours quelque chose, c’est une langue que le diable a inventée que l’on parle là-bas et qui n’a pas moins de quatre dialectes très différents. Lavarèt d’in pélèc’h azô ünenbennak ago zéfé gâllec? Voilà tout ce que j’ai pu apprendre à dire m’écorchant le gosier: Dites moi où il y a quelqu’un qui parle français. Jamais, à moins qu’on ne lui fasse une opération chirurgicale, un Provençal ne prononcera pélèc’h. Mangez une olive crue, et en crachant, vous ferez un bruit approchant ce c’h. Par dessus le marché, ces sauvages ne m’ont-ils pas persécuté dans leurs journaux, m’accusant d’avoir enlevé d’autorité à leur province un manuscrit d’un certain barde du Vè siècle, Guiclan ou Guinclan, manuscrit que j’ai cherché partout inutilement et dont j’ai appris l’existence à la plupart de leurs doctes!(Prosper Mérimée, lettre à Requien, 1836)

N’eo ket ur souezh neuze gwelout penaos eo be skrivet ar goulenn en deus desket lavarout, hag hi a zlefe bezañ skrivet: “unan bennak a gaozfe galleg”, e-lec’h kaout “ago zefe…” (pe: hag an defe galleg).

UCSC’s academic plan

I recently read the draft of the academic plan that will guide the decision-making at UCSC for quite a few years. It is called UCSC Strategic Academic Plan and emanates from UCSC central administration. It deals with hard numbers: how many students will be admitted in the near future on this campus (about 20K), the proportion of graduate students (15%), the number of FTEs (hard positions) to be assigned to divisions and departments. This kind of big thinking needs to be based on some rational basis and it is. [more]

But before I continue with this topic, I need to pull it out and explain it in some detail. The plan is divided into five parts: a set of basic principles, an outline of development at UCSC, a re-arrangement into six categories of the teaching and research presently done across campus, an application of this scheme to the present divisional and departmental arrangement, and finally the management implications of such a change.

It is based on five principles:
1) that UCSC is a single unit (translation: it has become atomized and needs to be re-centralized).
2) the campus needs to invest differentially (read: we don't continue business as usual).
3) evolution rather than iteration (same as 2 above).
4) "Fourth, we should target development of departments and programs to areas where we will have the greatest impact."
5) realism.

My understanding of 1-3 and 5: ok, this campus at the beginning of its life was centralized (founders were in charge of everything after all), and became a galaxy of programs that often duplicate each other.
But principle 4 raises questions: how does one determine "greatest impact"?

Here are the six new interdisciplinary areas that the authors of this plan see represented at UCSC:
1) Advanced Technology and Society
2) Communication and Visual Media
3) Environment and Planetary Health
4) Human Health Studies
5) Identity and Heritage Studies
6) Transnationalism and Globalization

Where are the humanities in all of this? Or rather: where is humanity? Now this is a question that, it seems to me, has been dropped from the collection of programs called the division of humanities. I'd like to get back to that as soon as I have slept a bit, done my corrections, and written other things that are "en souffrance."|CATEGORIES|2|TB_PING||IP-ADDRESS||DATE|1160255327