Chastisements

Polemicist hereby chastises...

"If, when a man has fallen into habits of idleness, of daydreaming, and of sloth, putting off his most important duties continually til the morrow, another man were to awaken him one fine morning with the heavy blows of a whip, and were to whip him unmercifully, until he who was unable to work for pleasure now worked for fear - would not that man, the chastiser, indeed be his benefactor and truest friend?"

-Charles Baudelaire
 Intimate Journals

 

May 1991; page 2; Volume 2, No. 6
Polemicist

Hans Mark - Chancellor
Man of No Idea

UT-System Chancellor Hans Mark, while slamming multiculturalism advocates in the journal Academic Questions, defines higher education as the pursuit of ideas, and nicely pigeonholes the "social significance of race, ethnicity, and gender" as "one such idea." This reductionist notion isolates real-world political events, including the struggle for curriculum reform, from their context, and thereby strips them of meaning. Chancellor "Plato" Mark has struck a blow for idealism in academia's most politically scurrilous magazine.

The journal - a mouthpiece for the New-Right group the National Association of Scholars - takes strong stands against affirmative action, multiculturalism, minority recruitment, evolution and women's studies, among other topics. The NAS led the assault on the proposed syllabus for English 306 last summer and fall.

Clearly Academic Questions is well aware of its capacity to effect change. Is the political role of such a journal and the NAS simply an "idea" as well? Under the circumstances, we wonder how Mark could seem so amazed that, as he says, "what were once relatively routine academic procedures and decisions have become highly visible and emotionally charged events." He is helping to make them that way.

In Marks' hot pursuit of "ideas," he describes the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi - two ''Oxford girls" - and hails their camaraderie as an example of a potentially global "common understanding." That "common understanding," according to Mark, forms the basis for a "world culture" that is "all encompassing and not dependent on a single 'culture,'" but not necessarily available to people who have not attended Oxford. This "all encompassing" culture is the product of the university - in other words, whatever the university teaches. Clearly the "understanding" forged between Ghandi and Thatcher has enabled them to work out military arms deals for India.

***

Mark creates from these concrete political realities a bizarre anthropological theory of power, or "intergroup conflict" that can be also raised to the level of the idea, along with religion, beauty and morality (which are all common "across the specra of time and place.") Mark suggests that a core curriculum cover these, and other topics. We are happy to know that "power" is now a topic that can be studied. Does this mean that when students complete their chosen courses in "power" and get their grade, that they will have acquired it? We think not.

Bill "No Emergency" Aleshire
High Tech Booster,
Emergency Planning Chair

The Travis County LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee) met in April for the first time in 18 months, and all the chairs around the large courthouse table were filled. Unfortunately, most of these bodies were merely warming chairs for Bill Aleshire, because actually less than 33% of LEPC members attended, no business could be done and all motions were put off for future sessions.

Under SARA Title III in Texas, County Commissioner and regular high tech development booster Bill Aleshire, chairs the Committee charged with planning for toxic accidents and informing the community about the hazards of his beloved industry. Not surprisingly, Aleshire shows little enthusiasm for the job.

Aleshire went over the structure and membership of the LEPC, recommending increases in the number of city and county bureaucrats, but fewer environmental groups and media representatives. Aleshire complained bitterly that members of the environmental and media communities had never shown any interest in the LEPC. When this magazine volunteered to become a media rep on the committee, however, we were informed that only broadcast media would be useful to the emergency planners.

Media members, Aleshire said, were really not on the committee to help it fulfill its role under Citizen's Right to Know, but only for broadcasting instructions during an emergency. If this is the media's primary purpose on the LEPC, let's hope there is no emergency soon, because the airwaves would be deafeningly silent. There are currently no media reps on the committee at all.

When asked why the Lower Colorado River Authority, a water bureaucracy for non-City of Austin water users and itself a facility using hazardous materials, was listed as an environmental group, Aleshire handed the question over to the (non-voting, first timer) LCRA rep. He defended the seat saying that LCRA has a strong investment in the water supply. Aleshire defended the need for an LCRA rep also, but suggested that the position simply be moved over to the industry group, giving industry seven voting members, compared to only one Citizen. He did not suggest that another environmental group be added, and noted instead that the committee was already too large and unwieldy.

Bill Aleshire also made it clear that the citizens who turned out to the meeting, or "laypeople" as he called them, would have little or no participation in the development of an Emergency Plan for the hazardous materials that are filling our city. When asked by one citizen in the audience why 25-50% of the committee could not be made up of community people, he reiterated that the LEPC was a place for experts, not "laypeople," but that citizens could form a non-voting sub-subcommittee of the Outreach Subcommittee, if they so chose. Thank you Bill.

The meeting ended with no business accomplished and a promise to post the next meeting time 72 hours in advance on a bulletin board on the third floor of the County Courthouse. So if you ever happen that way, you might check and see if the LEPC is having a meeting. Maybe it will simply disappear for another long sleep. Maybe we will never know.

Greek jingoists for school and nation

Jingoist Week

If anything horrifies the editors of this journal more than mindless school spirit, it's shameless euphoria for the mass suffering and killing the United States just wrought in Iraq. Of course, these two modes of thought are joined at the hip: If you possess unexamined and boundless love for your school - if, as one frat boy recently announced in the Daily Texan, you "BLEED ORANGE!!!" - why not bleed red, white and blue, too?

UT's fraternity boys and sorority girls, those celebrated vulgarians, those brilliant mouth pieces for the school's and the nation's dominant ideologies, quite predictably layed this implicit relationship bare during last month's "Greek Week."

The theme of this year's "Greek Week," which amounts to the now-banned Round-Up with a tummy-tuck and a face-lift, was to celebrate the smashing success of "Operation Dessert Storm" - and, of course, to express jingoism and pride for the beloved 'Horns. Never mind that more than 100,000 Iraqi conscripts, and uncounted more thousands of civilians, died in the massacre; or that while the Greeks toasted the troops at their "exclusive" West Campus parties, thousands more Kurds and Shiites were being massacred after the U.S. triumph.

After all, a victory, on the football field or in the international arena, is a victory.

For their mindless apologia - and euphoria - for the atrocities of the school and nation, these Greeks should, of course, be bitterly lashed. But after all these years, we've become jaded. All we can muster is a heavy case of nausea: moral, intellectual, and physical.