Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reason's Dark Champions

Christopher W. Tindale, Reason's Dark Champions: Constructive Strategies of Sophistic Argument (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

from the publisher:

Recent decades have witnessed a major restoration of the Sophists' reputation, revising the Platonic and Aristotelian "orthodoxies" that have dominated the tradition. Still lacking is a full appraisal of the Sophists' strategies of argumentation. Christopher W. Tindale corrects that omission in Reason's Dark Champions. Viewing the Sophists as a group linked by shared strategies rather than by common epistemological beliefs, Tindale illustrates that the Sophists engaged in a range of argumentative practices in manners wholly different from the principal ways in which Plato and Aristotle employed reason. By examining extant fifth-century texts and the ways in which Sophistic reasoning is mirrored by historians, playwrights, and philosophers of the classical world, Tindale builds a robust understanding of Sophistic argument with relevance to contemporary studies of rhetoric and communication.

Beginning with the reception of the Sophists in their own culture, Tindale explores depictions of the Sophists in Plato's dialogues and the argumentative strategies attributed to them as a means of understanding the threat Sophism posed to Platonic philosophical ambitions of truth seeking. He also considers the nature of the "sophistical refutation" and its place in the tradition of fallacy. Tindale then turns to textual examples of specific argumentative practices, mapping how Sophists employed the argument from likelihood, reversal arguments, arguments on each side of a position, and commonplace reasoning. What emerges is a complex reappraisal of Sophism that reorients criticism of this mode of argumentation, expands understanding of Sophistic contributions to classical rhetoric, and opens avenues for further scholarship.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

We Have Been Here Before

I hesitated to post this photo from the Huffington Post -- it is just so sad and frightening. But the country has been here before, in my lifetime, and perhaps it is worth bearing witness to the crazily bigoted and racist fringe that seems to be driving the core of elected Republican politics. This is the opposition to health care reform. The Huffington Post reports,

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) had been spat on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a 'ni--er.' And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president's speech, shrugged off the incident.

But Clyburn was downright incredulous, saying he had not witnessed such treatment since he was leading civil rights protests in South Carolina in the 1960s.

Perhaps tonight, after the health care bill passes the House of Representatives, which looks increasingly possible, and then later in the week, after President has signed the bill and the Senate passes reconciliation of the House measures, things can cool down or move in a new direction. Let us hope so.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Regime of Sycophancy

Joseph Litvak, The Un-Americans: Jews, the Blacklist, and Stoolpigeon Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

from the publisher:

In a bold rethinking of the Hollywood blacklist and McCarthyite America, Joseph Litvak reveals a political regime that did not end with the 1950s or even with the Cold War: a regime of compulsory sycophancy, in which the good citizen is an informer, ready to denounce anyone who will not play the part of the earnest, patriotic American. While many scholars have noted the anti-Semitism underlying the House Un-American Activities Committee's (HUAC's) anti-Communism, Litvak draws on the work of Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Hannah Arendt, and Alain Badiou to show how the committee conflated Jewishness with what he calls "comic cosmopolitanism," an intolerably seductive happiness, centered in Hollywood and New York, in show business and intellectual circles. He maintains that HUAC took the comic irreverence of the "uncooperative" witnesses as a crime against an American identity based on self-repudiation and the willingness to "name names." Litvak proposes that sycophancy was (and continues to be) the price exacted for assimilation into mainstream American culture, not just for Jews, but also for homosexuals, immigrants, and other groups deemed threatening to American rectitude.

Litvak traces the outlines of comic cosmopolitanism in a series of performances in film and theater and before HUAC, performances by Jewish artists and intellectuals such as Zero Mostel, Judy Holliday, and Abraham Polonsky. At the same time, through an uncompromising analysis of work by informers including Jerome Robbins, Elia Kazan, and Budd Schulberg, he explains the triumph of a stoolpigeon culture that still thrives in the America of the early twenty-first century.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

When Advocates Change Course

An interesting story emerged this week that illustrates some of the difficulties for a public advocate who radically changes course. Diane Ravitch, a darling of the right for two decades, was a leading advocate of charter schools, school choice, and testing, until she decided that the policies she and her colleagues had put in place were destroying public education--as her opponents had argued would happen.

“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”

Sam Dillon, "Leading Scholar's U-Turn on School Reform Shakes up Debate," New York Times, 2 March 2010.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cosmopolitanism in the Coffee House of the Quirinal Hill in Rome

Monday, March 15, 2010

7:00-8:30 p.m.

Alumni Lounge, Nittany Lion Inn

Penn State, University Park, PA

Salon Evenings

Public Spaces, Private Lives:

Social and Intellectual Life at the End of the Eighteenth Century

The end of the eighteenth century marked a turning point in the social and intellectual life of the great cities of Europe and America. From caf├ęs to public houses, from drawing rooms to the great public parks, men and women enjoyed greater freedoms to socialize and debate the issues of the day. Enjoy food, drink, music, readings, and lively conversation in the spirit of these great salons as Penn State faculty offer informal presentations on a variety of topics focusing on art and culture in the late eighteenth century.

* * * * * * *

"Cosmopolitanism in the Coffee House of the Quirinal Hill in Rome"

Martina Kolb

Assistant Professor of German and

Comparative Literature

Penn State University

Robin Thomas

Assistant Professor of Art History

Penn State University

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Well Regulated Militia

SCOTUS blog reports:

Analysis: 2d Amendment extension likely
McDonald v. Chicago, 08-1521, Argument recap


The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed poised to require state and local governments to obey the Second Amendment guarantee of a personal right to a gun, but with perhaps considerable authority to regulate that right. . . .

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Well, that's the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, though there are some alternate versions, with different punctuation.

I don't understand how the far-right, strict constructionist, textualist, original-meaning justices can fix the Second Amendment in the late 18th century as a way of permitting citizens to arm themselves with hi-tech 21st century firearms. How does that work? Why aren't those rights, if they actually exist, limited to 18th-century arms?

Just asking.

Early Local Radio

Alexander Russo, Points on the Dial: Golden Age Radio beyond the Networks (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

from the publisher:

"The golden age of radio is often recalled as a time when the medium unified the nation, when families gathered around the radios in homes across the country to listen to live, commercially sponsored network broadcasts. In Points on the Dial, Alexander Russo revises our understanding of radio’s past by revealing the hidden histories of production, distribution, and reception practices during this era, which extended from the 1920s into the 1950s. Russo brings to light a tiered broadcasting system with intermingling but distinct national, regional, and local programming forms, sponsorship patterns, and methods of program distribution. Examining a wide range of practices, including regional networking, sound-on-disc transcription, the use of station representatives, spot advertising, and programming aimed at homes with several radios, he not only recasts our understanding of the relationship between national networks and local stations but also charts the development of new ways of listening—often distractedly rather than attentively—that set the stage for radio in the second half of the twentieth century."


Monday, March 1, 2010

Humanities Indicators from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Thanks to Paul Karoff for sending the following:

Paul Karoff
Academy of Arts and Sciences
136 Irving Street
, MA 02138

Humanities Enjoy Strong Student Demand but Declining Conditions for Faculty

New Data Available on College and University Humanities Departments

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The humanities continue to play a core role in higher education and student interest is strong, but to meet the demand, four-year colleges and universities are increasingly relying on a part-time, untenured workforce.

Those are among the findings from the Humanities Departmental Survey, conducted by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a consortium of disciplinary associations. The survey includes data collected from English, foreign language, history, history of science, art history, linguistics, and religion departments at approximately 1,400 colleges and universities. It is the first comprehensive survey to provide general cross-disciplinary data on humanities departments.

The results are available on the Academy’s Humanities Resource Center Online at

According to the Humanities Departmental Survey:

  • Across the humanities, but especially in English and combined English/foreign language departments, the professoriate at four-year colleges and universities is evolving into a part-time workforce. During the 2006–2007 academic year, only 38 percent of faculty members in these departments were tenured. English departments had the greatest proportion of non-tenure-track faculty (49 percent).
  • When minors are included, undergraduate participation in humanities programs is about 82 percent greater than counting majors alone would suggest. For the 2006-2007 academic year, 122,100 students completed bachelor’s degrees and 100,310 completed minor degrees in the three largest humanities disciplines—English, foreign languages, and history.
  • Reflecting the demands of a global economy, student interest in foreign language is strong – during the 2006–2007 academic year, foreign language departments awarded 28,710 baccalaureate degrees and had the largest number of students completing minors (51,670). Yet investment in a stable professoriate to teach and study foreign languages and literatures appears to be declining, with a significant reduction in recruitment of full-time faculty members (39 percent fewer recruitments for full-time positions in 2008-2009 than hires for 2007-2008) and fewer total graduate students than faculty members, the only surveyed discipline for which this was the case.
  • Turnover rates among humanities faculty were low (only 2.5 percent of humanities faculty left the profession through departure, retirement, or death during the two academic years preceding the survey). Combined with recently instituted hiring freezes on many campuses, career opportunities for the next generation of scholars (there were approximately 84,000 graduate students in the surveyed fields during the 2006–2007 academic year) are limited.
  • Approximately 87 percent of humanities departments reported that their subject was part of the core distribution requirements at their institution.

The survey results provide a snapshot of U.S. humanities departments at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The survey covers a broad range of topics, including numbers of departments and faculty members, faculty distributions by discipline, courses taught, tenure activity, undergraduate majors and minors, and graduate students. The data provide new information about each of the disciplines; they also allow comparisons across disciplines. These data are especially important because the U.S. Department of Education has indefinitely suspended the only nationally representative survey providing information about humanities faculty (the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty).

Several national disciplinary societies collaborated with the Academy to develop, field, and interpret data gathered by the Humanities Departmental Survey: the American Academy of Religion; American Historical Association; College Art Association; History of Science Society; Linguistic Society of America; and the Modern Language Association. The American Council of Learned Societies and the American Political Science Association also provided important assistance. The survey was administered by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics, which also performed the basic data analysis.

Even though the humanities disciplines represent an essential core of the liberal arts curriculum, they have long been data deprived. The empirical data now available in the survey, along with the rich collection of information already found in the Humanities Indicators, begin to fill that gap and to establish baselines that will allow stakeholders to track trends in the future. The Academy hopes that the Humanities Departmental Survey can be expanded to include additional disciplines and updated regularly, producing trend data that could be incorporated into the Humanities Indicators.

The Humanities Indicators include data covering humanities education from primary school through the graduate level; the humanities workforce; humanities funding and research; and the humanities in civic life. Modeled after the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators, the Humanities Indicators serve as a resource to help scholars, policymakers, and the public assess the current state of the humanities. Launched in January 2009, the Academy continues to update and expand the Humanities Indicators.

Those who wish to receive announcements of new data and research on the humanities can subscribe to an email alert system at

NOTE: Please use the following citation for data contained in the Humanities Indicators: “American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators,