Oh, those amazing resources at one's fingertips

Yes, I can remember the day when library cards were our only recourse, should one wish to find an article about a particular topic.

Despite the limitations of the computer -- for example, a real person has to decide how to categorize thousands of texts -- I am truly amazed at how fun research can be. I'd forgotten that, in my memories of the difficulty of teaching the research paper.

But the necessity of learning research skills can't be denied. First, one must be able to refer to a more-authoritative source than oneself. Second, one must find that more-authoritative source in order to say nearly anything of intellectual merit. That's just how it works.

So, are you interested in Britney Spears? Via CECybrary's EBSCOHost or "Academic Search Premier" type in "Britney Spears" and then select "academic journals," and you'll find this paper from an academic, refereed (or edited by PhDs) journal. I'll share the citation, which EBSCOHost does in MLA format for you.
Hawkins, Stan, and John Richardson. "Remodeling Britney Spears: Matters of Intoxication and Mediation." Popular Music & Society 30.5 (Dec. 2007): 605-629. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 12 December 2007. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,uid&db=aph&AN=27256724&loginpage=Login.asp&site=ehost-live>.
And with the wonders of modern digital technology, I can link the video in this humble blog; I'd embed it, but BritneyTV won't let me.

Yep, that's right. A 26-page academic paper about Britney's "Toxic" song and video. By two real professors.

I just found a source that can help you the next time you decide to say something about the Terrorists. Via scholar.google.com, I found this article: Jerrold M. Post's "Killing in the Name of God: Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda." That's here.

So you thought Google was so great? They don't do the automatic-citation that the CECybrary search engines do.

And is Google a source? No, it gets you to a source. Same thing for Wikipedia. Do not cite Wikipedia, ever.

Anyway, Jerrold Post has a lot of smart things to say about the psychology of Sunni-Arab Fundametalist Extremists, or "The Terrorists." It's quite and amazing read, but did they have to have the "it's" when it should've been "its." To every one a mulligan, I guess.

So, there's a word I used in English 101 class on Tuesday morning that described how to read. "Scavenge!" That's the word. Find what you need, take it, and cite it.

And did you know? "Despite efforts by the international law enforcement community, Al Qaeda's financial network appears to remain strong." You read that right: Al Qaeda's money is tied up in legitimate banks, stocks, bonds, and holdings.

Man, despite his typos, Jerrold Post is awesome. He points out that without killing Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda "would eventually recover and continue" because the organization has "prepared [and] promoted individuals...to leadership positions."

Post also says -- and this describes where the "War on Terror" stands as of now -- "Should Bin Laden disappear, the myth of the hidden imam would probably be infused with mythic power...." Wow.

Post finishes by saying, "Al Qaeda has become a catalyst for an international jihadist movement that will continue to grow independent of the original parent organization."

This has ramifications for the upcoming 2008 elections. The Left has been kind of left out of the terrorism game, but it occurs to me that while America has been discussing whether or not we should use torture if Al Qaeda uses torture, we should've been thinking more strategically. Like: "Should we be as flexible as Al Qaeda in our operations?"

We've been the complete opposite, using Cold War-era military implements to occupy not one but two Islamic countries. And we have had a fool at the helm, saber-rattling against Iran. Woe is America.

I guess what this goes to show is that I love my job, which is getting people to write better, as well as deal in an intellectual manner with the questions of our time.

And the library resources can really get you there: Britney Spears, analyzing Al Qaeda, and with the Opposing Viewpoints resource on CECybrary, a term paper's sources are even more accessible -- under topics like "Iraq," "smoking," "media violence," and "capital punishment," among many others.

Good researching,
Mr. Schenck

Post Script: Here's a gem from the Britney Spears "Toxic" paper:
In the context of television, Max from Dark Angel and Sydney Bristow from Alias (both
undoubtedly modeled on Lara Croft) are equally salient intertextual touchstones.
In all of the above, electronic dance music is an integral component in portraying
heroines as active (even hyper-active) while drawing on the posthuman aura of the
cyborg, which is effectively mapped onto the non-human qualities of the femme
fatale(14). Spears, like Lara Croft and Dark Angel’s Max leaps acrobatically from
buildings and staves off foes with stylized martial arts moves. These women are not
always stronger than the men they come up against but they invariably know how to
out-maneuver them.

_No Country for Old Men_; its ideas and precedents

Last night my brother Paul and I saw the new Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men. Walking out of it, Paul seemed bothered by the nihilism -- or the lack of a satisfactory conclusion -- of the film.

Speaking with him, I said that "It's a one-week movie. Some movies you watch, and you don't think about them again. Other movies you think about for a day. No Country you figure out a week later."

Warning: plot spoilers ahead.

I'm still figuring the film, which has been praised by the critics, but surely has left many filmgoers unsatisfied. Why? The villain, psychopath Anton Chigurh (played marvelously by Javier Bardem), does not die in the end.

Full disclosure: I loved this movie. It is so noirish, and the total (I think) lack of non-diegetic sound results in a surreal realism -- if there is such a thing -- that amps up the suspense of No Country to levels not seen by the horror genre.

There is a philosophic reason for this. Based on a novel by the impenetrable documentarian of violence, Cormac McCarthy, the film forces the viewer to choose between twin endgames: the way of absurd, violent nihilism (represented by Chigurh) or the way of "normal" humanity and optimism (represented by Tommy Lee Jones' character Sheriff Ed Tom Bell).

Down to the level of the character names, Sheriff "Bell" represents the folks that gather in community together, against Chigurh, whose name, pronounced "shi-gur," as is noted in the film, creates a torture of all things sweet: sugar. And Chigurh strikes me as one of the most solitary characters in a film.

The rest of the characters are proles caught in the chase of big money, even the gangster Mexicans whose corpses litter the film, and white businessmen, and especially the film's mouse, Josh Brolin's Llewelyn Moss. As his surname suggests, while he thinks he is running along the road on the same terms as the seemingly supernatural Chigurh, he is prostrate, and fated for tragedy for his hubris -- he believes he can get away with $2 million from a US/Mexico border deal gone bad.

Sheriff Bell views all of this from his distant vantage point, and with attempts at cynicism, but he can make no sense of the human violence he has witnessed. Chigurh's killing spree functions as a horrifying retirement gold watch, and as the film ends, his dialogue seems unimportant (or at least really hard to remember), but his tone is that of the confused viewer with no answers for the cheapness of human life.

Sheriff Bell's vantage point is, of course, ours, and confronted with nihilism and evil, he can only stand motionless as the tentacles of evil surround him. The man cannot even pray for for the innocent to be spared slaughter; Chigurh is still out there, still out there, still out there.

It is true: we are all positioned in such a manner. We know the violence and death of the world, which an intelligent person could term inexorable, methodical, unstoppable. You know the figures -- 6 million dead Jews, 20 million dead Russians, dead Cambodians, dead Iraqis, dead Americans, dead men, women, elderly, children, babies. Dead, dead, dead. Killed and killed.

We avoid confronting this fact of humanity: more will die, and we can do nothing. There are no prayers, there is no stopping this. And things have always been like this: one man killing another, and another man watching.

In its way, No Country for Old Men recalls some of the great works in its confrontation of this theme. Those who say of this film, "I didn't like it," are at some level uncomfortable with how the film, like a slow maze, forces you to agree: Yes, violence has no meaning or logic; the stories we put around it -- Us versus Them -- utterly fail.

Chigurh lives because he is not a real person as much as he is the instantiation of inexorable violence. Animals, and men, kill, and always will.

Upon further thinking, I realized that No Country has a precedent in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Compare the titles -- very parallel in idea and intonation. The Misfit kills the lambs for no reason, and walks off. So does Chigurh.

No Country addresses violence masterfully using Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt or alienation effect. That's why you don't leave with a smile on your face -- no one can with this film, I think.

"I am content," says the villain Shylock says in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. But Chigurh and death's march will never be content. We call this "modernism" or "postmodernism" -- the disposition that assumes this absurdity of human existence.

I could talk much more about the film -- it's the kind to go right back and see in the theatre again. But perhaps I should say that this film doesn't feel like a "Coen Brothers" flick. It feels like a Cormac McCarthy film, and a couple of my fellow graduate students were indignant at reading one of McCarthy's novels, as so too will you be indignant at No Country for Old Men -- delightfully so.

On Reading: Thomas Mann, _The Magic Mountain_, 1924

Naphta smiled. Illiteracy! And now Settembrini had spoken the word he evidently believed would instill true terror, had held up the Gorgon's head and the sight of which everyone would dufifully turn ashen. He, Naphta, regretted having to disappoint his vis-a-vis, for he found the humanist fear of the very word "illiteracy" very amusing. One would have to be a Renaissance man of letters, a verbal dandy, a Gongorist, a Marinist, a fop of the estilo culto, to endow the disciplines of reading and writing with such exaggerated educational importance and imagine that intellectual night reigned where such skills were lacking. Did Herr Settembrini not recall that the greatest poet of the Middle Ages, Wolfram von Eschenbach, had been illiterate? In those days it was thought disgraceful to send to school any lad who did not wish to become a cleric, and this scorn for the literary arts, on the part of the aristocracy and commonfolk alike, had remained the hallmark of genuine nobility; whereas the literary man, that true son of humanism and the bourgeoisie, who could read and write--which nobles, warriors, and common people could do only poorly or not at all--could do nothing else, understood absolutely nothing about the world, and remained a Latin windbag, a master of speech, who left real life to honest folk, which was why he had also turned politics into a bag of wind, full of rhetoric and beautiful literature, call radicalism and democracy in party jargon, and so on and so forth.

Racism and Time; Iraq and Vietnam

The Bush Administration immigration/asylum policy for Iraqis is an abject failure. More and more Iraqis are leaving their violent country, but George W. Bush does not want them in the United States, surely for political reasons -- to keep the war "over there". (Surely the State Department, who controls immigration (or doesn't?), and Condi Rice are doing Bush's bidding.)

And one of the primary justifications for this continued Iraq War is so "we're fighting them over there instead of here".

There is more than a tinge of racism to this sentiment. The recent (Republican-funded) "Freedom's Watch" ads use a mysterious third person to paint our enemies -- "They attacked us," says the maimed vet, with it spelled out authoritatively there right on the screen:

Yep, you know those Iraqi peasants? "They attacked us," I guess. Saddam Hussein must've had something to do with 9/11, then.

All of this makes me wonder: during the Vietnam War, did Asian people, especially Southeast Asians, become a sort of Other -- an Other thought of in racist terms? Tell me, ye who live through that "political hell," as misterskank calls it.

I have to assume that racism defined Americans' perception of the "Viet Cong" Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, because I know that Japanese Americans were placed in concentration camps by President Roosevelt during WWII.

But the Vietnam experience feels different to me. I personally don't perceive that much blatant racism toward Southeast Asians these days. More-generous-than-Bush Johnson, Nixon, and Ford Administrations must have allowed more Vietnamese immigrants, making the "they" more humanized.

The image of the Vietnamese American sympathizers trying to escape on the last helicopter from the US Embassy is emblematic, and forces me to think that I was born only six years after the end of Vietnam. That's almost as long as we've been in Iraq.

I guess the close of these reflections is that racism and xenophobia are alive and well today, and even encouraged and engendered by our federal policies -- "be vigilant," we were repetitively told after 9/11 -- that might as well have meant "be suspicious of your Sikh/Arab/Pakistani/Muslim/dark-bearded neighbor."

There's a law out there to "protect" the (paranoid white) folks that tattled on a group of Islamic imams that happened to be flying on a commercial flight (as if a terrorist would wear all that traditional garb).

The nail in the coffin that seals racist/xenophobic American perceptions of our Iraqi neighbors, probably for decades, is the fact that translators that worked for the Americans in Iraq, who have death sentences over their heads, are not being allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. That's just the tip of the iceberg. There's probably millions of Iraqi refugees.

It's just heartless. What a brutal, unthinking, arrogant stench that wafts our American culture under George W. Bush.

The "bring democracy to Iraq" idea is patently ludicrous. If "they" attacked "us," then who's the enemy and who's the ally? And if our allies look like our enemies, so they can't come to the U.S., then what kind of country are we?

One fewer and fewer Americans are being able to recognize....

Books on the modern political climate of fear

On Naomi Wolf's The End of America (from an Amazon reviewer):

Mrs. Wolf then lists the calculus that all dictators employ to aggregate power: "Invoke an external and internal threat; develop the paramilitary force; create a secret prison system; surveil ordinary citizens; arbitrarily detain and released them; harass citizens' groups; target writers, entertainers, and other key individuals for dissenting; intimidate the press; recast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage"; and eventually subvert the rule of law."
Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception is another good one, and, I must admit, is the first "Google book" that I have ever seen -- a book with many sections available, but not all. The scrolling function is also much better than that of a PDF.

(Giorgio Agamben)

Academic News: Rumsfeld Hired as "visiting fellow" at Stanford

Stanford's conservative Hoover Institute is hiring Donald Rumsfeld as a "distinguished visiting fellow".

A Stanford English professor reacts:

But there is also presently, alas, at the Hoover Institution a solid and stolid phalanx of tired and/or discredited Republican politicians, fixers and hacks, of no discernible intellectual substance, whose appointments, as far as one can judge, were made largely on the basis of ideological solidarity rather than analytic or scholarly accomplishment. The intellectual positions (if that is the right term) of these individuals look massively out of kilter with the energy, expertise and diversity of the rest of Stanford. Sadly and unfairly, the effect of this latter group has been to cast a long, distracting shadow across the achievements of the Hoover Institution's dynamic and creditable fellows. In some lights, one looks at the Hoover Institution and feels that it is, truly, the Party of the Elephant's mystical graveyard.
Rumsfeld has done a lot -- SecDef, Congressman, Chief of Staff, CEO of two Fortune 500 companies.

He's also made colossal mistakes that have killed thousands of people unnecessarily. As a public official of the United States, he committed war crimes by allowing torture and sending "combatants" to black sites where they could get real torture. Abu Ghraib was Rumsfeld's responsibility.

So yeah, this appointment is a bad idea.

What on earth? ...

Bush: You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible with the people's money. . . .

That's from here.

What about an unnecessary trillion-dollar war financed by the Chinese?

Bush's false arrogance is such a cliche nowadays.