“So as to give them courage we must teach people to be shocked by themselves.”

Monthly Archives: September 2009


As you know, SJSU has opted to furlough faculty and staff this year– an odd arrangement that is intended to save millions– which means that I am not supposed to work six days this semester. Well, I neglected to tell you that tomorrow– Wednesday, September 30– is one of my furlough days. In other words, class is cancelled.  We will resume our regular programming next Monday. If you need to “talk” to me via email or at this blog be advised– this is ridiculous, I know– that on a furlough day I am not permitted to do any school work. Capiche?

The Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age

I found a really useful site about the Harlem Renaissance, the topic of the next lecture. We’ve finally arrived in the Jazz Age.

East St. Louis Toodle-oo (Count Basie)

Bonus track: Potato Head Blues (Louis Armstrong)

UPitt Students Gassed by Riot Squad


Above: Photograph by Chris Neverman. More at TPN.

University of Pittsburgh students were gassed in their dorms by G-20 security last night.

More footage at the following links:

An Open Letter to the California Legislature

Last weekend I learned that the course I was hired to teach at San Jose State University– American Civilization– was cancelled for financial reasons. This decision, made under the extraordinary duress caused by the California Legislature’s unwillingness to fund the California State University system adequately, comes at a time when I have already lost employment at San Francisco State University– again, because CSU is so desperately starved of the money it needs. This spring, then, I will continue to write my dissertation and seek employment.

Teaching for CSU has been an indispensable experience. I have found that my students are themselves good teachers, demonstrating an intellectual curiosity that has pushed me to deepen my knowledge of the United States, its culture and history.

Many people– I say again, please mark it, many people– with families and obligations have been profoundly impacted by the California Legislature’s inability to discharge its fundamental duty, as section 9 of the state constitution phrases it, to promote “a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence.” We know now that perhaps 40,000 young Californians will not be attending CSU in the coming years. The annual price Californians pay to support their fellow citizens’ efforts to obtain an education– about $6,000 per student– is apparently too great a sacrifice. This in a state that spends almost $50,000 a year on every prisoner it incarcerates.

Had American Civilization not been cancelled I would have taught my students about a remarkable man named Olaudah Equiano, an enslaved African, largely self-educated, who manumitted himself and devoted the rest of his life to fighting slavery. My students would have learned that contrary to one of the core conceits of our national mythology– the flight from religious persecution as the cause of immigration– the vast majority of even the earliest colonists came to North America for economic reasons. They would have read some of the words of Jefferson, Paine, Wheatley, Douglass, Thoreau, Red Jacket, Stanton and Stowe. They would have encountered the terrible purity and truculence of John Brown’s abolitionist convictions, the strange development of America’s first form of truly nation-wide popular culture, minstrelsy. They would, I hoped, have begun to integrate the disparate events, figures and forces of American history in order to come to a fuller understanding of their country as it now exists. They would have developed the intellectual tools necessary to grasp the tension between America’s ideals and its historical realities.

Fight to fund CSU.


Above: Students protest budget cuts at UC Berkeley on Thursday.

Democracy and Its Discontents

Above: footage from ongoing protests at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Police and US military have blocked off a security zone in the city, expelling all homeless people from the area, and with the exception of Burmese Monks, anarchists, anti-capitalists and others downtown is reported to be largely empty. Confrontations between police and protestors have already occurred. Tear gas (possibly OC gas) and LRAD sonic weapons have been used against the protestors– the same crowd control tactics used in Iraq. No microwave weapons yet.

Curious? Here are a few links:

The Guardian UK’s liveblog coverage (with a great little clip of some direct action by Greenpeace)

indymedia pittsburgh (more footage, audio, images)

Libertarias notes the difference in the treatment of Tea Party protestors and anti-capitalists.


Birth of a Nation

Below, a clip from the film Joel mentioned in his lecture today, DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

And, just to keep it interesting, DJ Spooky’s “remix” (he got the date wrong but this is pretty good):


If you didn’t turn in your California constitution exercise today, be sure to turn it in on Wednesday.

I talked with the other profs and they said one week is all you’ll get for tests.

Remember to turn in your reading summations on Wednesday.

Any questions about anything? Direct them to this blog entry.

Dancing in the Streets

From Martha and the Vandellas:

Remember: it doesn’t matter what you wear just as long as you are there.

The Brute in the Boiler Room

The link for Monday’s lecture is here:


Democracy and Demonology

In his perceptive and occasionally caustic book Ronald Reagan: The Movie, and Other Episodes in Political Demonology, Michael Rogin defines “countersubversive tradition and political demonology [as] the creation of monsters… a continuing feature of American politics by the inflation, stigmatization, and dehumanization of political foes.”

“American demonology,” he elaborates, “has both a form and a content. [It] splits the world in two, attributing magical, pervasive power to a conspiratorial center of evil. Fearing chaos and secret penetration, the countersubversive interprets local initiatives as signs of alien power. Discrete individuals and groups become, in the countersubversive imagination, members of a single political body directed by its head. The countersubversive needs monsters to give shape to his anxieties and to permit him to indulge his forbidden desires. Demonization allows the countersubversive, in the name of battling the subversive, to imitate his enemy.”

Rogin builds on an earlier essay by historian Richard Hofstadter to make these claims, the indispensable “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which traces the weird, intense and often incoherent fear of social degeneration that characterizes so much of political discourse in the United States, from the anti-Mason sentiment of the early 19th century through McCarthyism and on to the rebirth of the right in the early 1960s.

In light of these analyses, consider the following images.


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