Aaron Barlow's blog

Along Came Newt

  • Posted on: 18 May 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Newt Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler writes

But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.

Along Came Newt
(with sincerest apologies to Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and the members of the Coasters)

I plopped down in my easy chair and turned on Channel 3
A bad gunslinger called Bawdy Bill was chasin' our free country
He trapped her up on Capital Hill and said with an evil laugh,
"If you don't give me all of your cash
I'll saw you all in half!"

The Gingrich Delusion

  • Posted on: 12 May 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The irony of Newt Gingrich's run for President doesn't lie in the fact that he has about as much chance of success as Donald Trump (that is, none at all), but that he continues to justify himself through an undergraduate--even adolescent--view of history.  That he styles himself an intellectual and sports a PhD in history makes this rich.

Gingrich mistakes pattern for truth, and misunderstands "pattern" itself as applied to intellectual studies.  A pattern of any sort exists in part because we notice it.  That is, it is part of us as much as it is part of whatever we are studying.  As we are subjective beings and have contributed to the pattern, we had best be suspicious of any claims of its objectivity; we had best remove from our minds the possibility of full objectivity for the pattern.

Also, a pattern is not predictive unless it can be tested and the test reproduced--something not possible with history (the scientific method gets its name for a reason).  Identification of pattern can be useful to study in the humanities, but that utility is limited.  Any real historian--any real intellectual, for that matter--knows this.


Discussing Education... Can We, Please?

  • Posted on: 10 May 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

In her latest post on her Education Week blog "Bridging Differences," Diane Ravitch writes:

I worry about the one-sided treatment of education issues... in the national media. The corporate reformers seem shocked when anyone questions their narrative. They see no downside to their dogmatic belief in closing schools and firing principals and teachers, nor to their dogmatic faith that higher test scores are the goal of education. They accuse critics of "defending the status quo," even though it is they who are the status quo, the champions of get-tough accountability. They don't understand that they might be wrong, that their critics deserve a hearing, and that disagreement is healthy. ...

For many years, I kept a clipping in my wallet, something that [Robert Maynard] Hutchins said. It was the last line of his obituary in The New York Times (May 16, 1977). He said: "The only political dogma in America is that discussion leads to progress, that every man is entitled to his own opinions, and that we have to learn to live with those whose opinions differ from our own. After all, they may turn out to be right."

But Why Do We Bash Teachers?

  • Posted on: 1 May 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, in an otherwise excellent op-ed in today's New York Times, ignore one important question: Why do we, as Americans, so loathe our teachers?

Eggers and Calegari are right: we can turn around our schools, and can do so by renewing our faith in teachers, in providing them better and better training and real support in the schools, and by paying them adequately.

That we don't, that we blame our teachers for the 'failures' of our educational system, is tantamount, Eggers and Calegari say, to blaming the soldiers for the loss of a war:

No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
   And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Yes.  Exactly.  So, let's stop blaming the teachers, give them pay and support, and improve our schools!

Except it's not so simple.


Drive-By Lying

  • Posted on: 30 April 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The cowardice of the drive-by shooter: Never put yourself at risk.

That's what Andrew Breitbart does.

With no responsibility to anyone, Breitbart can manipulate anything any way he wants, never caring that he will be caught, never caring who he hurts, for no one can do anything to him.

If they try, he can hide behind the shirts of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

"Good-Bye, Teacher... "

  • Posted on: 17 April 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

At the start of "Good-bye, Teacher... " Fred Keller quotes one version of that old doggerel:

Good-bye scholars, good-bye school;
Good-bye teacher, darned old fool!

I learned it as:

Good-bye pencils, good-bye books;
Good-bye teachers' dirty looks.

It doesn't matter; the point's the same.  We were glad to get rid of teachers, for the summer, at least.

One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo

  • Posted on: 9 March 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

We're surrounded by people whose basic philosophy seems to be "I've got something, at least, and I'm going to protect it at any cost! Keep away!" They remind me of lines by Aldous Huxley from Ape and Essence:

The leech's kiss,
The squid's embrace,
The prurient ape's defiling touch:
And do I like the human race?
No, not much.

Dress it up in whatever religious piety you want, it still seems a rather squalid view of life.


  • Posted on: 18 February 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow
Writing in the September, 1960 of The Atlantic Monthly, John Kenneth Galbraith described the advent of the "wordfact":

The wordfact makes words a precise substitute for reality.  This is an enormous convenience.  It means that to say something exists is a substitute for its existence.  And to say that something will happen is as good as having it happen.  The saving in energy is nearly total.

Copyright Duplicity

  • Posted on: 15 February 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

In today's The New York Times, Scott Turow, Paul Aiken, and James Shapiro make the argument that copyright has provided the possibility for creativity for 300 years:

Copyright, now powerfully linking authors, the printing press (and later technologies) and the market, would prove to be one of history’s great public policy successes. Books would attract investment of authors’ labor and publishers’ capital on a colossal scale, and our libraries and bookstores would fill with works that educated and entertained a thriving nation. Our poets, playwrights, novelists, historians, biographers and musicians were all underwritten by copyright’s markets.

"One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo"

  • Posted on: 27 January 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Jane Albritton, series editor and guiding force behind the "Peace Corps @ 50" series, tells me that the publisher is about to send the proofs of One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo off to the printer--which means that it should be in stores in March.  As usual, there are further changes I would like, but that's only a sign that I have become more and more passionate about the book as time has passed and want it as perfect as I can make it.  Jane also tells me that pre-orders from bookstores are strong, another reason for making it as good as I can.

There are seventy-six essays in the book, all of them first-rate.  They cover the Peace Corps experience in Africa from its earliest days.  What pleases me most is that they don't seem like a jumbled collection of different thoughts, but something closer to a continuous narrative.  Though I had to work hard to pare things down to the point where I could fit all the stories I wanted into the volume but two (which are both long and rather too complex to withstand the type of cutting that would have been necessary--and which will both appear on the website, I hope, as will stories that have come in since we closed the volume and as will additional stories by many of the writers represented), I think the book is actually better as a result.  There is no single volume, at least not one I have seen, that encapsulates as much of the Peace Corps experience in Africa as this one does.


Balance Bull: The Threats Are Real

  • Posted on: 22 January 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Last May, the Academic Freedom Committee (I am a member) of my union at the City University of New York (CUNY), drafted a resolution of support for Frances Fox Piven.  The resolution reads, in part:

Whereas, Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center, has been the object of unrelenting scurrilous attacks by Glenn Beck, David Horowitz, and others on the political extreme right; and...

David Brooks's Anosognosia

  • Posted on: 11 January 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

In his column today, David Brooks diagnoses Jared Lee Loughner:

He appeared to have a poor sense of his own illness (part of a condition known as anosognosia). He had increasingly frequent run-ins with the police. In short, the evidence before us suggests that Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it.

Maybe so... but, Mr. Brooks, maybe you do, too... 'have a poor sense' of your own 'illness,' that is.

The Swan Song of N. Leroy Gingrich

  • Posted on: 3 January 2011
  • By: Aaron Barlow

May the ghost of T. S. Eliot forgive me.

Let us go then, you and I,
Before Right politics passes both of us by
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain Washington streets,
The lobbyists' retreats
And chicken dinners in one-night swank hotels
And taking time for whatever sells
Lobbyists that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, ``Why is it? '
Let's take the money and make our visit.

Can We Educate Ourselves to Educate?

  • Posted on: 23 December 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

David Horowitz rails against the 'indoctrination' of American students by radical leftist professors. He isn't the only one—it's quite common to hear how universities are subverting the beliefs of youth. Problem is, it ain't happening; even if some try it (debatable), they have proven incompetent. The radical professors have been in place since the sixties. If, in fifty years, they haven't managed to shift America to the left, they aren't going to manage it now.

The Return of Discretion?

  • Posted on: 15 December 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Discretion: avoiding offense and protecting privacy. Discretion, or rather lack of it, is at the heart of the Wikileaks free-for-all. And, against what one might expect, it's not the discretion of Julian Assange that's in question. (In fact, the whole Assange to-do is more of a sideshow than anything else: if it hadn't been he, it would have been someone else.)