Monday, May 23, 2005

Whole Lotta Nothing

In 1966, NYU gave Robert MacNamara an honorary degree. Hundreds of students walked out of the commencement ceremony.

Wonder Woman and I made a lightning trip up to Lewisburg, PA, this weekend for the graduation of our niece from Bucknell U. The girl has done astonishingly well for herself -- summa cum laude, GPA so fat you have to stand on a ladder to see it, an embarrassment of academic honors. Education major. Good kid.

[Later: In the Comments area, Wonder Woman issues a sharp wrench on the leash: " Actually Neddie, our niece received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry and in Psychology. I think Education was a minor." Chastened, I beseech forgiveness from both aunt and niece.]

Wish I could say the same for the rest of her generation.

Through the whole commencement ceremony, I was bothered by the creepy sensation I had stumbled into a cloud of cotton wool: I kept looking for something to grab hold of, but my fingers kept closing on mist. It was a strange, floating feeling, quite unpleasant.

The keynote speaker was former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. In TV sound bites, I've always thought he came off as a bit of a cipher. This impression was not in the least scotched by watching him in the Long Form: He is not one of the world's distinguished public speakers. His speech was the usual collection of platitudes one might expect from a lifelong bureaucrat, about the High Calling and Sacrifice of Public Service. This would be fine coming from, oh, I don't know, a career ambassador or a talented and honest District Attorney, but Ridge has, well, a bit more to talk about than that.

And he didn't. Perhaps his mind was on what would be making headlines in the next day's papers, I don't know. He tiptoed around the War on Terra like a man frightened to death of being heckled -- and the only time he opened himself up for it was when he spoke of the bond of trust between a people and its government as sacred and inviolable. At this point, I would have expected something, the tiniest hint of dissent, a whisper, a slight stirring, a cough, a mutter.


I leaned over to Wonder Woman at this point and began to whisper heatedly at her. This is her niece's graduation, and at the slightest hint that I was going to make any sort of scene at all, her elbow cracked a couple of my ribs.

But if Ridge was frustrating, the academics surrounding him on the dais were simply infuriating. At a time when academic freedom is under an attack more vicious than any it's known since the McCarthy era, when professors are called on to meet ideological purity standards, when charlatans litigate pseudoscience into our schools with impunity, when the Enlightenment itself is being subverted by people who know damned well what they're doing -- you'd think the Egghead Set might have a few things on their minds.

Not a word.

Sadly, I think the reason the profs so studiously ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room was that they didn't want to ungraciously spoil the pseudo-Medieval pomp-and-circumstance show they were putting on for the 'Rents -- who were, after all, the ones footing the bill for it. To which I reply, If you can't find a way to rip Tom Ridge and the miserable bastard he worked for into tiny little bits without disturbing the horses, you should hang up your goddamned spikes.

I would reserve my most concentrated vitriol for the kid who gave a Valedictory speech of remarkable vapidity, but that wouldn't be fair. None of the grownups set much of an example.

(I'm given to understand things were pretty polite at other commencement addresses too...)


Bobby Lightfoot said...


WW said...

Actually Neddie, our niece received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry and in Psychology. I think Education was a minor.

Neddie said...

WW: The editors regret the error. That class valedictorian was still a fucking waste of carbon atoms, though.

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

I like the dKos article about putting your foot where your mouth is. They named the Erie Airport after Ridge, f'crissakes, so I KNOW he is really dead. I never understood PA politics, so I moved to Florida. What could I possibly know?

blue girl said...

Wonder Woman sounds cool. Ridge and profs don't.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

Nice work, AGAIN Neddie.

I keep trying to figure out when things are going to turn right-side up again. It is really odd to me that "self-servatives" rail on about the lack of conservative professors at our universities. Isn't that like complaining that there aren't any Southern Baptists at Temple on Yom Kippur? Still, you make an excellent point. Why are they rolling over? They need to speak out and stand up for what is right. They shouldn't have invited him in the first place.

Read This:

Howard Dean was on Russert this week. I'm sorry to say that he can't last because people do not want to hear the truth. Still, I want him to shout the truth until they drum him out of the tissue-tiger democratic party. I don't care that I do not agree with him on every issue.

Howard Dean:

"I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth"

John Lennon

"The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth." --H.L. Mencken

Jeremy said...

Another fine piece. Thank you. And while we're at the quote game, George Monbiot has this as his masthead, or colophon, or motto, or whatever:

"Tell people something they know already,
and they will thank you for it. Tell them
something new, and they will hate you for it."