Monday, January 31, 2011

Palintologists @ The MLA

At almost any gathering of the self-described intellectual elite, it seems that irrationally celebrating hatred of Sarah Palin is practically mandatory. The 2011 Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention was no different. In his lecture entitled "Hicksploitation: or, the Cultural Emergence of Sarah Palin," Scott Herring of Indiana U-Bloomington had a lot to say about Sarah Palin. Of course, all of it was negative.

Herring began by describing Palin as the "once and future proponent of faux populist conservatism." He talked about how Palin has repeatedly said that she is not a hillbilly, and how Palin has stated that the media keeps trying to portray her as one. Herring said that he essentially hoped the media were portraying her as a hillbilly in the "context of the sexual and racial" origins of the term "hillbilly." He spent the rest of his lecture tying "the Right" to the hillbilly lifestyle-as it is portrayed in 1970's hillbilly pornography. To back up his point, Herring argued that "hicksploitation" (or the exploitation, sexual and otherwise, of hicks) rose in popularity at the same time that "Christian fundamentalism" spiked-and that therefore, the correlation must imply causation.

To be fair, Herring teaches "Gender Studies" and not logic.

"Social conservatism is linked to conservative politics inherent in hick flicks/exploitation films," Herring stated. As an example, he read the abstract for the film "Orgy in the Ozarks," and said that hick flicks exemplify "complex sexuality" that is present in modern-day "queer conservatism" found in the Republican Party. He argued that hick sexploitation films are "a side of working class conservatism."

He used the movie "Bloody Mama" as another example, stating that "queerness enhances rather than contradicts family values." The movie shows a woman "maintaining family at all costs," which he equated to "social conservatism." He argued that there is a "connection to the New Right" shown in the movie, which ties the KKK to Christian fundamentalism in the same scene, "merging Old Right advocacy with hicksploitation with the New Right." Herring claimed that contributions of hicksploitation to "Right coalitionality has been obscured" by books like Going Rogue, which apparently intentionally misled people from the alleged truth that conservatives are perverted hillbillies. Herring argued, "She [Palin] and her extended family remain tainted" by the "queer genealogy" of hicksploitation and the "New Right."

It is truly astonishing that a professor at any university would make such strange generalizations based on such specious evidence. Herring assumes that because hick flicks and "Christian fundamentalism" emerged at around the same time-which is also an assumption that may or may not be correct-that therefore the two are linked. That is the same as assuming that because the iPhone 3GS came out at the same time as the Tea Party, the two must have caused each other.

Furthermore, in his lecture, Herring did not consider the political leanings of the creators of the 70's hillbilly porn he was so interested in discussing. It turns out that the director of Bloody Mama, Roger Corman, is an "acknowledged liberal" who "declared that he likes to get a politically liberal point of view into his movies." In making his conclusions, Herring is using an avowed liberal's depiction of conservatism in pornographic film to make his assumptions about Sarah Palin's alleged "queer genealogy." One would think that in the academic world, flawed methodology like this would not fly.

However, over the years the MLA has become known for its irrational hatred of all things conservative or traditional. While Herring's illogic is embarrassing for him and sad for the students who pay tuition to take his classes, it is entirely in keeping with the traditions of the MLA Annual Convention.


Academic Advice to Congress

An academic has recommended a plan of action for the new U. S. Congress that is actually partly grounded in reality. In her book, Closing America's Job Gap, Mary Walshok, a sociologist at the University of California's San Diego campus, recommends that Congress:

1. Encourage Start-Ups. Congress needs to create and keep good jobs in America by supporting innovative start-up companies that create jobs and provide incentives for retraining people to be qualified for new technologies.

2. Bottom Up, Not Top Down. Rather than federal top-down strategies for job creation, evidence from across America indicates the time has come for a bottom-up approach that harnesses the wisdom of local communities. The federal government needs to invest regionally in the kinds of collaborations that are already producing good jobs in high tech, biotech and clean tech, for which specialized training may be needed.

3. Tax Incentives for Training and Tuition Assistance Programs. Investment in employee training is rising but could use a boost. According to the University and Professional Continuing Education Association, employers want to increase their investment in employee education, a clear recognition that they need a highly skilled workforce to remain competitive. The government should provide incentives.

4. Tax Incentives for Time Off for Continuing Education. One roadblock to "reskilling" is that many employees find it difficult to pursue continuing education while balancing work and family obligations. Employers should offer flexible, convenient educational options to help increase participation. Tax incentives for doing so would go a long way.

5. Support Regional Business Clusters. In today's environment, regions need to be thinking about the industry clusters that can harness their assets to grow innovative new enterprises that can contribute to job creation. Central governments in advanced countries have launched numerous programs to promote growth-producing collaboration in key industry clusters. In fact, 26 of 31 European Union countries have cluster initiative programs, as do Japan and Korea. The United States needs cluster strategies that include provisions for workforce development.

6. Assemble the Right Team. Federal programs should maximize the resources provided for regional collaboration. Bring together the four key players in economic growth: the research community; the entrepreneurs and investors; the economic development associations; and the educators and workforce training organizations.

7. Help Adults, Not Just Kids. Congress needs to include adult learners in their education plans, not merely undergraduates and graduate students. Many members of Congress believe that an undergraduate or advanced degree will provide the knowledge and skills sufficient for a professional career spanning several decades. In today's world that is no longer true. Expanding on the job training and lifelong learning options are critical.

8. Think Globally. Congress needs to stimulate training programs to assure Americans have a clear sense of the enormous effects of globalization and new technologies on all industries and all workers and what they must do to be competitive. Six out of 10 university students believe their education has not prepared them to address these issues, according to a 2010 IBM survey of 3,600 students.

9. Invest in the Skilled Trades. The United States is not investing as much money and time in technical skills development as other nations. Examples of skilled jobs include: electricians, carpenters, plumbers and welders. Shortages of skilled workers are acute in many of the world's biggest economies, including the United States and Canada, where employers ranked skilled trades as their number one or number two hiring challenge, according to Manpower's 2010 Talent Shortage Survey.

10. Time for an Upgrade. Congress should help American employers invest in upgrading their workers' skills at the levels most European and Asian employers do. U.S. companies have fallen to eighth place for investments in training and employee development, as ranked by the World Economic Forum.

Of course, she can't quite bring herself to use the phrase tax cut, hence it is an incentive. Moreover, like liberals since the Clinton years, she is skittish about calling for increased government spending, preferring the term "investments."


One in five British graduates out of work as unemployment rates for university leavers doubles

The latest official figures highlight the nightmare scenario faced by recent graduates who have saddled themselves with crippling debt for the sake of a degree.

It emerged that the unemployment rate among those who graduated less than two years ago and are actively seeking work - 18.5 per cent - has hit its highest level for more than a decade.

The number has almost doubled since the start of the recession in 2008 when it stood at 10.6 per cent and statisticians believe it equates to around 80,000 graduates.

Meanwhile a record number of students, 320,000, are set to graduate this summer which suggests up to 64,000 of these will also be onsigned to the unemployment scrap heap.

The shocking figures come as prospective students face a mountain of debt with tuition fees increasing three-fold to £9,000 in 2012.

And they follow reports suggesting all graduates will struggle to secure a job at a top firm unless they undertake an internship while studying.

But rising student debts mean many simply cannot afford to do unpaid work, and many internships are unpaid.

Union leaders said the figures heap further misery on students and warned the Government that they will ‘fail a whole generation’ if they do not make immediate investment in education and employment.

The worrying statistics, from the Labour Force Survey, also show that graduate unemployment has increased faster than for the UK as a whole.

By the end of the recession, the unemployment rate for new graduates was 2.3 times higher than the rest of the UK -18.5 per cent compared with 7.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2009.
Chris Grayling: 'Young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government¿s mistakes'

Employment Minister Chris Grayling: 'Young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government¿s mistakes'

At the start of the recession, the rate for recent graduates was around twice that of the UK -10.6 per cent compared with 5.2 per cent.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: ‘These new figures show that graduates are encountering an exceptionally hostile jobs market and the Government persists with policies that put the burden of the country’s debt on the young.

‘Following the disappointing growth figures earlier this week, NUS calls on the Government for renewed targeted investment in education and the reinstatement of the Future Jobs Fund to support graduates into employment.’

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: ‘Today’s graduate unemployment figures are further bad news for students and young people. The coalition has slashed university budgets, tripled tuition fees, axed vital support for college students and the Future Jobs Fund.

‘Those who do make it through university are going to face a difficult job market without support, but saddled with record levels of debt. She said a ‘whole generation would be consigned to the scraphead of inactivity’ if the Government did not make immediate investment in education and jobs.

The ONS figures show that young people aged 21 to 24 who have left education and have a degree are still less likely to be unemployed than those of the same age without a degree - 11.6 per cent compared with 14.6 per cent.

But unemployment rates for graduates aged 21 to 24 increased by 6.3 percentage points over the recent recession, while rates for non-graduates of the same age rose by 5.3 percentage points.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: ‘These figures are further evidence that young people are shouldering the burden of the Labour Government’s mistakes.

‘The priority now must be to create financial stability in the economy so businesses will invest and create jobs.’

Official figures last week showed almost a million young people aged 16 to 24 - 951,000 are unemployed, which is the highest number since records began.


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