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    I just got the latest shakedown e-mail from my college. That’s fine. They’re doing they’re first fund drive in twenty years. That’s fine, too. What isn’t fine is the purple overblownness of the enterprise—is it really assumed we’ll only cough up money if we’re come on to like this?

    What we celebrated this evening was the beginning of what will be a five-year endeavor that will require the ongoing, thoughtful participation of our entire community. I promise you this: When we achieve our goal in 2012, we will hold the keys to an eminent and consummately interdisciplinary Penn that will have a vast, transformative impact on humanity.

    Oh, my. That’s some fundraiser.

    More Penn-related stuff: Erin O’Connor links to a wonderfully crabby review of Alice Sebold’s newly-disgorged novel. Sebold is a good example of why I rarely read fiction published after, like, 1950. I’m perfectly happy to listen to current music and watch current television and movies, but every time a friend whose taste I trust recommends a recent novel or short story, I end up giving up on the thing. I finished The Lovely Bones. Ick.

    Lee Siegel says of Sebold’s latest:

    If you welcome the unreal disjunction between killing your mother and reflecting afterward how lucky you are compared with the children of the dead, “uncared for” mothers in Rwanda and Afghanistan, then this book will make you clap your hands with joy. If you find the idea that mothers shape their children’s “whole” lives original rather than simultaneously banal and puerilely overstated, then Barnes & Noble, here you come! This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller.

    O’Connor charitably observes that writing in the first person makes it difficult to give the reader a sense of critical distance on the protagonist, and that (though she doesn’t put it this way) Sebold just isn’t a good enough thinker or writer to do so. Anyway, the whole review is hilarious. As O’Connor says, Siegel writes with real anger, not the airy contempt reviewers usually employ to dump on books they dislike.

    Speaking of art that doesn’t make good on its shock potential, a good friend and I went to see Death of a President this weekend. (It’s a year old, of course, but just made it to Japan.) She and I have known each other for a decade; she’s a very liberal history professor who’s always ready for a good argument. I looked forward to tangling over the issues raised in the movie.

    Unfortunately, there wasn’t much meat to it. The assassination itself isn’t presented in ghoulish graphic detail, and while the filmmakers’ sympathies are rather clearly not with the Bush administration, no one comes off any more cartoonish than actual interviewees on Frontline. But the moral problems that flow from the response to the assassination are rushed through and not developed very well. A Muslim Syrian-American is prosecuted for the crime based on circumstantial evidence, now-President Cheney flirts with attacking Syria for not cooperating in the investigation, and a Patriot III act is passed to increase powers of surveillance even further. But it’s hard to sink your teeth into anything because it’s all rushed through. It’s certainly possible to imagine a Muslim’s being railroaded–prosecutors can get overzealous and develop fixations on suspects that fit their expectations, especially when they’re under intense pressure from above to produce a case. It’s also possible to imagine that a lead with genuine promise could be lost among the thousands of tips that would inundate the FBI during its investigation. But the misjudgments that come after the assassination aren’t as fleshed out at those that lead up to it. The result is a nice lefty horror flick, presumably, but not all that hard-hitting about miscarriages of justice.

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