John Mahar's Blog

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Monday, January 31, 2011

I love Noam Chomsky. I rent DVDs with just his lectures. I check his website regularly to see what he’s talking about lately. I read (or listen to) his books. So when my sister brought it to my attention that he was coming to speak at UT for free, I was psyched. They had already had to change it to a bigger venue since it was announced. Tuesday the 25th at 7PM. That was going to be tight for me, considering I was working that day. But what’s a little rushed 4 hour drive to see Noam? I was telling my students about going to see him speak and they asked why I was going. “He’s a nerd’s nerd—a supernerd. He’s the guy you want on your team in a debate.” I would love to be able to remember what I have read like he does.

So I made plans to go and brought along a book for him to sign. Latin America, it’s called, in which he discusses the US role in things like Iran-Contra, Cuban affairs, Guatemala, the bombing of Panama and so on. I arrived at about 7:15, and was surprised not to see a line out the door. But I did see a camera and a bunch of people gathered outside. They weren’t letting anyone else in! I was distraught. Not that I wasn’t coming to Knoxville anyway, but still, it was a bummer. With a few other people likewise disappointed, I went around to the side entrance and attempted to find a way to hear him. At the end of the hall, a couple of students were sitting on the floor by the door, ears pressed to the crack. I tried this myself. Too much loud music as a kid, I guess, all I could make out was like the parents from Charlie Brown. I thought, “This must be what it’s like to be deaf.” I tried to improvise a funnel with a page from the book. Of course, this was an act of desperation doomed to fail. Funnels need to have the small point in the ear and the collector towards the sound. I could only just squeeze the pointy end between the locked doors.

I was not going to give up, and continued to walk around. I found a music class and a locked trap door, so I tried the other side of the building. There, a nice policewoman told me I had to wait out front. “He’s almost done,” she told me. “Maybe some people will come out and you can go in.” This was an exciting prospect. People came out, but they would not let me in. “We already let more than capacity in,” another police told me. Bummer after bummer. I went to wait by the door, and a lady came in who reminded me of my sister’s 6th grade teacher, Ms. Ballard. I didn’t get her name, this Ms. Ballard lady, but she started asking me all these questions about Chomsky. I was going to tell her I wasn’t really a good person to talk to about him, but I didn’t have anything better to do, and that would have been a lie, so I summarized some of his general analyses of USA foreign policy and invited her to read a page of my book. In the end, I failed in representing him, apparently, because she seemed to think it was a contradiction that he had a website with all his latest press and so on. After all that I was ready for her to move along and stop making me represent the smartest guy in the United States! It’s not like he runs the website himself!

I started talking with the police officers, and kind of made friends with them. We talked about getting tazed and guns and training. Some dumb student was telling the cops that no one needed to try out getting pepper sprayed. “I know a stove is hot, I don’t need to touch it.” The police and I laughed at this stupid comparison. “We have to know how we will react if we are targeted, everyone reacts a little differently,” the nice policewoman said. She was so nice that as soon as the question and answer session began, she motioned me in! There he was! Answering questions! I sat down.

After a few minutes, it was announced that the next question would be the last, and some guy got up there and started reading a quote from Francis Bacon. He was booed. "It's supposed to be a question!" someone shouted. But anyway, Noam didn't mind, took the book, and read the quote. See appendix A below. Just kidding. Here it is:

And it is a certain sign of a wise government and proceeding, when it can hold men’s hearts by hopes, when it cannot by satisfaction; and when it can handle things in such manner, as no evil shall appear so peremptory but that it hath some outlet of hope; which is the less hard to do, because both particular persons and factions are apt enough to flatter themselves, or at least to brave that which they believe not.

Noam said, "back in the 17th century they wrote some long sentences.” He paused for laughs, and then took on his serious voice. “This sounds like a description of the Obama administration. You won't often hear me agreeing with Sarah Palin, but when she said 'what happened to the hope-y change-y stuff?' I can't help but agree."

Then he went on to describe Obama's first act as president, which was appointing his criminal economic team. But I wont bore you with those details in an email.

Just before book signing began, someone young shouted from the back of the auditorium, “Let’s take it to the streets! I’m serious! Are we passive or are we going to do something? Come on!” A few people made jokes about him as he was forming negative opinions about everyone there and probably losing some of his optimism about people. So I got in the book-signing line. It was a long line, but I made it. I had him sign the beginning of chapter 3: The USA: a Superpower scared of small Countries. It’s about bombing Granada and a few other incidents where the president tells the people that some small little no-account developing country is a threat to our way of life so we have to go bomb them to pieces. He’s kind of deaf, you know, so when it was my turn to get my book signed I kind of yelled, “Thank you for your work, sir!” He looked up and kind of laughed, nodded and smiled. It was awesome.

For some further reading, ha ha, just kidding. Not really. Check out his website for most everything, and to see the UT lecture, start here.