29 December 2005

This one goes out to all you French feminists!

Anyone who's ever been to the MLA knows that one of the best things going for it is the exhibition hall, where all the university and academic presses try to hawk their wares and on Friday morning basically give away all their floor samples so they don't have to box them up and ship them back to their hometowns. However, this year I've noticed a change for the better in the days leading up to the Friday run on books.

This year, wine is flowing like water down in the exhibit hall. In years past, wine might get served at a particular bookseller's booth, and it was such a rare event that lines would form at least 20 people deep. You were lucky to get one or two glasses of wine out of a "reception." However, this year I had no trouble getting refills of wine from multiple places, with no waiting. My theory is that the vendors are taking a cue from the casinos and plying everyone with free booze in an attempt to sell books.

Yesterday I saw some proofs of two "new" Helene Cixous texts (she wrote them in 2000; the translation is what's new) from Northwestern University Press. I didn't realize she was still writing. And if you run by the HarperCollins booth, they'll give you at least one free book just to sign up for their e-newsletter.

The big disappointment of the conference so far: Julia Kristeva cancelled.

Another big disappointment: next year's MLA has been relocated to Philthy, a city they were just in last year. WTF. A friend of mine who works for an academic press told me last year in Philly there were more academics stopping by the booth to shop their books than there were trying to buy books. And they're going back to Philly? Get a clue.

More later, all you MLA fan-trackers!

27 December 2005

Holy Shit, it's the MLA!

The MLA starts today around 3:30 p.m., with the first real sessions getting underway around 5:15 p.m. When not plotting the overthrow of hegemonic patriarchy and compulsory heterosexuality, attendees will be getting drunk, trying to score cheap books in the exhibit hall, or checking email.

As I see it, there are three good sections to start off the conference: Panel 15, "Positively Seventh Street: Washington, DC, in African American Literature and Culture"; Panel 18, "Welcome to the MLA," notable mainly because the president of the Graduate Student Caucus gives an address; and Panel 34a, "Academic Labor: Keywords for Current Conditions." That third panel features some former GSC roustabouts and should be interesting for anyone thinking about issues of the corporate university.

I don't think I'll be getting out of work early enough to attend the 5:15 time slot, but who knows.

At 7:00 p.m, I only see one panel I care about: 46. "Marxist Theory: Between Aesthetics and Politics."

At 8:45 p.m., two sessions: 72. "Salut! A Salute to Jacques Derrida" and 91. "American Realism and American Citizenship." I love Derrida, but the panel could be a mixed bag, with people trying to be more clever than they really are. The American Realism panel could be more useful for my dissertation, although the period is about thirty years too early for me.

And that's just the first day.

23 December 2005

Putting the Ho in Holiday!

It's off to the homeland for the holidays, and I've had reports that there's enough snow for sled-riding up there, so we're packing the snowpants.

Went on my son's school field trip today down to the Botanic Gardens. I always enjoy the BG in the winter because the plants are so lush and green, while outside the grass is a dirty yellowbrown and the trees poke their naked branches at the sky. Besides, during the Festivus Season, the BG sets up model trains in a themed layout. This year's theme is Washington, DC, landmarks and all the building models are made out of plant material.

The detail is amazing, and I'm not sure what the windowpanes are made of. Along the bottom right you can see that acorn caps are being used as caps for the fence posts.

If you look closely you can see Lincoln on his throne, an acorn for his head. I suppose I should have gotten a closer photo, because it kind of looks a bit like "Madonna and Child" from this photo, but trust me, it's Lincoln in there.

I probably won't be posting again until the MLA opens; and maybe not even then.

21 December 2005

Excess, or the 20% solution.

The past week and a half has been a whirlwind of department parties at the fiefdom in which I work. I haven't had to buy or pack lunch in all that time. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a blur of consumption: beginning with the feast on Thursday and the orgy of spending on "Black Friday," we really enter into a month of altered consciousness. The stores, which have been selling Christmas since before Halloween, become part of the celebration: workers wearing holiday hats or vests, decor either trimmed with tinsel or full-out swapped for red and green motifs, Christmas muzak piped through the all-encompassing store sound system. If anything is the "reason for the season," it is this: many stores make between 20 and 30 percent of their sales during this annual gorging.

On Christmas, those of us who celebrate the festivities will face a surfeit of gifts both given and received and then again to the table where we will engage in a feast to rival Thanksgiving. And only one week later there will be perhaps our culture's greatest international display of debauchery, New Year's Eve (Mardi Gras is perhaps the most debauched celebration, but it's really localized in this country).

New Year's Eve is a holiday expressly designed for partying. Whether it's in Times Square, a hotel ballroom, or someone's apartment, the only rite of New Year's Eve is a party. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It's only an observation, not a judgement.

Freud said that there was "something savage about the very nature of a holiday"* due to its excess -- that it overwhelmed mores and took us out of our normal lives, and not necessarily in a good way. We are certainly outside ourselves during the holiday season: we spend more -- much of it on credit cards -- and we tend to eat more.

With all of this excess comes a return to responsibility and guilt, hence the New Year's Resolutions and the advertising blitz by health clubs trying to capitalize on the bloated post-holiday body.

*Richard Wright quotes this segment of Freud as an epigram to his book Savage Holiday, a "whiteface" novel about a man forced into retirement.

20 December 2005

As we approach the solstice...

This final week before Christmas is too frazzled. It always is. The weekend went by with us rushing to too many places and booking too many events (dinners, playdates, etc.) for two days. Last night I managed to sneak out for twenty minutes to buy a last minute gift for my wife (Jacob Lawrence 2006 calendar) at Idle Times, and picked up a bonus gift for her (Shoshana Felman's Writing and Madness). Look, they weren't exciting: the little things though are the threads that hold the flashy decorations in place.

I celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday, because I really don't give half of a smashed rat's ass about the religious hokum surrounding this dominant incarnation of the Winter Solstice celebration (oh, and no I don't dress up in pine branches and sit out in a field watching the sun rise and celebrating solstice). I'm rather comfortable thinking of the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day as the "holiday season." When I hear some shitbag talking "Jesus is the reason for the season," it's usually 1 of 3 possibilities:
  1. Puritanical obsession with people believing exactly as he/she believes.
  2. Hypocritical pronouncement of someone who wouldn't walk 2 steps in Jesus's sandals.
  3. Combination of the first two. They're the best. Someone like Bill O'Reilly.
If even a third of the churchgoing types acted on half of what Jesus -- not Paul -- said, we'd have a hell of a lot fewer problems in this world. Of course, Capitalism would collapse, but that's what I call a bonus.

19 December 2005

Learning to read.

So my son is learning to read. It's pretty amazing to see the change that's occurred since school began in late August. He knows all of his letters and can tell vowels from consonants -- or at least list out the vowels. That may not seem like a big deal, but to us it's incredible: he resisted reciting the alphabet for so long, even though he's been able to recognize the letters in his own name for some time.

Part of it must be peer pressure; some of his friends in school are already reading very well and have been since school began. However, the teachers are emphasizing reading skills and a reading specialist has been working with his class for the entire year, so they're obviously providing the tools he needs. DCPS needs more reading specialists -- I could go on forever by the way about what DCPS needs more of, but it would begin with instructional staff.

Watching a child learn to read is immensely beautiful. Most of us don't come into contact with illiteracy very often, so the process of becoming literate remains a distant thing to us, almost a pre-memory. In many ways, in fact, I'd submit that it is a pre-memory. Frederick Douglass says as much in his Narrative, claiming that literacy was the key to freedom:
It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty--to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. [Chapter

From that point on, Douglass finds his relationship to his existence rearranged: he develops an understanding of possibilities outside his present, and that leads to resentment of his condition and anger toward the slaveholders, as well as an incessant desire to be free.

The world of illiteracy, despite IKEA instructions, is incredibly limited. This morning we played a game before school. He had perhaps 18 words that he had been given to learn. They were simple words, the most difficult being "said." He recognized about five of them without any help, and with some prompting, he read most of them. Then I built a sentence from the words. He jumped in and built his own after me, reusing most of my words, but changing one or two.

Noam Chomsky argued 50 years ago that language is hard-wired in humans and that "deep structures" common to all languages provide for language acquisition. Children learn language despite the limited and incorrect examples given them in daily life (think TV shows, scattered conversation, broken sentences), and they learn the basic rules of language before they can read, before they are instructed that every sentence requires a verb...

I sat in his class for a few minutes today as they went over the word list. It was tremendous watching the children raise their hands to answer and the looks on their faces when they were right. It reminded me of why I became a teacher many years ago and why I hope to get back in the classroom soon.

16 December 2005

Friday shouldn't feel like this.

So I find myself with a splitting headache and no real reason, except the fudge, cookies, and other crap I've been eating from the various department parties I've crashed today. Oh, yeah, and staring at a computer screen.

The MLA is coming up. I don't know if I'll go. Pretty lazy, it's true, but most (not all) grad students don't have to deal with finding babysitters (yeah, I know MLA does babysitting) and many grad students don't have to take off from work since they're working on academic calendars anyway. We'll see. I do have some folks it'd be nice to catch up with.

I'm trying to think of ways to clean our house. I'm thinking of hiring someone to rob it while we're out for the day. The burglars have to be willing to take magazines, children's toys missing half their pieces, various outdated power tools, old folding chairs, and anything in a manilla folder.

My sister is coming over this weekend with her two kids. She lives in Alexandria. Her stove broke this week and she needs to make cookies to give to various officemates and her kids' teachers. That means cleaning the house, if only to keep the kids from tripping over stacks of books and folders and falling down the stairs. Shit.

It's going to be a long Friday night, and not in a good way.

Bus Bus the mundane bus

OK. I promised myself to resist politics today and get more personal, despite the adage that the personal is political. You're never really outside the system. OK. Stop. Stick some classic Silver Jews on the rotation and mellow.

Yesterday, I picked up my son from school and had to get to Cleveland Park library to return some overdue books. I wasn't riding my bike up there yesterday in all the rain, so we stopped by the house to drop it off, hoping to catch the L2. We turn the corner by the excellent San Marco restaurant, pass the Brass Knob, and are about thirty feet from the bus stop when I see the L2 coming up 18th. I wave my umbrella madly and begin running, towing my son behind. The bus driver pretends to look the other way and speeds right by the bus stop at Belmont. I was pissed, and if I'd had a missle launcher, that bus would be a fucking piece of goddamn scrap right now.

Anyone who knows the L2 knows that if you see the tail end of one L2 bus you aren't likely to see another one that day. It's the only bus -- other than rush hour specials -- that runs through Adams Morgan and heads to the western edge of the downtown (it goes through Dupont Circle and takes 21st Street until turning left on K). Every other bus coming down 18th Street turns left on U Street, heading east to the stadium/armory or some such. The 42, which runs -- and runs often -- on Columbia Road, never goes further west than Conn Ave.

So we caught the X3 as far as Conn Ave, then waited in that rain for our transfer -- any of the L's or the H6 would do. Finally, the L1 showed up. We hit Cleveland Park library at 4:40 p.m. We'd left the house at 4:00 p.m. If that L2 had stopped, we'd have been at the library at 4:15 p.m. That's a big deal when the library closes at 5:30 p.m.

I probably should have locked the bike up at Dupont Metro and taken the metro, except then I would have had to go back and get it later.

15 December 2005

The Diminishing Value of Political Discourse, an ongoing series.

I really don't want this blog to become an all-politics blog, but there's just so much shit being thrown around out there that it's hard to resist. Here's our dear leader, who used Fox News (sic) as a manure spreader to broadcast his own brand of shit (in reference to the Jack Abramoff scandal):
"Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties." [emphasis mine, story from cnn.com]

So our President admits to being ignorant of a scandal that's been all over the news for several months, and he claims that he doesn't really know much about the doings over in Congress -- the same place he tries to get his legislation passed. Either this guy is the total moron that many of us claim he is or he believes his supporters are total morons. Or both.

I especially like the touch about Abramoff being "an equal money dispenser," which Bush then defines as "giving money to people in both political parties." If I give you a nickel and give my friend five bucks, I suppose that makes me an "equal money dispenser" according to Bush.

14 December 2005

Stupidity is not the exclusive precinct of the Bush administration...

The Iranian President has been a real fire-cracker since he announced in October that Israel should be wiped off the map. Last week he suggested Israel be relocated to Europe, since Europeans were so touchy about the Holocaust. Now he has put all his cards on the table:
"They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of people in the Iranian city of Zahedan, according to a report on Wednesday from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

As we say in the US, "Dude, whatever."

Say what you will about the establishment of Israel, the displacement of Palestinians, and the tenuous nature of Arab-Israeli relations, but those are all separate issues from the Holocaust. The Nazis kept meticulous records. Whatever else you can say about them, they were certainly proud of their efficiency.

Of course, evidence, reason, and simple rational thought means nothing to religious zealots of any stripe. What does it say about the usefulness of man that millions of years of evolution still manages to produce stupidity in such a large degree?

Next up for Ahmadinejad: the US "moon landing" was faked.

13 December 2005

Some analogies really really really limp.

Here's our dear second lady butchering history for the youth of America:
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- Lynne Cheney had a history lesson for elementary school children Tuesday, likening this week's parliamentary elections in Iraq to
America's own early struggle for democracy.
"Two hundred and seventeen years ago, we held our first vote under our Constitution," Vice President Dick Cheney's wife said. "We started then on the path the Iraqis are walking now."[via CNN]

Brilliant. Now my American history may be a little rusty, since the last course I took in it was high school, but I seem to recall that the colonists threw out the British, whom they viewed as an occupying force and who were basically the superpower of that time. Ms. Cheney apparently believes that the kindly British invaded the 13 original colonies, jailed the country's leader, set up an interim "occupation government," and nudged the colonists on toward writing their constitution. In her world, Ben Franklin was the Ahmad Chalabi of his time.

Tomorrow's lesson plan: how Abu Ghraib is similar to the Alamo.

A rough draft.

I'm not really energetic enough today to write a long post about the social conservatives (read: medieval shitheads) and their strange initiatives, which seem to me a combination of growing boldness and growing wackiness. Example: it used to be fine to acknowledge that people other than Christians lived in the US and that the "holiday season" incorporated Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years (even solstice for you old-schoolers). I mean, "seasons greetings" and "happy holidays" have been staple greetings since I was a kid in the heady days of the 1970's.

Apparently, 30 years or more later, the wacko right has discovered that not everyone is saying "Merry Christmas" when they greet them. Now it's a personal affront and some sort of denial of Christmas to not specify "Merry Christmas" while you're exploiting child labor by shopping at Wal-Mart.

The Post ran a story last week about President Bush's "holiday cards." The President's cards say something about the "holiday season." Here's a typical wing-nut's response:
"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Okay, Willie, aside from the idea that you think acknowledging other faiths (notably Judaism) is synonymous with "capitulat[ing] to the worst elements in our culture," maybe you have a point. Maybe Bush's wording shows he has lost will. Oh...EXCEPT EVERY CARD BUSH HAS SENT AS PRESIDENT USES THAT WORDING, YOU FUCKNUT. The Post further notes this fact:
This month, as in every December since he took office, President Bush sent out cards with a generic end-of-the-year message, wishing 1.4 million of his close friends and supporters a happy "holiday season."

Is it just that these fools have been stuck under their rocks for four years? What dislodged them?

Direction to go in if I had the energy: assaults on college admissions standards, assaults on schools calling the long break between Xmas and New Years "winter break," using the term "Xmas," return to eugenicist concepts of US as a white christian nation, hypocrisy of the consumerist frenzy a holiday supposedly celebrating the birth of one who renounced the material world, general hypocrisy of most US Christians (Catholic Worker types and most Quakers excepted), especially those who support the war in Iraq.

12 December 2005

This started as a simple observation, then it got away from me.

What a rude awakening it is to have to go to work. After Friday's "snow day," in which the weather was so awful that my son decided to ride his bike on the sidewalk in front of the house, I was getting used to staying home while other people had to work.

I may start playing the powerball again.

Stanley Aronowitz, the prolific sociologist and activist, wrote an essay entitled "The Last Good Job in America," which is collected in the volume Post-Work and became the basis for his full-length study The Last Good Job in America. Basically the argument goes that tenure-track academic employment should be the model, not the exception, for workplace employment -- the classic tenured faculty member has little intrusive managerial supervision, a flexible work schedule, and job security. As that small enclave came under increasing attack in the late 90's, Aronowitz argued that conservative attacks on the academy were outgrowths of the ideology of global capitalism and the corporatization of the university. Even the "last good job" was being overwhelmed in the face of profit-based models being imported to the realm of education.

Anyone who has ever held a job as a TA or an adjunct should see at least a bit of truth in Aronowitz's charge. At Land Grab University, the adjuncts in a certain department I'm familiar with were being paid $2000 per course. That wage had been in effect for around 8 years. The adjunct wage in that department now stands at $2500, mainly because a threat of unionization drove the university to a more conciliatory stance. However, it doesn't take an economics PhD to figure out that even at $2500 a pop and no healthcare, the university saves a good bit of money by hiring 3 adjuncts rather than 1 full-time professor.

I won't discuss what the university loses by doing that, because it's complicated and frankly this particular university doesn't really care about intangibles like institutional memory and professionalism. The future of academic work, should the MBAs ever take complete hold of the system, is bleak indeed. Much like factory workers toiled over piece-work, the corporate university's future is a top-heavy administration, with academic departments gutted of their institutional oversight and scholarly identities and filled with interchangeable, replaceable lecturers. More rigorous institutions may pay for a few "academic superstars" -- like Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harold Bloom, Cary Nelson, or Judith Butler -- but they won't need the expenses of these $40K to $70K plus benefits hangers-on. Not when $15K flat buys them the same 6 courses they'd get out of one full-time appointment.

Welcome to McUniversity, do you want fries with that course content?

09 December 2005

What a draw for the US; or, my sporting life.

So the US is in Group E for next summer's World Cup in Germany. Group E is Italy, Czech Republic, Ghana, and the US. That's a tough group in my less than professional opinion. I'm not exactly the world's most astute soccer (sorry, I mean, football) follower, but I have enjoyed watching the World Cup since 1994, and like everyone else I was ecstatic when the US won it all in '98 and '02. OK, wait that didn't happen. The US have never won the World Cup.

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I understood that the four sports were Football, Basketball, Wrestling, and Baseball, and you could tell what season of the year it was by what sport was being played.* Wrestling I never cared for, so I almost forgot about it, but in western Pennsylvania you can't forget about wrestling, especially with all the high school kids in the bathrooms sticking fingers down their throats and giving themselves enemas trying to make weight.

I never even watched a wrestling match until I was teaching middle school in Delaware and was recruited to run the scoreboard for a match. First and last time.

Soccer as you may have noticed, didn't even enter into my reminiscences of my youth...that's because there wasn't a team in my school district. Part of that had to do with the fact that soccer simply wasn't big in the backwoods and part of it had to do with the fact that the football coach doubled as the district's athletic director and wasn't too interested in a rival sport siphoning off some of his talent.

My first exposure to soccer, other than "crab soccer," which we played in elementary school phys ed classes, was in college during intramurals. One of my roommates had played soccer in high school and convinced the rest of us to field a team. Hilarity ensued. I think we may have won one game, or maybe it was that we scored one goal. I'm not sure. But I learned the rules of the game and started to enjoy it, especially since my experiences freshman year told me I was too old to play sandlot tackle football.

To this day, I cannot play soccer any better than your average 10 year old, but since I'm bigger than they are I can usually knock them down.

*Not that I played any of those sports after middle school. I played tennis, and not well.

Snow Day!

Sure the photo's a bit old and it's not even in DC. We have far less snow today and it's more like slush anyway, but you get the idea. DCPS is closed; could be a good day for the museums or just working around the house.

08 December 2005

Way leads on to way.

I had to get out my heavy jacket this morning. It makes for a cold commute when the temperature at 8 a.m. is somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees fahrenheit.

I have hit a period of general laziness: I didn't clean the dishes from last night until this morning. I didn't put away the art supplies my son had out last night. Last night for dinner I picked up a Safeway Select homestyle roast chicken rather than do any cooking.

Speaking of Safeway, has anyone tried that "little penguin" wine they've recently added to their alcohol lineup? I had never heard of it until I saw it on the shelf and picked up a bottle of cabernet sauvignon to try out some unspecified time in the future. I found some guy who reviews wines on his blog and he reviewed their shiraz as basically serviceable and a "step up from yellowtail."

Now that I'm on the subject of wine...while my recent trip to California -- my wife and daughter are still out there, returning Saturday thankfully -- was full of hospital visiting and the "loose end" obligations related to a loved one's end of life, one indulgence my wife and I permitted ourselves was drinking a bottle of wine each night. I admit I did most of the drinking, but you get the idea. Reds tend to bring on her migraines, so we stuck to chardonnay. Neither of us are accomplished wine snobs, and our basic criteria was that the bottle cost between 9 and 15 bucks. Our favorite was Toasted Head.

Drinking that wine nightly reminded me of the years before we had kids, where nearly every evening meal involved a bottle of wine...as the sage said, "those were different times." Kids drain your energy faster than you can drain a bottle of wine. I'll open up a beer with dinner and three hours later it will sit half-full on the counter. It's embarrassing really.

07 December 2005

Close reading actually comes in handy.

Bush is a moron, but he's living proof that even morons can be well-coached. In the face of growing criticism over his mishandling of the Iraq war, and especially Howard Dean's announcement yesterday that the US "can't win the war," Bush responded with this assertion that, like most of his assertions, is not backed up by any facts whatsoever (the writing teacher in me always notes when someone tries to assert their thesis rather than prove it):
"I know we're going to win," Bush told reporters at the White House. "Our troops
need to hear not only are they supported, but that we have got a strategy that will win."

Well, I think everyone would like to hear that "we have got a strategy that will win," but saying we do and actually having one are two different things. I could say that the District will get voting representation in Congress by 2008, but that doesn't exactly make it so.

But as I said, Mr. Bush is cleverly coached, and he and his handlers have made sure that they try to muddy support for his failed war policy into "support for the troops." The troops have been almost unanimously supported by the anti-war opposition; groups like Veterans for Peace consist of former soldiers who believe the best support for the troops is to bring them home, rather than waste them in a display of Presidential hubris. Here Bush is again conflating support for the war with support for the troops (note the "but" that begins his second sentence):
"Of course, there will be debate, and of course, there will be some pessimists and some people playing politics with the issue," he said. "But, by far, the vast majority of the people in this country stand squarely with the men and women who wear the nation's uniform."

If only he stood with them as well, rather than playing dress up with them and declaring "mission accomplished" before the majority of US troop deaths had occurred.

Unfortunately, I have little hope that the Democrats will articulate a practical response to BushCo's assault on reason. As I told the would-be fundraiser from the DNC who called me the other day asking for money, I refuse to financially support an organization whose only ideas are that they aren't as bad as the Republicans. As wonderful as Dennis Kucinich is, and as bold as John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi's declarations was last week, the fact remains that the bulk of the party leadership (exception made for Howard Dean and Pelosi -- although Pelosi was riding Murtha's coattails) is timid and herd-like. Already they are scattered to the wind, according to the Post.

The Democrats are weak, but unfortunately they are the only option to outright thievery and warmongering. However, in response to the woman who called me and then accused me of "sitting on the sidelines" for not giving money to her middle-of-the-road organization, I quoted Henry David Thoreau:
"A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistable when it clogs by its whole weight."

My main point, which she didn't seem to like so much, was that money in the Dems' coffers wasn't bringing any opposition to the war; it was direct action in the streets that was bringing the Dems kicking and screaming to their antiwar positions. She tried the weak line that "we all saw the same intelligence and thought Saddam had weapons" -- hello, those are Republican talking points and factually incorrect anyway, fool -- and I said, "I was in New York City that February before the war started with a half-million people clogging the streets -- we shut down 1st and 2nd Avenues for 20 blocks. Any one of those people marching was smarter than the congressmen who voted for the war." Then she got a bit angry with me.

I also told her that until Paul Wellstone is resurrected, they'll not see any of my money. Damn I miss Paul Wellstone.

I also miss good leaders who could give rousing speeches, and this day of all days reminds me that we lack in both parties such a leader.

06 December 2005

Most productive four hours in recent memory.

Today I got panicked and decided I needed to do some Christmas shopping before I found myself at some mall frantically looking through stacks of sweaters and Hickory Farms gift packages.

I rushed my son home from school and we headed down to the Hirshhorn for a little gift-hunting. Luckily, we got there at 4:45 and they didn't close until 5:30, so we squeezed a little museuming in. My son was transfixed by the Hiraki Sawa films in the Hirshhorn's "Black Box." He loved the little airplanes that took off by themselves.

After locating a few gifts in the frenzied ten minutes before closing, we headed up to Busboys and Poets for some dinner. I can't say enough good things about the pizza. I've complained about their alcohol prices before, so I won't go into it here, but let me tell you that $7.95 for a plate of 6 mediocre sized wings is bullshit. The menu said "jumbo wings" but I think they were plucked off a few cornish hens.

All that and we got home in time to see the Charlie Brown Christmas...as Ice Cube said, "today was a good day."

What makes him tick?

I'm still waiting for someone to capture President Bush the Second's mental state as succinctly, beautifully, and accurately as Camper Van Beethoven captured Ronald Reagan's mental life in the brilliant song "Sweethearts" on Key Lime Pie in 1989.

'Cause he's always living back in Dixon
Circa nineteen-fortynine
And we're all sitting at the fountain
at the five and dime

'Cause he's living in some B-movie
The lines they are so clearly drawn
In black and white life is so easy
And we're all coming along on this one

'Cause he's on a secret mission
Headquarters just radioed in
He left his baby at the dancehall
While the band plays on some sweet song

And on a mission over China
The lady opens up her arms
The flowers bloom where you have placed them
And the lady smiles, just like mom

Angels wings are icing over
McDonnell-Douglas olive drab
They bear the names of our sweethearts
And the captain smiles, as we crash

'Cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan
Wheels they turn and gears they grind
Buildings collapse in slow motion
And the trains collide, everything is fine

Everything is fine
Everything is fine

05 December 2005

Let's Go Bowling!

I will resist the temptation to write about the weather. Yes, snow's in the forecast and grocery store stock owners are elated, as urban morons who think that 2 inches of possible snow will keep them housebound for a week clean the Safeway's shelves of bottled water, bread, eggs, and milk. Good luck with that.

As for me, if it snows, I will curse the fact that my digital camera is still in California.

Rather than go on about the weather and the freakish reaction that people around here seem to have to it, I'll go on about the Orange Bowl and my recap of the conferences.

1. Penn State v. Florida State. A dream matchup between two ancient coaches, who between them will have 155 years on earth when they meet. Between them, they have 39 bowl victories. Bowden has 6 more overall wins than Paterno (359-353). The only problem is that Florida State, at 8-4, appears to be less deserving of a BCS bowl than say Oregon. But that's what happens when you give automatic bids to conferences. Granted I'm a PSU alum, but I think Penn State wins the Orange Bowl matchup with its stifling defense.

2. The best conference in college football: The Big 10. I'd line up the top five Big 10 teams against any other conference's top 5 anyday. Only the SEC would challenge them. The Big 12 might go 0-5 and at best they'd go 1-4.

3. The Big 12. One team wonders. Nebraska has been disappointing the past few seasons and Oklahoma fell off the map as well. The funny thing is these teams both finished 7-4. I don't think Nebraska's 7-4 is anywhere near as difficult as Michigan's 7-4...those two teams meet on December 28 in the Alamo Bowl.

4. The ACC. Until this year, you couldn't even call it a football conference. The ACC is the premier basketball conference, but as for football, only Florida State was for real. That's the main reason Bowden joined the conference -- what better way to rack up some easy wins than join a weak-ass conference? Now with Miami, the overhyped Virginia Tech, and the surprisingly resilient Boston College in the conference, the ACC may actually get taken seriously.

5. The SEC. The only conference close to having the overall quality of the Big 10. Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU had great years, and Florida at 8-3 wasn't bad (they lost to So. Carolina, LSU, and Alabama). I think Florida beats Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

6. The Big East. Are they still around? WVU finished with only 1 loss and no respect. Somehow the Big East gets an automatic BCS bowl bid, and so WVU is off to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Georgia has a history of choking, so I'm backing WVU in this matchup.

7. The PAC-10. Another one team wonder. It's interesting that USC's only challenges have come from outside the PAC-10: Notre Dame and Fresno State. In a battle of two really shitty conferences, USC beats Texas in the Rose Bowl.

8. Notre Dame. Constantly overrated. They beat one quality opponent this year: Michigan. How many teams have they beaten who ended with winning records? 3 teams (Michigan, Navy, and BYU) who are 20-14 combined. The combined records of the other teams they beat? 23-43. Look for Notre Dame to be destroyed by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

That's the recap for now.

03 December 2005

Weekend Update for all the groupies.

It's been a very busy weekend. Friends from NYC in town on Friday. Tree sale Saturday and Sunday. Workplace holiday party Saturday night. Now my son insists we put up our fake tree tomorrow night. I don't know if I have the energy for that.

The tree sale to benefit my son's elementary school went very well today but it sure was cold in the morning and in the late afternoon. We sold almost all our short trees, but there are plenty left for all the latecomers.

Free delivery on all trees if you live in the neighborhood (meaning no further north than Adams Morgan and no further east than Logan Circle). Dupont Italian Kitchen, 17th and R NW, has graciously donated the space for the tree sale. ALL money above cost of the trees goes to the school.

After a hard day of work, it was time to celebrate with some Select. Safeway Select.

Now it's just time to go to sleep.

02 December 2005

Real life and something to shill for.

OK I'll lead with the shill.
If you're in the market for a Christmas tree or wreath or you just want to support a good cause, come by Dupont Italian Kitchen Saturday or Sunday (corner of 17th and R NW) between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and lay down some cash (or check) and carry home a tree. Or we deliver. The sale benefits the nearby elementary school. This year is the ninth year for the sale and it helps the school greatly. And eat at DIK while you're at it -- the food's good and they're donating the space for the tree sale. Keep in mind it's a fundraiser, not a giveaway.

Now back to the program.
Teh Internets is a crazy place. It isn't real. None of it. Yet it's where people are living more and more of their lives. Part of the reason, I would guess, is that it's a hell of a lot easier to fire up the computer than it is to shower, get dressed, and head out to a bar or coffee shop. It's easy all around. The internet proves a great social equalizer: don't feel your real body is desirable enough? don't think you drive a socially appropriate car? live in your parents' basement?

It doesn't matter.

The internets take care of all that. Rather than allow myself to go out in the world and be judged, I can control the information I disseminate and become whomever I want to be. Maybe I'm only playing at being a 36 year old married father of two with little hair and out of control weight gain. I could just as easily be a seventeen year old acne-crusted fry cook at McDonald's. Or maybe both of them. The sage Walt Whitman tells us:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

On the internets we can become whatever we want. Social awkwardness vanishes. We butt into conversations as we please. We gather communities and leave them as quickly. We are harsh. We are extremists. We are promiscuous. We confess to everyone and no one.

Finding the real world too difficult, too time consuming -- too damn hard to work with -- we invent ourselves again to live anew in the virtual world. Obviously, blogging is part of it. The basic theory of the blog -- the understanding that most people carry in their heads -- is that the blog is a slice of life, a documentary of sorts that may be as simple as describing the day at the grocery store or as complex as dealing with sexual abuse. However, in general most people believe they're reading something that's real.

Knowing the genre's conventions is the first step toward exploiting them. Anyone who edits a post, whether it's to rephrase a sentence or excise information altogether, has taken that second step in removing the "real" of the blog. It becomes a product, a way of marketing yourself online. Not that self-marketing is new or necessarily bad.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

30 November 2005

Morning Routine

So every morning my son gets up and he wants to make pancakes. Some days it isn't possible, because he doesn't get up until 8 a.m. and we have to leave for school by 8:25 a.m. However, if I can get him up by 7:30 a.m., he invariably wants to make pancakes.

I tell him, "Jesus Fucking Christ, we've had fucking pancakes five fucking days in a row. Aren't you goddamned tired of the fucking pancakes yet?"

OK, maybe I don't say that. This morning we had pancakes and turkey bacon and I made an omelet with avocado and cheddar for myself. I first had one of those in Cleveland Heights. Or maybe it was Shaker Heights. Hard to say. I'd never heard of such a thing before, but damn it was good.

My son insists on mixing the batter, although I measure all the stuff out for him. He also insists on pouring the batter on the griddle and flipping the pancakes. My role in the process is basically to make sure he doesn't burn his arms off on the stove. The best part is that he uses chocolate chips to make smiley faces on all the pancakes.

29 November 2005

Do they know it's Christmas time?

My son has been asking why everyone is decorated for Christmas. I tell him I don't know. He thinks Christmas is coming in a few days because all the decorations are up everywhere we go: in stores, in airports, on buildings...even cars are starting to sport those annoying grille wreaths.

For years of course, culture watchers have commented on and mainly lamented the sprawl that is the Christmas season. Target had their Christmas decorations out beside their Halloween costumes this year. It's unbelievable. If Thanksgiving weren't stuck at the butt end of November, Christmas preparations would really begin in earnest after Halloween.

Christmas, which like most Christian holidays, just happens to fall near a pagan celebration and just happens to parallel a few pagan traditions, is something I celebrate more as a cultural event than a religious one. In fact, I would argue that even for many moderate "believers," Christmas is more a cultural event than a religious event, although they would argue vehemently that's not true. Capitalism long ago overwhelmed this holiday, and now even slogans such as "Jesus is the reason for the season" are more marketing pitches than heartfelt sentiments. There's no other way to explain the massive consumer gorging that takes place between "Black Friday" and Christmas Eve. Many stores can make over half their yearly sales in this period, which lasts about 30 days.

I, too, will be contributing to the yearly bacchanal of commodities -- don't get me wrong. There's much that's wonderful about the holiday season -- in general people have a warmer glow about them, friends come together, and people seem more willing to help other people -- but I would ascribe that feeling more to the emotional high we get as consumers under capitalism than to any commitment to religious dogma -- otherwise, those feelings would last all year long.

If you blink, you miss the latest Florida horror story...

It was only yesterday I was talking about the laundry list of abuses against humanity Florida foists upon us. Now here's the latest, just in:
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) -- Authorities are searching for the parents of a 3-month-old girl who died last year after her parents allegedly gave her lethal doses of vodka to quiet her crying, police said.
Makeisha Dantus died in 2004 but her parents were not charged until last month. By that time, they had disappeared.

WTF? I'm sure this parenting method isn't endorsed by right wing idjits like Dobson, by postwar baby guru Dr. Spock (not the vulcan, fools), or by now-hot sleep expert Dr. Ferber. Jesus H Christ on a popsicle stick, why the hell did it take a year for authorities to figure this one out?

It's not too late. However, I'm thinking that even a newly formed Confederate States of America wouldn't want Florida. Maybe Cuba wants it. Let it go....

Harris Teeter on the Brink

So there's this old roller-rink on Kalorama Road in Adams Morgan that's been vacant for several years. After the roller skating died out, it was a concert venue, a sound stage, housed a restaurant, maybe a few other uses, but basically in the ten years I've lived in Adams Morgan, it's been deteriorating and abandoned looking (although technically not abandoned as parts of it were occasionally used...).

About 2 years ago, the supermarket chain Harris-Teeter started negotiations -- this past February they actually signed a lease -- with the corrupt Jemal group, who own the building and many other buildings in and around DC, and anyone familiar with neighborhood politics should realize what that meant: a great fight erupted in the community over whether the supermarket idea should go forward.

On the one hand, supporters have been pretending that the new grocery store wouldn't signifcantly increase traffic and parking issues in an already congested neighborhood; on the other hand, opponents have argued that issuing a liquor license to the grocery store would create a 39000 square foot "liquor barn" in the heart of Adams Morgan (I'm thinking the whole time "and that's supposed to make me oppose it?").

The condo marketeers have already been touting the new grocery store as if it's a done deal:

The idiotically named "Lot 33" project on Euclid Street lists Harris Teeter as the first benefit to living in Adams Morgan.

The also Jemal-owned 1700 Kalorama Lofts project touts the new store as well, through a link to a Washington Business Journal article.

And this piece of cloying drivel from "Washington's Best Addresses" realty:
Tucked away on a quiet residential street, this fabulous location is just around
the corner from all of 18th Street's yummy restaurants & trendy nightlife! Plus, a Harris Teeter grocery store is slated to move in less than two blocks away! What could be more divine?

I almost threw up reading that, but the entire description of the property is stomach churning. Whoever writes that company's descriptions is either hopped up on goofballs or marketing to an audience with chemical imbalances. "Yummy restaurants"? WTF? Yummy? Isn't there a child labor law against having middle school kids churning out copy?

Before this post veers into another diatribe against condo developers and the morons who buy from them, I'd better get back to the Harris Teeter. The zoning hearing is today, and I suspect that since the BZA is pretty well useless and in the back pocket of developers, the project will go forward (and I say that as a supporter of the project).

Here's why I like the Harris Teeter project:
  • fresh seafood
  • good selection of cheese
  • beer and wine
Here's why I don't:
  • more assholes with sweaters wrapped around their necks or waists traipsing through the neighborhood
As far as automobile traffic goes, I'm hoping they initiate some one-way street maneuvers. If DDOT would stick a nice "Do Not Enter" sign on the end of Kalorama Road so 16th Street traffic couldn't come down Kalorama, I'd see far fewer Maryland license plates, and that would make for a far safer street.

28 November 2005

I'm willing to think outside the box on nationbuilding.

A while back I laid out my plan for U.S. improvement, and it was a simple plan. The intervening months have only strengthened my position, making it readily apparent that much pain, suffering, and sheer idiocy could be reduced in the U.S. if we simply allowed the Confederacy to secede. Florida in particular is a hotbed of idiots. I have here a few examples:

1. Man beats family to death on Thanksgiving [cnn.com]

MYAKKA CITY, Florida (AP) -- A 20-year-old man was arrested Sunday in the slayings of his parents, younger brother and elderly grandmother, whose bodies were found bludgeoned to death in the family home, authorities said.

2. Teacher/student sex! [cnn.com]

(CNN) -- In a last-minute effort to keep herself out of prison, a 25-year-old middle school teacher pleaded guilty Tuesday to having sex with a 14-year-old.
Debra Lafave, a former remedial reading teacher at Greco Middle School in Temple Terrace, Florida, pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, and was sentenced to three years of house arrest followed by seven years probation. She also must register as a sex offender.

3. An inordinate amount of child abductions/murders [cnn.com] [bbc.co.uk]

Item 1. SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) -- It took five hours of deliberation Thursday for a jury to return guilty verdicts on murder, kidnapping and sexual battery charges for Joseph Smith in the February 2004 abduction and slaying of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia.

Item 2. An eight-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and battered has been found alive in a Florida rubbish bin. [bbc]

4. Children shooting children [cnn.com]

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A teenage girl suspected of shooting a classmate on a school bus Tuesday morning has turned herself in to Miramar, Florida police, a spokesman said.
Police are not naming the 17-year-old but said her mother helped police find her safely, spokesman Bill Robertson said. He added that the girl was accompanied by two friends when she surrendered.

5.The Terri Schiavo Debacle. [bbc.co.uk]

But Kenneth W Goodman, an ethics professor at the University of Miami, says religious conservatives are pushing laws that would make it difficult to withdraw care even when a patient's wishes are clear.

  • The Kansas state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a measure that would require a guardian to obtain court approval for the withdrawal of care. The law was championed by abortion opponents and disability advocates.

  • The Alabama state legislature has drawn up the Starvation and Dehydration Prevention Act, which prevents the removal of a feeding tube without written instructions from the patient.

  • A Michigan state legislator has proposed a law that would bar adulterers from acting as a guardian for an incapacitated patient.

And in addition to proposed changes in state law, legal experts say that the intervention by both the Florida legislature and the United States Congress
could set a precedent for cases in the future.

6. The Future Bush the Third.

7. Some of the dirtiest dirtbags in all of college football.

27 November 2005

Reaching for the Golden Shore.

The week I was in California, we were staying at a small motel on the outskirts of the town my mother-in-law lives in, about 30 miles from Santa Barbara. It was a modest low-slung motel, the kind that you would never stop at if it didn't look kept up. The kind they don't build anymore because it's much easier to stick a pre-fab four or six story concrete block up and smash down a parking lot around it. One story motor lodges are such a waste of space, right?

This particular motel had beautifully tended roses scattered across the grounds and in the morning we'd come out to the car to drive to Santa Barbara and we'd be surrounded by the short mountains of the Coastal Range, the sun breaking across one end of the valley to throw shadows on the hillsides on the other end. The strong-angled hills create sharp contrasts and highlights in the sun. Avocado and citrus trees grow in the valley and up the hillsides, and local residents often set up roadside stands where you pay on the honor system. We bought lemons as big as grapefruit 4 for a dollar. Avocados were 2 for a dollar.

US 101 spends much of its time near Santa Barbara running parallel to Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. Sometimes they merge. You look out at the Pacific and the oil rigs and the Channel Islands. Surfers in their wetsuits dot the waters just south of Carpinteria. At night the only things you see are the lights on the oil rigs.

Everywhere along the western edge of the Coastal Range it looks like the hillside is either getting ready to slide or just did. In La Conchita a massive landslide last year killed several people. The mounds of earth are still there covering the houses and white crosses stand on top of the mounds. La Conchita is about ten blocks long and three blocks wide, nestled between the 101 and the base of Red Mountain.

La Conchita is an established community that dates to 1924. Northwest of Los Angeles, at least once you get clear of Thousand Oaks, development slows down a bit. It's not like Orange County, where development has turned that county from an orchard into a nightmare -- or the place of our television fantasies (which are curiously much whiter and wealthier than the real Orange County). Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties have strong environmental groups that put the brakes on much ill-advised development. The trade-off however is that in Santa Barbara, real estate prices are beyond belief (not that Orange County is a cheap place to live, either). Check out this nifty 2 bedroom for only $1,020,000.

26 November 2005

Now back East...well, at least partly.

The view from her hospital window is stunning. Low buildings poking out between tree-lined streets until you reach the curve of the shore. The ocean in the background, centered between two hills, the Santa Barbara City College barely visible on the right hill's slope. The bed, though, is on the other side of the room and only visitors can see the Pacific from the hospital room. I tried to describe the view to her, but she didn't seem terribly interested. It's very hard for her to talk, and her face betrays almost no emotion, except when her grandchildren are close.

We went out on the roof patio one day when she was able to move in a wheelchair. As hospitals go, it's an inviting place. From the patio you can see the mission, the Pacific, and the tiny one- or two-bedroom million dollar homes that dot the ground. My son was busy breaking open horse chestnuts that he'd picked up in Oak Park earlier. He thought the insides looked like brains. My mother-in-law sat passively, looking tired, but following the conversation. Every now and then she would clap her hands repeatedly to get the baby's attention.

She would clap and the baby would turn to her and smile, two tiny teeth halfway shoved out of her pink gums.

Our son, who's too old to have the pure innocence of wide-eyed wonder, drew picture after picture for his grandmother, dictating the titles to his mother: "One Eyed Alien" and "Rainbow Happy Monkey." He drew pictures of his sister. He drew bananas and named it "The Meal: Bananas" because he likes that painting by Gaugin. He taped them up all over her hospital room's walls. Her walls within his arms' reach are covered in taped up crayon drawings.

On Thursday night, when he and I left for the last time, she hugged him as best she could as he sat beside her in the bed. He probably won't see her alive again, and there is something beautiful in his drawings he created for her that are exactly like the drawings he creates for us on any other weekend: there's a consistency that can't be touched by sickness or death and a constant renewal of joy in simple creation. It won't last in him or in anyone else, but it will never go out of this world.

18 November 2005

Take to the Sky

Tomorrow we will be leaving for California on a not-a-vacation trip. My wife's mother is very ill and we're going to visit her. It's been a long struggle over the past few years with a lot of hope and even more disappointment, but it appears we're dwindling down to end-of-life options. Her mother worked hard her whole life and never planned to retire -- in both senses of the phrase "plan to retire." She felt she'd keep working until...well, she'd just keep working. However, that hasn't been possible and while she'd been relatively energetic the last few years, even that didn't last. This fall has been rough.

As difficult a trip as this one will be, we will also have two young children with us who don't really understand what's happening and quite frankly as far as the older one goes, won't sit still long enough to spend proper time with my mother-in-law. Which means I will most likely have to shepherd the kids around somewhere. But we've been through that before.

The weather of course will be beautiful and not appropriate at all for dying. My mother-in-law worked all her life providing the same critical care she now needs. In some ways she's fortunate to be in the same system in which she used to work; the doctors, nurses, and staff all know her. I don't know. We've had years, ever since the first diagnosis of late-stage cancer, to come to grips with this time, but no one ever really comes to grips with the finality of it.

All you can do is be there.

17 November 2005

Two Peas in a Pod

Remember back in the heady days of 2000, when George W. Bush campaigned claiming that he would "restore integrity to the White House"? Remember when the scope of Presidential wrongdoing consisted of getting a little on the side? Man, those days are long gone. It may be true that Bush hasn't been sniffing at any interns, but wouldn't you rather have a randy President letting off a little steam in private than a nutcase whose megalomania has led this country into war on false pretenses?

Last weekend Bush attacked his critics as only Bush can: he insisted on a version of reality that anyone with any interest in reading archives can readily discover is a boldfaced lie. Bush is a pretty good liar, though, and for four years he got away with it. However, now support is crumbling in Congress for the idiot king. Perhaps he knows his base is a rabid group of true believers with little interest in corroborating facts. Perhaps he, in his words, "misunderestimates" their intelligence, because a majority of Americans now believe that Bush is not "honest and ethical." That's pretty harsh if you're the President who supposedly was coming to restore integrity to the White House.

Which brings up a blast from the past, and a man no one can say was an idiot. In fact, his machiavellian mastermind plots impressed right wing zealots like Dick Cheney to no end...the man who insisted he was not a crook despite all evidence otherwise, Mr. Richard Nixon. Apparently some newly released documents shed even more light on Nixon's shady dealings, in this case relating to the Vietnam War:

In a memo from the meeting marked "Eyes Only, Top Secret Sensitive," Nixon told his military men to continue doing what was necessary in Cambodia, but to say for public consumption that the United States was merely providing support to South Vietnamese forces when necessary to protect U.S. troops.

"That is what we will say publicly," he asserted. "But now, let's talk about what we will actually do."

Typical stuff from Nixon, who left office in disgrace in 1974. But how close is Nixon's attitude to that permeating the BushCo White House? Even as special prosecutor Fitzgerald tied the Valerie Plame leak to the highest aides in the executive branch -- and Libby fingered Cheney himself in his personal notes -- Bush first claimed he would fire anyone connected to the leak, then revised that to say he would fire anyone convicted of a crime, and now one wonders if he won't vow to fire anyone who has exhausted his appeals...

Bush has shown a remarkable ability to assert utter untruths as fact. In light of a fruitless search for Saddam's phantom WMDs, Bush claimed with a straight face that "we found them." The man has no shame.

Update: I just saw this piece in The Nation, in which Robert Scheer links Bush directly to Nixon:
Clearly on the defensive, Bush now sounds increasingly Nixonian as he basically calls the majority of the country traitors for noticing he tricked us.
The article is a good short read and a clear refutation of Bush's claims that Congress "saw the same intelligence" that he did.

16 November 2005

Maybe we should talk about the weather...

One clear indication that we simply do not have enough news for 24 hour news channels is the increased hype given to the weather these days. Yes, there is dangerous weather. However, I think we need to make a distinction between bad weather and natural disasters. The Asian tsunami of last December was a natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster. A storm front is not a natural disaster, even if it does spawn some tornadoes. Forecasts of rain should not call for extended coverage on any news channel.

Local broadcasters also have to realize that snow in the forecast doesn't warrant more than 1 minutes of air time. It snows every year. Get used to it. One foot of snow in Denver does not mean that the Washington metropolitan area had better brace itself for a blizzard of Biblical proportions.

24 hours news channels are unwatchable. I re-discovered that basic fact of life this past weekend while holed up in Pennsylvania with access to cable tv. CNN Headline News, which has always been nothing more than a 1/2 hour news broadcast repeated over and over (the only interesting bits being the sports updates and the "Hollywood Minute"), is as vapid as ever. CNN itself apparently believes that running file footage while morons talk qualifies as "news." Fox hardly even pretends it's a news channel, instead presenting the most saccharine "patriotic" fluff pieces alongside scare stories and unhinged commentators. MSNBC is beneath notice.

Imagine what would be possible if any of these news channels took their mission to inform seriously. Imagine an actual investigation into the Bush administration's criminal activities rather than trotting out a "liberal" and a "conservative" to debate whether anything actually happened.

One of the great lessons of the past 20 years is that conservatives learned much earlier than liberals that the media has no interest in truth. Ironically, conservatives took to heart the French poststructuralist ideas that there is no truth, that we live in a reality based on competing interpretations -- readings if you will -- of the text of lived experience. Rather than the truth, they understood, the consumer wants to be entertained.

Entertainment can go a long way toward disarming allegations of wrongdoing. You've been accused of a misdeed? Get a partisan talking head to argue either that it's a lie or that what you did wasn't even a misdeed. Put the news in question by attacking the institutions that produce it. Turn the entire episode into a circus for the consumption of the audience. CNN's "Crossfire" mastered that technique, as did the McLaughlin Group and a host of other Sunday talk programs. "Crossfire" was already in decline when Jon Stewart fired the coup de grace into its quivering body, pleading with them to just "stop it. Because you're hurting America."

15 November 2005

It'll be just like that movie Cocoon.

So there's this new study out claiming that daily exercise can add "up to 4 years" to your life. Four years? That's it? I want to outlive my donut-munching, soda-quaffing, tv-watching, lardass neighbors by 10 to 15 years, not 4. It hardly seems like time to gloat.
People who engaged in moderate activity -- the equivalent of walking for 30 minutes a day for five days a week -- lived about 1.3 to 1.5 years longer than those who were less active. Those who took on more intense exercise -- the equivalent of running half an hour a day five days every week -- extended their lives by about 3.5 to 3.7 years, the researchers found.

The good news is you only have to run 2.5 hours a week to see the benefits. That's only about 2.5 more hours a week than I currently run, so I'm almost there.

14 November 2005

Some thoughts on paid holidays

This past weekend, which by the way was a long weekend for me thanks to DCPS taking Veterans Day off and all. I didn't have Veterans Day off, so I took vacation. Well, wait...officially I have Veterans Day off, but where I work -- Land Grab University -- Veterans Day is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving. Or perhaps more accurately, the day after Thanksgiving is a holiday "in lieu of Veterans Day."

Now I pity the folks who have to work the day after Thanksgiving. By and large, that means service industry and retail, but it also includes various places where jackass executives think it's fitting to have people come in for one day after perhaps the most significant "family" holiday of the year (and yes I'm putting it above Christmas). To be totally realistic about what these jackass executives are thinking, I'd have to say that pretty much they don't expect anyone to work on the Friday following Thanksgiving -- they expect to extract a vacation day from you.

My sister now works in retail and ever since she started that job she hasn't had the Friday after Thanksgiving off -- but that's only because EVERYONE ELSE IN THE USA has the day off to go shopping. Unless you happen to work at an organization outlined in the above paragraph.

Now I will give Land Grab University some credit here, in that in an atypical move they've made the day after Thanksgiving a holiday, reducing the stress of having to use a precious vacation day -- but how ridiculous is it that the holiday is basically a swap out for a federal holiday?

Here's a list of holidays I want to have in addition to the ones I already have:
Columbus Day
Veterans Day
Election Day (Presidential years only)
The Mondays following Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and Superbowl Sunday
Flag Day
Bastille Day
1st Day of Deer Season (don't hunt, but got used to the day off growing up in Pennsylvania)
Cinco de Mayo
St. Patrick's Day
Winter and Summer Solstice
Vernal and Autumnal Equinox
Fat Tuesday
Arbor Day
Earth Day
Valentine's Day
Ides of March

I would not petition for April Fools Day, because some of the best jokes include gluing a co-worker's ass to something.

Essentially, I want to see our 11 holiday days increased to something like 30.

11 November 2005

Pat Robertson: Wig-Flipper Extraordinaire.

Well, the good reverend is at it again. Calling for the assassination of foreign heads of state was only the beginning for wacky Pat Robertson. Now he warns that God's wrath will fall upon the sane people of Dover, Pennsylvania, who voted the inquisition off the school board. Here's Robertson's pronouncement:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."
"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of
your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.

Now that's some funny shit. Actually, the voters voted anti-science zealots off the school board, not God, but Robertson is not really one to do proper research. Personally, I'm an atheist, but I do know my Bible, and it seems to me that Robertson's God is the Old Testament God and not the New Testament God.

Why is it that all religious whack jobs turn to the Old Testament when it's time to smite their enemies on earth? Maybe it's because you don't find a whole lot of "I will kill you!" coming out of Jesus's mouth. Samson killing hordes with the jawbone of an ass? The first born sons of the Egyptians being offed in one night? David knocking dead Goliath? All Old Testament. And all those damn diet rules that Christians don't really seem to mind at all -- ever see a Southern Baptist turn down a pulled pork sandwich? I didn't think so. But they'll quote chapter and verse the restrictions on homosexuality.

Now what do you have in the New Testament? Aside from Revelations -- a book that proves that LSD has been around a hell of a lot longer than we think -- you have stories of Jesus turning water into wine so people can keep getting drunk; Jesus raising people from the dead, not killing them; Jesus telling the people to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's (that is, keep clear the difference between state power and religious power -- either that or something to do with establishing gaudy gambling casinos), etc.

So, Dover, be ready in case anything might happen. Anything. Maybe. Because that's how God's work is best understood by these freaks: anything that happens could be a sign taken for wonders. If a new school board member stubs his or her toe getting out of the shower, that's God working right there.

10 November 2005

Obligations and Deadlines

Dupont Circle was quiet this morning circa 7:00 a.m. I sped by the Circle, the wind behind me for a bit, then full in the face and it felt I was pedalling through syrup. Luckily that didn't last too long.

I've got a lot of questions to answer, and a rising dread to deal with. They're related. On the one hand, I have a few obligations I've been ignoring and they're becoming a bit more pressing. On the other hand, I have real "big picture" issues, like finishing my goddamned dissertation.

Pretty much by all estimates I should have been done with my dissertation sometime in 1999, maybe 2000. Coursework finished by 1997, major exams out of the way that same year...a good student with access to the Library of Congress would have finished.

But not me. I had to go and get married in 1997 -- that kind of distracted me from my studies. Then I had to go and get a full-time job because I was sick of going tens of thousands of dollars into debt every year. Working full-time in a non-related industry and trying to finish your dissertation don't go together very well. On top of which, I was still teaching a class at the university every semester. What did Edna St. Vincent Millay say?

Can I make more mistakes? Sure. Bought a house, a fixer upper. It's hard to do literary research at the fucking Home Depot, friends. I won't complain too much about the house, though, because that was a good move in the greater scheme of things. But I really piled it on with kid born in 2000. Note to all PhD candidates out there: you will never get two hours of unbroken reading time once you have kids. Oh yeah, decided to add another kid for good measure this year.

So you know I really didn't do any PhD work between 1999 and 2003. Now I'm working to finish up because the university has this "deadline" or whatever they call it. Apparently I have to be done by next April or they're kicking me out. I'll be done by then; I only have a bit more to write. However, there's a catch:

Did I mention that my wife is also finishing her dissertation? And her deadline is this December. We were really bad for each other's academic aspirations, believe me. In other ways, we're great, but as far as keeping one another on task, well, that hasn't exactly been our dynamic. So this fall I've been taking the kids on lots of weekend outings so she can write. Of course, I can't, and that's where the dread is coming from. Even though I have only a little more to write -- I estimate about seventy pages, maybe ninety, I actually need to get writing it. I need time.

Time is not your friend, unless of course you're waiting out an ebay auction or holding the ball with a big lead. Time doesn't really give a shit if you're trying to finish your dissertation (which by the way is why we had kids in the middle of all this: we weren't putting our lives on hold for some degree in a field that its unlikely we'll ever be employed). Time wrinkles your face, softens your belly, thins your hair, and loosens your jowls -- whether or not you write the dissertation.

So I think I'll stop this post now, before I start going on about the "Rosebud Theme"...

09 November 2005

But...which is the way back to Kansas?

One of cultural critic Raymond Williams's great contributions to the field of Cultural Studies and literary criticism was his fleshing out of the ideas of dominant, residual, and emergent strains of ideology -- all of which function in society and overlap at any given time. In Kansas, you can see this principle play out in the school board decision to shelve broadly accepted scientific standards in favor of a mysticism that is antagonistic to scientific inquiry. Williams reminds us that while the dominant may be most widely disseminated and guiding most sectors of society, the residual still exercises power:
A residual cultural element is usually at some distance from the effective dominant culture, but some part of it, some version of it -and especially if the residue is from some major area of the past-will in most cases have had to be incorporated if the effective dominant culture is to make sense in these areas. Moreover, at certain points the dominant culture cannot allow too much residual experience and practice outside itself, at least without risk. It is in the incorporation of the actively residual -by reinterpretation, dilution, projection, discriminating in­clusion and exclusion-that the work of the selective tradition is especially evident.

In other words, the dominant must assimilate some aspects of the residual in order both to gain what remains from the residual's cultural power and more importantly to ensure the residual, through exclusion, doesn't develop a powerful bloc of adherents who reject the dominant and therefore undermine its power.

Clearly, residual forms -- remember when the church was so dominant that people left England for the colonies to escape its collusion with state power -- include religion, even though the dominant in our culture is a secular democracy. Religion remains a guiding force in many people's lives, although for quite some time culturally we've been able to differentiate between religious belief, the exercise of the rule of law, and scientific inquiry. In Kansas, that compartmentalization has disappeared and we are back to religious doctrine setting the limits of scientific research. Next up: Galileo admits Sun revolves around the Earth.

Much of this mess could be avoided if we had an opposition party in the U.S. Perhaps the tide is turning, with Virginians rejecting Kilgore, but I'm not so optimistic; Kaine ran as Republican-lite, and very few Democrats are willing to take strong stands for principle. They've basically surrendered the ideological field to the Republicans and now content themselves to argue over which piece of the field they're allowed to play on. We seem to be in a moment when, as Yeats would say, "the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Music to accompany: Billy Bragg's "Ideology"

UPDATE: At least voters in Pennsylvania, in a local school board election, dumped the yoyos who were trying to foist gussied up creationism on schools there, CNN reports:
DOVER, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a statement on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum.

That's right. Eight out of nine school board members were up for election. All eight incumbents went the way of the dodo, so to speak. Looks like more evidence for natural selection to me.

08 November 2005

Kilgore, Kilgore Uber Alles!

So apparently Bush attended a Kilgore rally out in Virginia. I think this photo is from the rally:

I'm not sure which one is Kilgore. Here's what a Washington Post reporter has to say from her interview with one of the attendees:

Mary Bria, 58, a consultant from Midlothian, said she came to support Kilgore with a red-white-and-blue kerchief around her neck because she identified with his values.
"We’re conservative by nature," said the grandmother of 10, who recently moved to Virginia from upstate New York. "And we live our lives pretty conservatively. And Virginia has a history of that."
Asked what about Kilgore represented her values, she said "fiscal responsibility and family values." While even some Republicans questioned whether appearing with Bush was a great idea while the president’s poll numbers are so low, Bria looked around at the rock-concert-like environment and shook her head.
"They say the Bush bear market is over, so it’s a good time to buy. I am a strong supporter of the president."

The Bush bear market? This analogy explains a good bit about how Capitalism has co-opted every component of our culture. Serious dishonesty can be explained in terms of an economic downturn. Pathetic. And she calls herself a values voter. The best part about these fools is that every time they open their mouths they get dumber. Case in point: she presents herself as a believer in "fiscal responsibility" then turns around and announces she's a "strong supporter of the President." Hasn't she been paying attention? This President has sold the future generation into hock to pay for his Middle East adventures. How can you even talk about Bush and fiscal responsibility in the same sentence without choking on your vomit? I'll tell you how: stick your head so far up your ass you can taste your dinner.

07 November 2005

This will probably bore all three of my readers.

First, a view of the game. It's opening kickoff, the last time Wisconsin would see the game tied...

After the game we headed to the Creamery, where $2.10 (tax included) will buy you this (and that's my hand, not my son's little hand):

Two dollars and ten cents, tax included, OK? And it's made right there. What you see in my hand is a little number called "Apple Cobbler Crunch." I chose it over the "Peachy Paterno," which I must add is very good.

No trip would be complete without an attempt to steal student mail. You never know when parents are going to send a cash infusion. He uses the stick as a diversion tactic.

Rifling through several hundred mailboxes helps you workup an appetite, so we had to eat some pizza and watch the very satisfying stomping of Virginia Tech. While it's true I hate Miami, I can't fathom why Va Tech was ranked above #5 ever. They're the UCLA of the East. I didn't take a photo of us eating, but after the meal we wandered out to the intramural athletic fields where we parked our car and took one last photo with the stadium in the background.

PSU v. Wisconsin, Part 2 (by popular demand)

I will begin by patting my own back, thank you very much, for my call of the PSU v. Wisconsin game. My prediction that Calhoun would have 65 yards rushing and 30 yards receiving proved to be a bit optimistic (for Calhoun that is). The Penn State defense held him to 38 yards rushing on 20 carries. My friends, that's an average of 1.9 yards per carry. He did manage 48 yards receiving. I called 95 total combined yards; he gained 86 combined yards.

And my friends, I was there.

Through feverish phone calls I managed to locate two tickets and a parking pass gratis. Pictures will follow, because I know everyone's excited. Anyway, the long and short is that I didn't have to sell either kid and in fact took my son to the game with the second ticket. After the game he got along great with the college kiddies as we traversed the campus. As for how I actually got the tickets, the simplest way to explain it is that the town I'm from is close to Penn State and full of Penn State season ticket holders and I'm still close to many people in town. I spread the nets wide for this one and luckily caught something around 1:30 p.m. Friday.

04 November 2005

Can We Please Impeach this Asshole Now?

Bush, whose grandiose war plans have driven this country into record deficits -- what kind of economic policy is it anyway to cut taxes AND go to war at the same time? -- now applauds as the non-indicted Republican members of Congress hand him a budget targeting those who are unlikely to vote for him anyway:

Bush didn't make too much of the veto threat issued in his name, instead thanking the Senate for the cuts to health care programs for the elderly, poor and disabled while leaving food stamps untouched.

"Today, the Senate took an important step forward in cutting the deficit," Bush said in a statement from Mar del Plata, Argentina, where he is attending a conference. "Congress needs to send me a spending-reduction package this year to keep us on track to cutting the deficit in half."

If you were serious about cutting the deficit, Mr. President, you wouldn't be spending billions in Iraq you fucking fucktard. Oh, and the veto threat? It's because Congress was considering cutting subsidies to insurance companies. What the fuck is going on in America?

And if you were keeping score, here's what this mean-spirited budget would accomplish:
The Senate bill is estimated to trim $36 billion, or 2 percent, from budget deficits forecast at $1.6 trillion over five years. The cuts total $6 billion for the plan's first year, with deficits predicted to exceed $300 billion.

Can you say drop in a bucket? The well-kept media, by the way, bury this news deep in their reports, if they report it at all. It would be interesting to survey U.S. citizens to see how they think budget dollars are divided up. I'm willing to bet most of them would think that cutting welfare entirely would balance the budget or create huge surpluses. Fucking morons.

PSU v. Wisconsin...wish I was there.

I was going to post something really soul searching and intense, but that's too much work. Instead, I'll explain why it is that Penn State will beat Wisconsin this weekend: Wisconsin relies on one player, Brian Calhoun, and Penn State will shut him down. I'm suggesting he rushes for 65 yards and maybe picks up 30 more in receptions. Calhoun accounts for 21 of the Badgers 42 touchdowns this year.

Penn State's defense is better than any the Badgers have faced this year. PSU has given up an average of 16.1 points a game this year. The next toughest defense the Badgers had to face was Michigan's, which gives up 19.2 points per game (and Penn State's average would be even lower if Lloyd Carr hadn't been given 2 more seconds to score an extra 6 points).

I'm trying to sell one of my kids to get tickets to the game, but so far no luck. I may have to sell both.*

At the very least, I'm probably going to have to drive to Pennsylvania to watch the game. Around here, the television programmers seem to think ACC football is actually watchable. If it hadn't been for all the Big East defections, the ACC would remain a one team league (why do you think that dirtbag Bowden joined the ACC back in the early nineties? -- so he could pad his win column).

*OK to be honest, I'm trying to get tickets for free or at least lower than face value.

03 November 2005

House for Sale in Adams Morgan

Last night I was coming home and saw a "For Sale" sign up in front of a neighbor's house. That's not terribly unusual, since in the six years we've lived in our house I would say that seventeen houses on our block have changed hands. These are all two story row houses, and for the most part they've been sold to youngish (30 and below) couples, many of whom now have a child or two. However, this particular house-for-sale surprised me, because the people who live there have been mainstays of the block for decades.

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming: they own a car repair shop up the road and developers have been buying up all the little businesses such as theirs in that area to make way for another "luxury loft" project. Their grandchildren used to stay at their house all the time and played with our son nearly every day, but at the end of the summer, the kids and their mother moved away to North Carolina. I suspect they're probably following their grandchildren. Still it's a shock.

As far as block seniority goes now, we'll be one of the "long established" residents, with just over half a decade's tenure. There's one man on the block who lives alone in the house in which he was raised. After travelling the world in the U.S. Army and raising his own family, he came back to take care of his mother, who has since died. He is probably in his late seventies. He and the family moving away contain much of the institutional memory of the block, remembering a time when Adams Morgan contained light industries, gas stations (plural), a lumber yard, a roller rink, and of course segregated schools.

Maybe it's the Faulknerian in me, but when I talk to these individuals and they paint the neighborhood as it was 30 or 50 years ago, or to tell you the truth even 15 years ago, I understand Faulkner's statement that "The past isn't past. It isn't even dead."

Two Dynasties in Decline

Two men born into wealth and their consorts.
The main difference is that Charles doesn't have the authority to abuse political power.