30 April 2005

Keeping in touch

I was in a pharmacy today and digging through their stack of magazines I found a copy of Entertainment Weekly from January 2004. It had the usual best/worst of the previous year, along with a list of celebrity deaths. I had no idea that Rerun from What's Happening died in 2003. But he did.

Sometimes it takes the recollected passing of a one-time celebrity to make you realize that the years don't order themselves as neatly as those "Greatest Hits of the " albums do. Things blur and fade, especially as you add years to your resume and you no longer memorize the release dates of your favorite rock stars' albums. These days of course I'm lucky if I know a name of a song or two on an album, even ones I've listened to a hundred times.

I'm not sure what to do about it all. As T.S. Eliot might have said, "I have measured out my life in 8 track tapes."

It's also an age old truth that nothing breaks up friendships quite like having kids. Sure people think that getting married is a sign of settling down, but I think our nation's divorce rate gives the lie to that old saw. The true mark of settling down is having kids -- at least having kids that you feel responsible to. As soon as a couple has kids, their childless friends no longer see them out at clubs; they don't hang around the coffee shop or give up half a weekend day to play sports. For all practical intents and purposes, they cease to exist. For the child's parents, complete isolation gives way around age two to things called "play dates," in which children match up with their peers and the parents try their best to find some common ground with the other parents. When this ground fails to appear, chance meetings at the day care center can get awkward.

Kids keep you in at night, that is for certain. Raised properly, they dictate your life, too. We have friends on the west coast and it used to be relatively painless to jet out there every now and then -- two fares, please. However, you add the family and that five hundred dollars just became $1000 (sorry, but lap seating is not an option if you intend to get any relief on the plane), and then you have to lug all that child equipment around. Not to mention that once you're dragging around the kids, it becomes really bad form to get drunk on the plane.

27 April 2005

Bedtime Theater: Four Year Old Style

Children do some crazy things. Our son tells stories, which he calls "shows." Last night's show involved playmobil knights and dragons and a princess when it started, and for a while it moved in the general fairy tale trajectory of knights saving the princess from the dragon. Then in a narrative move that was obviously a nod to Monty Python, he brought in an ambulance and a firetruck.

And a mummy.

Apparently the princess escaped on her own by commandeering the ambulance, while the dragon started a fire somewhere. The knights, from what I could tell, mainly bickered among themselves about who got to ride the horse.

Time Machine Diaries: Volume 1

Warning: this entry spiralled out of control.

Going back in the catalogue to the Dead Kennedys. They're a brilliant band, one of the bands that makes you wish you were in their time on their scene if only to experience the hysteria they generated for being a band. A song like "California Uber Alles" still retains its anger even though the song itself had to be updated from Jerry Brown to Ronald Reagan as the DK's career continued. I mean, here's Biafra grafting one of the most plainly recognizable ultra-nationalist references to a state being run by a guy who achieved the nickname "Governor Moonbeam."

In the time of the DKs I was in elementary and middle school. It is amazing how timeless many of their themes are, though: brain washed consumers, right wing fascists, dippy liberals, religious zealots, and power subverting knowledge are all entities still with us. It'd be unfair to say that there aren't bands like the DKs around today, because much of the DK reputation is built on music historians digging the past and setting the canon. The DKs were marginal in their day, as were the Sex Pistols, who let's face it, only ever mounted one US tour and that ended poorly.

However, it may seem that the DKs inhabited a space that doesn't exist anymore: as they warned (see for instance "Pull My Strings"), corporate music spread and consolidated power in the twenty years since the DKs stopped functioning. The independent radio stations have been gobbled up by corporate giants who have made rigid playlists the law of the land. For those who remember WHFS pre-1993, the loss is tangible. WHFS had quirky, DJ-driven programming that spanned reggae, blues, electronica, and eclectic modern rock (note: not "alternative"). Not that the DKs were regular members of the playlist on HFS, but in a climate of local programming, radio stations can take on identities that lead to respectablility, if not profits. Unfortunately, WHFS became just the Washington outlet for a test-marketed corporate radio scheme. It's not much of a surprise that the station suddenly became a Spanish language channel literally overnight -- it had no more individuality than a beige carpeted apartment.

You might call the stuff about WHFS a digression, but it's part of the music industry that's inextricably linked to the Dead Kennedys' anti-corporate stance. Like the local Dischord group, the DKs recognized the necessity of circumventing corporate control at least at the point of production by forming their own record label, Alternative Tentacles. At least you can put the stuff out, but then there's distribution, marketing, and airplay. We've got a system that's fundamentally changed and is still changing.

Distribution used to be the bottleneck for small labels, but that's only when conglomerates like Tower Records, Borders, and Barnes and Noble were crowding out the local independent stores that stocked stuff you wouldn't find at National Record Mart and Target. These days, distribution is a mouse click away.

As for marketing, it's mainly important for artists who want to rule the world (or whose handlers want to rule the world): see late nineties boy bands, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, etc. I look forward to the day they are dragged down in the death throes of the traditional recording industry.

And now we come to airplay. The state of radio is very sad. Very very sad. However, internet radio -- despite royalty questions still to be resolved -- is a major positive development, and satellite radio could offer hope. A further development, if the FCC will ever stop kowtowing to the massive broadcasting corporations, could be local broadcasting, with low power FM stations.

21 April 2005

Mayor Williams X 3 ???

Apparently Anthony Williams is mulling another term. Doesn't this guy know there's only one mayor for life in this town, and until Williams is caught in a hotel smoking crack he'll always be second banana? Things have been good for some folk in DC under the Williams regime, but skyrocketing rents have forced many people out of their old neighborhoods, DC General closed, and the District's schools are a mess (and say what you will about the school board, the mayor is the visible face of the city and rightly or wrongly gets tarred with that brush).

The main problem is that there aren't any contenders, and the real estate developers are more or less happy with Tony. In the absence of any real political drama then, I'm more interested in that bow-tie look of his. I have a theory that anyone who wears a bow-tie habitually (and does anyone wear one casually?) has deep-seated sexual issues. For Williams, it may be food-sex fetishes. I'm fairly certain that George Will's fetish involves trapezes and spanking. Tucker Carlson probably goes in for multiple partners.

I've lived here under the Sharon Pratt Kelly regime, the Second Coming of the Barry regime, and the Williams regime. Of those three, Williams is definitely the best, but still you get the sense that DC mayors are more like dented can bargains than gourmet selections.

19 April 2005

It must be education week...

So I just get done writing about how DCPS central administration, like a nasty parasite, is gorging itself while starving the students, teachers, and infrastructure. Despite all that, those of us with kids in DCPS know that there are good schools, good teachers, and good students in the system. Now Jason Kamras, a math instructor at Sousa Middle School, has received the top teaching honor in the nation. Kamras hopes to use his one year reign "to galvanize support for all resources and policies to ensure equity in public education to eliminate the achievement gap," according to the Post. He'll have his work cut out for him, since he's being presented the award by rabidly anti-public education President George W. Bush.

Too often when you're a parent of a young child and you live in DC, other people look at you and ask "Ohh, what are you going to do for school?" -- they do this mainly because all you hear about DC public schools is metal detectors, mercury spills, murders, assaults, leaking roofs, non-functioning bathrooms, low test scores, and lost millions. These are problems that need to be resolved, but they are not the only stories to tell about DC public schools, just as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris aren't the only stories to tell about Denver area public schools. DCPS operates 100 elementary schools, some of which are outstanding and some of which are not.

Outstanding teachers like Mr. Kamras are not in every classroom, but the honor given to Mr. Kamras recognizes that great teachers can be found in DCPS -- and he is not alone.

18 April 2005

There's Always More Where That Came From...

DCPS may or may not spend more per pupil than most school districts (it depends on how you parse the numbers), but one thing's for sure: it doesn't really spend it on the pupils. Or the teachers. Or the school buildings themselves. Or the classroom materials. However, DCPS sure does know how to spend that money on the central office. As reported on the DC Education Blog and sourced in part from the Washington Times (yeah I know a right wing rag, but they cover education in DC a lot more than the Post -- even if their take on public education is that it's a cover for Marxist indoctrination), there's no shortage of funding when it comes time for administrators to come to the trough. Sure, the schools have to cut personnel "to make up for teacher pay increases," but apparently no one is worried about Dr. Janney's "special assistant to the superintendant" Robert Rice, who's making a cool $175K -- not bad considering that only a year ago a position with a similar title earned $52K. Of course it's easy to single out one egregious example of cronyism and mismanagement and pretend you have a case. Fortunately, DCPS makes sure to supply multiple examples of poor management and cronyism so you can make your case a number of ways. After all, there's the Board of Education's executive director, Russell A. Smith, whose pay went from $105,040 last year to $115,090 this year. That's an increase of 9% -- not bad for keeping track of one of the most dysfunctional school boards around.

In fact, it seems there's no shortage of $100K+ earners in DCPS administration. That fraud George Will, in one of his faux erudite columns, recently championed some crackpot's idea that legislation should be passed to demand that school districts spend 65% of their budget on instruction. Will's nutty idea is that teacher unions would object to this idea, apparently because they're so chummy with school administrations (Will has apparently never been near a teacher strike or a faculty room). Never mind that Will's pet bill died quickly once people realized that support personnel, like nurses, librarians, security guards, etc., were likely to be cut by the proposal.

10 April 2005

Today I bought fennel

Went down to Garden District this morning to grab some herbs for the garden, or at least for some pots that sit out back. I got rosemary, sage, tarragon, dill, and fennel. They didn't have any basil. Rosemary, tarragon, and dill I already know what to do with. I got the sage and the fennel to force myself to branch out. After all, if you take all spring to nurture these plants to fullness, it'd be a shame not to use them. I put them all in pots that I can keep on the back deck, because one year we planted the back flowerbed with basil and had a great time eating loads and loads of pesto until one night we watched rat after rat after rat using the basil patch for both a hiding spot and a shortcut between the alley and the fence. Sure, they didn't touch the higher leaves, but it was unappetizing nevertheless.

I'm looking forward to a nice late spring and all-summer-long buffet of fresh herbs. Since I'm too cheap to buy the 2 dollar rip off packs they sell in supermarkets of fresh herbs, I have relied on dried ones all winter long (except for a few purchases of fresh basil).

Speaking of rats, recently I tried to trap a few. I had an old rat trap that was just lying out back over the winter, so it had been well-seasoned by the elements to appear as just another part of the wonder that is urban nature. One night after grilling some chicken I tore off a bit and put it on the trap and set the trap along a known rat path. About two hours later I returned to find an empty sprung trap. I figured some rat got lucky. Well a week or two later, I was grilling some salmon and I saved a little nice grilled salmon skin for the trap. Again, I returned after two hours to find the trap sprung and empty. I feel like I'm dealing with Samuel Whiskers or some such Beatrix Potter rodent that can counteract my every move. I have thrown the trap away. This round, at least, goes to the rat.

08 April 2005

Eternal Return

As most of you know, Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return (or eternal recurrence if you prefer) stipulates that while time is infinite, actions are not, and therefore at some point in time, a combination of actions will duplicate another combination of actions. At least that's what it literally means, but since Nietzsche is a philosopher, it's not so much the literal or scientific validity of the concept that matters in the end -- it's the metaphysical component that comes next: if life repeats, would you like to repeat your life as you've lived it? In other words, after evaluating your life, do you feel it's something to affirm or something that's been wasted?

In some ways, the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day is both an illustration of and a deviation from the concept of eternal return. Murray's character, a jaded (surprise) tv news reporter covering Punxsatawney Phil's appearance, is trapped reliving groundhog day. Each day when he awakes to find it's still February 2nd, Murray works to make his day better -- to clear up the mistakes he has made. In the process he discovers character flaws and works to correct them, making himself a better person.

If one is inclined to understand eternal return as a prescription for living one's life, it's another way to say "seize the day" (Saul Bellow, RIP). Taken seriously as a way of living, it's pretty powerful and pretty daunting, because most of us have had days, weeks, months, or even years that have faded from the present like water left running. That weekend spent playing HalfLife2? Gone. The years slowly drained through the four hours of television watched nightly before collapsing in bed? Vanished. Many of us who reflect upon our long term goals and desires look back on those hours as dead time that we would like to have back to spend differently -- but time my friends is not a renewable resource and once it's gone you'll never be 18 and beautiful again. So do we affirm our lives or do we look back in anger?

For some time I've been thinking about wasted time as I try to finish my dissertation. It's the nature of writing to be reflective: you are shocked out of presence into a newsreel of your life or of things you have read (or wished you had read) and conversations you have had. You can edit writing, but you can't edit presence.

04 April 2005

Ten Items In Search of a Reason

  1. Law and Order Criminal Intent is a bit like Columbo, but not nearly as good.
  2. Are there any TV shows on anymore that don't involve detectives/forensic experts or medical students?
  3. Is Charles Krauthammer an agent of the antichrist, or the thing itself?
  4. Green and Pink are over.
  5. After recent rainfall, I found a drowned rat in one of my DC issued trashcans. It was one of the first times the city contributed to my anti-rat strategy.
  6. Right wing blogs and message boards tend to degenerate into expressions of physical violence. Hatred and rage at anyone who questions US administration policy. Unless of course it's the Clinton administration's policy. This anger is often accompanied by desires to "bomb" or "nuke" or at least beat the shit out of imagined or real offenders, be they France, Democrats, or any form of non-right wing approved protest (e.g. animal rights, pro-choice, head start).
  7. If UNC beats Illinois I will win money. If Illinois wins at least I can say a Big 10 team won it all.
  8. In a fight between Anthony Williams and George Will, my money's on whichever one hasn't clipped his nails recently.
  9. I'd pay to see that fight, but I wouldn't pay much.
  10. I have a new daughter. She's beautiful.