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.