28 December 2006

MLA in progress

That yearly occasion of joy, despair, and drinking known as the MLA is
in full swing and I just came from a panel more or less on blogging that
included none other than academic blogger extraordinaire <a
href="http:\\www.michaelberube.com>Michael Berube</a>. With great wit
and humor as becomes professors of literature, these panelists (or at
least two of the three, as the third didn't really talk about blogs)
pronounced blogs to be good things.

For Berube, they are primarily outreach, a continuation of his
long-standing call for literature professors to engage the general
public and present their work outside the rigorous and very limited
world of scholarly journals (and of course MLA meetings).

Good stuff all in all, but I have a panel to catch, so no more details.

I know you're all disappointed.

22 December 2006

Talking Recording Industry, Part Two.

So...the music business. The Recording Industry has existed for around a century, becoming a dominant force in the music business sometime around World War One. It's important to note that the culture industry, of which the recording industry is part, comes to prominence around this time, with the advancement of movies and records and radio. It was indeed revolutionary for consumers to be able to purchase copies of their favorite symphonies, etc. Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" gets to the heart of the matter:
...technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.

In other words, the art becomes portable and private and can be repeatedly consumed at the purchaser's leisure. It's a tremendous advancement that also creates a need for a distribution network: from the point of production (the studio time) to the store shelf. With commercial success requiring the distribution network, the record labels by and large controlled the head of the distribution chain (without a record contract you could certainly book your own studio time, but who was going to distribute or promote your product?).

This model has collapsed. Anyone with a halfway decent computer program and/or an 8 track can create reasonable recorded music and distribute it themselves for almost no cost. Between youtube.com and myspace.com, for example, distribution is free and controlled entirely by the artist. The drawback, of course, is that you won't make any money off your downloads. However, that's the Recording Industry's fault across the board: the money will no longer be available for the recorded product.

I see a revival of local music scenes and regional sounds, but that does not mean the demise of megastars -- just the demise of the worst the pop world has to offer. Small labels will remain -- they're more labors of love than they are money-makers -- but the era of the big label is over.

Of course, I could be wrong. Capitalism has an amazing way of co-opting movements and technology to serve its needs (one need only examine the marketing techniques directed at the 1960's counterculture to see how revolution against the system quickly turned into revolution through consumption: being a revolutionary became and image not an activity).

20 December 2006

A Sea Change: Part One

Today I happened to cruise by the soon to be closed Tower Records in downtown DC. For those of you who don't know, Tower Records, a nationwide retail giant that was last hip and/or cool sometime around 1988, went bankrupt and basically the past month or so has been one long and very complete liquidation of store inventory.

When I first visited the DC store back in the early 1990s, I realized immediately that you had to be some sort of freak to get anywhere in the hiring process. The main floor was staffed with people who thought they were Trent Reznor circa 1995, but weren't, had large numbers of piercings and tatoos before that was so gauche, and basically had an attitude problem (dude...you work in a chainstore...it's like a CVS but with records). Prices were high and Smash Records in Georgetown (yes, before Smash turned into some sort of faux-punk clothing boutique) had a far better selection of punk and indie in their little basement.

Anyway, as I was sifting through the remains of Tower, finding absolutely nothing (seriously, the only band name I recognized was The Soup Dragons, and I wasn't really in the mood), I started thinking of what the demise of one of the most visible titans of the music distribution business meant. Most independent shops have closed up, although some survive. Crooked Beat in Adams Morgan is great, but it's easy to remember that it replaced -- after a hiatus of a few years -- another record store in that location, Flying Saucer Discs. And of course, DCCD is no longer.

We've essentially hit a point where record stores (to use the archaic term) can't survive except in very select niche markets. The once ubiquitous mall record store (think National Record Mart or Wall to Wall or Listening Booth) is no longer. Sam Goody is still around, but it's been reinvented as a gaming outlet rather than a music store. Today people buy music -- when they don't steal it -- from online retailers like Amazon or iTunes and big box stores that stock music but don't really rely on it for their daily bread (Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target). And the brick and mortar retailers have the shittiest selection of music ever. No depth and very little breadth.

None of these observations should be new to anyone who buys music or has an interest in the music scene. Or to B-School tools who are simply interested in business models. It's fairly straightforward stuff. But it got me thinking about what the collapse of the recording industry itself will mean. That's Part Two.

18 December 2006

Is it really one week to Christmas?

It's been busy. On Friday I successfully defended my dissertation and successfully did a little but not much drinking in the course of celebrating. Saturday and Sunday meant the final weekend of Xmas tree selling, and I am certainly glad of that. It's pretty tiring having no days off for the past three weeks.

Worst of all, of course, is that I haven't had much of a chance to plug the holes in my Christmas shopping list. I've got some catching up to do, and I'm really not interested in going out on Saturday the 23rd to do it. Might be too late for mail-order, too. I'm thinking perhaps I'll just buy a bunch of popsicle sticks and make everyone some popsicle stick houses with glue and paint and see how that goes. It works for kids.

My wife got me the Gob Iron CD for Christmas, then decided it was too depressing as a Christmas gift and gave it to me early. It's a project by Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt) and Anders Parker. The title is "Death Songs for the Living," and it's mainly some traditionals with an original thrown in. If you like the roots rock/folk tradition it's a hell of an album, but it will not cheer you up.

15 December 2006

If you don't know me you can call me Doctor Cuff

As of sometime this Friday afternoon I officially left the ranks of ABD
and joined the ranks of PhD.

14 December 2006

Two things: One big, one small. Not in that order.

Two Items.

First item: as a quick follow-up to yesterday's post, I'd like to say that I am now regretting signing up for the "Small Penis Support Group Newsletter," because apparently they sell their mailing list to all sorts of direct email merchants. Today, Ms. Vetrone Natalika wrote to me informing me that "It's Time to make it bigger!" Disappointment came, however, when I realized that Ms. Natalika's offer was nearly word for word the same as Ms. Tassos's offer of a day ago.

Second item: I found great irony in this statement from the late dictator and mass murderer Augusto Pinochet's grandson (who serves as a captain in the Chilean army -- or did: the Chilean army discharged him following his paean to fascism):
"He was a man who defeated at the height of the Cold War the Marxist model, which tried to impose its totalitarian model not by vote, but more directly by force of arms," the officer said.

I've heard of revisionist history, but this one takes the cake. Salvador Allende was actually elected by popular vote, and it was Pinochet's force of arms that imposed its totalitarian model over the democratically elected Allende. But the U.S. knows all about that.

13 December 2006

Everyone has something to sell.

I got an email today from someone I didn't know informing me that "Big Guys have Big sausage." I hadn't really stopped to think about it much, but it's relatively true that most butchers I've ever come across (and I'm old enough to remember when you used to go to a butcher for meat, not a supermarket) were on the portly side.

Apparently, though, the emailer, one Camilli Tassos, wasn't talking about anyone in the butcher business or abattoir profession, even though her email assured me that "Not only a larger meat will make you feel better, it will make you look better!" I suppose I could overlook the comma splice, since email is something of an informal medium.

Ms. Tassos was very cordial, though, and opened her email, "Salute sir," which is very nice, as it's always good to be called "sir," if you're a man. She then told me, interestingly enough, that "Girls love big weenie," and more importantly, I suppose, she told me that "If you don't have one -- GET ONE!" The all-caps and exclamation point imperative got my attention, let me tell you.

I couldn't help thinking about how I might get one, either from one of those naughty stores in Dupont or maybe through a mail order catalog, but Ms. Tassos confided to me a few paragraphs later that none of that was necessary; I could in fact "get a months supply and see the difference! No Pumps! No Surgery! No Exercises!"

The no exercise bit got me pretty excited, because one thing I certainly try to avoid is exercise, and what's more, she promised me "Safe Results Or Your Money Back!" I was a little deflated to see that Ms. Tassos apparently punctuated every sentence with an exclamation point, but I suppose the excitement of bringing such a valuable product to market probably got the better of her.

I'm still not exactly clear what Ms. Tassos is talking about, but it is nice to have a money back guarantee.

12 December 2006

As the flames rise, Bush picks up his fiddle again.

It's pretty clear by now that the Iraq Study Group has wasted its time coming out with a report that takes the Bush Administration to task for everything from the way it has been running the Iraq Debacle to the way it fails to engage in diplomacy with any of its adversaries. Bush brought in a few hand-picked "experts" to cast doubt on the report's validity so that he can continue to ignore the chorus of voices who have told him since before the war started that it was a mistake.

Let's remember, if we can, that this President not only had no foreign policy credentials (many Presidents don't), but also had no desire to attain them. He scoffed at the notion that he should learn about foreign countries and their leaders, and his followers accused the Press of playing "gotcha" politics when it exposed his sad lack of world knowledge. Let us please remember that this President is essentially the stereotype of the ugly American: the ignorant, callous, and clueless lout. In short, he is an asshole.

So his experts (two academics and three retired generals) came in and they had a chat. To tell how serious it was, the Post reports that "The military experts met with Bush, Vice President Cheney and about a dozen aides for more than an hour." Wow. More than an hour? And then what...was it Bush's nap time or was it time to feed Cheney a raw steak? Anyone who's been in the room with more than one academic should know that it takes close to an hour to get the introduction out of the way. Bush has had blackouts that last longer than that.

Not surprisingly, the generals want more money (even though they're retired), and these so-called academics agreed:
But the five agreed in telling Bush that the Army and Marine Corps both need to be bigger, and also need bigger budgets.

Are we really interested in being a nation that seems to exist for the subsistence of its military? I don't think so. These hogs already steal the lion's share of our tax dollars, both for their current operations and for servicing the debt to pay for their overruns. Some calculations have the military chewing up 49% of our money. The government itself estimates the percentage at 19%, a figure that doesn't include overspending and payment for past wars.

Needless to say, this boondoggle will continue for the near future, and all of our children will pay for it (or pass it on to their children).

11 December 2006

One of those days.

Well I was going to write about Augusto Pinochet and the support that the U.S. and the U.K. gave to that dictator and others, but I've been beaten to that punch.

Anyway, my daughter is sick and so I'm home from work. It's an awful thing when a 20 month old is sick, because they really can't tell you what's wrong and they don't understand a whole lot about what you're saying. They do, however, know that they feel rotten.

07 December 2006

Rock a bye baby, in the treetop...

Mary Cheney certainly is an interesting case. Here we have the very out daughter of one of the great panderers to the hate-mongers who has become news once again over the revelation that she's pregnant.

Who doesn't recall John Edwards's ridiculous attacks on Cheney during the vice-presidential candidates debate back in 2004? Here Edwards had the very essence of evil directly in front of him and he chose to fight the devil on his own battlefield, trying to stir up hate by insinuating something amiss with Mary Cheney. It was so pathetic that Saturday Night Live lampooned it very effectively. Edwards would have been far better off going after Cheney's own record of hate, such as his vote in Congress to keep Nelson Mandela in prison (Cheney was a big supporter of the racist Apartheid government of South Africa...surprise, surprise), and kept at it. Instead, he chose to pander to the hatemongers himself.

Anyway, back to Mary Cheney. Is it her fault that her father is perhaps one of the most evil and uncivil men ever to hold high office in our government? Do we hold her responsible for being born to an unholy couple, one of whom cut his teeth as part of the no-holds-barred criminal administration of Richard Nixon and the other of whom headed up a National Endowment for the Humanities under Reagan that began eliminating or critiquing awards for women and minorities and whose more current pet project ACTA (Association of College Trustees and Alumni) published a blacklist of professors who weren't sufficiently right wing for them?

No, we shouldn't hold her responsible for being the spawn of such utterly asinine parents. It isn't her fault. However, it is her fault for not standing against their complicity with the right-wing hate attack that the elder Cheneys have promulgated throughout their careers in "public service." Hadn't she learned anything from an earlier era, an era in which her father Dick, ensconced in his Washington offices, surely would have recoiled from the chant "Silence Equals Death" coming from ACT-UP?

Here's what a spokesperson for one of Dick Cheney's allies, the fascist Concerned Women of America, had to say:
Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as "unconscionable."
"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father," said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group's think tank. "They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."

"Unconscionable" is a pretty strong word. However, if you read her comments a bit more deeply, what she's really upset about is that this "celebrity couple" (read: well off) might encourage the less fortunate to procreate as well. And of course, for all you heterosexual single mothers, it's nice to see your experiences invalidated as well.

I wonder if Mary Cheney's baby will be invited to the White House?

06 December 2006

Nice work if you can get it.

DC Council is set to give themselves a massive raise in the near future. A councilmember's job, which by the way is considered part-time, currently pays $92,000 a year; not bad for part-time work, especially in a city where the median income lingers around $50,000.

However, that's not good enough, apparently. Phil Mendelson took the COLA angle:
Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who proposed the new council salary, said the increase was equal to the cost-of-living rise over the past eight years. Council members last received raises in January 1999, but the increase makes them the highest-paid council members in the region.

Phil may be right, but I'm not aware of too many other part-time employees that have the power to give themselves retroactive COLA raises. Still, who can argue with a nice Christmas bonus like a $22,000 plus raise for part-time work?

Speaking of bonuses, if I'm not too sick of it all I might take on the idiocy that surrounds the DC library brouhaha, an issue that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the council members simply don't deserve their self-approved raises.

05 December 2006

War as employment scheme.

You can go back to Shakespeare, and probably beyond that, to read the literature about war as a profiteers paradise. Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children is a great modern treatment of war profiteering (Brecht seemed to be pretty interested in the subject, as it appears also in A Man's A Man). Now, of course, the Bush Administration dispenses with the whole idea of the war profiteer as adjunct or side-effect of the war and in the process exposes them as one of the neocons' wet dreams of war: war as a tool to open markets.

The Washington Post reports today that the number of government contractors nearly equals the number of soldiers in Iraq. Apparently, there are 100,000 government contractors -- i.e. war profiteers -- tooling around Iraq, many of them performing functions that the army privatized a while ago such as feeding the troops. We all know about the sleazy contracts doled out to Haliburton (which, surprise, surprise, just happens to be Vice President Dick "The Puppetmaster" Cheney's old firm) that are costing the taxpayers billions, but that firm isn't the only pair of greedy hands looking to feed at the government's ill-watched trough:
In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

And a bang-up job these contractors are doing. Blackwater USA is basically a mercenary firm, the type of guys who back in the 1980's were reading Soldier of Fortune and wishing they'd been around in the 1970's, when a mercenary could find ready work in any number of third world civilian repression operations.

"Government contractor" sounds so much better than "mercenary," though, doesn't it?

04 December 2006

Weekend Report: Defenses and Conifers

So Friday came and went, and my wife is now a doctor. She beat me by 14 days (if I pass, that is...). After the defense, a good time was had by all.

Saturday and Sunday meant slinging trees for my son's elementary school, and it was a good two days: brisk but not freezing with clear skies meant we had a lot of foot traffic and happy holiday shoppers looking to support a local school and pick up a tree in the meantime.

You can get a cheaper tree at Home Depot, but Home Depot isn't going to put a phys. ed. instructor in our school or pay for some of our field trips. The tree sale is our school's biggest fundraiser and we hope to sell some 300+ trees by the time it's over. We'll be out there again next weekend, the 9th and 10th, on the corner of 17th and R NW on the patio of the Dupont Italian Kitchen, who have generously donated the space for us to sell trees.

After moving trees all weekend I'm a little sore, but it's that good kind of sore like after a good workout (I seem to remember working out once in the 1990's and it felt like that). I didn't even get a chance to read the Sunday paper.

01 December 2006

I'm hawking trees now.

This weekend and next you can purchase your very own xmas (or solstice
or whatever) tree and help out a local public school.

17th and R NW, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at the Dupont Italian Kitchen.

We're selling trees, wreaths, and stands, and of course donations are
welcome, too. 50% of the purchase price is tax deductible, which is
good, since we're running a fundraiser and not a bargain counter.

Come one, come all.

30 November 2006

The Talking George Will Is an Idiot Blues.

I'm not really sure how George Will came to prominence as a columnist, or how he got a reputation as an educated, reflective thinker. Perhaps it's because he does have a large and varied vocabulary, even if his uses of it often remind me of reading freshman comp papers: the sort where the poor student has labored most of the evening over a thesaurus trying to come up with the most obscure but learned words to describe common things.

Will's latest descent into idiocy is his attack on Senator-elect Jim Webb, because Webb refused to pursue a photo-op with a war criminal. Here's Will:
Webb's more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being -- one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another.

So Webb's big problem, according to Will, is that he refused to play the political game of chumming up with incompetent abusers of the United States Constitution. Here we have an absentee President who through gross negligence and foolish hubris has brought death to untold thousands of Iraqis and to 2,888+ U.S. troops, and Will is worried about "calculated rudeness."

How clueless must George Will be to even suggest that Bush's question was asked "as one parent to another," when the Post has recently been following the Bush's kids partying it up (and getting robbed) in Argentina? Bush's kids probably couldn't even find Iraq on a map, let alone ever end up there in combat fatigues (unless of course they were play-acting, like their father).

Apparently, in Will's world, you coddle the tyrant. After all, as a champion of conservative values and administrations, Will has had plenty of examples shown to him through the years: Kissinger and Pinochet, Rumsfeld and Hussein.

29 November 2006

Looking ahead to the Outback Bowl.

PSU has already accepted a bid from the Outback Bowl, but their opponent is to be determined. Before last weekend, it looked possible that either Auburn or LSU would be there, but now it's more likely that Tennessee will be the opponent. Tennessee has only lost three times this season, and all to ranked teams (Florida, LSU, and Arkansas). Penn State's four losses have all come to ranked teams (Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin). On the other hand, Penn State hasn't beaten any ranked teams, while Tennessee beat both Georgia and Cal.

Penn State's offense is abysmal, so if PSU is to win the Outback it will require the defense to have the kind of game that held Michigan to 17 points and Ohio State to 14 (OSU scored two late touchdowns on interception returns).

I'm sure as the bowl season progresses I'll have more to say about PSU and other things, including why that dirtbag Charlie Weis and his Notre Dame team are seriously overrated (as if the USC game didn't show that one up).

p.s. and to anyone wondering about where Maryland will end up, ESPN is predicting either the Meineke Car Care Bowl or Champs Sports Bowl.

28 November 2006

Update on Iraq: file under idiocy.

Bush's Iraq Adventure is turning out worse than anyone could have expected...unless of course you count the millions of people worldwide who filled the streets protesting against an unnecessary and illegal war of aggression prior to its beginning. Unless you count the non-mainstream media that continually debunked Bush's allegations, but were all but drowned out by the deafening stomp of the war drums being beaten by the mainstream media.

Those who argued that the Iraq Adventure would be a mistake were repeatedly cast as "Pro-Saddam" or "Pro-Terrorist," when it was clear then and it has become increasingly clear even to most of the sideline cheerleaders that toppling Saddam had nothing to do with anti-terrorist efforts and was in fact more likely to increase rather than decrease terrorism -- esp. the kind that cloaks itself in the guise of religious fundamentalism. At the start of Bush's Iraq Adventure, Saddam Hussein was a paper tiger, a dictator whose control was undermined by weapons inspectors and no-fly zones; a has-been whose greatest war crimes had been conducted with the logistical and financial assistance of the United States.

However, the Iraq Adventure has been a success for two distinct groups: Haliburton and other war profiteers AND al-Qaeda, who has seen its profile raised to new levels by Bush's boondoggle.

Proving that he is ever more out of touch with reality (and perhaps heavily medicated as well), President Bush continues to deny that Iraq is now in or approaching civil war. Our Dear Leader pulled his head out of the sand long enough to issue this statement:
"There's a lot of sectarian violence taking place, fomented in my opinion because of the attacks by al Qaeda, causing people to seek reprisal," he said.

Bush said slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had wanted to stir up trouble between Iraq's Shiite majority community and the Sunnis favored by Saddam Hussein.

He traced an increase in violence to the February bombing of a revered Shiite mosque in Samarra, north of Baghdad, saying: "We've been in this phase for a while."
Really? So sustained sectarian violence, where one group of people are killing another group of people and vice versa within the same country, does not create a civil war? How about what is nearly universally known as Lebanon's Civil War? Maybe Bush is a stickler and doesn't accept that there's a civil war unless there's a formal declaration of seccession and something called a "Confederate States of Iraq" set up with Jefferson al-Davis as President.

Or maybe he's just stupid.

From today's Post:
Kofi Annan says Iraq civil war is imminent
Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, Bleaker

Here's the lead of the second article:
The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province.

Let us not forget that the Post and other news organizations refused to investigate Bush's claims prior to the war or give credence to any war critics; let us not forget that Congress abdicated its Constitutional responsibilities to oversee the nation's descent into war when it -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- issued Bush a blank check in Iraq.


27 November 2006

Post-Holiday Letdown.

Last night I fell asleep with my clothes on, even my jacket -- a zip-up hoodie. I guess I was pretty well exhausted after a long weekend that included a rare early morning excursion on Black Friday (I generally sit that day out, because I really don't like store lines and fighting over parking spots and the last "must have" toy in the store). Anyway, I put the kids in the big bed and fell asleep with them. At least I took my contacts out prior to that.

Anyway, my wife and I hit Target at 6 a.m. on Friday morning because they had the "Easy Bake Oven" on sale for $13 and the RoboPet or RoboDog or something like that for $30. They were also selling the Simpsons Season8 DVD for $15, and I wanted a piece of that action. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate it, but I heard later on that my sister found it for me. The whole family had to come up with Xmas lists, so we all had some items to buy here and there. My brother was the most adventurous/helpful/obsessed: he combed through all the advertising and indicated next to his selections the stores in which you should buy them. For instance, Entourage Season 1 at Circuit City; Entourage Season 2 at Best Buy; Simpsons Season 8 at Target.

We got back into DC late Saturday, so Sunday I took the kids to the Hirshhorn while my wife prepped for her Monday class. They have a great contemporary sculpture show going on that was a real hit with my son. I mean, what's not to like about Andrea Cohen's "Mist Over Lake Miami," pictured below:

It's colorful and looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. He loved that some of her sculptures seemed to use "floam," although that's a trade name and wasn't listed as a material on the little info card. I highly recommend the show to anyone, and especially anyone with kids ages 5 to 12, because it's very entertaining and we had some good conversations about the pieces.

22 November 2006

As we head into Thanksgiving, let's remember Why Johnny Can't Read.

I've been digging into the Bush Administration's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) education initiative and I've found out some fascinating things, although not what I'm looking for. Here, for instance, from the government's own website is an overview of a few ways to have your school denied funding:
Funds cannot be used for condom or other contraceptive distribution, obscene materials, promotion of sexual activities, or for sex education in schools that is not age- appropriate and does not emphasize abstinence.

OK, so no sex education that actually educates. Instead you have to pretend sex doesn't exist in the secondary school in order to receive funding. In related news, toilet seats spread AIDS. Here's another interesting bit:
Any local district that discriminates against or denies equal access to patriotic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts of America, is denied funds.

Who decides what a "patriotic organization" is? The KKK claims to be "patriotic," arguing that they are defending (white) America against "mongrelization" in much the same way the Boy Scouts claim they are defending (straight) America against the homosexual threat. Does this mean that the school must accept meetings of the Future Klansmen of America in order to receive funds?

Furthermore, what does letting reactionary quasi-military outfits like the Boy Scouts into the schools have with education? (Full disclosure: I was in scouting from cub scout through boy scouts, having come up through the ranks to 1st Class, which is to say not terribly far)

The more I read about this policy, the less it seems to be about education and helping children succeed and the more it seems to be about dictating a path of failed conservative opinions toward schools.

20 November 2006

My picks got pounded.

It wasn't a good weekend to be predicting games. I went an abysmal 10 wins and 7 losses in the top 25. I push up to 11 wins and 7 losses if you count in my bonus pick of PSU over MSU, but man I came close to losing that one. Now it's just up to seeing who Penn State plays in the Outback Bowl on January 1. Will it be Auburn and crybaby Tommy Tuberville? Will it be LSU (in which case two inept offenses will go up against two outstanding defenses)? Or will something bizarre happen, like OSU and Michigan remaining 1 and 2 in the BCS and therefore bumping PSU up to the Capital One Bowl? Highly doubtful.

Anyway, I'm off to the dentist's.

17 November 2006

Two completely unrelated items.

Item 1. Bush is in Vietnam, where he has the audacity (or idiocy) to say that Vietnam holds lessons for Iraq. If I'm a Republican (and given that I'm neither an uninformed drone nor a black-hearted scoundrel, I'm not a Republican), I'm cringing as this Texas half-wit links Vietnam to Iraq, instantly generating a week of fodder for late-night comedians and weekend talk shows. Bush, ever the lackluster student, of course can't draw out the real lesson of Vietnam for Iraq, so he resorts to bullshitting the essay question. And boy does it show:
"My first reaction is history has a long march to it, and societies change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good," Bush said after speeding past signs of both poverty and the commerce produced by Asia's fastest-growing economy.

"It's just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful -- and that is an ideology of freedom -- to overcome an ideology of hate," Bush said after having lunch.

"We'll succeed," Bush added, "unless we quit."

The lesson Bush apparently learned from Vietnam is that we would have won, but we quit. I know that may be true in the Rambo and the Missing In Action movies, but unfortunately after dropping millions of bomb tonnage on North Vietnam and surrounding countries, after resorting to chemical weapons, after "pacifying" villages like My Lai, we apparently were no closer to winning than the French had been back in 1954.

But enough of Item #1.

Item 2. College Football Pick'Em.
1. OSU v. (2) Michigan. Michigan wins.
3. Florida v. Western Carolina. Please. Florida in a 50 point blowout.
4. USC v. Cal. Cal leaves the Trojans feeling unprotected at home.
5. Arkansas v. Mississippi State. Arkansas in a rout.
6. Notre Dame v. Army. Another delicate pastry for the ND schedule. What a surprise.
7. Rutgers v. Cincy. Rutgers destroyify the Bearcats.
8. WVU already beat Pitt.
9. LSU v. Mississippi. LSU wins.
10. Louisville v. South Florida. Louisville wins in a closer than should be match.
11. Texas is idle.
12. Wisconsin v. Buffalo. A late season cupcake for the Badgers, what a tasty treat!
13. Boise State v. Utah State. Boise State tramples Utah State.
14. Wake Forest v. Virginia Tech. Wake thumps Tech.
15. Auburn v. Alabama. Roll Tide Roll and shut Tuberville up.
16. Oklahoma v. Baylor. Oklahoma dominates this supposed division 1-A team.
18. Georgia Tech v. Duke. Georgia Tech wins by 40.
20. BC v. (21) Maryland. While I don't fear the turtle, BC should. Maryland wins.
22. Tennessee v. Vanderbilt. Tennessee goes down in embarrassment to Vandy.
23. Brigham Young v. New Mexico. BYU wins, and all your wives can watch!
24. Nebraska is idle.
25. Clemson is idle.

Unranked PSU will beat Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. JoePa returns!

16 November 2006

He should stick to reading the Register.

Nothing like a rainy day to make you want to sit around in the morning and read the entire paper. Today's letters to the editor in the Post prove instructive. Richard Ralston of Newport Beach, California, who claims he represents "Americans for Freedom of Choice in Medicine," whatever the hell that means, argues like most nutcases from Libertarian loonyland Orange County that government safety regulations are an affront to personal liberty:
It is unfortunate that those of us outside the intellectual elite are incapable of deciding on a proper diet and must therefore not be allowed to eat or drink anything without prior government permission.

The key phrase here is "intellectual elite," since it tells you all you need to know about this douchebag's agenda. Mr. Ralston probably laments that Coca Cola is no longer made with cocaine and that patent medicines, most of which consisted of nothing more than alcohol and flavorings, can't claim to cure everything from baldness to cancer. Of course it's the "intellectual elite" who are behind all this gestapo-like repression. Just like the "liberal media" and the "Hollywood elite" and the "international Jewish bankers" who are behind all the other problems that afflict poor Mr. Ralston in his struggle to live with dignity.

A brief glance at the Americans for Freedom of Choice in Medicine reveals that Mr. Ralston and his ilk are nothing more than "Fuck You, I've Got Mine" selfish bastards with absolutely no clue as to how society works. These idiots truly believe that the free market is God come down from heaven itself to shower all with His bounty, when even an economics class at the University of Chicago will reveal that some people win and some people lose and that having the better idea or the better technology or even putting in the most effort means you will win. In other words, the free market leaves a heap of rotting hulks along the side of the road.

But not at AFCM. At AFCM, the winners are really the losers, as health care in the United States is designed "to sacrifice the well-off to the old and the poor." Pity the poor wealthy entrepreneur, who if only he lived under a bridge or in a nursing home could get health care. Yes, it's a dream living on Medicaid and Medicare, at least in the AFCM's fantasies. Wouldn't you love to trade places with one of the many men and women sleeping on DC's steam grates -- it's quite obvious they're getting superb health care.

Yes, Mr. Ralston, I feel your oppression, as you are ground down under the iron heel of trans fat regulation.

15 November 2006

And the other shoe dropped...

Capitalizing on the widespread interest my post on local DC politics generated yesterday, I'm following up with what happened. The Council wisely "postponed" voting on pay raises for themselves -- although from all their statements it seems like this postponement won't last long -- and the Post writeup was almost entirely about the proposed pay raise. Tacked on to the end was this paragraph:
In other action, the council approved an emergency bill that allows exceptions for businesses that are within 400 feet of a school, college or District-operated recreation area applying for liquor licenses. D.C. law prohibits such proximity, but the bill will allow exceptions for businesses in commercial areas.

And there it is, the little loophole coveted by the liquor industry and commercial real estate moguls that will now allow exceptions so that Jeff's Tap Room and Liquor Emporium can now open up next door to the elementary school and park. I think the argument was that with the liquor stores being open adjacent to the park, the drunks won't pass out on the sidewalks but rather on the park benches.

As far as the delayed pay raise goes, here's what the Post says Jim Graham (Ward 1) thought about the whole thing:
Like several other council members, Graham said yesterday that he never entered politics for the money. But he said he now sees a disparity between pay for the council and the two top jobs.

Right. And I imagine there's a relatively large disparity between his pay ($92K) and, say, the security guy operating the metal detector down at the Wilson Building. I know for certain there's a large disparity between what his part-time job pays and what the median household income is in the District of Columbia.

14 November 2006

DC Council Priorities: The "Emergency" Is Our Salaries!

I was already feeling a little upset in the stomach this morning when I sat down to read the Washington Post. The editorial "Raid on the D.C. Treasury" did little to calm me down. The gist of today's supposed "Emergency" legislation in the D.C. Council is to hand out hefty bonuses and raises to the elected officials -- voted on, of course, by the elected officials:
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has proposed that the council raise the mayor's salary from $152,000 to $200,000 and boost the council chairman's salary from $142,000 to $190,000. The measure would also give Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D) $250,000 in transition funds and award Council Chairman-elect Vincent C. Gray's (D) transition team $150,000.

Ward 1 council member Jim Graham (D), safely ensconced in office for another four years, wants to amend the bill to boost his and other council salaries by $23,000 a year, lifting their pay for "part-time" work from $92,530 to $115,000. Not to be outdone, departing council member Vincent B. Orange (D-Ward 5) has drafted an alternative bill that kicks up salaries by $48,000, to $140,000.

Nothing like voting yourself a raise far above the 3% that many people see in their yearly pay packets, or in Vincent Orange's case, how about proposing a raise that is in itself more than the median household income in Washington, D.C.? Perhaps outgoing Councilmember Orange could spin his proposed 51% pay raise as a Statehood issue: the council deserves a 51% increase because D.C. should be the 51st state. What hubris. What greed.

Particularly galling is that this pay grab comes immediately following the election. It would have been nice if Jim Graham -- who ran unopposed -- had announced his intentions to award himself a $23,000 a year raise before the election rather than after voters had given him another four years in office.

These pay proposals are so outrageous and idiotic that I have to wonder if they aren't also smoke-screens that will deflect attention from some of the other so-called "emergency" bills before the Council. The liquor industry has been plying the greedy councilmembers for some time in an attempt to tear down the District's regulations barring the opening of liquor stores and bars next to schools and parks:
Another emergency bill offers changes to a law that bars issuing liquor licenses to businesses within 400 feet of a school, college or District-operated recreation area.

With all the brouhaha over the salaries, I'm sure the liquor industry is licking its collective chops over the prospect of closer access to "new markets" like middle schools.

09 November 2006

Run Every Red Light on Memory Lane.

The past keeps knock knock knocking on my door...
And I don't want to hear it anymore.

Or so says Lou Reed.

But rare is the person who can sever so completely all ties to his or her past as to not be haunted at one moment or another by memory's return. Geography, friends, family, keepsakes fluster our attempts to re-create from whole cloth our lives. So we patch together our bits and scraps and do as best we can, which quite often is pretty damn well.

Getting older brings a melancholy, because I can remember when my feet didn't hurt after playing basketball for two hours. I can remember when I could stay up until two a.m. and get up around six a.m. and feel none the worse.

We would all love to correct our mistakes. For me there's a moment in eighth grade that stands out because I didn't act as I should have. Sometimes they're the white hot moments of decision: to fight or flee, to knock over the liquor store or not. Sometimes they're the long slow turns of screws: the bad relationship, bad job, or ill-advised college major selection. The best we can hope to get out of these mistakes is to learn from them and not commit them again. As the right honorable Beastie Boys opine, "As long as I learn I will make mistakes."

Dreams return things to us unasked. Dreams are interesting: they are utterly internal to us and of our own making, yet they are uncontrollable. Freud's return of the repressed. "If my thought dreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine," sang Bob Dylan. What do you do when the decades keep coming back at you?

I feel much of this mood has to do with my standing on the cusp of another transition, as my defense date approaches. My mind's done thinking about the mountain of the task and is now occupying itself elsewhere.

08 November 2006

Post-Election Hopes.

I went to bed last night around 10:00 p.m., confident that my home state of Pennsylvania would finally cleanse itself of Santorum. I woke up this morning to news that the House has moved mightily over to the Democrats and that even the Senate could possibly shift. What all this means to me of course is that I have new reasons to be disappointed in the middle-of-the-road timid Democrats. It'd be nice if some of them would have the courage of Bernie Sanders, the lone socialist -- he runs as an independent -- who after so many years in the House has now moved handily over to the Senate. The last Democratic Senator with such powerful ideals was the late, great Paul Wellstone.

But enough of the big races -- and speaking of racists, George Allen trailed Jimmy Webb by only a few thousand votes in the land that time forgot -- let's move on to local politics, where Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham easily defeated...a handful of write-ins, since no one went up against him. And Fenty...90% of the vote. My only disappointment was that the Republican candidate received more votes than the Statehood Green (6744 to 4554). I'm very interested to see how Fenty's move for control of the schools shapes up. I would hope he would let Dr. Janey continue to push academic reform, while at the same time wresting facilities management from the dysfunctional, corrupt, and downright negligent administration.

Duke Ellington School for the Arts, featured in the Post recently, is a fine example of what I'm talking about. Here we have a showcase school build around the performing arts and the students are practicing in hallways or have no access to some programs because DCPS facilities allowed the school to deteriorate and refuses to fix the problems in a timely manner. Likewise, Dunbar High School's athletic facilities have been recently featured in the Post, thanks to their deplorable and beyond third-world condition.

At no point should anyone get away with the following statement, made by DCPS spokesperson Patricia Alford-Williams:
"We are repairing them," D.C. schools spokeswoman Patricia Alford-Williams said of Duke Ellington's trouble spots, "but we have a master facilities plan to renovate all our schools, and there's an order in which we're going to get to each of the schools. We're obviously not going to get to them all at the same time."

Let them eat cake, indeed. There is no excuse at any time in any school for any student to have to wait for basic facilities like restrooms or facilities integral to instruction to be useable. If you don't have the staff in-house, you outsource it. It should be unacceptable and inexcusable to place children at risk in unsanitary and decrepit conditions. The most valuable lesson learned by students in those situations is that education is not important and that they do not matter. A master facilities plan should be for upgrades and reconfiguration; it should not be used as an excuse to deprive children of core facilities.

If Fenty can do anything to shake the complacency out of facilities management in DCPS, then that's a good thing.

07 November 2006

I voted and lived to tell about it.

Election day is here. As The Who sang, "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss." In a way, of course they're right and in a way they're wrong. Much is at stake in this mid-term election, not least of which is ANC1C07, where Wilson Reynolds runs unopposed. I voted early this morning and was struck yet again with how impoverished we are in the District during the mid-terms.

Of course, I was able to vote for our long-standing "Delegate," Eleanor Holmes Norton. But can she vote in Congress? No. And I voted for the various "shadow" positions that are basically meaningless. Probably the most important undecided race (because Fenty has basically been acting like and been treated like the mayor-elect since he won the Democratic primary) is for D.C. School Board Chair, and if Fenty has his way that position won't be terribly important anyway, if it even exists when he's through.

In the other states, I'm hoping that Casey holds on and beats Santorum in my native state. However, I saw Casey in one of his own political ads, and he talks like someone who's just been beaten about the head and spun in a circle ten times. And that's in a spot that he paid for. In Virginia, it's just a question of whether a racist will be re-elected to Senate. In Maryland, you have to wonder if Bobby "The Purge" Ehrlich will be re-elected or will O'Malley, the Bard of Baltimore, unseat him. Steele or Cardin? Are any of these people actually interested in DC Statehood? No.

So it gets back to the District and its colonial situation. Now you can argue in three different directions on this one. The first is status quo: the Constitution specifically indicates a federal district be under direct authority of the federal government ["To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States"], Federalist 43 argues for the "indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of government" etc. The second is giving DC Statehood (which has been tried before -- both houses of Congress passed the amendment in 1978, but not enough states ratified it before it expired in 1985). The third is to treat D.C. like other U.S. territories by exempting the District from federal taxes -- an interesting prospect that might gather steam in our consumer society that views having more dispensable income to buy their lifestyles as more important than political rights.

I will be watching the television tonight, hoping to see a shift of at least one house in Congress to the Democrats so that BushCo has some competition in one of the three branches.

03 November 2006

The State I'm In.

I've been a little bit off lately, mainly because the posts I want to do involve putting up a few pictures from recent events and I haven't had a chance to sit at my computer with my camera and my fireworks, so I haven't really written.

Last night we went out to Busboys and Poets because we were too lazy to cook. I had the catfish, which was good but the greens lacked any sort of taste, which is not good. My wife got a veggie burger that appeared to have been fried (?!). Our kids split a pizza, which is exactly what they wanted to do.

Of course, any trip for us to Busboys and Poets means checking out the bookstore's children's books, which are always interesting. I found a book by Gloria Anzaldua, someone whom I never would have suspected would write a children's book. But there it was, and according to Wikipedia, the font of all authoritative knowledge, she has three. It also tells me that she was weeks away from completing her dissertation for UC-Santa Cruz when she died of complications due to diabetes. As someone who's weeks away from completing his dissertation, I can tell you that must have sucked. She died ABD.

I also noticed that Angela Davis has written much more than I thought. I have the incredibly useful Women, Race, and Class, but now it seems she's moved into much more detailed research on prisons and the Prison Economy/Industry that the US supports. I can add that to my list of things to catch up on when I can finally say goodbye to the year 1926.

Hopefully some photos after the weekend or over the weekend. We shall see.

31 October 2006

Are you scared yet?

There's a good reason our elections always come around Halloween, because politicians do their damnedest to scare us out of our wits. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, who for years have been donning their Halloween costumes, pretending to be leaders, analysts, aviator-heroes, and in general looking out for our welfare, are still going strong, even if Cheney's ghoul costume is looking a bit ragged around the edges.

Here's Bush's latest scare tactic:
"However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses," Bush told a raucous crowd of about 5,000 GOP partisans...

Oh, I am so frightened. What exactly does it mean for the terrorists to win? I'd say the terrorists "won" the moment a hubristic Bush Administration set its sights on Iraq and patched together a pack of lies that Saddam Hussein had anything at all to do with 9/11. You'd have to say making the United States look stupid and brutal is certainly a point for the terrorists.

So do the terrorists -- and are these all the same people by the way? do they subscribe to the same goals? -- win if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq? Will Iraq become the "Terrorist Republic of Iraq"? Highly doubtful. In fact, you might argue that the terrorists will lose, because they will have lost their raison d'etre, and all their little thuggish tactics will lose the sheen of "resistance."

Does America "lose" by withdrawing from Iraq, or does America lose by continuing in the same failed policies that first led us into an illegal and unnecessary war and then failed to account for any sort of post-invasion Iraq, other than the Cheney-Rumsfeld pipe dream that the Iraqis would strew roses at our troops' feet. I mean, what sort of idiot-logic is that? Here's a scenario: The Chinese invade the United States to topple Bush and then build bases for their soldiers and start patrolling the streets -- oh yeah, and set up their own government full of Chinese government cronies. Perhaps in their misanthropic minds, Cheney and his ilk sit around believing that Democrats and other critics of BushCo would welcome with open arms this liberation at the hands of the Chinese, but I don't think too many normal people would share their perverted vision.

The Iraq War (#2) was started through lies emanating from the highest levels of the Bush Administration. Period. It was a mistake, and I would submit that Bush "lost" Iraq when he ordered the evidence to be manufactured, interpreted, and scrubbed to fit his foregone conclusion that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed.

Now if I get in the car and head in the wrong direction, let's say toward Atlanta when I'm really supposed to be going to Boston, it's really really stupid of me to insist that because I've already headed south I should keep going that way. Yet that's what BushCo keeps insisting we do. I assume the logic is that if your car were equipped with flotation devices and snow-skis, you could eventually reach Boston by driving the entire way around the fucking globe. Really. November 7 may not turn the car around, but hopefully it will slow its acceleration.

27 October 2006

Crime in the city.

What does it take to get convicted of bribery in the District of Columbia? Apparently it takes more than providing lavish gifts to a high-ranking city official who just happens to be providing you even more lavish gifts in the form of city leases worth several times the actual value of your properties. It even takes more than that city official pleading guilty to receiving bribes from you. Now that's where it gets interesting: since Douglas Jemal was "not guilty" of bribing Michael Lorusso, should Lorusso try to back out of his guilty plea of accepting "bribes"? After all, if the jury bought the idea that Jemal was simply providing gifts to someone he hardly knew but was in a great position to help him defraud the city government and its taxpayers, shouldn't Lorusso stand a pretty good chance of getting another jury of equally stupid individuals to acquit him of accepting these "non-bribes"?

Meanwhile, in the sad case of Princess Hansen, a juror was replaced during deliberations for relying on numerology to decide the case (it seems more likely the juror was simply trying to scuttle the case, as she apparently declared "she was the savior, there to force a mistrial"). Native Son has a good post on the lack of parenting involved in allowing your 14 year old to "date" a 28 year old and be out and about at 3 a.m.; aside from the abysmal display of parental interest in Princess Hansen's life, the fact remains that the trash who murdered her are still on trial and unlike Jemal, let's hope they face justice.

The root of the Princess Hansen story really is our throwaway society. In this city, a good segment of the population is considered throwaway, either working at jobs that offer nothing more than subsistence wages for the rest of their lives or not working at all because even those jobs are unavailable. This population is thrown into hellholes like the Sursum Corda Projects, and as Chuck D once intoned, "what is a project but another word for experiment?" You learn early on that you either need to keep your head down or jump in headfirst. Back in the 1940's Ann Petry wrote a brilliant novel called The Street that captured the daily dangers that confronted even a diligent parent; it helps readers understand why it is that seemingly simple solutions like "just move away" don't work as a mass solution. It also allows us to recognize that as dreary and neglected as slums are, the people who live there are diverse: some are strong, some are weak, some are good, some are evil, some are wise, some are fools.

However, by and large, this society considers "those people" interchangeable parts in a service economy and who really cares what the conditions are in the Projects so long as I get my #4 Value Meal hot and fresh?

26 October 2006

Your future dream is a shopping scheme.

We used to have this thing we revered. It was called the U.S. Constitution. Apparently, a sizeable chunk of Americans do not take the time to read the thing, nor do they really take it seriously as a guideline for civil society. According to a new CNN poll, a quarter of Americans do not think the Bush Administration has gone far enough in curtailing civil liberties.

I'm pretty scared to meet that 25% who are probably the same group of people who believe most of the Bill of Rights -- except of course the 2nd Amendment, which they'll swear up and down is God's own will -- is nothing but a liberal coddling of criminals.

The only good news to come out of the poll is that 39% of respondents believed BushCo had overstepped their bounds. The exact wording on CNN's cite is as follows: "39 percent of the 1,013 poll respondents said the Bush administration has gone too far [curtailing civil liberties]". That's a respectable percentage, but it's astounding to me that 61% of Americans have so little regard for the document upon which our government is based.

Oh well. As long as the malls are open and the shelves well-stocked, we don't need our rights, do we?

25 October 2006


Do you think Rush is back on the juice? Yesterday he went after Michael J. Fox, an actor who basically had to quit working regularly and rarely appears anymore because of his Parkinson's Disease. Since Fox had the audacity to get himself involved in a political campaign by appearing in a political ad, Limbaugh dropped the hammer:
"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh told listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act. . . . This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

Limbaugh's comments show very clearly the utter mean-spiritedness of the "conservative" movement. My wife says it indicates a level of desperation the Republicans haven't felt in a while. I think Limbaugh ought to be happy if the Democrats retake the House and/or Senate: after all, he can run his "America Under Siege" theme like he did during the Clinton administration. Many of you might still remember those dark days when we weren't at war or threatening war with several countries and the country had a budget surplus (and really, why get so histrionic about a moderate Democrat -- it wasn't like Clinton actually was Progressive).

So now we have Rush Limbaugh -- a guy who did fake his medical problems in order to feed his addiction to pills -- calling out Michael J. Fox, whose Parkinson's Disease is well-documented. That my friends is shameless.

24 October 2006

Being here again, I can recall...

I'm wondering very much about our relationship to the past. Faulkner wrote that "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." In his summation of Jay Gatsby's story, Nick Carraway observes, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Fitzgerald and Faulkner were both Modernists and we all know the short version of Modernism: alienation from a fragmented world; retreat to the past and/or tradition; formal experimentation; etc.

However, I think the past plays an important role beyond Modernist yearning for a mythical wholeness or a more "pure" culture. Afterall, Shakespeare wrote "What is past is prologue." The Bard's simple phrase establishes the continuity of events, whether world-historical or personal (the Montague-Capulet feud was, of course, none of Romeo or Juliet's doing, yet they were certainly caught up in it).

We're always fighting over the past. The Right wants to lay claim to a certain interpretation of American history, as does the Left (although the Left generally talks in terms of "histories"). Immigration, a fact of this country since before its inception as the United States of America, is constantly under attack from Nativists and xenophobes and downright racists who hearken back to a unified past culture that never actually existed.

Marx argued that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

So I've been stuck thinking about the past lately.

23 October 2006

weekend activity

It was homecoming up at PSU, and while I didn't take part in any festivities save go to the game, it was good to be back and to wear proudly my "Class of 1991" alumni pin. Damn I'm getting old.

Although to hear the moronic stadium announcer tell it during the halftime show, the majority of Alums were apparently 70 years or older. During the Alumni Band performance, the announcer read from his corny script: "We remember the dance craze that swept the nation...I'm talking about the Twist!"


Even from my lofty vantage point (see below), I could tell that most of the band members down there were probably between 35 and 50, and it'd be far more appropriate to have been playing something from the 1970's or 1980's even. How about "Tusk"? The regular band, in the meantime, plays Bon Jovi's 1986 hit "Living on a Prayer," a single from an album that was released before most of the undergrads were born.

Sure we were up high, and the wind made the temperatures something like 10 degrees colder than they'd been on the ground, but it was a good time even if Penn State played like crap. When Illinois at 2-5, including a home loss to Ohio, comes into your stadium and has a chance to win up until the last two minutes, you can't call it a good game.

PSU's remaining schedule: Purdue, Wisconsin, Temple, Michigan State. We CAN win all four; we SHOULD win three of four; we MIGHT win 2 of 4; we play like we did v. Illinois and we'll win one of four.

UPDATE: As much as I dislike Florida State and believe they're a bit dirty with their hitting, I think it's ridiculous that some Florida State boosters are calling for Bobby Bowden to retire. It's a travesty, and those boosters should be ashamed (however, from what I can tell, the big money boosters really have no shame at any school -- they think they run the show and at some schools, they do).

20 October 2006

Life and how to live it.

I saw an old friend the other day and we got to talking about the shifts
in our lives over the last decade: completion of dissertations, birth of
children, and a few other things. He used the term "initiatory
experiences" to indicate those events that couldn't be explained
properly in language: one has to live through them to understand them,
or more correctly one has to live through them to understand those
events not as objects for analysis but rather as lived experience.

I likened it to the perfrct example of Derrida's concept of differance
-- that slippage in language that prevents us from ever achieving a pure
transparency in communication. There is always something that escapes
definition. Which is not to say we shouldn't try to explain or
understand these experienced; it's just that we're better off
recognizing both the necessity and impossibility of our task.

We humans love cathartic experiences and arduous challenges that cannot
be understood outside their experience: running a marathon is not simply
the act of running twenty-six miles, right?

I have been absent...

Sorry for my absence. I've been in training and very busy learning exciting new things about computers. Therefore I haven't been able to write about all the exciting things happening this week, like the McCartney Divorce or other stuff. I will say I've been listening to conversations about the best DVR technology, LCD panel v. Projection big screen TV, and other shit that reminds me that people without kids have a hell of a lot more disposable income.

Here's my rundown of college football this weekend.
1. Ohio State v. Indiana. Ohio State at home means Indiana very very sad.
2. Michigan v. Iowa. Michigan will take it to Iowa in the Big House.
3. USC does not play.
4. WVU v. UConn. Please. WVU by thirty.
5. Texas v. (17) Nebraska. Shocker, yes, but Nebraska will win this game.
6. Louisville v. Syracuse. Even my high school alma mater could win v. Syracuse. Louisville wins.
7. Tennessee v. Alabama. Tennessee is very overrated, but Alabama still sucks. Tennessee wins.
8. Auburn v. Tulane. Auburn stomps all over Tulane. Tuberville continues to whine.
9. Florida does not play.
10. Notre Dame v. UCLA. It's in South Bend, but I say UCLA beats the Irish.
11. Cal v. Washington. Look for Washington to steal a win in Berkeley.
12. Clemson v. (13)Georgia Tech. In Clemson, Clemson wins.
14. LSU v. Fresno State. Fresno State is having a down year. LSU escapes with a win.
15. Arkansas v. Mississippi. Arkansas wins.
16. Oregon v. Washington State. Oregon wins again.
18. Boise State v Idaho. Boise State.
19. Rutgers v. Pitt. It's in Pittsburgh. Pitt stops Rutgers dead.
20. Oklahoma v. Colorado. Oklahoma.
21. Wisconsin v. Purdue. Wisconsin in a rout.
22. BC at Florida State. BC rocks FSU back to the stone age.
23. Texas A&M at OK State. Texas A&M over this hapless team.
24. Missouri v. K-State. Missouri regroups and beats K-State in a closer than it should be game.
25. Wake Forest does not play and should not be ranked.

16 October 2006

Hail to the Toughskins.

I knew I would have a good day when I read the lead below in the Washington Post:
As the last desperate pass of another lost afternoon wobbled into the hands of Tennessee Titans safety Lamont Thompson for an interception, some 88,000 people rushed for the FedEx Field exits at once. Loyalty was a casualty of the Washington Redskins' ineptitude in the second half, and as a sellout crowd made its way to the parking lots, the home team in last place in the NFC East, the sound of protest came in the form of loud and prolonged boos.

Of course, the Post continues to refer incorrectly to the team from Landover, Maryland, as the Washington [sic] Redskins, but still Dan Snyder's vanity project has fallen yet again. The article is also incorrect to indicate that somehow this loss will affect crowd loyalty. 88,000 morons will continue to purchase Deadskins tickets, pay for parking, etc., to fill diminutive Dan Snyder's coffers. Sports is yet another arena where the common free-marketeer wisdom that "better products prosper" is shown to be a dreamy bit of wishful thinking, the fluff so many mirages and so much bad policy is made of (of course, it must also be noted that the NFL as a de facto monopoly is not exactly the best example of the free market either, but I'll use it).

Loyalty to your college or high school team I understand. After all, you spent the better part of your formative youth in those places. For colleges especially, your school's sports teams are often the most prominent visible symbols of your alma mater.

With the Pros, however, it's an entirely different matter. These are businesses that can pack up and go in the middle of the night, as Baltimore Colts fans discovered one morning a few decades back. They have no real connection to anything except a spreadsheet, and thanks to commodity fetishism, it's highly unlikely that the bottom line will be adversely affected to any great degree out in that blessed plot of land once known as RalJon.


13 October 2006

This was too good to pass up...

Republican Representative Bob Ney, another of Jack Abramoff's pawns, has pled guilty to bribery, but he didn't resign his seat in Congress. It's true that if you forced all criminals out of Congress we'd have a pretty empty house, but you'd think convicted criminals would have the decency to resign, especially if their crimes involved selling their offices (as opposed to something more mundane, like drunk driving or shoplifting). Here's the kicker, though. Ney's got good reason to keep his seat for as long as he can:
Ney did not resign his seat. Several officials have said the congressman is financially strapped and needs his $165,200 annual paycheck and benefits as long as he can continue to receive them.

Great. So we get to continue to foot the bill for this crook until Congress can get back in session and expel the convict. One thing's sure: with Fat Boy Hastert on the hot seat he'll feel compelled to do something about all the criminals under his wing. In fact, he's already claiming swift action:
Ney's lawyer, Mark Touhey, told the judge he would resign before sentencing on Jan. 19. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders said he would be gone far more quickly than that.

We'll see. It probably all depends on what the midterm elections bring, but it seems every day brings another domino falling on its face.

It's Friday, I'm tired of being outraged.

It's Friday again. Time to make fun of some teams. Speaking of which, it was delightful to read in the paper this morning that Virginia Tech mustered all of 3 points against unranked Boston College. For all you Hokies out there, the phrase is "flash in the pan."

On to the serious business of explaining why it is that while all indications are that Michigan will maul Penn State tomorrow, I believe Penn State will win.

OK. There is no rational explanation for that. However, I will be ever hopeful that the PSU offense will finally get it together against a good team and that we will beat those nasty weasel relatives tomorrow.

As for the games in the top 25:
1. Ohio State v. Michigan State. MSU could be leading by 20 at the half and OSU will still win. OSU won't make it that interesting as they rout the Spartans.
2. Florida v. (11)Auburn. Auburn will rebound against an overrated Florida team.
3. USC v. Arizona State. USC in a walk.
4. Michigan v. Penn State. Heart not brain calls this one for PSU.
5. WVU v. Syracuse. WVU in a rout.
6. Texas v. Baylor. Texas in a rout over yet another cupcake.
7. Louisville v. Cincinnati. Louisville won this the moment it was scheduled.
8. Tennessee does not play.
9. Notre Dame does not play.
10. Cal v. Washington State. Cal in a tighter game than one might think.
12. Clemson v. Temple. Already played, but would anyone have picked Temple aside from Bill Cosby?
13. Ga. Tech doesn't play.
14. LSU v. Kentucky. LSU wins.
15. Iowa v. Indiana. Iowa steamrolls this doormat.
16. Georgia v. Vanderbilt. Georgia chokes perennial punching bag Vandy.
17. Arkansas v. Southeast Missouri State. Who? Arkansas wins.
18. Oregon v. UCLA. It's at Oregon and UCLA's QB is out. Oregon and their ugly uniforms win.
19. Missouri v. Texas A&M. I don't think Missouri's for real. Texas A&M by 10.
20. Boise State v. New Mexico State. Boise state wins.
21. Nebraska v. K-State. It'd be nice to see K-State win, but I believe Nebraska will triumph.
22. VA Tech v. BC. Already played, and so Va Tech bids farewell to the top 25...
23. Oklahoma v. Iowa State. Oklahoma makes it look easy.
24. Rutgers v. Navy. Navy wins. Navy wins.
25. Wisconsin v. Minnesota. Wisconsin wins big.

I was 11-5 last week. I don't care if I only pick one game correct this week, so long as it's the Michigan v. PSU game...

12 October 2006

Individual Rights v. Society

It's one of the oldest questions of human cultures, right? Where exactly do we draw the line between the individual's rights and the needs of society. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud basically argues that when humans established civil society -- a set of rules that more or less ensure basic safety (e.g. despite crime rates, it's reasonable to assume we won't be murdered, robbed, burgled, assaulted, etc., on a regular basis), we gave up complete freedom; which in Freud's lingo means we restrained the Id, and since the Id is pretty much insistent on getting its way, we have to come up with means of repression, displacement, transference, and projection to deal with the difference between Id's desire and these rules.

In the United States, we tend to like simple sayings like, "That government is best which governs least," as Thoreau would have it, and we are highly suspicious of government's reach into so-called private aspects of life, such as the family, religion, and lifestyles. Elegant sayings, however, rarely stand on their own, but rather collapse under the weight of several often conflicting interpretations.

We have often ascribed to the family a certain amount of latitude in terms of child-raising. For instance, nowhere is it decreed by the state that a child should eat three square meals a day, watch only one hour of television per day, or attend a public school. In fact, the family is the frontier of the individual v. the state, because while the individual confronts the state alone, the family confronts the state with a subset that has its own hierarchy. For instance, within the traditional family, the father is the head of the household and more or less sets the rules of conduct within that family. Parents often respond strongly and angrily to another adult -- let alone a representative of the state -- interfering with their behavior toward their own children.

Of course, this openness has its limits, as one man in Florida recently found out. Apparently your neighbors and the State frown upon such "disciplining" as this man was doling out to his 9 year old son:

During the past three years, the boy has not attended school, received medical attention or had contact with people outside his family, Smith said. The police report said he was home schooled but could not read children's books.

The state Department of Children & Families took the boy from the home, sheriff's spokesman Ken Jefferson said.

Relatives told police that the boy was usually allowed to use the bathroom once a day because his father was teaching him to control his body.

It's stories like these that remind me that while you need a license to drive, a license to get married, a license to hunt, and a license to own a dog, you don't need any sort of certification whatsoever to prove your fitness to procreate. And really I don't see any way around that...can you imagine the government doling out licenses to have children? It'd be like Gattaca except without the stylish cinematography.

However, it's sickening to watch losers like Mr. Piercy fall back on the old saw that he was actually protecting his child:
As officers walked him into jail, he said he was wrongly accused and was the victim of a vendetta by his in-laws. He told police he kept the child in the room because he "believed it was in the best interest of the child," Smith said.

Nowhere is it in the best interest of any child to be turned into some sicko's fantasy of a Skinner Box. His wife, who has to be just as fucked up as this psychopath, agrees that it for the boy's protection, and is apparently so shitheaded that she thinks it's normal or even acceptable operating procedure to have your husband restrict access to your own child: "her husband only let her see the boy at certain times and usually for an hour a day."

Lady, you are just as lost as your husband.

My solution is that both of them spend the rest of their lives in a new penal colony that I'd like the United States to set up. I'll call it "Florida," and to make everything more convenient, the Piercy's wouldn't even have to relocate: like most sex offenders and child abusers, they already live there.

10 October 2006

Usually history takes a little time before repeating...

In this case, however, the House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, has followed in the footsteps of the President who would give Tricky Dick a run for his money as far as cover-ups are concerned. Hastert has announced that he will "fire anyone" who has covered-up the Foley issue. It seems eerily reminiscent of Bush's bold announcement that he would "fire anyone" involved in the Valerie Plame leak...then it turned out Karl Rove and Dick Cheney were involved and Bush couldn't follow through: in Rove's case because Rove is Bush's Brain and in Cheney's case, well, you can't really fire your boss.

So Hastert might want to start with himself. Afterall, Hastert claimed at the beginning that he hadn't known about Foley's activities until this past week. Then it came out that he knew about them in the spring of 2006, at which point he backtracked and claimed that he only knew of the more vanilla emails and not the really exciting ones. Since then, of course, numerous aides, staffers, and even other representatives have come forward implicating Hastert and/or his office in much earlier knowledge of the Foley scandal.

At what point did Hastert determine it was more important to squash the Foley issue than it was to come clean? In other words, when did holding onto power become more important to him than faithful service to the American people? Or perhaps in his pedophile-protecting mind the two issues intertwined: "In order to serve the American People, I must hold onto power, no matter what cost."

Cover-ups nearly always fail. Sometimes it takes a long time for them to unravel; Hastert's office apparently knew as early as 2000 about the Foley issue. However, inevitably, the cover-up comes to the open and then your place in history is assured. Hastert will not be remembered as the man who led the House through several really boring years of doing little constructive (and perhaps he will be lucky enough not to be remembered as the man who helped rob the Republicans of their label as "fiscal conservatives"), but rather as the man who tried to use the authority of his office to aid and abet sexual predators...not exactly a high calling.

Now Clinton, we recall, was impeached and acquitted for having sexual relations with an intern (who unlike Mr. Foley's targets was not underage) -- and the Republicans can scream all they want about how it was about lying under oath, but let's be serious: it was for the Monica Lewinsky scandal and nothing else -- so I wonder if Hastert may find himself hoisted on his own petard. Highly doubtful if Republicans maintain control of the House. Doubtful even if they lose control, because the Democrats are world-class weenies.

Foley, for his part, has been very quiet on the subject. Hastert is probably hoping like hell that Foley either keeps his mouth shut or ends up dead, because the house of cards is teetering precariously.

Goodbye Columbus.

So yesterday we celebrated that faux holiday, Columbus Day, by visiting the zoo. I say faux holiday not to cast aspersions on that explorer who never once set foot in what has become the United States of America, but rather to note that while DCPS and some other organizations apparently observe the holiday, my workplace does not and so I had to take a vacation day.

The zoo visit was fun except for one creepy event: outside the invertabrate house we ran into a family of right-wing survivalists who will most likely in ten years be holed up in their rural West Virginia "compound" awaiting the coming race war. Or the black helicopters from the UN. All the women in the group -- from the wife (or wives, who knows) on down to the littlest one -- wore those singularly frumpy blouses with long dull skirts that immediately identifies the group as fucked up right wing wackos.

The father was either military or wanted to be. Survivalist is more like it. Freaky military, not like normal but rather the kind of look that gets you cast as the sadistic drill sergeant or uptight recruit who goes crazy and shoots everyone up (think the end of Taps). Speaking of crazy, his sons, ranging in age from about 12 to maybe 6, were all dressed in camoflage. One was carrying a canteen. Maybe his dad had told him he might run into some "coloreds" down in DC and they'd better be prepared.

Anyway, I let them go their way before we decided on ours because god knows I didn't feel like touring the zoo with the travelling troupe of "Ruby Ridge Revisited." As far as the animal exhibits go, I can say I was quite disappointed in the butterfly house, because it seemed to me that only about five butterflies were in there, and the high point of the day was that my son got to examine the shell from a lobster that had recently moulted and then to watch closely as the zoo staffer fed the lobster a shrimp.

That and the two kids both climbing around through the giant habitrail beside the prairie dog exhibit.

08 October 2006

Recap on the quick picks and then some.

So I ended up 11-5 on my college picks. I was happy to get the Auburn v. Arkansas game wrong; it's always good to see a loudmouth coach getting trounced by an unranked team. Florida made me look very very bad, as did Texas. I guess that's what I get for talking shit about them.

As for the pros, the only game I even cared about -- and that's stretching the definition of caring -- was the deadskins game, and it turned out as I wished. The best part about having the foreskins lose is listening to talk radio afterwards, because you'd think the seventh seal had just been broken and the apocalypse was upon us. Moreover, these fools talk like the toughskins are somehow Washington's team. Hello, they play in Laurel, Maryland. Laurel. It might as well be Baltimore, except Baltimore actually has a team.

Today was a beautiful day to get out of the house and check out the world, which I tried to do, but first I wanted to buy a new camera to replace the one that got broken a few weeks ago. I went to the Best Buy in Tenleytown and they were all out of the one and only model I wanted. I went to the Best Buy in Potomac Yard (aka Alexandria), and they were also sold out of it. I walked down the box store row to Target and guess what -- their selection of digital cameras has shrunk to about a third of their former stock and they didn't have a single camera I was interested in. So after wasting around one and a half hours, the kids and I dragged ourselves to the National Gallery, where last week sippy cups for babies were welcome. This week they weren't.

Tomorrow I hope will go better.

06 October 2006

The Friday post about college football.

Sure, Penn State is having a mediocre year, having lost a very good game to Ohio State and played miserably against Notre Dame. However, we have beaten powerhouses Akron, Youngstown State, and Northwestern. Now we head to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota.

But enough about Penn State. Let's talk about things I don't like. Like Texas. And Texas A & M. Seriously, who the hell is A & M and why are they still in Division I-A? Apparently their big tradition is to light everything on fire the night before a big game in a symbolic representation of conspicuous consumption. Such staged displays of "spirit" pale in comparison to the more spontaneous displays that were a Morgantown tradition in the 1980's and 1990's (and who knows, maybe still today): setting fire to old sofas after they managed to beat a decent team.

As for Texas, well, they had their year and now we can all go back to ignoring them as also-rans. They're an impressive 4-1, beating the mighty teams from North Texas, Rice, Iowa State, and Sam Houston State (which I think is a correspondence school), but they were walloped by the only good team they played. Luckily for them, they play in the Big 12, which means they won't have to face another quality opponent until a bowl game, if then.

For kicks, I'm going to tell everyone the outcomes of tomorrow's games in the top #25:
1. OSU v. Bowling Green. I think OSU's 1st quarter points will be enough to ensure the victory.
2. Auburn v. Arkansas. Auburn. Auburn has one quality win; Arkansas has none. Still, it'd be nice to see Arkansas beat Auburn just to shut Tuberville up.
3. USC v. Washington. USC. If it were in Washington, I'd pick Washington.
4. WVU does not play.
5. Florida v (9) LSU. LSU will beat this vastly overrated Florida team.
6. Michigan v. Michigan State. No one chokes like Michigan State. Michigan wins.
7. Texas v. (14) Oklahoma. OK really should be 4-0; Oklahoma in a rout.
8. Louisville v. Middle Tennessee State. Louisville.
10. Georgia v. (13) Tennessee. Who really cares, but Georgia will win.
11. Oregon v. (16) California. Cal beats the Ducks.
12. Notre Dame v. Stanford. I'd love to see winless Stanford beat Notre Dame, but it won't happen.
15. Clemson v. Wake Forest. Clemson.
17. Florida State v. NC State. NC State. OK that actually happened already.
18. Georgia Tech v. Maryland. G-Tech. Friedgen's 15 minutes are long past.
19. Iowa v. Purdue. Iowa.
20. Boise State v. Louisiana Tech. Boise State.
21. Virginia Tech doesn't play. Beamer, see note on Friedgen.
22. Nebraska v. Iowa State. Nebraska rolls over this team.
23. Missouri v. Texas Tech. Texas Tech.
24. Rutgers does not play.
25. Boston College does not play.

05 October 2006

Mr. Speaker, the Getaway Plane is fueled and ready.

Anyone out there laying odds that Hastert resigns as Speaker of the House?

Is there an over-under on a "Before or After Election" pick?

This dirtbag apparently was playing the part of Cardinal to Foley's Wayward Priest.

Hell, even the Washington Times is calling for his resignation.

04 October 2006

Only partially explored and not entirely an explanation.

There are some sick f*cks in this world, and I'm not talking about the war criminal currently sitting in the Oval Office. What sort of loser motherf*cker takes schoolchildren hostage to enact "revenge" for something he himself did twenty years ago? If only I believed in hell I could take comfort knowing there's a special corner for child killers. Unfortunately, all we get is a shithead piled under six feet of dirt or scattered to the winds.

We've had a rash of school shootings recently and the similarities between this one in Pennsylvania and the recent one in Colorado are too eerie for words. In both cases, the killers were not fellow students, but rather older men choosing a school as a target. In both cases the killers took female hostages and in both cases attempted to or did molest the hostages.

I would submit that these sick fucks are symptoms of a culture that on the one hand sexualizes children and on the other hand values purity or virginity; a culture that still maintains on many levels (although not officially) the primacy of the male and a patriarchal structure that inherently treats women as objects for male consumption. I am reminded very much of the movie American Beauty, in which Kevin Spacey's character sexualizes and seduces his daughter's friend (played by Mena Suvari) up until the point at which he's going to consummate the seduction -- and then he realizes that she's actually innocent whereas he had believed she was active sexually.

Spacey's character, Lester Burnham, stops at that moment. He pulls back from the situation and of course later meets his death at the hands of a closeted military careerist neighbor, but the point is that Burnham had been consumed with the popular imagination of teenagers in general and the teenage female in particular (see for example MTV...) and it was not until he encountered the Other in her specificity that he understood the difference between the stereotype of the whole and the specificity of the one. He is to that extent a success story (as are most people), whereas the school hostage takers are not. They are failures. It's just terribly unfortunate that they couldn't have made the decisions to kill themselves before they had to inflict so much pain on their victims and their victims' families.

03 October 2006

Slouching toward November.

The Republicans have been tripping over themselves so hard, only a dead idea party like the Democrats could make this election close. First you had Abramoff; then Cunningham; then George Allen's racist ass comes out (and George, when your base consists of racists like yourself, it's not good to be forced to acknowledge your Jewish heritage); and then Foley's Follies and Hastert's attempted cover-up come out. And behind all of that lurks the miserable failure that is Bush's vanity project: the Iraq misadventure.

You'd think the Dems would be killing these guys. Unfortunately, they don't have any real vision for America except to say that they would not be the Republicans. It used to be that you could count on the Democrats to be behind grand plans, but my friends, the New Deal is 70 years ago.

The last big idea the Democrats had was Bill Clinton's abortive attempt at health care reform. How many people remember when Clinton held up a little card that symbolized the idea of a national health insurance card and then hung Hillary out to dry after it turned out some very vocal big spenders were against it (hello insurance industry shills)? That debacle enforced the notion that Democrats were fearful, directionless, shitheads.

So I don't look to the Dems as the saviors of the nation. However, while the Dems are directionless, the Republicans are pure evil, and at the very least a Democratic resurgence in the House and/or the Senate will stem the tide of idiocy emanating from a Party that has had no check on its power since 2000.

Who knows, if a President can be impeached for getting a blow job maybe a Democratic Congress might try to impeach a President for war crimes.

I have my doubts.