31 March 2006

Immigration built our nation.

Way back in the times of yore, Woody Guthrie wrote a song called "Deportee." It concerned the undocumented workers who year after year came to the California orchards and fields to harvest the crops, a service for which their undocumented status was exploited and for which they were soon run out of town when the work was all done. Guthrie's song, written in 1948, is hauntingly sad, culminating in the crash of a plane carrying workers back to Mexico. Like so many of Woody's songs (he was prolific as a lyricist and left behind boxes of song lyrics), he never set it to music. Others in the folk community did, however. Marty Hoffman is credited with providing the tune and Pete Seeger with popularizing the song (although the Byrds picked it up later). Here's one verse:

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

I play this song all the time to my kids. It's very simple.

Guthrie's song, while nearly 60 years old, tells a story still with us. Now, as Congress considers immigration legislation and in the wake of massive demonstrations, especially in Los Angeles, several Conservatives have stepped up to reveal the ideology that most of their ilk like to see buried beneath public view. The cornerstone of their proposal is to do away with illegal immigration through transfer of labor: let prisoners pick the fruit!

Now this novel proposal is certainly interesting, and I don't even want to get into the security issues of keeping all the rapists, murderers, and check kiters under guard on some of these sprawling orchards and fields, or of securing said lands against a few prisoner friends dropping by the night before with a care package hidden under plant #5 in row 13, but rather I'd like to stick to the economic model of using prison labor in the private sector.

I'm no expert on this, so I don't know how it works. The state feeds, clothes, and shelters the convicts, and the prisoners work in the private owner's field. The private owner, I assume, pays the state, while the state then pays the prisoner (a few cents an hour). Prison labor already competes with "free labor" in the United States, so it's not like the good reactionaries are proposing something entirely new. In fact, right-wing think tanks love the idea.

Really, what much of this noise hearkens back to is a situation similar to Zola's Germinal, where the workers are so dependent on the mine simply to survive that they more or less constitute a captive -- even if individuals to shift from one location to another -- labor force. However, this situation is far more advantageous to the owners: no pesky unions to contend with, food and shelter is offloaded to the state, and the labor force is quite literally captive, their status as prisoners serving to keep them in line under threat of further punishment.

Of course, another thing that really gets these fine Conservatives' collective goat is that many of these Latino immigrants -- not all of whom are illegal -- hail from Mexico and made a point of displaying their pride by carrying Mexican flags through the streets of LA. Here's Virgil Goode's bizarre statement:
Referring to a wave of demonstrations in recent weeks, Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia said, "I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag."

Huh? Is that like saying, "If you are here to eat French toast and we only serve Canadian bacon, go to Canada and wave French toast"? What exactly does Rep. Goode mean?

Similarly, on NPR Wednesday evening, some nutcase named Rusty Childress from the Arizona minutemen expressed his own contempt for the Mexican flag, muttering that he thought "the United States was a sovereign nation."

So we know they're all upset about these marches where people were waving another nation's flag. My only question for these whack jobs is where the hell were they about two weeks ago on March 17th, when I thought we were being invaded by the Irish?

30 March 2006

Annual event announcing the arrival of spring.

My daughter turned one.
A gorgeous thing, fat fingered
and diaper-padded.

The best poetry I've ever read about the experience of being a parent is contained in Sharon Olds' The Wellspring. Here's a tremendous poem that I'm using without permission, but I think that it constitutes fair use:

Bathing the New Born

I love with an almost fearful love
to remember the first baths I gave him--
our second child, our first son--
I laid the little torso along
my left forearm, nape of the neck
in the crook of my elbow, hips nearly as
small as a least tern's hips
against my wrist, thigh held loosely
in the loop of thumb and forefinger,
the sign that means exactly right. I'd soap him,
the long, violet, cold feet,
the scrotum wrinkled as a waved whelk shell
so new it was flexible yet, the chest,
the hands, the clavicles, the throat, the gummy
furze of the scalp. When I got him too soapy he'd
slide in my grip like an armful of buttered
noodles, but I'd hold him not too tight,
I felt that I was good for him,
I'd tell him about his wonderful body
and the wonderful soap, and he'd look up at me,
one week old, his eyes still wide
and apprehensive. I love that time
when you croon and croon to them, you can see
the calm slowly entering them, you can
sense it in your clasping hand,
the little spine relaxing against
the muscle of your forearm, you feel the fear
leaving their bodies, he lay in the blue
oval plastic baby tub and
looked at me in wonder and began to
move his silky limbs at will in the water.

29 March 2006

Between a Rock and a Roll.

I was a relative latecomer to the music scene, not really being interested in bands and such until I was about in eighth grade. Sure I listened to the radio - AM - such as it was in Central Pennsylvania, where you had two choices in format: country or top 40. You needed cable to get the FM stations from Pittsburgh.

For Christmas in 1982 I received a boom box. This item was the first piece of equipment in the house -- other than radio shack tape recorders -- to have a cassette deck, my parents for years having relied upon their stereo that looked like a piece of furniture. The very first tape I went out and bought was ZZ Top's Eliminator. Although I played it to death, I have never owned another ZZ Top album (although I do like their earlier work).

Later in the new year I purchased The Police's Synchronicity and pretty much my musical world was changed, changed utterly. I became obsessed with this group and purchased all their back catalog on vinyl.

Tonight I was listening to NPR and they had a show on about surveillance and the Bush administration's circumventing of the FISA regulations, and their outro music was "Every Breath You Take," which of course got me to thinking about The Police and their central place in the development of my music sensibility. But also it got me thinking that my engagement with that group began 23 years ago, pretty much around the time they were disintegrating as a band. I realized at that point that people just discovering The Police for themselves in 2006 would essentially be discovering a band whose origins dated back nearly 30 years.

In the mid-1980's, thirty years in popular music represented a paradigm shift: You were in the 1950's, with vocal groups dominating the airwaves. 1950's Rock - Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and others -- was confined to "Oldies Stations," while anything from the British Invasion forward was more or less "modern-era rock and roll" (not to be confused with "Modern Rock," a term used to distinguish New Wave and post-New Wave from 1970's dinosaurs). Sure, the Stray Cats went back and mined that 1950's sound, but it still exists in a world apart, even as many bands from the mid-1980's on continued to update or sometimes simply rehash post-British Invasion sounds (e.g. Velvet Underground and the Byrds as influences on REM and countless others even to this day).

A brilliant band like Belle and Sebastian are able to take sounds from BI and post-BI and synthesize them as something a bit new (see "Roy Walker" for instance).

Here's a thesis to build on, modify, or vehemently dismiss: Rock and Roll - meaning that entire genre that encompasses James Taylor, the Sex Pistols, Sleater-Kinney, and Guided by Voices - hasn't essentially changed since the Beatles.

Justice DeLayed is Justice Denied.

I've been a bit busy and haven't had time to follow the whole political business out there. On a larger scale, so much of this shuffling can be summed up by the Who's immortal song "Won't Get Fooled Again," even if Townshend did try to back off the sentiment of that song:
Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.

I suppose one reason he backed away was that such a critique doesn't leave a whole lot of room for political organizing on anything below a revolutionary level -- as even the so-called revolutions seem in the end to be more of the same.

However, on the micro level, it's hard to imagine that things would be this bad if we weren't under the Bush regime. Would Gore have blundered into Iraq? Probably not. Would either Kerry or Gore have continued to be insist that global warming was "junk science"? I sincerely doubt it. So we have to play games of relative scale, which calls for compromise, both in its good and bad senses.

But there are some truly astounding stories out there. As a matter of fact, I just learned that Tom DeLay is not being indicted on money laundering and conspiracy charges -- he's being indicted because he's a Christian, or at least that's what Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports many DeLay faithful believe.

I find it harder and harder to understand the criteria upon which this so-called Christianity in politics is based. DeLay's reputation was of a hard-nosed asshole. The Hammer. He is a mean-spirited petty jackass who holds grudges and punishes even his own flock for the slightest swerving from his fundamentalist political line.

Honestly, I have a hard time reconciling that deserved reputation with Christ's message of forgiveness and tolerance. DeLay I'm certain has never once considered turning the other cheek. I'm no Christian, since I have difficulty accepting all the mumbo jumbo surrounding virgin births, rising from the dead, and such, but I'm fairly certain that Jesus wouldn't have a whole lot to do with such a slave to temporal power.

Now of course, DeLay's alleged wrongdoing isn't the point, according to his defenders. It's simply that he was targeted for being an outspoken Christian. Here's Milbank's report:
"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ," [Rick] Scarborough said, introducing DeLay yesterday. When DeLay finished, the host reminded the politician: "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."

DeLay's fall from power being compared to a crucifixion? And let's be serious: the only crucifixion anyone ever really talks about or uses as a metaphor etc. is Christ's crucifixion, so basically Ricky is comparing shitbag DeLay to Christ, which I think should piss off a whole lot of Christians.

Bottom line: the dude is a thief and a racketeer, and his power plays would make even Machiavelli take notes. He's better positioned to play Barabbas than Jesus.

28 March 2006

File under too stupid for words.

So I bought this new bike last week because my old one got stolen. The new bike has these things called "presta valves" on the tubes -- the kind of valves all the fancy pants bikers use because...well, because they do. I'd never used a presta valve before and I tried to pump up the tires this morning. Serious bikers reading this (if any) are laughing their asses off right now because they realize this is the bicycle equivalent of someone asking for help to find the "any" key on a computer.

I put the nozzle on the valve. Nothing. No little hiss of air as the nozzle engages. Ok. I begin pumping. Lots of resistance. That's because there's no air going anywhere -- it's all being trapped in the pump hose. Ok.

I examine the valve. I notice it has a nut on the end, which I unscrew to reveal a thin bolt inside the valve housing. Aha! Taking the nut entirely off, I reattach the pump and it's working! The tire gets inflated. All's good.

I take the pump off the tire. Immediately there's a pop and the tire deflates. Utterly. Like my NCAA brackets midway through the first weekend of the tournament. The tiny little bolt thing is no longer to be seen. It's either in the tire somewhere or it was shot across the room by the air pressure. I don't know. It's gone.

Now I have to go to the bike shop and tell those bike junkies how I can't even pump up a tire.

27 March 2006

On recent paid blogger brouhahas.

I am saddened by the downfall of the WashingtonPost.com blogger for hire Ben Domenech. It was, however, not unexpected. Mr. Domenech is just another victim of liberal media bias, in this case couched in terms such as "plagiarism" and "journalistic ethics." Some complained that a Mr. Domenech movie review for the National Review (I didn't know they did movie reviews, unless it was for retrospectives of Leni Riefenstahl's work) looked suspiciously like previously published accounts.

I say, why not? If the pieces are about the same movie, I'd hope they were similar. Duh.

What this episode reveals is the liberal media bias against the free market. Ben Domenech did what any entrepreneur would do: he took pre-existing material and added value to it. He then resold the product with the added value (his name). It's the same thing Calvin Klein does with his jeans. The factory worker takes the denim, sews a few legs in there, then adds a few different labels to it, and voila -- some go to Target for 15.99, some go to Saks for $135.

Then you let the market decide. Does the market like the review on some crazy website like "the flick filosopher" written by Maryann Johanson (who herself must be trying to capitalize on the fame of starlet Scarlett Johanson), or do they like the review served up under the brand name "Ben Domenech" and distributed by the National Review?

Once again, it all comes down to distribution and name recognition. The market, my friends. No one accuses Target or Wal Mart of plagiarism because they both sell Sony Playstations (products I might add that neither of those companies built). I for one look forward to the inevitable logic of the marketplace finally dismantling these last socialistic trade barriers such as "intellectual copyright."

Man I'm pessimistic today.

When the history of the decline of the American Republic is finally written, perhaps in fifty years, George W. Bush will figure heavily, but he will not be an origin. Bush the Second will be a symptom of the loss of the civic ideal that will be traced back at least to Vietnam. He will stand as a symbol of mean-spirited and short-sighted selfishness on the part of the ruling class, heading an administration based on Cold Warriors who had no idea how to react to realities that had been ascending in the world since the collapse of the European colonial system.

The Bush II regime is obviously fertile ground for mining errors -- we could start with the neocons' love of gunboat diplomacy -- but Clinton's was also replete with evidence that we'd faltered as a society: it signaled a further retreat from the Democrats' supposed commitment to the working class and an acceptance of the Right's terms of debate -- welfare is bad (or for that matter, that welfare is a drain on our economy), universal health care is bad, regulation is bad, outsourcing is more efficient. All myths that fail to live up to scrutiny. And even at the heart of Clinton's administration, the underlying logic was that if we were frustrated, we could always lob a few cruise missles in the general direction of the thorn in our side.

Us v. Them, East v. West, The West v. Al Qaeda, etc. are all very convenient paradigms to simplify geopolitical events, but they're hollow. They cannot account for localized motivations or third (or more) terms; hence, the Iraq War "planners" -- a term I use very loosely -- could see only Saddam the Tyrant v. USA the liberator. They couldn't conceive of USA the Occupier v. Independent Iraq. They couldn't conceive of Saddam the Crafty Manipulator v. The Fractious Iraqi Society. It's a simple world when all you see is black and white; unfortunately, it's a very limited world.

However damaging all these political missteps may be, the undermining of the American Republic will not be laid at the doorstep of Bush II's warmongering. When the history is written, perhaps with China occupying the position of ascendant superpower, studies of Wal Mart, Nike, etc. will play important parts in understanding how the United States fell from prominence. Just as these corporations couldn't care less if their products were produced under prison/slave/child labor so long as they were produced as cheaply as possible, they also will not care less who purchases their products, so long as a market remains for them. In the old days, if you lost the support of the Church or the military, your regime faltered. Today, if you lose the support of the corporations, your regime falters.

Or, to quote Mr. Dawes, Sr., from Mary Poppins, "When stand the Banks of England...England stands. When fall the Banks of England...England falls." None of this really is new.

24 March 2006

Shocked, shocked, that there's racism in the police ranks...

Poor Montgomery County Police. First the Washington Post reports on their racist and general hate speech in yesterday's paper. Now it seems it's really the Post's fault, at least according to the Fraternal Order of Police lawyer Margo Pave. She laments that the Post's coverage of her organization's racism, sexism, and xenophobia isn't balanced:
Pave said the excerpts provided to The Post do not reflect the "bread and butter" of the discussions on the board...

Apparently, not every message on the board is about how much some officers hate the people they're theoretically supposed to "protect and serve." It would take an entire separate post for me to go into the reasons why the police -- as an institution -- don't exist in reality to protect and serve anyone's interests except for private property's, but I'm not going down that road on a Friday.

Ms. Pave needs to learn the lessons that also seem to elude many of our political leaders: it isn't news if it's ordinary. In fact, it often isn't news if something is working as planned. For instance, the electricity being available 364 days a year isn't newsworthy; however, an outage from say a lightning storm or someone cutting a cable accidentally is newsworthy. Therefore, not too many Post readers are terribly interested in police message board items about where the best place is to get your uniform pressed, who has the best coffee, and whether new paperwork is really overburdensome.

In a community chock full of recent and longtime immigrant communities, African Americans, and indeed women, it's understandable that it might be news that the police are referring to their constituents in the following terms:
February 2006: "Go ask [name of officer in Silver Spring] I'm pretty sure he has plenty of beaner cars that he has impounded!!!!!"

Very nice. "Beaner." How tremendously original. And we can't forget that old stand-by, diversity. If there's one thing that pisses off a racist more than seeing a white woman and a non-white man, it's being faced with the reality that non-whites can also do the same job their racist asses are doing:
June 2004: "Bottom line is thank the 'fool(s)' in [headquarters] that want to diversify this department for political reasons. Now we have the 'GHETTO' officer. When you lower your standards this is what you get."

Umm, I'm guessing standards were pretty goddamn low about the time the complaining officer got hired. And for all of Ms. Pave's complaining, the Post did at least report on a dissenting officer who was upset by the quasi-fascist demeanor of some officers:
March 2005: "No RACISTS??, then explain the NEO NAZI look that some [Silver Spring] officers have. Bald heads, black [battle dress uniform], and non-issued black flight jackets w/patches. Now that just conveys racism. Im white and I felt unsafe around them."

I've seen a few of those yahoos around. About ten years ago it was rare to see actual cops wearing the fascist gear unless they were part of a SWAT team or similar special unit. Now you can't wave a copy of Mein Kampf around for two seconds before a few types described above show up acting like it's Oprah's book club in bizarro world.

Thank goodness county executive Doug Duncan set the record straight:
"Let me be very clear. There is no place in our police department . . . for racism, bigotry and hatred," County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said. "As public servants, we not only take an oath to uphold the law, but we have a moral
obligation to guarantee that the law is applied equally and fairly to everyone in our community."

Well that's reassuring, but let me translate: "Let me be very clear. From a legal standpoint I am publicly condemning these statements. I am on now on record, the kind you might have brought up in court, as being against these opinions, and through implication, I'm telling you I had no idea this was going on. I am indeed shocked, shocked, that racism exists in our police force. And to go further, we take an oath to apply the law fairly, so I'm amazed there's racism. I believe in legal terms, you would call this 'plausible deniability.' Thank you, and good day."

Very nice, Pontius, but that's always much easier than actually rooting out the assholes and changing policies, practices, and recruitment to deter racist behavior.

23 March 2006

Karma Police owe me one now.

So yesterday my bike got stolen. I had parked it around 19th and S probably a bit too close to the Secret Safeway. It was locked, but there you have it. I was using a crummy cable with a built in key lock and either the cable got cut or the lock got broken. Either way, I don't have a bike right now. This bike is my second to get stolen in 13 years of living in DC, so I guess I do all right for someone who uses a bike around town daily.

Since my bike is now either being used by someone else or stuck in a bush along Rock Creek Park, I walked to work today. It was a nice day for a walk, not too cold and very bright. It gave me a chance to listen to some music -- dug into the vault for Radiohead OK Computer -- although it's the first time I've walked a great distance in these shoes and now I have a raw spot on my achilles tendon.

At least I can look forward to going bike shopping later today.

22 March 2006

We make tentative movements when breaking cover.

I'm getting about tired of this fake name crap. When I had to pick a display name for the blog, I didn't really give it too much thought. I'm not sure if it came from starting the blog so close to a Critical Mass or if it came from listening to the Make Up In Mass Mind. I know it wasn't Catholic Mass. Or Mass Ave. Anyway, I stuck with it, and didn't think much of it until people started referring to me as "Mass." As you can readily imagine, I began having all sorts of Derridean thoughts about "the name" and such.

So I'm getting sort of tired of this alias.

There's a certain joy in anonymity, as it minimizes the repercussions on your real non-cyber life. Certainly, as RCR well knows, the authors of the Federalist Papers utilized anonymity in an attempt to distance their well-known roles in the new government from the positions they took in their polemics (and also because it was traditional -- their Anti-Federalist antagonists had also adopted pseudonyms). Anonymity, like virginity, is something that once you lose it, you don't get it back. Unless you're Madonna.

So I'm taking a stuttering half-step toward revelation. I'm changing my display name to something closer to my name. It's slightly more honest.

21 March 2006

Guest blogger: GW Bush

Hi. I'm George Bush. I've been your President for the last...umm...6 years. Has it been six? Well, it's close enough. I've held this job longer than most of my other jobs, but I ran all those other organizations into the ground and bankrupted them. Except for the Rangers. Hey! It's almost opening day. Man I love the crack...what was I saying? Oh yeah, I love the crack of the bat.

The thing I like best about being President, other than the free food, is that I can't bankrupt this country. I can't. Because you see, just up the road from the White House they have a place where they can make all the money they want. Check it out. It's on the Tourmobile Route. They can make so much money, sometimes they just shred it up and put it inside pens or paperweights. I can spend spend spend and I just phone em up and I say, "Hey I need more money." They can make it. It's just like when Daddy sent me to Yale. Don't know where it came from; just knew I could have it.

Yale. Oh yeah. I hated it though. Northeastern liberals always telling you what to do. Hated it. After I got out of Andover Academy (and believe you me I wanted to go to public school -- just itched to do it), I told Daddy to send me to a real school in real America. Maybe Ball State. Or Texas. Hook em Horns! But he sent me to Yale and I had to pretend I was one of them elites. I'd tell him every summer in the family retreat in Kennebunkport how I hated it, but I swallowed my pride and went to Yale, where nearly every class was about how much we were supposed to hate America. Every one. Same thing's true when I went back to get my MBA at Harvard.

Anyway, look, we're winning the war in Iraq. I have a plan. It's a winning plan. But I can't tell you. No. See, the terra-ists would love for me to tell you. But it's a winner. If I didn't think it was a winner I wouldn't have sent your sons and daughters to Iraq. Or Afghanistan. No. My kids are busy though, thanks for asking. What's Dick say? "Other Priorities," yeah, heh. Ooo boy. That's what they have: "other priorities."

Some people think Iraq is in Civil War. Know nothings. Naysayers. They don't have the data I have. They haven't seen the intelligence. Listen, we all recognize that there is a violence, that there's sectarian violence. But the way I look at the situation is that the Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war. You may look at it differently, but you're wrong. But I still like you. Lemme give you a nickname, something like "Brownie" or "Kenny Boy."

Did I mention it'll be opening day soon. I can't wait to throw out that first pitch. Hoo, boy. Yup.

Artifacts of the past world.

I quite literally came across a pile of what could be called true "basement tapes" over the weekend. I used to have a four track recorder, some musical instruments, and some spare time. I filled up a good bit of that time noodling around with the four track. And not really noodling, unless you do noodling with all the subtlety of hammering a nail while wearing oven mitts.

You see, back in times of yore, before I moved to the District, I was a school teacher just out of college and like most school teachers, I had the summers off. Being young and somewhat attached to my hometown and a woman I knew there, I would move back in with my parents over the summer, take a very limited hours day job, and sit around in the basement most of the day with all this musical equipment. In the evenings I would play basketball and/or drink.

That, my friends, is a lifestyle that can only be lived for so long before it either becomes impractical or very very sad. Except for the basketball part.

Anyway, I created dozens of utterly horrific songs during this time -- and like children's art, it's really about the process not the product. I used a Doctor Rhythm drum machine (DR-550 I believe; I don't have it anymore) and would painstakingly program it for the entire length of the song, and I didn't settle for simple pattern repetitions either. Most songs required around 20 patterns -- a high hat added here, maybe an extra cymbal crash, a few drum rolls -- so it didn't sound completely like a metronome.

The most stressful thing about the entire recording process was adding the vocal track. I've never liked my voice and find it relatively impossible to carry a tune, so I would conduct my vocal sessions in as much secrecy as possible. I would wait until the house was empty (not an easy prospect given my parents were both teachers who had summers off and my two siblings were younger and had summers off as well) and then feverishly record take after take trying to get something I could live with, if not like.

Unfortunately, I never figured out the mixing part of it, and it always sounded like the vocals were sitting on top of everything else, sort of the way it sounds with Karaoke, or if you're singing directly into a boom-box microphone with the radio running in the background. Still, the tapes were fun to make and gave me a good creative outlet.

Most of them can't be listened to properly now, since the four track is now with my cousin in Florida (along with the microphone, drum machine, and various other odds and ends), but I did find a few mix downs and a I was listening to them last night. A few things struck me:
  1. As clunky and poorly made as they are, I was doing things with the guitar that I didn't realize I could do (I'm not talking Clapton here, I'm talking single picked notes rather than constant strumming -- I am not a good guitar player).
  2. My voice isn't so much the problem as my total tone deafness is.
  3. I never threw out anything.
Memory lane is getting pretty damn crowded these days.

20 March 2006

How long, how long must we sing this song?

Did anyone ever see The Madness of King George? I remember driving out to Shirlington to watch the movie with some friends back in the day. A great movie, and the king's madness was played for laughs, which is a safe thing to do 200 years down the line. However, at the time, England was embroiled in several of its protracted wars with France and of course the American Revolution took place. The loss of the colonies was said to affect the king's mind rather poorly.

A ruler's mental state is of course of great concern to the people, especially during trying times. After all, if the leader of a nation loses his or her grip on reality, then there's little telling what might happen, as the leader continues on his or her voyage through fantasyland, immune to counsel and re-assessment.

Coincidentally, I opened up the Post today and on the front page the headline tells me, "Bush Still Upbeat on Outcome in Iraq." Part of me of course thinks, well what else could he say? The Commander-in-Chief is hardly going to make a public statement indicating that he's down on a war he started. However, another part of me feels that Bush really does believe in those rose-colored scenarios in which the Iraqi people will soon be strewing flowers at US soldiers' feet, if only they could get their hands on some flowers.

Under King George the Third's rule, the writ of Habeus Corpus was suspended. It was all done legally, through Parliament, and the end result was the imprisonment of those who questioned the power of the king. A cowed legislature had basically hoisted themselves on their own petards (for history buffs out there, I realize I'm simplifying in that PM William Pitt actually introduced the suspension of habeus corpus etc).

Now, in a classic case of "if at first you don't succeed, try try again," Bush is contemplating launching a third war. In education circles, it's called "mastery learning," however it's often conducted under controlled conditions and without killing thousands of people.

England, unfortunately for them, had to suffer their king for another three decades following the American Revolution, before he more or less became too insane to rule in 1811. Luckily for us, we have elections in 2006 and 2008 that can do much to limit our own leader's follies. I'd like to say that we should be hopeful, but I certainly recall in 2004 believing that one could run a doorknob against George Bush the Second and win, given his lies, incompetence, and downright idiocy. Democracy is no guarantee of wisdom.

18 March 2006

Journey into the past...

I've been digging through old papers: college era and early 20's stuff. Most of it's banal, like gradesheets from students I taught 14 years ago (!), class notebooks from college courses, stray receipts from the same time (wtf?). However, I used to write poetry and songs quite often, and I'm coming across plenty of those and these are both amusing and painful to read.

Take, for instance, this little bit of song lyric, written in 1986 (yes, I dated all my stuff even in high school):
"It takes me so long
to put these words into song
now since they're written fine
I'm not sure if they're mine"


And then there's this little poem, written in the bitter dark aftermath of the collapse of a very long relationship. It's not horrible, but the resolution is too obvious and needs work. It dates from 1993:

Late Frost

Now the earth is covered in late spring frost
and the thaw will come too late to save the crops
we planted early, our hopes
set on large harvest. It was not fallow ground
in which we planted, but who can tell how nature's seasons
will push and shove the months, ignoring equinox
and shrugging off the calendar's printed dates?

We risked security to early yield, but now the plow
must cut the ground again to open up the fields
for new seed. The company is hiring in town, you say,
and there're places where eight hours make a day
and clay doesn't cling to boots and pants.
Sell the land for someone else to plant tidy townhouse rows
and plan quaint cul-de-sacs upon this once bumpy earth.

But I stand alone now in this field and feel
the fertile soil beneath my feet and I'll be damned
if another set of hands won't come to help
the lush green crops to spring again.

A little better. I think the last stanza could have used about eight more lines and a more subtle introduction to some new hands...

The Collapse of Civil Society.

No, I'm not talking about the Bush regime's gutting of government services and proto-fascist policies. I'm talking about a trip to the fast food counter.

I'm not a big fan of McDonald's, and I haven't been since I was about 25. Something they put in the food simply makes it indigestible to most adults, but their marketing makes them irresistable to children. So I found myself after days of bugging, taking my son to the Adams Morgan McDonald's (?!) for dinner.

When we got there, the line was two orders deep: a Latino couple were ordering and a kid who couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 was behind them, standing so close that at first I thought he was with them. Something was going on with the order, because it was taking a long time for the clerk to get the food together (it turned out to be a really large order). So this kid just starts yelling at them. He's probably in 1st or 2nd grade. And he just goes off, screaming "Hurry Up!" right into their backs.

They ignore him. Don't even turn to look. He stomps his feet. "Will you hurry up?" he half-yells. Then he repeats "Hurry up!" over and over, giving a little pause between hollers. I'm looking around to see who he's with, and see, standing by the door, a girl probably middle school age. She says something to him that had no effect, but she doesn't come over to calm him down or even reprimand him verbally.

And I find myself wondering what this kid's home life must be like and what sort of rat-ass parenting it must take to get your very young child to scream rudely at strangers in fast food chains.

The couple finished ordering, and the counter-man turned to the little kid, who ordered an ice cream. That's all. It was a $1.10 and his older sister (assumed) had to come over and help him give the guy the right money, reinforcing just how young he was. I'm willing to bet he's going to be a dream in about ten years.

Of course, the real highlight of the visit was when my son decided he needed to use the toilet there. If anyone's been in the Adams Morgan McDonald's, you know what I mean.

17 March 2006

Some borders are more permeable than others.

As I've begun to think a bit deeper about the ramifications of letting the South secede, I've realized there are large questions that need to be answered before such an event were to take place. Most pressing of these, of course, is how to handle teaching William Faulkner.

Faulkner was, of course, a Southerner. Would a newly re-reconstructed United States literature have to let Faulkner go as well? Obviously, he would become part of the canon of Confederate States literature (along with several other luminaries), but technically when writing he was part of the United States.

Many Southerners didn't like him in his first few decades of writing; they felt that he was too interested in decay and debauchery -- too lurid, perhaps exploiting the South for the North's entertainment. Of course, Southerners weren't alone in their hostility or apathy toward Faulkner; his books were basically out of print and he was almost forgotten until Malcolm Cowley (from my neck of the backwoods) put together The Viking Portable Faulkner and the rest was history.

Now what about his fellow Mississippian, Richard Wright, who in no way could be considered sympathetic to the "lost cause"? Wright's career as a writer is launched in Chicago (unless you count the childhood story he wrote, "The Voodoo of Hell's Half-Acre") and involves a renunciation of the South (see for example the sketch "How Bigger Was Born"). Of course, Wright's Native Son goes on to repudiate northern racism as well, and Wright himself eventually moves to France to escape the omnipresent racism that permeated even the supposedly cosmopolitan metropolis of New York City.

I figure in the end they'll enjoy the fate bestowed upon T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, wherein they're claimed by more than one "national" literature. It will open up new arenas for Faulkner studies -- a field already broad and deep -- in which scholars will be able to take positions on whether Faulkner was pro-separatist or pro-Union (in the broad sense). As for Wright, Confederate States literature professors will be challenged -- although like most lit professors it will delight them -- to justify teaching a man so utterly disgusted with the "southern way of life" (e.g. similar to current challenges to "anti-American" art or writing).

And then some: will the Southern Agrarians be taught as uncompromising heroes? Is Flannery O'Connor beautiful or damned?

16 March 2006

The work day just (unofficially) ended.

The NCAA tournament started. Thankfully, I have access to a TV at work, but now it turns out I really didn't need that. Good luck getting any productivity out of us office drones now.

From the Washington Post:
The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today, and for the first time, every game of the 19-day ritual known as March Madness will be available live -- and free -- over the Internet.

My oh my.

As for my final four, let's just say I probably won't win this year: Iowa, Pitt, UNC, Ohio State, with Iowa winning it all v. UNC.

15 March 2006

Some people are just plain wrong.

I'm normally a forgiving guy, but there's a certain class of people who deserve old-school penal colony, gulag style, no parole action. No TV. No balanced meals. No contact with anyone ever. Just a nasty sweatbox dug into the Arizona sand and a dirty old sponge for water occasionally.

How can you afford your rock n roll lifestyle?

So CNN.com has a little story about the priciest and least expensive places to live. It's something that some news organization runs every month or so, comparing the cost of living in one area to another. This one focused on "what a couple without kids who hold middle-management jobs would need to earn to replicate a moderately affluent lifestyle in various cities." Not surprisingly, New York (Manhattan that is) was the most expensive, with the couple needing $166K to lead their lifestyle (details of which weren't given).

DC was 12th on the list, with the couple needing $115K to lead the same lifestyle as their higher-earning New York compadres. Above DC, only one place really surprised me: Oakland, where it would take $123K to lead this unspecified moderately affluent lifestyle. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, since San Francisco is right across the bay and it's a beautiful area (unlike say Newark/Elizabeth, NJ, which is just outside New York and comes in at a lowly $108K).

The interesting part, though, is the inverse. The cheapest places to live the same lifestyle. Guess what...with the exception of three areas in Kentucky and two in Kansas, every single cheap area lies within the confines of the old Confederate States of America (and Kentucky was sort of divided then, so maybe those Kentucky cities aren't exceptions). That's 45 out of 50.

For starters, I'm not sure how you "replicate" a "moderately affluent" lifestyle across areas as diverse as say New York City ($166K) and Conway, Arkansas ($68K). I imagine Conway has its own "Curry Alley" and Little Italy, but does it have The Met? What's the pizza like?

Now, on to the Confederacy issue. I've already stated my opinion on this matter publicly, so I won't go into details, but let's just say that I think the world would be a better place, old wounds might finally heal, and love would spread like butter on bread if the US Congress simply took action and allowed the old Confederacy to secede (not that the Southern senators and representatives would really like that idea, since they now take home far more federal money than they give in and no one likes a gravy train to end).

Now you might ask, how many of these Confederate areas appear on the "priciest" places to live list? Seven, if you count the DC metro area (they classify DC/Arlington/Alexandria together). That's 7 out of 50. And four of those are in Florida.

It isn't too late. Let them go.

14 March 2006

Who will bring Bush to justice?

So Bill Frist is upset that Russ Feingold proposed a resolution to censure* the Worst President Ever (tm) over the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens. Frist, echoing the tired refrain issued on their morning talking points, rests his argument on the oh-so-lame defense that we shouldn't criticize the President in time of war. Here's Frist:
Frist, a Tennessee Republican, called the measure "a political stunt that is addressed at attacking the president of the United States of America when we're at war."

Now, since we're apparently in an open-ended and endless war, it will never be safe to criticize the President again. I see reasoning such as Frist's as another marker of the Imperial Presidency, where criticism becomes disloyalty and opposition becomes treason. In fact, treason is the term that Ann Coulter, the vapid spokesperson for unreason, uses to describe opposition to the Dear Leader's goals. Then again, Ann Coulter argued that we should "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Simple, brutish, and utterly unrealistic -- a good definition of conservatism.

Frist isn't alone in his obsession with the idea that the administration my do whatever it likes in the face of a (very conveniently) nebulous foe:
House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called Feingold's resolution "political grandstanding of the very worst kind," which exposes "the soft underbelly of the Democrats' positions on national security issues."

So the Democrats are soft on national security because they're adhering to the rule of law (a phrase that meant so much to Republicans in Florida in 2000) and expect the Executive Branch to function within the relatively broad framework of the US Constitution. If protecting our rights against overzealous ineffective witch-hunters meansbeing soft on national security issues, then I'll take the softness. After all, I'd prefer not to live under a nascent police state.

And then there's Arlen Specter, the lesser of the two Senatorial evils from Pennsylvania, who hedges his bets with a good non-committal say nothing response:
If administration officials like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are correct,
Specter said, "then there is no violation of law by the president."

Oh, that's brilliant. Let's rely on the Executive Branch to police itself. Let torture advocate Alberto "Rubber Hose" Gonzales be your moral guide on this issue. It's a bit like saying, "If O.J. is correct, then there is another killer out there."

The Nation this week has a nice little piece on Pete McCloskey, who was the first Republican member of Congress to call for Nixon's impeachment back in the day. Incidentally, the country at that time was facing the tail end of the Vietnam War, and Nixon's status as a wartime President didn't help him in the end.

*thanks to RCR for seeing I'd transposed "censor" for "censure."

13 March 2006

NCAA tournament time.

I would submit that the festival that begins this Thursday, March 16th, is perhaps the most all-encompassing sustained episode of what Bakhtin would call the "carnivalesque." Yes, it's true that there are other, perhaps more intense, examples, such as Mardi Gras or the Superbowl Sunday, but those don't last a month. And in the US, World Cup simply hasn't risen to that level of interest (yet. I'd like to be able to say yet there).

During this month, many Americans will waste inordinate amounts of office supplies and paid time following the tournament. I wonder if anyone has calculated work hours lost between the first flurry of games and the day after Championship Monday. Normally, wasting such things is frowned upon, but normal rules of conduct are suspended during this time.

Likewise, gambling operates wide-open during this period. Nearly every sports outlet offers online "bracket managers" for office pools. Again, using the workplace as a base for gambling activities is generally frowned upon, but in some cases, the NCAA tournament is the only thing that brings low-level keyboard punchers and vice-presidents together, and they unite in a complete disregard for workplace efficiency and ethical conduct.

It's also an orgy of television consumption. I have a friend who actually takes off the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament in order to see every game. I'd love to do that, but unfortunately my central involvement in one of the activities listed above precludes me from being absent from the office during this important time. Ahem.

Now I haven't studied the brackets, nor have I followed the teams this year, so I'm a bit out of it. However, I will provide you with my exclusive "Final Four Locks" (tm):

Iona, Belmont, Murray State, and Pacific.

These teams are guaranteed* not to be in the final four.

I do have some groundrules when picking teams, and those groundrules include a healthy bias against the PAC-10, because they are choking dogs.

*guarantees made on this site are not actual offers of warranty and cannot be enforced.

12 March 2006

Every now and then you have to increase the catalog.

OK I'm pretty excited because I just got me some new music. Well, it's not all really new, since one's a reissue, but there's some new stuff on it. I picked up the new Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit. That's brand new. Can't wait to hear it.

The other thing I bought was a reissue of Billy Bragg's The Internationale. Aside from the album (EP really) that I already am familiar with, it's got some live stuff and some odds and ends. And a DVD, which I didn't even know when I bought it. So it was a super surprise bonus since I was too lazy to read the packaging.

10 March 2006

Netflix yet again: The Corporation

So for some reason we have a bunch of documentaries all at once from netflix (OK I know it's the queue and all but you know what I mean), and since they've been sitting there for a month or three I decided I should maybe watch them and send them back. So last evening I watched The Corporation, which is really really really long for a documentary (2 hr 25 min).

The film doesn't go into depth on the legal arguments that established corporations as "persons under the law," but generally talks about how the ruling was based on applications of the 14th Amendment. So now corporations are "people," but they're people with infinite capacity to accumulate wealth, grow larger, and diversify. Looking at the legal basis and legal challenges to such a reading and its implications for the limits of the corporation would be enough material for a documentary alone. It might be a bit dry, but it would be of great interest to a niche audience.

Two parts really stuck out, and again, both could be their own documentaries:
  1. The corporate patenting of living organisms.
  2. Corporate collusion with totalitarian regimes and claims of ignorance as to working conditions.

Business ethics are a contradiction in terms for most multinationals, as they go from third world police state to third world police state in search of the cheapest possible labor. One interviewee, a representative of the Fraser Institute -- a "free market" think tank in Canada -- rhapsodizes on how wonderful it is that these corporations go into abject poverty and lift everyone around them out of poverty, then move on to the next impoverished nation where wages can be pushed even lower. It's so unbelievably naive that I think it must be an act. What does he think happens when the factory pulls up its roots in those communities they've supposedly lifted out of poverty? And can he really be serious in his contention that these corporations are somehow doing good by exploiting labor to maximize profits?

OK, I had a long diatribe about "free marketeers," but I don't want to head into the weekend on that note. Let's suffice to say that Marx's "Wage Labor and Capital" is a much more compelling analysis of what corporations are doing by jumping from country to country in search of cheaper labor: they're locating the subsistence level of the workers. In other words, they're identifying how little they can pay to allow the workforce to reproduce itself and nothing more. It has nothing to do with "lifting people out of poverty"; if they're lifted out then the wage is too high, and the corporation moves on and sets it lower.

Now I'm pissed off. I'm going to play some basketball.

09 March 2006

The simple(ton's) world v. the world we actually live in.

One thing I try to do every day is read the "Letters to the Editor" in the Washington Post. I don't really read the editorials themselves, and as for the columnists, there are only a few I might read: Colbert King, for example. Most of the others are either bland or idiotic. Charles Krauthammer falls into the latter category.

It's unclear exactly when he slipped into dementia, but it's been a while. While I don't read him regularly because I have enough stupidity in my life, every now and then I hear about what he's written or the headline to his column seems particularly hateful. Today in the Post, there were three letters to the editor about Mr. Krauthammer's recent column on Syriana. Well, I'd seen Syriana and thought maybe I should go back and look at the column to see what nutty things Mr. K's unstable mind might conjure up.

Sure enough, right off the bat, he (or his headline handler) is pulling the classic post-9/11 trope: "Oscars for Osama" the column title screams, proving through assertion that if you're critical of US capitalism/imperialism (or in fact if you call US military and political intervention "US imperialism"), then you are of course an Osama devotee. For Mr. Krauthammer, you are either marching in line or you are a bomb-planter.

Mr. Krauthammer seems to skip over the messy fact that everyone in the movie is implicated in one way or another with a failing, even the Arab prince whom Krauthammer likes to see as the center of the movie. Other people I've spoken to consider Clooney to be the center. However, the movie is decentered and destabilized by shifting allegiances and multiple storylines. What Krauthammer, revealing his own inability to read complex situations, describes as follows:
"The true distinction of "Syriana's" script is the near-incomprehensible plot -- a muddled mix of story lines about a corrupt Kazakh oil deal, a succession struggle in an oil-rich Arab kingdom, and a giant Texas oil company that pulls the strings at the CIA and, naturally, everywhere else..."

I suppose Chuck would deny that multi-national energy companies have a great interest in lines of succession in oil-rich countries, or that --Cheney's energy panel aside -- the industry exerts influence on foreign and economic policy, but those of us stuck in the real world know better. I suppose Chuck has never heard of US complicity in Operation Condor, in toppling Chilean President Allende, in the CIA-assisted assassination of Congo's Patrice Lumumba, and even such recent events as the Bush administration's initial support for the attempted coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. There's really a long history of the sort of things happening that Krauthammer scoffs at... Chuck, Chuck, come back to Earth!

Even more amazingly mind-boggling is Krauthammer's utter misreading of the suicide bombing that takes place in the movie (and is similar to the attack on the USS Cole). Krauthammer considers the bomber to be the "moral heart of the film" and describes the action in this way:
"The explosion, which would have the force of a nuclear bomb, constitutes the moral high point of the movie, the moment of climactic cleansing, as the Pure One clad in white merges with the great white mass of the huge terminal wall, at which point the screen goes pure white. And reverently silent."

I know it's tough to explain to Mr. Krauthammer subtle things like symbolism, but the reason the film goes white is that the storyline for the bomber ended there: we weren't seeing the event in the third person, but rather through the bomber's perspective and it's highly doubtful the bomber would survive that crash to see all the pretty explosions that Mr. K is probably used to. The film, however, does not valorize the bomber's perspective as Krauthammer contends.

What Mr. K's reading cannot allow is that the bomber isn't simply an object of pure hate -- he isn't the nasty swarthy villain with a dagger between his teeth that Mr. Krauthammer grew up with: he is a migrant worker who falls prey to a fanatical delusional interpretation of religion; surely Mr. Krauthammer would admit that religious leaders sometimes influence their followers in ways that are not exactly healthy or laudable. Nor can he stomach the idea that many bombers are recruited out of the desperate masses most vulnerable to manipulation: people whose ways of lives are unstable, poverty-stricken, and offer little hope.

So we've got Krauthammer misreading the film's portrayal of the suicide bombing -- it is hardly a heroic act in the film's narrative -- and further we have Krauthammer placing this portrayal at the moral heart of the film. I would submit rather that the moral heart of the film is not located in any particular character, but rather from a narrative viewpoint that understands political, economic, and social events as intertwined and holds in contempt leaders who preach one set of ideals while adhering to quite another.

08 March 2006

How did it feel? It was out of control.

I watched Control Room the other night. It's a documentary about Al Jazeera, both their reporting and their reception, in the build-up to and beginning of the Second Gulf War, to be known to history as "Bush's Folly." It's not a terribly thick slice of the network, focusing mainly on 3-5 Al Jazeera journalists and staff, a few US cable and network news reporters, and one military information officer. There's tremendous file footage of Bush and Rumsfeld lying through their teeth (especially Rumsfeld...the quotes they found for that guy are more damaging than anything someone could have made up). Example: in the early going, Rumsfeld tells the cameras that "Al Jazeera will say anything, they'll make up anything, to validate their point of view" (Quote not exact because it's been a week and I don't remember it exactly). Sure, I'm willing to bet that in spring 2003 that sounded great, but since two years later it turns out that Rumsfeld himself engages in precisely that behavior, the proverbial shit has hit the fan and scattered its fecal residue all over his morally bankrupt face.

Which probably excites him a bit, because I bet anything that guy's into scat.

Oh yeah, back to my point. It's all like deja vu all over again, as Yogi would say. As kidnappings, murders, and good old fashioned unrest continue to spread across Iraq, Rumsfeld stands before reporters and attempts to blow more smoke up their asses -- thinking to himself that if it worked before it should work again. Sorry, Rummy, but you've gone once too often to the well. He puffs and puffs, according to CNN:
However, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while criticizing media coverage of the war Tuesday, told reporters at the Pentagon he didn't think there was a civil war in Iraq.
"They want just the opposite," Rumsfeld said of the Iraqi people. "And they've demonstrated the courage to show that they want just the opposite."

Uh huh. When you have nothing to say and no facts to back you up, simply repeat the assertion. "Blue is my favorite color. And I have demonstrated the leadership to show that blue is my favorite color."

Here's another gem from the Rumsfeld Rose-colored World Almanac:
Rumsfeld acknowledged that violence is slowing Iraq's progress and that militias
pose problems for the government, but he said the number of attacks hadn't increased substantially.
"I think that these things go in bursts, and the burst has passed," he said. "And it's been handled pretty well. And there will be another burst at some point down the road, simply because that's the nature of that part of the world and the situation."

I'm glad the burst has passed, because just this morning another 50 workers were taken hostage, this time from a private Iraqi security firm. Must be a false report... And of course, when in doubt, you can always go to the ace in the hole: it's the Mideast and things just happen. WTF? This explanation is about as useful as frozen shit on a stick. I guess the "situation" he's referring to is the Bush administration's illegal and ill-conceived invasion of Iraq with subsequent occupation and power vaccuum. Yeah, that situation. I guess they forgot to requisition the thousands of roses needed for the Iraqi civilians to strew them at our feet.

So let's recap. You create all the conditions necessary for a civil war, in other words, you create the "situation," then you blame it on "the nature of that part of the world and the situation."

I'm sure the Johnson and Nixon administrations were just as duplicitous during the Vietnam War, but now we've thrown sheer incompetence and outright bungling into the mix. In a different world with a functioning UN, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld (at least those three) would be sitting in the dock much like Saddam Hussein. However, we're stuck with this world and the sad reality that like Henry Kissinger before them, use of state power to murder thousands, perhaps millions in Kissinger's case, of innocents can be done with impunity if you're big enough.

Oh boy, I guess I got ranting. Sorry.

07 March 2006

Go Tell It on the Mountain.

I keep reading all these articles and columns with everyone dissecting why it is that Brokeback Mountain didn't win the Best Picture Oscar. Fewer people seem to be very concerned with why it is that Crash won. I didn't see either of them, so in addition to being a total loser, I am also not going to comment on the actual movies (I have read the short story "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proux, upon which the movie is based). After all, I'm not Donna Britt, who once offered up a preposterous analysis of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (yes I bear grudges and have a long memory) after leading her column with the caveat that she hadn't seen the movie and didn't know much about it. I didn't see Capote, either, and everyone raved about it. Even the Post's Stephen Hunter predicted a best picture win for it.

I will, however, comment on the hype and mayhem that surrounds the Oscars. First off, it's ridiculous trying to decide on one "Best Picture" for the year, because in most years (not all of them), there are some incredible movies. Take 1974 for example: Chinatown and The Godfather Part II. These are both great movies, but The Godfather Part II won. In 1976, the choices were really tough: Rocky won, but also that year you had Taxi Driver, Network, All the President's Men, and The Front (which wasn't even nominated). In 1980, Ordinary People, not Raging Bull, received the Oscar. Or more recently, in 2000, Gladiator won the award over such films as Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And O Brother, Where Art Thou? wasn't even nominated.

In other words, it's a crapshoot many years.

Another thing to keep in mind is what sort of garbage we'd be reading right now if Brokeback Mountain had won. The Right Wing for years has argued that Hollywood is the reason for all our cultural ills (right after "international bankers," wink, wink, comes Hollywood), and despite Hollywood's mixed record on things like race (see Public Enemy's "Burn, Hollywood, Burn"), they continue to see nothing but corruption and filth coming out of Hollywood. Well, maybe you see what you want to see, or maybe you're so used to wallowing in filth, that's all you ever can see. Yes, I'm talking to you, Joe Scarborough.

Needless to say, if Brokeback had won, we'd be listening to the incessant whining of the media giants (who simultaneously claim to be shut out of the media...go figure) about the hatred Hollywood has for America.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

06 March 2006

Not so special delivery.

We shipped a piece of furniture from California via FedEx last month. It was a fairly sturdy side table/shelf from Ethan Allen that had been in my mother-in-law's home. In other words, it wasn't some IKEA particleboard do it yourselfer with some bizarre monosyllabic name. We used the same local California company to pack this item as we did other items such as glassware, mirrors, and framed paintings. All of those latter items came through just great. However, this piece of furniture, whose packaging for some reason also had "Fragile: Glass" all over it, came to us in an altered state.

Specifically, it had been shipped in the third dimension and arrived in DC in two dimensions, having been flattened somewhere along the way. I mean flattened. All four shelves were separated from all four posts. The furniture was in 8 pieces.

To make matters worse, the piece had been delivered to my wife's workplace and the cleaning crew had thrown the packaging away after my wife had unpacked it, making a claim especially difficult. So now I'm trying to put it back together. It seems like a simple task, but none of the parts want to stay together the way they used to. Additionally I discovered that even supposedly quality furniture outfits like Ethan Allen use "nails" that basically amount to staples to secure the furniture pieces. In fact, of the pieces I've managed to reassemble so far, there have been two screws and 16 staples. Very disappointing to me.

At least it can be fixed (I think). It would have been far worse if the mirror had been destroyed or if the humongous box of assorted legos had been lost. Now that would have been tragic.

03 March 2006

Tilting at windmills.

If you ever want to get depressed, angry, and frustrated, all you really need to do is sit through an LSRT meeting at budget time. For those who don't know, LSRT stands for "Local School Restructuring Team" and these exist in every DCPS-run public school. They are composed of parents, teachers, the principal, and community members, and they decide how the school will spend its money, arrange its classes, etc. Within the limits of DCPS overall policy, the LSRT has quite a bit of power. However, the LSRT can only work with the budget handed to it by DCPS.

Every year since I've been involved in the school, this budget has been cut. Two years ago, we lost two positions, including the librarian. Last year, we lost two more. This year, we're looking at six positions lost. The staff currently consists of 18 teachers and aides. Like other public schools in the District, our school is being slowly choked to death by unrealistic instructional budget cuts. This point, by the way, is where depression, anger, and frustration come in.

Even more amazing is that while DCPS spends roughly $10K per pupil, which seems luxurious, the local schools are being put on austerity plans (Parents United for the DC Public Schools has an excellent explanation of "per pupil funding" and why it's so difficult to compare numbers with other school districts). So where's the money? I'm not sure anyone in DC can answer that question with any authority. According to Parents United, DCPS spends less on instruction (teacher training, curricular review, instructional review) than surrounding districts and significantly more on security. Again, Parents United claim that "DCPS spends $243 per pupil compared to $33 in Arlington, $63 in Montgomery, and $18 in Fairfax" on security.

Unreal. We're cutting teaching positions because some asswad in the central office has a buddy who runs a security firm and gives him one of those sweet contracts that the District is known for.

OK. I'm getting a bit worked up, so rather than launch into a longwinded detailed analysis of DCPS's disfunctionality, I'll cut to the chase: Superintendent Janey wants to improve the schools. He wants students to do better. Yet he's offering the schools budgets that effectively make it impossible for them to improve.

When faced with budget cuts, the first thing to go will be enrichment items: field trips, new books, jump ropes, soccer balls, board games, etc. The second thing to go will be enrichment instructors: art, music, phys ed teachers. These enrichment courses by the way are the things most parents ask about during open houses. So let's cut them out and turn even more parents away from the public schools. Finally, the grade-level instructional staff, whether through losing an ESL position or combining grades, will be cut. Again, a brilliant way to ensure enrollment decreases even further is to make it apparent to the parents that you are effectively running a ghost ship with a skeleton crew.

Of course, we won't accept this budget without a fight. We will petition the school board, Janey himself, and councilmembers to stave off cuts to our instructional staff. In the past we've managed to get some cuts reinstated. If you ask me, Janey needs to spend more time looking around the central offices before he guts the local schools.

p.s. it would take an awful long time to discuss the importance of DCPS declining enrollment, which is Janey's main justification for cutting instructional staff, and I don't have the energy for that today.

02 March 2006

Placeholder to better things, or cul-de-sac.

It's almost tournament time and the sad fact of the matter is that I've never been less motivated or less informed about the men's college basketball season. I haven't really paid attention at all this year; I couldn't name the top 5 except that I'm sure Duke would be there. Maybe UConn. I am aware that the university where I work is having an outstanding year, but to tell you the truth I didn't know that until two weeks ago.

I am not going to do well in the NCAA tourney pool this year.

But on to bigger and better things:

The weather has warmed up for today, and I thought to myself as I cruised to the final block to the hulking example of 1970's Brutalism that I call my office building that it's a wonderful thing to be able to ride my bike nearly all year round, nearly every day. Granted, these aren't distance rides and I'm not feeling cleansed or accomplished when I finish them, but do feel serene. Really, the mid-40's to mid-50's is the perfect range for my little gloves.

A final thought: Pavement's "Here" is a small slice of perfection.

01 March 2006

Allright already. By less than popular request...

I've caved and have written a "poem" in response to the numerous (really, too many to count -- but seriously if you want to see a funny response to internet opinion polls, check this out) requests. I'm not the stickler for perfection that Mr. Herrick claims to be, but here it is:

My gloves, slight like paper sacks,
were no match for the cold
that kept my fingers curled
even after I'd let go the bike's handlebars.
I knew they were too thin when I bought them,
knew they'd be useless
in winter's more insistent moods,
but I paid for them because they were thick enough
for most days, because they turned the wind away
if not the cold. And yes,
I bought them too because they fit
in the shallow pockets of my wool coat.

This small trade isn't all we make daily
between the time we wake and the time
we sleep again. We see it always
in little concessions to convenience:
books left behind to lighten the pack's weight
or the bag too heavy to counter every possibility.
This poem could just as easily be
about pockets too small to hold my thick warm gloves.