31 May 2006

It's just one of those things.

All right. I know this is petty. I really do. But it pisses the living hell out of me everytime I see it.

Over the last decade, it's become more common for doors in office buildings to have handicapped accessible doors, the kind with the buttons that open the door for you if you need the assistance. Perhaps I shouldn't get so bent out of shape about this, but it drives me batty to watch the non-handicapped using these buttons.

Obviously, there are exceptions, like when your hands are full of a chocolate croissant and a starbucks coffee and you're too stupid to turn your back to the door to push it open, but I can't for the life of me figure out why someone with two free hands needs to punch that button rather than push the door open with their arm-muscles, flabby and weak though they may be.

This morning, however, went beyond annoying and entered the realm of what I consider insulting...I approach the door with a guy in his twenties following me and I hold the door open because I am one fucking polite individual. So I'm holding the door and this prick walks up and pounds on that button.

The door is already fucking open.

I looked at the door. And I looked at him. And I just shook my head.

What an asshole.

30 May 2006

When you look into the abyss, it also looks into you.

In the cultural memory of war, what's most significant is not necessarily the most important tactical or strategic events, but rather the moments that challenge our belief in humanity and justice. For World War I, it may be the use of poison gas -- remembered brilliantly in the much-anthologized Wilfred Owen poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" -- that sticks in the memory, while for World War II it could be Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific or Auschwitz in Europe, or perhaps the atomic bomb (a strategic development more important to the Cold War than WWII). For Korea, it's M*A*S*H (heh heh).

For Viet Nam, My Lai forever tarred U.S. forces with unchecked slaughter of innocents.

These incidents make us question the fundamental goodness of humanity and the capability we hold within us for cruelty or simple animal savagery. The point, often, of military discipline is to restrain, control, and direct the violence necessary in combat, to instill some mechanism that can counteract or override the outraged emotions and adrenaline frenzy that accompanies battlefield encounters.

Despite all that, war remains, as Sherman said, hell. It should not be approached glibly, as our current President did, offering catchphrases like "smoke him out" and "bring it on," as if he were some poor man's Dirty Harry in a made-for-tv movie.

As Americans, we want to believe that our cause is just (unfortunately it became clear some time ago that BushCo invaded Iraq on false pretenses). Failing that, we at least want to have recourse to a belief that our troops -- who are after all the sons and daughters from across the USA -- behave nobly and with justice toward both the enemy and civilians. We want to believe that the military chain of command would never condone or countenance acts like My Lai or Haditha. Which makes statements like the following so terribly disgusting:
Lt. Lawton King, a Camp Pendleton spokesman, declined to comment Monday, but another Marine there reflected on the damage the reports have done.
Nicholas Grey, a second lieutenant in the Marine Reserves based at Camp Pendleton, said the case will result in a loss of credibility for the Marines and increase Iraqi anger.
"It will make it a lot harder for the Marines who want to go through the streets," he said.

Apparently, murdering 24 civilians in cold blood isn't really the problem...it's the revelation of it and the case that results that's actually damaging. That alone should make you sick.

Here's a quick clue to planners of future military operations: going around shooting children in their homes should not be considered a useful military tactic. It cannot be covered up. It cannot be contained. Indiscriminately slaughtering whole villages, neighborhoods, or streets will not stop an insurgency, but rather will make it stronger.

Our most enduring images from the Iraq War so far have been images most removed from the idea of victory or nobility: the killings of contractors/humanitarian relief workers/etc by insurgents, Abu Ghraib, and now Haditha.

Is this what we want to become? Haven't we reserved accusations of killing innocents and torturing prisoners for the terrorists? Who wins when we set aside human rights in the name of security?

27 May 2006

This makes me sick right now.

If this story pans out, we now have our own generation's My Lai Massacre, although thankfully on a far smaller scale. As if we needed another one. It speaks to the absolute brutality of war and the difference between war games and the real thing.

In the warmongers' dreams, wars are clean events, full of "surgical strikes" and "smart bombs." In the real world, wars remain dirty affairs, and guerilla wars even more so, with every stranger a potential enemy. Perhaps that's why wiser leaders have eschewed unprovoked and needless wars.

Now we have this horrific act, that will only increase world-wide condemnation of the United States. If you ever wanted to drive people into a jihadist movement, you couldn't create better arguments than photos or stories of US soldiers killing civilians.

I'm so pissed off right now I'm starting to fly in several directions.

The Post today has a map of the killings, but I didn't find it online. Check the print edition.

26 May 2006

The Government Already Knows Your Memorial Day Plans...

Well, the Senate confirmed General Hayden as head of the CIA. I suppose none of those yahoos on the Hill really give half a rat's ass about domestic spying and the Constitution. Unless of course it's the FBI searching a colleague's office. Now all of a sudden the Constitution matters when you find out that BushCo is getting a little too close to your own house...

Hayden headed the NSA (the organization that Gore Vidal, as Senator Brickley Paiste in Bob Roberts, asserts "really runs the country") from 1999-2005 and oversaw the domestic spying, which I suppose gives him great job experience, but not exactly great character. In a way, it's like enlisting the Manson Family in the military because they've proven their ability to kill.

Which brings me of course to a great cartoon I read earlier this week about the Bush Administration's continuing lies and cover-ups concerning the depth and breadth of their assault on the Constitution:

25 May 2006

Sometimes you have to crawl around the muck...

So I was in the library yesterday looking at books on Warren G. Harding. Just need a few good quotes, you know, to patch together some background information. I came across this book published in 1920, edited by Will Hays called Rededicating America: Life and Recent Speeches of Warren G. Harding. In other words, it was as much a publicity piece for the Republican candidate as it was a historical document. Hays was chair of the Republican National Committee, and after the 1920 election, Harding rewarded Hays with the job of Postmaster General.

If you have someone besides George W. Bush in the running for "Worse President Ever," then Harding has to be at the top of the list. Aside from being inducted into the KKK in the White House's "Green Room," Harding surrounded himself with other criminals. His Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, used the Justice Department to run bootlegging and intimidation rackets, as well as to funnel blackmail payoffs to Harding's numerous mistresses. His Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, is most notorious for the Teapot Dome scandal. Harding, Nixon, and Bush. A corruption trifecta.

Anyway, this book of Harding's speeches, compiled by Hays, really lays out the isolationism and xenophobia inherent in Harding's political outlook. Harding rolls out the whole "America First!" wagon on every occasion, and it's fairly clear that his vision of America excludes the poor huddled masses that the Statue of Liberty supposedly beckons. A very disgusting man, and reading his words leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Thankfully, I only need about three good quotes and I can quit him.

24 May 2006

I remember the glory days of woodshop...

Just how immensely lost do you have to be to do what this guy did? Look buddy, I know you're stuck in St. Louis and the Cards are having a tough spring, only being 3 games ahead of Cincinnati and all, but please wait a few weeks until the end of the school year to start hitting the booze.

Of course, I have a feeling he'll have all the time in the world for drinking pretty soon.

23 May 2006

Dream a little dream.

I generally don't remember much about my dreams, but here's a strange one I had last night, and it's only a small fragment -- it's all I remember: Rilo Kiley was a duo and the guitarist had been in Britney Spears's backing band and therefore was a millionaire from all the royalties from airplay of her songs. However, he left because he couldn't stand wasting guitar work on such vapid music.

There are several problems with this dream, of course. First, Rilo Kiley isn't a duo. Second, none of them is connected to Britney Spears, as far as I know. Third, it's highly doubtful that members of Britney Spears's backing bands receive much of anything in the way of royalties. Finally, I'm not even sure there's real guitar in Britney Spears's songs.

22 May 2006

I can be dense sometimes.

I was out in the far 'burbs yesterday in a place called "Kingstowne" for my nephew's birthday party. My sister and her husband bought a townhouse way out there when about the only thing around was a Wal-Mart and a shopping center anchored by a Giant Food and a Marshalls (or Ross...I can't remember). Of course, even then there were mysterious "intersections" with stoplights but only one road leading in and out -- a sure omen of imminent expansion if ever there was one. Now, 6 years later, they complain that it's too crowded.

Near to their townhouse development is a McMansion development bearing some pretentious name like Prestwick, like it's some estate in the Lake District. Any minute now Algernon's going to be showing up to bunbury. So despite the name, the houses in this development are basically large squares, wrapped up in vinyl siding in various shades of beige, looking more like stacked up double-wides than anything else. And they appear to be about two feet apart from one another. English manors they are not.

Now I'm not one to complain about housing density. I think density of a certain kind is a very good thing. DC lacks the residential density that contributes to a more vibrant neighborhood life, with the notable exception of course of liquor stores. They don't seem to need too dense a neighborhood to survive. Adams Morgan, for instance, may be densely populated, yet it still can't sustain a bakery or apparently more than one ice cream joint. I just want to pick up a baguette for dinner some afternoons for christsake.

The sort of density exhibited by all of these suburban developments, however, is the wrong kind of density. It's not community friendly. The suburban configuration, featuring long stretches of busy roads unbroken by pedestrian crossings and vast parking lot wastelands, more or less forces you to drive everywhere, even when you have restaurants and shops distance-wise as close, say, as from Washington House to Busboys and Poets.

In DC, you walk from neighborhood to neighborhood with few obstructions. I can walk easily from Georgetown to Adams Morgan and come across many places to stop for a drink, or to pick up a paper, or to sit on a bench. In these new developments in the 'burbs, my wandering would be constantly interrupted by brick or concrete walls marking the boundaries of developments, by wide roads with nary a crosswalk in sight, and nearly no where to stop along the way. Foot traffic is not encouraged, which explains why so many developments simply do away with the idea of sidewalks altogether.

Vastly improved ("improved" here meaning developed, as in Marx's ideas of improvements in means of production) transportation infrastructure has allowed for this sort of development: clogged as the freeways may be, they still offer vast amounts of individuals the opportunity to drive their cars solo into the city from distant places. Oil dependency means very little when it's still a relatively inexpensive commodity -- in other words, it's more like being addicted to caffeine rather than cocaine -- and we've maximized our commutes based on the theory that larger or newer or cheaper homes counterbalance the time and resources we spend driving back and forth between them and work (and life -- after all, the hot club list does not include the Annandale TGI Friday's, and you're not likely to catch Arcade Fire or Southern Culture on the Skids playing at the Springfield VFW anytime soon).

Then again I like to walk.

20 May 2006

Another one's done gone...

Yesterday I had one of those startling moments when something you expected to see isn't there. In this case, it was one of my favorite places in DC, Kultura Books. The last time I'd been in there, which was probably mid-April, I had no idea they would be closing. Then yesterday I stopped by there to kill some time while I waited for someone to arrive on the Dupont Metro. Or at least I thought I'd stop by there. A sign in the window said they had closed April 25th or 28th and had moved to L.A.

I stared at the empty store window blankly. Kultura had moved all around Dupont (this was its third location in my time in DC), but it seemed like a given. In political science, it's depth far outstripped its larger rival, Second Story Books, just down the street. Kultura also had an incredible cookbook section.

Used book stores are so important to a city's character; intellectual tourists will come to a city and make it a point of stopping by the bookstores, new and used. It would be hard to imagine a literary fiend going to San Francisco and not stopping by City Lights. Or to be in Paris and not go by Shakespeare and Company, even if it's not the original and bears only a tangential relationship to Sylvia Beach.

I've seen some wonderful bookstores either move or close down. Vertigo Books left Dupont Circle years ago for College Park. Atticus Books, too, left town. Atticus was a treasure, and it was a sad day when they left U Street. Neil's Books was a brief-lived used bookstore on 17th Street. I think 17th and Corcoran.

Well, we still have Second Story and Idle Time Books. Both of those are great.

As far as "new book" bookstores go, Bridge Street Books, just on the edge of Georgetown, is easily the best thing in DC. The Olssons that used to be in Georgetown was outstanding as well -- it was creaky and quirky and part of what used to be Georgetown's unique character. These days, all Georgetown really seems to be is a mall without a roof. It has about as much character as every other pre-fab strip of company stores.

Kultura, I will miss you.

19 May 2006

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

When you're as old as I am, you've seen quite a bit and have stories to tell for every occasion. Sometimes that's a good thing, if you're a good storyteller or in good storytelling condition. Sometimes that's a bad thing, especially if you can't tell a story properly. Then you become what's called a bore.

As old as I am, I have a story for every occasion, because I've seen quite a bit. That can be a good thing, when I'm in the storytelling groove. However, sometimes I'm not in that groove and the stories either drag on or go nowhere. At that point, I become a bore.

You have stories for every occasion when you're old enough to have seen quite a bit. In the hands of a capable storyteller, it's a good thing; in less capable hands you risk becoming a bore.

Old people have stories and they tell them over and over. Sometimes they're funny. Sometimes they're boring.

We grow old, lost in our stories. Our stories are our lives, and we retell them to reassure ourselves we have lived. At times, we bring ourselves and others alive with the stories, carry our listeners out of themselves for a moment; often we render ourselves dead and irrelevant with tales told poorly or wide of the mark.

18 May 2006

The Missing Link.

The Post has a blockbuster frontpage story on how humans and chimps may have interbred, and far more recently than was previously suspected (like perhaps 5.4 million years ago). Now this story will probably twist the knickers of so many religious fanatics who already don't like these liberal big city papers and "all those smart-ass folks who think we come descended from monkeys," as Homer Stokes announces in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Of course, the Post didn't originate the study, they only reported on it, but that of course only reveals their bias because they didn't allow a rebuttal story about how the Earth was really created only about 6000 years ago and the fossil record was placed there by Satan and so on.

I'm thinking to myself, what's the big deal? It ought to be obvious that humans and chimps have interbred in the past. After all, some people still exhibit very close physical characteristics of chimpanzees:

And then again, some people are trying very hard to get that interbreeding going again:

17 May 2006

Sometimes I try to figure out wacky people's motivation...

The real news about Bush's poll numbers isn't so much that he has a 33% approval rating, but it's who in the hell are the 33% who approve of him? I'm assuming the Bush family and its hangers-on account for a few percentage points, and of course the scattered fascists who enjoy his version of big government domestic spying, but really can they be that large of a group? I guess at least half of these 33% must be just dyed in the wool hardcore Republicans who would approve of Osama bin Laden's job if he were registered Republican (he's got the credentials for it: maverick businessman, distrust of liberal democracy, desire to impose religious codes via government, believes what he wants is more important than the rule of law...).

Unfortunately the Democrats, who long ago gave up the idea of having original oppositional ideas and now strive simply to be less harmful than Republicans, haven't been able to field anyone with any sort of charisma. Hillary Clinton? She's competent, she's safe and centrist -- so the apologists love her, but she out-Gore's Al Gore in stiffness. Barack Obama? That's so 2012. John Edwards? Charisma, true, but I'm fairly certain a hole in the earth opened up and swallowed him.

The election isn't for another 2.5 years, unless of course Bush suspends elections "to keep protecting the American people," but maybe some good mid-term election shifts this fall will finally give Congress the guts to investigate this criminal administration. Maybe.

16 May 2006

Another post on education? C'mon...

Every now and then I have to remember that reading Marc Fisher's column can be a mixed bag. In general, he usually finds the points that other people either overlook or choose to ignore. However, sometimes he draws some pretty slap-dash conclusions. Today he wrote about Janey's school closures. The print edition uses the headline, "Janey Flies Flag of Surrender." The online edition uses the less inflammatory "This Is No Time to Be Timid." In both cases, Fisher's argument remains the same: DCPS is losing ground to charter schools and these closures are a surrender to that reality; moreover, Fisher argues, Janey's failure to fire teachers or principals from the closed schools and his stated desire to see that no closed schools turn into condominiums shows timidity (i.e. an unwillingness to make the most money off the closings).

I agree with Fisher that DCPS has done almost nothing to stem the flow of students out of their schools and into charter schools. The charter school movement is strong in DC not only because of our colonial status as experimental laboratory for every goofy idea Congress or a thinktank wants to throw our way, but also because DCPS has consistently shown negligence toward their facilities and students.

However, Fisher somehow thinks that selling off school property to rapacious developers would somehow benefit the students:
Alas, yesterday's announcement heralded the most timid possible approach. "No condominiums," Janey promised. He wants to use the schools he's closing for city offices and social services -- worthy ideals, to be sure, but nothing that would give kids a substantially better education.

I hate to break it to him, but some developer building a 300 unit condo complex doesn't teach my kid anything. Nor will the money from the sale actually provide more than a drop in the bucket to my kid's school, after the bonuses paid out to central administration staff, the graft to the connected lawyers and shady land-swap specialists, etc. His teacher will probably be given an extra box of chalk. Fisher should know better than to think that any windfall will ever get spent in actual instructional improvements.

Like Fisher, I'm confused by Janey's largesse:
Janey went out of his way to say that the principals of the shuttered schools will remain principals, no teachers will lose their jobs and even the building staff will stay on the payroll.

In a way, of course, Janey can argue that these teachers were teaching students; it's the space that wasn't being fully used. Since the same number of students are still in the system, just shuffled around, they still need the same number of teachers. However, it's harder to argue that they still need the same number of principals (will the combined schools have two principals?) and even wackier to argue that the building staff will still have jobs. What really confuses me about this pronouncement, though, is that while Janey is assuring that employees at closed facilities will maintain their positions, he's forcing remaining schools, such as my son's, to fire classroom teachers and combine grade levels because his budget cuts haven't provided enough funding to keep all our teachers.

Such capriciousness appears to be an almost wilful attempt to drive more students out of the traditional public schools and into the charter system.

15 May 2006

Tough love.

How many people have ever been in the situation where they've invested time and effort into a relationship only to be rewarded by blundering idiocy on the part of their significant other? But you keep at it, hoping they'll change, hoping they'll see the light and stop acting like goddamn morons...

That, my friends, describes the relationship most parents have with DCPS. You see, it's important to get involved with your school and in DC, thanks to an utterly corrupt and useless facilities maintenance division, you have to get involved to make sure basic needs are met. You know, things like working toilets and fresh paint and clean hallways. Things that in almost any other organization you could take for granted, especially with a huge facilities budget, but that in DCPS don't seem to get addressed until parents complain loudly enough to make someone with decision power uncomfortable.

OK. This could turn into a really really long post* about how dysfunctional DCPS is, from head to feet, but there's no need to bore you with the details. Let's start with a few groundrules:

  1. I believe in public education and it pains me greatly to see the body in charge of that function behave so badly.
  2. While individual charter schools may be decent and run by decent people, the movement as a whole is a right-wing trojan horse for dismantling public education -- even if the schools are called "public charter schools."
  3. DCPS is an urban school district. It isn't fair to compare its per-pupil spending with anything but other urban districts. Recently, the Post compared DCPS to Boston. That's a fair comparison. In most cases, comparing it to Montgomery County is not.

That being said, today's Post had an excellent opinion column by David Nicholson explaining one facet of DCPS's moronic approach to student achievement:

D.C.'s Master Education Plan pays lip service to the importance of libraries, calling for elementary schools to have librarians who work at least half time and for middle schools to have "a fully functioning library." But it says nothing about libraries in high schools.

And lip service it is, indeed. My son's elementary school has been functioning without a paid librarian for three years now. The column, which tells the story of formerly full-time Coolidge High librarian Lynn Kauffman's struggle to take a decrepit library and not only turn it around but also create an outreach program to the students to make the library -- or at least the importance of reading -- central to their education. Her reward for getting 60 students to join a reading circle, pledging to read at least one book a month? She was fired, or "excessed," as they like to say in DCPS-speak. Kauffman has testified before the DC Council Education Committee and the School Board that more than half of DC's schools have no librarian.

Friends, I don't know about you, but that is a pathetic comment on education in the District.

Oh yeah. And Janey is making the equally counterproductive decision to close schools. While there's general agreement that the shrinking system doesn't need the space it once needed -- especially since it refuses to maintain even the space it does use -- Janey's methods seem arbitrary and ill-suited to the situation. For instance, Janey has repeatedly emphasized the "minimum number of students" a school should have to be "viable." In other words, he's looking primarily at small schools as a problem and as targets therefore for closure. Why? Because in the number crunching world, a small school equals more overhead: fewer students served by the facility and the administrative and support personnel.

It's further evidence that he equates good education with keeping costs down. Guess what...education isn't a business and it shouldn't be run like a business. Small schools work in part because the support staff aren't spread across so many students. In our school, the principal knows every one of her students, and more importantly, the students know that. They know they aren't forgotten in the belly of the beast. Additionally, because "services" like libraries aren't "revenue producers" doesn't mean you should shut them down. The business model, whose bottom line is to generate profit for a company, is utterly inappropriate for education, whose bottom line is to generate critical thinking, independent young adults.**

Janey, who has claimed to be looking at Boston's turnaround -- and indeed has imported much of Boston's curriculum standards to DCPS --, might do well to note that Boston's turnaround has included the division of larger, impersonal schools into separate units -- in other words, the opposite of Janey's plans for consolidation:

With Gates Foundation grants, Boston has divided four large high schools into 13 smaller schools. Hyde Park, once an underperforming high school, was this year broken into three thematic schools decided with community input: engineering, social justice, and science and health. "The staff is more engaged, and I'm more engaged," said Linda Cabral, who was the headmaster of the larger school and now leads the smaller Community Academy of Science and Health, which resides on the top floor. "Students are less likely to slip through the cracks."

Students are worth the extra cost (Boston spends $1000 more per pupil than DC) to keep them from falling through the cracks. I can't wait to see what schools are on Janey's list. It should provoke some real nasty fights.

*Oops. It sort of did turn into a long one anyway. Just remember, it could have been really really really long.

**The "purpose of education" is an entirely different debate: is it to create well-rounded individuals, productive individuals, socially responsible individuals, critical thinkers, etc. Studies have variously shown that education tends to reinforce dominant belief patterns, recreate class/race divisions, etc., and that therefore the development of schools is a constant process, but let's leave all that jawing for another day.

12 May 2006

More arguments of the Right's essential moral bankruptcy.

Here we are. It's Friday. Turn the lights down low. Put a little smooth jazz on the hi-fi.

Crack open the Michelob.

Oh man the weekend is upon us and unfortunately this one is jampacked from beginning to end, which means that Monday will arrive and I'll need a break.

I'd like to sit back and play a little acoustic gee-tar, but apparently my family is not too enamored of my singing. Tough luck for them.

I love the idea that Bush claimed he's not "trolling your personal lives" when his latest double super secret invasion of privacy boondoggle was revealed. First the wiretaps go public. Now it's known that the NSA has been collecting millions of phone records from ordinary US citizens. I'm really trying to imagine the scenario if this bullshit had happened under Clinton. Can you imagine what the G-Man (what a fucknut) or Rush "Dr. Feelgood" Limbaugh would be jawing about? In fact, isn't the overzealousness of the federal government (Ruby Ridge and Waco) exactly what set the really really right-wing nutcases off in the first place, leading McVeigh to Oklahoma City?

Actually, Liddy's website scrolls a right wing news ticker (CNS news) that defends the Bush administration's telephone records grab. So much for consistency; the man who claimed that you should shoot for a federal agent's head to avoid their body armor must have seen the light...

Of course, you have to remember that Liddy is really a nutcase. He's a convicted felon who couldn't even manage a burglary properly, inadvertantly (and thankfully) bringing down the Nixon administration. His popularity among the Right obviously points to the Right's affinity for police states and ethics-be-damned, win-at-all-costs mentality.

In an advanced society, this man wouldn't have an audience.

11 May 2006

Another criminal steps to the front.

Yesterday I was unable to write, and what a great story presented itself: HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson bragged to a Dallas area minority real estate group about how he quashed a HUD contract because the applicant had told him that he didn't like Bush. Now he claims the story is false, that he just made it up.

It's rare in this day and age that you get someone so utterly stupid that he or she admits to illegal activity, but the Bush administration is replete with individuals for whom the idea of "justice," "equality before the law," "ethics," and "decency" are all foreign terms. It's well known that in the 19th century, patronage was the way you got your political appointments and the way you got your government contracts -- or at least the way you got the government to get out of your way. Of course, some of that continues today, but the practitioners are usually not so brazen as to proudly announce their actions. However, here's Secretary Jackson doing just that when he explains why an applicant lost a contract with HUD:
"Then he said something. . . . He said, 'I have a problem with your president.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush. ' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.' "He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

In other words, the federal coffers are open only to Bush loyalists. Well, "logic" may say they don't get the contract, but legality says otherwise. The Post notes that Jackson may have violated Constitutional protection of speech as well as federal procurement law.

Next of course is Jackson's bizarre logic that being awarded a HUD contract to do advertising for HUD somehow equated with the applicant turning around to "use funds to try to campaign against the president." I'm still trying to figure that one out. What exactly was HUD advertising? And is it common practice for HUD to award contracts with no oversight so that someone could conceivably accept a HUD advertising contract and then use those funds for something else, like a luxury yacht or a week in Las Vegas or to campaign against the President?

But this speculation is all moot, since as Secretary Jackson says, he made it all up. Uh huh. Just sort of made of some crazy story that had no basis in truth but just so happened to impact your job directly and describe illegal activity? I call bullshit.

09 May 2006

Like day old bread.

Anyone else have a problem with blogger this morning? Now my post is staler than usual. Anyway, here goes:

I could write about something serious, I suppose, like wacky Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s letter to Bush. Aside from the ludicrous idea that Bush could actually read the letter, Ahmadinejad apparently didn’t have anything to say about his “nukular” program and dusted off a few yawners about Israel and the failure of democracy. Sure democracy as practiced in the US of A has a few creaks (ahem, Abramoff, ahem), but one of the nice things about our democracy is that in two more years a certain idiot will be back in his village in Texas.

However, on a less serious note, there’s more evidence that those wacky kids from Yale actually did steal Geronimo’s skull and a few bones from Fort Sill back in the early 20th century. Nothing like a little grave desecration to cap your education. Then again, secret societies aren’t exactly great institutions for democracy, even if so many of our leaders are culled from their ranks. I suppose at 18 or 22 being tied to a pole and having shit thrown at you or having to kiss a skull seems like a great deal to ensure you have a group of “friends” (more correctly: future networking contacts and immediate posse to back up your assholery), but I never really got excited about those prospects.

I would like to see a day when membership in Skull and Bones and its ilk disqualifies you from serving as President, sort of like being a convicted felon disqualifies you from (legally) buying a handgun.

08 May 2006


OK. This item proves that the Iranian leader is bonkers. He wrote a letter to Bush. A letter? Hello. The idiot can't read.

Of course, the contents of the letter are unknown, so maybe it's like a picture book.

I can only imagine.

In other news, yesterday afternoon I got in the car and started it up and evidently startled a rat who had been either in the engine area or under the car or hopefully just nearby the car and it bolted into the back yard. Not cool. I chased it but it ran under our deck and escaped, because I'm not following a rat into a dark, low-clearance area.

It was a nasty rat, too, with bits of fur missing from its sides and I can only think that a rat running around in the afternoon means its not exactly healthy. Hopefully it'll die somewhere other than under our deck or under the car's hood.

05 May 2006

Scattered around here there might be something to keep.

It's Friday. So many dumb things I could write about.

How about the baseball star's girlfriend who got robbed after cashing $10,000 worth of the player's paycheck at a check cashing joint? You're a baseball star and you can't figure out how to have your people set up direct deposit? Moreover, you go and use a check cashing joint? I want to open up one of those places just so I can cater to overpaid athletes who will give me a good chunk of their money to provide basic banking services. The best part about the story is that she already had $2,000 in her purse; I guess she needed the extra 10 grand in case the tab ran a bit high high high. If you know what I mean.

Then you have another generation of Kennedys following in the fine family tradition of car wrecks. He blames his medication, evidently prescribed to him by Doctor Johnny Walker, for causing him to crash into a security barrier near the Capitol. He claims he was taking phenergen and ambien, so let's say we buy his story: OK, so you weren't driving drunk, but then do you think it shows any better judgement that you're doing driving a car after taking ambien you friggin moron?

Or I could talk about the play I saw last night, The Persians, at the Shakespeare Theatre. A lot of people don't know Shakespeare wrote The Persians, but -- OK he didn't, it was Aeschylus. Anyway, it's a powerful and short play that as always the Shakespeare Theatre has made resonate with today's events. To have the ancient Emory Battis intone at the play's beginning that this work was "the oldest surviving literature in the Western tradition" gave both a quick delight at the congruency between speaker and words, but also -- once the play had ended -- a realization that we really haven't learned a whole lot over the past few thousand years.

04 May 2006

Unpaid Work and Mystification.

I like this study (OK that link is to the WaPost blog, but here's the salary.com link) about how stay-at-home moms would earn about $130K/year if paid for all the work they do. The study is of course deeply flawed, and here's why: the study assumes the mother to be doing a variety of odd jobs -- part-time positions -- cobbled together to make a more-than-full-time job. In fact, the study provides 2/3rds of the compensation in overtime pay:
The average stay-at-home mom reports working almost 92 hours per week, earning $88,424 (or 66% of our hypothetical pay) from overtime.

I'm not doubting that stay-at-home parents work that much. However, you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere that's going to pay you overtime for being a jack-of-all-trades. My father once worked four jobs: high school teacher (FT), college instructor (PT), prisoner education instructor (PT), and high school basketball referee (PT). I'd estimate his working week at that time to be about 60 hours a week (more like 75 hours if you count all the prep/grading time rather than actual classroom time). However, since these were cobbled together positions, none of them paid overtime.

In the District today we have many people who work over 40 hours a week and see neither benefits nor overtime, because they are working multiple part-time jobs. A truer estimate of what our stay-at-home mom would make would include the reality of the workplace: part-time (and I now quote) "housekeeper, day-care teacher, cook, computer whiz, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist" will not get you anywhere in the world. It gets you what you might call "exploited." And let's be serious for a moment: Chief Executive of a 4 or to be really generous 8 person organization? I'm guessing it doesn't pay as well as CEO for General Electric.

However, the study does point out something obscured by material conditions: an awful lot of our economy/lifestyle is based upon uncompensated labor. Marx makes a distinction between productive and "unproductive" labor in the "Theories of Surplus Value". Productive labor produces surplus-value and therefore capital; unproductive labor does not -- it is labor done to reproduce conditions of life or for one's own consumption:

The largest part of society, that is to say the working class, must incidentally perform this kind of labour [cooking, cleaning, etc.] for itself; but it is only able to perform it when it has laboured “productively”. It can only cook meat for itself when it has produced a wage with which to pay for the meat; and it can only keep its furniture and dwellings clean, it can only polish its boots, when it has produced the value of furniture, house rent and boots. To this class of productive labourers itself, therefore, the labour which they perform for themselves appears as “unproductive labour”. This unproductive labour never enables them to repeat the same unproductive labour a second time unless they have previously laboured productively.

It is worth noting that "unproductive labor" is entirely dependent on "productive labor" to maintain material support, that is without productive labor producing some sort of income there would be no use at all for "unproductive labor." Marx continues a bit later on:
... productive labour is such as produces commodities, and unproductive labour is such as produces personal services. The former labour is represented in a vendible thing; the latter must be consumed while it is being performed. The former includes (except for that labour which creates labour-power itself) all material and intellectual wealth—meat as well as books—that exists in the form of things; the latter covers all labours which satisfy any imaginary or real need of the individual—or even those which are forced upon the individual against his will.

The basic distinction is between that which can be resold and that which cannot.

This nifty essay does a tremendous job of articulating the exclusion of domestic labor from Capitalist relations:
Domestic labor, as Smith points out, is not labor that is sold on the market. Moreover, as Coulson, Magas and Wainwright as well as Smith have argued,
domestic labor produces use-values for immediate consumption, not commodities that are sold on the market. As such, domestic labor does not produce exchange-value and thus does not constitute socially necessary labor in the economic sense.

The distinction is important for an understanding of how Marx arrives at "socially necessary labor":
Domestic labor is labor in the general sense of an interaction between persons and nature in order to produce a useful product. However, it is not productive labor in the contemporary economic sense (that is, within capitalism) because productive labor is based on a specific relation of production wherein surplus-labor is produced by the worker and appropriated by the capitalist as surplus-value in the form of profit. In the "privatized family", which is itself an articulation of the private property relations of capitalism, no surplus-value is produced and appropriated by the capitalist.

Anyone still reading?

03 May 2006

We have no idea where we are...

Another day, another entry in the annals of stupidity. Apparently, Americans are either too stupid or too lazy -- ok maybe they just don't care -- to be able to locate Iraq on a map, according to a story on CNN.com:
After more than three years of combat and nearly 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 still cannot find Iraq on a map, a study released Tuesday showed.

Wow. But you might say, yeah that's international geography and it's well known that Americans don't give a shit about foreign countries and only know anything about England because of Lady Di. Most people don't realize that Canada is actually divided up into 13 chunks that the Canadians quaintly call "provinces" and "territories."

Not so fast. The same study reveals the following:
The study found that less than six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 33 percent could not point out Louisiana on a U.S. map.

Holy shit. We're not even talking about finding New Orleans; we're talking about Louisiana. The state that looks like a friggin boot. I might be able to forgive not being able to locate Kansas, Colorado, or Wyoming because they're just big boxes, but Louisiana is about as distinctive as you can get.

How do empires fall? When the people become fat, lazy, and feel entitled.

02 May 2006

Theme inspired by seeing a woman strolling by with a paper.

I can't really help myself, but whenever I see someone with a copy of the Washington Times I automatically shut that person off as a reasonable human being. Actually, I have two reactions: 1. fascist asshole, 2. unwitting dupe. I should try to be less quick to judge. It could be that the person is reading that white supremacist rag for research. Or maybe sports. Or maybe for a masochistic pleasure they might get from reading opinions so far from reality that it inflicts pain on you just to see them in print. Personally, I don't care how crackerjack their sports reporting is, the white supremacist thing just turns me off.

Founded in 1982 following the demise of the Washington Star (and in no way associated with the Star, other than the Star's being generally conservative as well), the Times may have been called Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper, but that did little to help it sell its brand of craptastic "journalism" to the DC area. To keep it afloat, founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon has had to siphon off close to $2 billion from his Unification Church.

Having an owner who's Korean by birth makes their white supremacist stance all the odder at first glance; but Moon is one goofy whack case. A few years back he exhorted Black pastors to dump their crosses in the trash; he has some interesting views on the Holocaust; and like most multibillionaires, he knows that lots and lots of money talks louder than color these days. Who needs to fight for racial equality when the Senate is providing their offices for ceremonies in which you name yourself as Messiah and get crowned?

01 May 2006

Think of your happy place...think of your happy place...

Apparently, the worst thing imaginable for most Americans -- or at least the worst thing that the media and politicians can imagine for most Americans -- is the rising price of gasoline. In a way, they're right, since we've built a cultural mythology around the automobile (think "Little Deuce Coupe," "Little Red Corvette," "Thunder Road" or even Kerouac's On the Road), but in another way the emphasis makes the US seem like spoiled ignorant kids who can't quite understand that the world doesn't actually revolve around them.

Anyone ever read The House of Mirth? Near the beginning of the novel, Lily's father comes home and Lily is cajoling him to buy some fresh flowers, because really the house simply isn't proper without fresh flowers, and Lily's father breaks down at that moment and announces they are ruined. It's an earth-shattering moment for Lily and should lead to more practical changes, but Lily cannot adjust and her eventual demise is linked directly to her (or Wharton's) inability to imagine a life somewhere below the highest level of privilege.

Our Energy Secretary Sam Bodman seems like Lily Bart (but far less subtle and interesting a character) when he opines that it may "take three years" for gas prices to come down. Apparently, Bodman initially attributes the rising prices to the rising cost of a barrel of oil, but then he cryptically announces:
"The suppliers have lost control of the market and therefore, demand exceeds supply," Bodman said.
"Clearly we're going to have a number of years -- two or three years -- before suppliers are going to be in a position to meet the demands of those who are consuming this product."

Suppliers have lost control of the market in what way? Is he talking about the actual supply of oil and the countries that control it? Is he talking about the suppliers of gasoline, like ExxonMobil, Chevron, etc.? I'm not sure that reaping record profits is the same as losing control of a market, but if that's so, then I'd like to be out of control for just a little while, please.

However, the bit I'm really unclear on is what will allow suppliers to get back in position to meet the demands of the consumers, since the supply isn't exactly going up and the demand is skyrocketing.

But I'm really getting tired of talking about oil. I wish our politician friends would get it through their heads that we won't magically be saved by ANWR or oil shale or drilling off the coast of Florida.

The price of fame.

This blog thing is getting too big for me. I've been generating way too much traffic, can't keep up with all the comments, fan mail, restraining orders, and the like. The other night, some dude was digging through my garbage. I figured it was just a homeless guy, but then I noticed the laptop and realized he was blogging what he'd found in my trash.

I may have to dial it down a notch, like Dave Chappelle, because all this fame is too much, too soon.

I'll keep you posted.