27 December 2007

Chicago, Chicago...that lit-conf'rence town...

Ah, the MLA. A time to smell the fear on besuited job supplicants, among whom I alas will not be, as my fifty plus applications fell on deaf ears.

Therefore my sole responsibilty during this annual theorizing bacchanal will be to moderate a panel that the organizing committee buried with a late night weekend time slot. With any luck the participants will outnumber the audience. I suppose that would be bad luck.

I've been to Chicago a few times in my life, nearly each time for a literature conference of one kind or another. It's a great town, but I've generally had the (bad) luck to be here either in the chill winds of winter or the humid swells of summer. Spring and fall have eluded me in the Second City, much like job interviews this go round.

I'm waiting for the conference to kick off proper-like, because it can be pretty amusing watching academicus literarius in their equivalent of mating season: there's a great amount of preening and opportunistic grovelling alongside a healthy dose of self-promotion. And of course drinking, and one of my favorite things about literary scholars getting drunk is that talk at one point generally devolves to arguing over the deeper meanings of the songs that float across the bar's jukebox.

So let's see where it all goes...

20 December 2007

Langston doesn't live here anymore.

Langston Hughes, one of the great American poets of the 20th century, spent a few years in D.C. in the mid-1920's, working at various service positions as well as helping Carter G. Woodson compile his Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830. Hughes' family wasn't exactly wealthy, and they bumped around a few rented rooms in the District over the course of about 14 months, after which Hughes went off to Lincoln University.

It was in DC, while working as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel, that Hughes received some lasting free publicity by leaving a few poems at the seat of Vachel Lindsay, who gushed to the press about his "discovery" of the Negro busboy poet (hence, by the way, about 80 years later, the establishment of Busboys and Poets down on 14th and V). The photo of Hughes from that event is fairly popular, and easily found in biographies about him or histories of the Harlem Renaissance (although I did several internet searches and couldn't pull it up):

Of course, it was Hughes himself who set the photo-op up, but who cares?

Nearly every weekday, I pass by one of the places Hughes lived while in the District. It's on S Street NW, just around the corner from the Rosemary Thyme Bistro.

It's the white house with red trim, 1749 S Street. Hughes, his mother, and his step-brother rented two upstairs rooms there beginning around January 1925. He lived here when he worked for Carter G. Woodson, and it's where he was living when he revised The Weary Blues for publication at Carl Van Vechten's urging.

It's a pretty unassuming house, but I'm sure it's no "shabby apartment," as Arnold Rampersad calls it in The Life of Langston Hughes (vol. 1). A dozen years ago, that area was still full of affordable apartments and group houses populated by students; now three-story houses just across the street often list for a million plus change.

Hughes didn't live here long, and he didn't care much for DC, what with the allure of New York City and the ingrained segregation in the nation's capital, but he's an integral part of that network of African American intellectuals and artists who either lived in or passed through the District in the early to mid twentieth century.

19 December 2007

This post is not about sports.

I finished Zadie Smith's White Teeth last night. This remarkable task was made possible by a marathon (for me) 3 hour reading session the night before, leaving me a mere 40 pages from the finish.

The book is the sort you don't want to put down, the sort that after you've read a good piece of it, and you're going about your daily business, your mind sometimes comes back to a character or situation and it takes a moment for you to remember it was in a book and not someone you met or something you remember from real life.

In many ways, it's similar to the novel I struggled through just before beginning White Teeth: Thomas Pynchon's V.: the narrative threads pull apart and come together throughout the novel, and both novels are concerned, to a greater (V.) or lesser (WT) extent, with sleuthing through history. However, the characters in White Teeth were far more compelling to me, more complex and rounded (and yes, I know that the flatness of the characters is more or less Pynchon's point; I've read my Jameson, etc. etc.), and that propelled me through the book. I was happy to finish it, but also a little depressed...I sort of wanted it to keep happening to me.

Now, I have a choice for my next read. Someone has lent me John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, a book that has been recommended to me by several people over the years. So I have that one. Or I have Richard Russo's latest, Bridge of Sighs, purchased at Politics and Prose the night said author gave a reading at the store. So it's signed by him and it's hardcover. Very thick. Very much a book I don't want to damage by stuffing it into suitcases (the MLA is at hand, after all). Finally, I have none of the above, a decision to be made by looking over the bookshelves and picking out a book that either I've bought but haven't read or my wife has read and I haven't (which is pretty much most of the British lit outside Jeanette Winterson -- speaking of whom, my son and I are now reading her children's novel Tanglewreck at night...it's great -- and the now completed Zadie Smith novel).

In a way I wonder if I should keep a weather eye out for my slim academic career hopes by reading something that will help lead me to a published article, since my 56+ applications have thus far yielded about six rejections and a lot of silence.


18 December 2007

Comparing apples to oranges.

So I'm stumbling around espn.com today following up the Rich Rodriguez hiring at Michigan and I find a story about Florida State and Jimbo Fisher, Bobby Bowden's heir apparent. Florida State is so excited to sew up this guy that they've promised him 2.5 million if he isn't hired as head coach in 3 years. However, more interesting was the paragraph on current head coach Bobby Bowden's salary:
Florida State also released Bowden's one-year contract that has a nearly $2.2 million base salary, including a $200,000 signing bonus, a series of incentives that could add at least $600,000 and a $1 million "lifetime achievement" bonus upon retirement.

Not bad for coaching football. It hammers home how much college sports (and here I'm talking about football and basketball, really) are amazing moneymakers. Not only that, these sports also serve as the most public face of the university in many cases and fuel alumni giving.

Penn State was recently forced to release Coach Joe Paterno's salary after a long court fight. Paterno has been head coach at Penn State since 1966, a position he attained after 16 years as an assistant coach. Paterno's contributions to Penn State beyond football are considerable:
Paterno is also renowned for his charitable contributions to academics at Penn State. He and his wife Sue have contributed over $4 million towards various departments and colleges, including support for the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which opened in 2003, and the Penn State All-Sports Museum, which opened in 2002.[15] After helping raise over $13.5 million in funds for the 1997 expansion of Pattee Library, the University named the expansion Paterno Library in their honor. [16] [Wikipedia]

In addition to that, the English Department also contains the Paterno Family Professor of Literature position (Paterno was an English major at Brown), currently held by Michael Bérubé, which is kind of funny, since Bérubé is on the Left and Paterno is quite visibly a Republican. Bérubé in fact was named one of the "101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" by protofascist David Horowitz, whose sad attempt at a blacklist petered out when it turned out no one really believed him (Horowitz's well-publicized attempts to demonstrate Left-wing bias and indoctrination in academia have led him to some embarrassing moments, like the Pennsylvania legislature's hearing in which no one was able to come forward with evidence of what Horowitz claims is widespread intimidation of conservatives).

But I digress.

Penn State recently had to reveal Joe Paterno's salary. It was $512,664 base. Not bad for the second-winningest coach in major D-1 football history who consistently fields teams among the highest graduation rates in the country.

14 December 2007

Rockets don't burn regular fuel...

Roger Clemens, a dominating pitcher who according to the Mitchell Report was helped to his dominance via chemicals -- better statistics through chemistry! --, of course has never touched steroids. Never.

Here's the CNN report on his lawyer's statement:
"Roger Clemens adamantly, vehemently, and whatever other adjectives can be used, denies that he has ever used steroids or ... improper substances," Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin said Thursday.
Dude. "Adamantly" and "vehemently" are not adjectives. They are adverbs.

So please, shut up, because you're making it worse. As in "You and your client are rapidly driving nails into the coffin of Major League Baseball."

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Mitchell report is the information regarding Mark McGwire, the short-lived home run king who was the focus of all sorts of speculation after 1998, when a reporter noticed a bottle of androstenedione sitting in open view in McGwire's locker. McGwire was famously called out by Jose Canseco in Canseco's "tell all" about his own steroid use, but according to Mitchell, corroborating evidence is in short supply:
During the course of this investigation, we interviewed a number of coaches, club personnel, former teammates, and other persons who know McGwire. Only Canseco, who repeated the allegations from his memoir, said he had knowledge of McGwire’s alleged use of steroids. Through his personal lawyer, I asked McGwire to meet with me for an interview about these issues, but he declined to do so.

You have to think that if McGwire was shooting up in bathroom stalls with Canseco, as Canseco claims in his book, someone else would have known...someone would have known the supplier...somewhere more information would come out. However, McGwire's reticence to come clean (in fact, his public testimony only leads observers to believe he was doing steroids for a considerable period of his career) isn't helping his case.

Is McGwire doing the noble thing, refusing to testify because it's his right under the Constitution to refuse to answer these questions, or is he simply afraid of pulling a Palmiero?

13 December 2007

Another one bites the dust.

Another of my regular reads has taken the internet superhighway over the cliff. Fictional Rockstar has joined the ranks of Rock Creek Rambler, Heart Tribute Band Super Fan Page, Washington Cube, and others. And one of the very first blogs I ever read in my entire life, which has ceased to exist to such an extent that the actual blog site is no longer, Kentucky Fried Adventures.

It's all very disturbing.

Look, even if you no longer have anything to say, or maybe feel like you have nothing else to say, just keep saying it. Look at me, I'm a living example of someone who's run out of ideas.

12 December 2007

Because in every boom the old rules don't apply.

Remember the tech boom? Remember how everyone (i.e. market analysts, industry shills) told us that in the New Economy, things like P/E ratios and actually making money didn't mean anything, because it was all new -- except apparently it wasn't, and when the house of cards collapsed people who hadn't been lucky enough to cash out on time were stuck holding stocks so worthless they might as well have papered the walls with them? But back then, it was all different, and things were never going to go back down...brilliantly asinine books came out with titles like Dow 4o,000...

Remember the housing boom? Oh that's right, we're sort of still in it -- we're on that precipice when the ground sort of starts downhill and then suddenly disappears. Everything changed then, too...houses weren't things you lived in, nice names for a necessity called shelter; no, they were investments, and despite the fact that you couldn't liquidate your investment without risking your shelter, people seemed to believe that the ATM machine called their homes would never run short of cash. We bought houses with interest only loans. We bought houses with ARMs that were only logical if you believed, against all logic, that interest rates would stay at historic lows forever.

But of course they would...because everything had changed.

Well, it's changed again. But we've known that for about a year and a half now, haven't we? It's just that the chickens, to borrow from Malcolm X, have come home to roost. Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest counties, now projects a $220 million shortfall tied to the housing crisis. Local builders are desperate. At least once a week I'm checking out Bubble Meter to follow the latest tidbits -- it's almost as good as a certain website tracking the tech collapse was back in the late 1990s (anyone remember the heyday of this site?). Housing Panic is also very good.

I'm convinced we are a lazy, complacent society that has little interest in examining ourselves. The whole of our culture is now disposable and meant to last no longer than our next paychecks. Even most otherwise intelligent adults have no interest in debating the merits of plans but are rather caught up in the latest fad, the latest "disposable policy," and the utterly unconvincing belief that we live ahistorically: that everything has changed.

11 December 2007

The lost years of our youth and the lost causes.

When I was a kid it seemed like forever between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That span of 30 days dragged on for at least 60, culminating in the delicious rush of Christmas Eve and Christmas, which was then followed by the sweet denoument of the lazy week between Christmas and New Years.

However, once you have kids, there's no such thing as time expanding between holidays -- time compresses until you no longer have 24 hours to yourself to do the shopping, wrapping, cooking, and cleaning necessary for the end of year festivities. And for all of those years (except for a year or two we skipped), my wife and I have also been jumping ship right after Christmas to head on our annual pilgrimage to the festival known as the MLA Conference.

This year in fact is doubly complicated (maybe triply...who knows) by the fact that both my wife and I are on the job market, a most depressing fact hammered home to us by every rejection letter that flutters in. The math is not particularly pretty: let's say an average job opening attracts 200 to 400 applicants (I'm not kidding). About ten will be selected for an interview at the MLA.

So already your chances are somewhere between 5 and 2.5 percent per job.

After the MLA interviews, generally three candidates will be invited to the campus for follow-up interviews. So even if you've made the first cut, the odds are once again against you for making the second cut.

But let's leave the campus visits aside for a time, since at this point I'm just angling for an interview. Just one, perhaps, to validate my 50+ applications. I've got one rejection in so far, but my wife has received around ten. Of course, she's also received one interview, so I think I would gladly take the ten rejections for one interview ratio myself.

The bottom line is that English Departments are incredibly disfunctional places (as any graduate student could probably tell you) where no one wants to do administrative work but where everyone likes to fight over whether administrative work is being done properly. So even if the deadline for the job announcement was November 1, chances are the committee hasn't even met to discuss the stack of applications they've received. Apocryphal stories concerning applicants being notified on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) about interviews at the MLA (beginning Dec 27th) abound, which is annoying for those people who would only go to the MLA if they had an interview.

I'm already going, so I don't care if they come grab me out of a panel to interview me. Just interview me.

07 December 2007

Seriously, a little more shameless shilling.

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, marks the first day of my son's school's Christmas Tree Sale at Dupont Italian Kitchen, 17th and R. We have trees ranging from two foot tabletops to ten foot firs, and 50% is tax deductible, because we've built the school donation right into the price! Isn't that nice of us? The trees are beautiful -- we've got plenty of fraser firs that are the perfect size for many city apartments -- and everything goes to the school.

We'll be at the patio of Dupont Italian Kitchen, 17th and R Streets NW, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and did I mention we offer free delivery to reasonable points in the District?

While you're at it, take in some of Dupont Italian Kitchen's great food -- I like the mussels and the chicken parmigiana, though for brunch I'm partial to the various flavors of eggs benedict.

It's fun for the whole family.

05 December 2007

Coming up for air.

It's been a busy week around here. Preparation for the big Christmas Tree Sale. School open house. School picture day. Holiday shopping. MLA preparation. The MLA job search. This thing called work. However, even with all that, I've still mown down about half of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, because it's so damn good. She knows how to write dialogue, and what's more, the narrative voice is fresh and witty. Bemused even.

Meanwhile in the world outside, I find:
  • Crazy missing Canoe Man story...apparently he and his wife were getting sloppy, what with getting their picture on a site dedicated to getting other Anglos to move to Panama...I don't know. If I'm going to fake my own death to get some insurance money, I'm going to lay low, maybe even change my name...of course, after a few years on the lam I might get sick of going to bed every night wondering when I'm going to get caught...
  • Bizarre MySpace Hoax and Suicide Scandal...Apparently, adults who impersonate children on social networking sites in order to befriend then mock and insult real children aren't guilty of anything, except bad judgement. These fuck-ups lived four houses away from their victim, and the dumbass prosecutor says he can't even file harrassment charges...
  • Deus Ex Machina Sports Outcome that keeps the "unbeaten" Patriots unbeaten...I don't watch the NFL, so I caught up with this story via the paper and the internet, but it appears the NFL needs a new storyline, so they're working on keeping their unbeaten team unbeaten. Oh yeah, now I remember why I don't watch the NFL.
  • And by the way, how about Bush taking it in the groin from his own intelligence agencies on Iran? Cheney is probably pissed as hell that he didn't get a chance to "massage the data" before this stunner got released. On the other hand, you'd think Bush would be playing up the fact that Iran appears to have dropped their nuclear program in the aftermath of Bush's Iraq Adventure...so maybe Bush could recast his failed oil grab as a deterrent against Iran (you know, "we destroyed one country so we wouldn't have to destroy another..."). But no, Bush must, as he always seems to do, fly in the face of all established evidence and harp on his old talking points. It's like he's simply unable to alter his worldview to fit new realities. In other words, in a Piagetian model, he's all assimilation and no accomodation. Except he doesn't even bother to assimilate the new data into his model. He simply ignores it. So I guess that's closer to psychotic.

03 December 2007


So you haven't bought yourself a Christmas tree yet, have you? You really need one, though. And you want to feel good about it, you want to turn it into a symbol of your giving nature and bring happiness to others through your participation in the commodification of the holiday season. After all, it hasn't happened if you haven't bought something to commemorate it, right?

December 8th and 9th and again December 15th and 16th, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (or maybe later), you should come down to 17th and R Streets NW to the most excellent Dupont Italian Kitchen, have yourself some brunch, and buy a tree. My son's elementary school is selling trees at that location to raise funds and 50% is tax deductible. We even offer free delivery to those of you who reside within realistic range (we will not cross the Potomac or the Anacostia, nor are we interested in driving up through Palisades or beyond North Capitol for that matter, but Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Howard University, Georgetown, Mount Pleasant, etc., and of course Dupont Circle are all in play...maybe more, who knows...).

If you don't want a tree, buy a wreath. If you don't want a wreath, just leave some money. It all goes to the school.

30 November 2007

Like taking candy from a baby...

If you want to understand just how f'ed up DCPS is, you need to understand the culture of enabling that surrounds the crimes and criminals in the system. A few weeks ago, The Post ran a big feature about adults stealing money from afterschool programs and enrichment activities like Moten's chess club (Sandy Jones, former business manager at the school, was convicted of that crime), and the saddest aspect for me was not the thefts but the lack of concern among supervisors even when the criminals were caught. More on that later...

Yesterday Brenda Belton, thief and former DCPS Charter School supervisor, was sentenced to 35 months in prison, which apparently was two months short of the maximum. It's too bad she couldn't be sentenced to more, but that's the nature of white collar crime...knock over a liquor store and get five to ten years for a few hundred bucks, couple thou if you're lucky; steal $800,000 from children (Belton herself apparently pocketed about half of that, steering the rest of the money to friends, family, and crooked contractors) and get less than three years. Jones, incidentally, who stole far less than Belton, could be sentenced to up to 10 years.

It's clear, though, that some people simply don't get it. The reaction from her "supporters" was telling:

Belton's family and friends, including her sister, daughter and ministers, filled three rows of seating at the sentencing. Many said they hoped Urbina would show Belton leniency, considering her role as an educator.
"It's a waste of resources putting her in jail," said Lafayette Seymour, a minister at Belton's church, the District-based Unity Center of Truth. "She would do more good if she were granted time served and were allowed to return to help the children with her skills and education."
Let's get one thing straight right now: this woman was no educator...she was a thief. She got inside the system and stole from it. When she was given an opportunity to "help the children with her skills" she found it more useful to help herself to the children's funding.

However, the minister's attitude is very similar to Esther Monclova-Johnson, the DCPS supervisor who oversees "talented" afterschool program technology managers Emerson Crawley and William Jones, who saw fit to reimburse themselves from student fund money for their trips to Camelot strip club and Finemondo restaurant (the latter a near daily occurrence with tabs often running over a hundred dollars). Monclova-Johnson apparently feels these two individuals possess unique talents that can't possibly be replaced by someone perhaps a bit more honest:
"These guys are extremely talented, and the work that they give to the program is not worth them being dismissed over a practice that may have been approved . . . by past directors," Monclova-Johnson said. "They weren't doing anything that they felt was wrong at the time, but maybe it was."

Um, if it ever was approved that you could go to strip clubs on DCPS's dime, then I want that job. Not only should those two bums be fired, but Monclova-Johnson herself should be looking for a job. It's disgusting.

29 November 2007

Pushing the limits of anyone's understanding of humanity.

I'm against the death penalty, but I'm all for life imprisonment, preferably in windowless concrete cells with no running water or cable television, for people who commit crimes against children. I'm not terribly interested in the details of which of these two actually killed this little girl; they were both involved in covering it up for months after the fact and need to be sent to their own solitary little cells with rats crawling about and a bowl to piss in.

26 November 2007

Here's another of my long, unreadable screeds...

The Washington Post gave over half the front page of their Outlook section on Sunday to a free advertisement for libertarianism, penned by the editors of (un)Reason Magazine. Libertarianism is a widespread philosophy that's pretty to think about but bears about as much relation to reality as World of Warcraft (or, as I'm discovering, Webkinz).

According to the authors, libertarianism boils down to "1. a person who believes in the doctrine of the freedom of the will; 2. a person who believes in full individual freedom of thought, expression and action." Sounds good, right? In fact, it's so broad that it becomes utterly meaningless and fairly soon libertarians themselves have to discard the feel-good rhetoric and qualify it: "full freedom of thought, expression and action" morphs into full freedom etc so long as you don't impact another's rights...so with this slogan, we're basically back at ground zero for any philosophy that has emerged after the Enlightenment...including the bete noir of libertarians...socialism/Marxism/communism (you have to remember, that like libertarians, we're talking about the philosophy of the movements, not of the governments that actually called themselves by those names -- for instance, while the German Democratic Republic held itself to be communist and called itself Democratic, I would argue that in fact it was neither). But to get back to the point, what exactly distinguishes libertarians from the unwashed masses who also happen to believe in individual rights (so long as those individual rights do not impact the rights of others)?

First, there's a completely naive belief in what they like to call the "free market," which as anyone with half a day's time spent on Wall Street will tell you is about as "free" as a crooked roulette table in Vegas (is there any other kind?). Markets are simply objects to be manipulated: learn the rules of the game, understand the symbols that produce fear or confidence, and manipulate them.

However, if you'd like to delve deeper into what libertarianism is, you shouldn't bother to read the Washington Post article, because it's mainly about 31 year government employee Ron Paul's run for the highest government position in the land and how this man who's been collecting government paychecks for nearly half his life is a rebel against government. In the moments when the authors aren't talking about Ron Paul, they're busy avoiding explaining what libertarianism entails, except to call it "freewheeling fun" and "a live-and-let-live ethos" and -- in the only descriptor that even comes close to a philosophical statement -- "the fundamental notion that a smaller government allows individuals the freedom to pursue happiness as they see fit."

Unfortunately for all of us who aren't in the military industrial complex, a smaller government usually means going after the social benefits that we enjoy in this country (and that other countries enjoy to a much greater extent), from the big bugaboo of welfare to the several other programs that fund libraries, public schools, national parks, and the like. To be fair, a certain brand of libertarians aren't even interested in maintaining the military, but then again, you are getting into the question of whether libertarianism isn't such a big tent that it's essentially meaningless as a label (if you want an example of that, check out the wikipedia article on libertarianism -- more flavors than Baskin-Robbins).

For libertarians, personal choice is all there is: you choose to be a drug addict, you choose to be a welfare bum, you choose to be homeless; conversely, you choose to be a CEO, you choose to be a K Street lawyer, you choose to be a middle-manager. Fundamentally, libertarians do not believe in society -- we're all atomized individuals running around on our own and we bump into one another, but that's not really important -- my only interaction with you is an economic interaction (unlike Marxists, who tend to believe that economic relations form the basis of social relations, libertarians like to believe that economic relations signify nothing more than a matter of choice). Essentially, it's everyone for him or her self (the most absurd manifestation of this tendency can be found in Ayn Rand's Objectivism, which her devotees liken to a philosophy).

So we've entered fantasyland, in which the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and there are no consequences. We're all equal of course, so long as you don't mind the fact that I inherited Daddy's factory and stocks and you inherited a crack habit...personal choice, don't you know.

Hugo's Les Miserables is a comedy compared to the selfish, smug, and utterly unrealistic version of social relations held by your typical libertarian.

But it's all freewheeling good fun.

UPDATE: I read through the nearly useless WashingtonPost.com live online discussion with Gillespie and Welch, and noticed they're repeating that tired old mistake of arguing that the Nazis were simply socialists who espoused nationalism:
Nick Gillespie: In fact, Mussolini started as a communist and then became a fascist (best understood as a nationalist variation on communism; hence National Socialism uin Germany).
Yawn. This supposed similarity breaks down as soon as you realize that Hitler didn't nationalize industry -- in fact, while the US government and US businesses shunned the Soviet Union, they invested heavily in Nazi Germany...ask our current president's dead granddaddy, Prescott Bush. Fascism isn't best understood as a "nationalist variation on communism" but as the logical progression of capitalism as it asserts control at the state level (before replacing the state -- the period in which we are currently, where multinationals seem beyond government control mechanisms).

As if Sudan didn't have enough problems...

Sure we aren't out of the woods yet and there's still a lot of nutcases out there who want to burn witches for teaching evolution, but at least in the USA you don't get arrested and have your school shut down because some first graders named their class's stuffed animal "Muhammad.":
The BBC's correspondent Amber Henshaw said Ms Gibbons' punishment could be up to six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine.
The school has been closed until January for fear of reprisals.
Fellow teachers at Khartoum's Unity High School told Reuters news agency they feared for Ms Gibbons' safety after receiving reports that men had started gathering outside the police station where she was being held.
Seriously, how f'ed up is a country when a first grade teacher is in danger of being lynched over the name of a teddy bear? Reminds me of the scene in Monty Python's The Life of Brian where the man's getting stoned to death for saying the name "Jehovah."

I'm entertaining reasonable suggestions for why religion dominates Muslim countries the way it does (and yeah I know the whole thing about graven images and blah blah blah...I'm asking for reasonable suggestions).

21 November 2007

Pre Holiday Preparations.

Here it is. Day before Thanksgiving. DC has a certain lull to it in the days leading up to holiday breaks, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, as people leave town trying to beat the last minute rush. We're just sitting tight and waiting until tomorrow morning, when no one is generally on the road, because we've done the Wednesday afternoon thing only to have a three hour drive turn into a five and a half hour drive.

Although the past two years, I've been in charge of the pumpkin pie baking, my mother informs me that this year my services are no longer needed in that department, unless of course I want to make a pie of another flavor. Apparently she's picked up on the fact that I haven't exactly had a lot of time on my hands this fall.

Since we'll have some free babysitting, we'll probably try to catch a movie here or here, even though they both have a crappy selection. I have absolutely no hope of catching up on reading while in a house occupied by at least four and often as many as 8 children between the ages 2.5 and 12. However, the book I'm about to begin is Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

I'll see what happens.

20 November 2007

I'm sorry Mr. Pynchon.

I finally finished V. It took forever -- I think I began the book sometime in the foggy memory of summer, when reading ambitions heighten with all the phantom free time that disappears like so many grains of sand through your sandchair...

It's not a bad book...it just didn't interest me. I suppose the Stencil bits interested me, because that's where Pynchon was at his conspiracy theory that could completely be all in your head best, but the Whole Sick Crew just bored me to death. Sure there were funny bits, but in the end it's like one of those stories your friend tells, and when you don't laugh he says, I guess you had to be there.

It will probably grow on me and I will come to terms with it in the trajectory of post-WWII literature and the dawn of the Postmodern, but at this point what it's done is moved my 2nd attempt at Gravity's Rainbow much further down my reading queue.

I'd packed Zadie Smith's White Teeth with me last weekend in the bizarre reasoning that I would easily finish V. on the train ride north, but I was nowhere close. I read about thirty to forty pages on the way up and passed out until Trenton, I believe. Then the weekend was a blur. So I found myself pushing through the last hundred pages of V. as I headed south, exhausted from the weekend but trying to stay awake so I could put that book back on the shelf when I returned to Adams Morgan.

And dear readers, I did just that.

19 November 2007

Your future dream is a shopping scheme.

It's not a terribly surprising conclusion, but now there's another study out there indicating that Americans are reading less than they used to. The article notes that an earlier study, done in 2004, was dismissed because the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts this time, not the National Education Association) focused on "literary" works:
Titled "To Read or Not to Read," the report is a significant expansion of the NEA's widely cited 2004 study, "Reading at Risk." The NEA based that earlier study exclusively on data from its own arts surveys, and as a result, that analysis focused mainly on so-called literary reading -- novels, stories, plays and poems. This led some critics to downplay its implications.
Sure. Who cares if people read literature -- so long as they can read warning labels, traffic signs, and how long to keep the fries in the deep fryer? I suppose critics -- those who get it -- will now complain that the title of the new report is drawn from "some famous work of literature by someone" and therefore biased toward reading, you know, like heavy stuff that makes you think or something.

While the reports authors won't outright blame technology for this shift, I will. A few generations ago, we didn't have the portability of Nintendo DS and PSP, so we can take our gaming anywhere, and at any rate, electronic gaming was nearly so advanced and encompassing as it is now. These days you can live your life -- or at least a life -- online (e.g. World of Warcraft, Everquest, to a lesser extent Sims). Not too many of us wanted to spend all of our free time jumping barrels and climbing ladders.

Cable and Satellite television have made incredible advances both in their offerings and their saturation; this weekend I was in northern New Jersey and nearly every house on every block had one of those little DirectTV dishes attached to the roof. Pay television service has approached the level of necessity for most people, something that is seen as nearly as fixed and important as paying the electric, heating, and water bills. At the same time as pay television has penetrated nearly every house in the country, the offerings have advanced beyond the twenty or thirty channels of a generation or two ago; now ESPN alone offers something like four channels, HBO has split into multiple offerings, and offerings that wouldn't have seemed viable several years ago are now among the most talked about (Food Network, for example). Several cartoon-only channels now cater to 18-35 year old stoner burnouts, while in many markets strange religious channels feature a nun talking quietly to the television camera.

It's in many ways a consumer's dream-life, with so many choices it's sometimes difficult to make a choice. Of course, choice in this case is relative, since the only real choice you are making is to spend your time watching television -- once you've made that choice, what you happen to be watching is immaterial. The medium, as McLuhan said, is the message.

So by and large, we are choosing not to read. We are not developing our literacy, but rather remaining stuck in a level of fluency that means we can get through life, maybe not as well as we like, but rather as well as we need to do it all over again tomorrow.

We are no longer hungry.

15 November 2007

Going to see Neil Young tonight...

Neil Young is playing Constitution Hall tonight, and I'm going to be there. In all my fourteen years of living in this nation's capital, I've never been in the site that turned away Marion Anderson because the Daughters of the American Revolution didn't like the fact that she was Black. The DC School Board also denied her an auditorium. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR over their racist stance (which of course didn't keep FDR from hemming and hawing and dragging his feet over anti-lynching legislation). Marion Anderson instead performed at the Lincoln Memorial.

These days the DAR is happy to have anyone in their doors, and Neil Young will be there and I will be there and it will be the first time I've seen Mr. Young live and in person. Young of course wrote "Southern Man," in which he attacked the white supremacists who were clinging to their dustbin of history ways, and "Alabama," which takes a more indirect route by implying that Alabama has poverty to worry about rather than upholding white supremacy. Lynyrd Skynyrd didn't take kindly to Neil Young's critiques, calling him out in "Sweet Home Alabama," though they themselves claimed it was for the sweeping condemnation of the South rather than for the anti-racist aspect of Young's song (Skynyrd have some interesting stances, including what might be one of the earliest gun control songs in "Saturday Night Special").

I'm guessing Mr. Young will be promoting his new album, Chrome Dreams II, and pulling out a few oldies from his catalog. I'm hoping for "Like a Hurricane" myself.

14 November 2007

It just keeps getting bigger and bigger...

Just about anytime you get an official acknowledgement of the Big Money being spent or wasted by government, you should realize you're only getting half the picture. If that. Residents of the District should remember the not so distant past of the baseball stadium funding fiasco, in which the District of Columbia government, in all their brilliance, rolled over for a multi-billion dollar monopoly called Major League Baseball to publicly finance the baseball stadium. And the costs kept growing.

Now in the past week and a half, we've gotten two Big Money scandals to digest. First, again in our fair city, the Tax Office scam, in which currently about half a dozen individuals have been arrested for stealing at first glance $16 million. Then on second glance, it turned out to be $20 million. But wait, after peering a bit longer, it turns out it's more like $31.7 million, or double the original estimate. I doubt anyone would be surprised to see it hit $40 million soon.

Of course, the District's money woes pale in comparison to the really Big Money ripoff scam of the 21st century: Bush's Iraq Boondoggle, whose total cost has now gone to a numbing $1.6 trillion, if you throw in the Afghanistan action. Bush has asked for about half of that cost, meaning he's either trying to hide the other half of the wars' expenses or he really is a stupid miserable failure who can't keep budget items straight. Or both. The Post has more information on the report.

The Post, in fact, breaks it down to $20K for every family of four in America. What a waste. Now as we approach 4,000 dead American soldiers in Iraq (today it stands at 3,863, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualties site), BushCo is rattling sabers for an attack on Iran. I wonder what that will cost in lives, dollars, and regional instability.*

*Speaking of regional instability, it strikes me that the most destabilizing events in the region generally have US involvement as a major feature, including US support for the brutal regime of the Shah, US material and logistics assistance in Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons, and well, the toppling of crazy but contained Hussein and the transformation of Iraq into a broken, Balkanized nation.

13 November 2007

Not dead yet.

Sorry to alarm my readers...or reader I mean (thanks MA). As my good friend Bobby Dylan once said, it's alright ma, it's life and life only.

Here's what's happened this morning (slightly edited):

1. It was raining. Biking in the rain is always more of a pain.
2. I got hit by a cab. I was fully in my rights, riding the right hand lane through a green light, when a cabbie decided turn right on red meant "turn right on red into a bicyclist." Fortunately, I wasn't hurt, my bike wasn't hurt, but he did knock me off the bike a bit and I did pound on his hood and call him a nasty name. His reaction seemed to indicate it was an everyday occurrence for him to run over cyclists -- a quick wave of his hand, like a "sorry...my fault."

Still...being hit on a bike, even if you're not injured, gives you cause to pause.

While on my bike, I've been hit by cars about three times (I don't count the daily near misses from clueless drivers who pass you up and then turn into you, etc.). I've never been hurt in any of those collisions. While on my bike, I've been hit by another bicyclist once. I ended up in the hospital with a broken cheekbone for that collision, then ended up in the hospital again when the bone didn't set right and they had to rebreak and reset it.

I suppose I'm still a little shaken from this morning's close call.

3. I was in the Library of Congress for a forum related to International Education Week. It was several government functionaries and the executive director of the NEA and a few education types. Two low points: one panel member told an anecdote about teaching science and his niece or cousin or something and how it was hard because, "she's a girl, so she doesn't like science to begin with." WTF? And they've invited this moron to talk about advancing education? The other low point was realizing that most of the panelists couldn't think their way around education except to believe its purpose was to serve either the business community or the CIA (Why learn a foreign language? So you can be a spook!).

Grumble grumble.

Things fall apart.

Things fall apart.

12 November 2007


Because I'm too busy (or maybe lazy) to think of a post...

08 November 2007

Seriously, give yourself five minutes to read this interview.

I'm just throwing this link out there: a great interview with Angela Davis in the Guardian today. I know it's an ancient book now, but her Women, Race, and Class (1981) rocked my world.

Here's a small quote from the interview:
The advancement of the likes of Powell and Rice within the Bush administration, argues Davis, exemplifies a flawed understanding of what it means to tackle modern-day racism. "The Republican administration is the most diverse in history. But when the inclusion of black people into the machine of oppression is designed to make that machine work more efficiently, then it does not represent progress at all. We have more black people in more visible and powerful positions. But then we have far more black people who have been pushed down to the bottom of the ladder. When people call for diversity and link it to justice and equality, that's fine. But there's a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no change."

But read the whole thing yourself. It covers a lot of ground.


A friend of mine, his father just died. It seems to be a year of that, with three of my close friends now losing their fathers this year. The first came after a long six month decline, and to tell you the truth I didn't know how to react. I'd known the man, played poker with him. He'd been a fixture at our summer league basketball games. But to be quite honest, I froze up. Outside of a phone call, I did nothing.

The second friend's father had been much older and in a state of precarious health. I saw her soon afterwards and had more time to talk with her about the death, but still I feel I didn't do all I could or perhaps what I should.

The third friend, who happens to be married to the second friend, both of whom I've known since freshmen in college, just lost his father a week and a half ago. So their family has had a rough year. In this case, at least, I'll be able to attend the memorial service in northern New Jersey.

Let's hope I get things right.

07 November 2007

DiFi, Chucky S, and doing the collapse.

Do you want to know why Democrats constantly lose elections even when they're running against war criminals? Look no further than yesterday's senate judiciary committee vote to send forward the nomination of Bush's latest lapdog for torture, Michael Mukasey, who will now probably be presiding over what used to be called the Justice Department, but now seems more like a PR smokescreen for illegal wiretapping and torture.

Thanks to the help of logrolling Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the always disappointing when you get to crunch time Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bush can claim another victory in his fight to say FU to the Constitution. Much as they did during the carte blanc authorization for the Iraq War that the Democrats handed to Bush back in 2003, the so-called "opposition" party rolled over for everyone's favorite idiot king.

The Democrats simply don't deserve the White House. Furthermore, the Democrats simply don't deserve the support of progressives in this country, as they demonstrate a continuous commitment to politics as usual and refuse to rock the boat.

It was Schumer himself who brought Mukasey to Bush's attention, so turning his vote would be a tough sell, since he had so much personal investment in the torture candidate. Schumer's weak defense that "this was the best candidate we could expect from Bush" is a bit disingenuous, since it seems it's really the best candidate we can expect from Schumer.

The New York Times summarizes the controversy surrounding Schumer's handpicked equivocator:
The nomination of Mr. Mukasey was almost derailed by his refusal at his confirmation hearings to define as torture the interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is reported to have been used by the Central Intelligence Agency on a handful of Qaeda leaders since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Never mind that waterboarding is considered by most Americans and other industrialized countries with working democracies to be torture. The Democrats are constantly outmaneuvered by their own petty greed and the machinations of a tightly-focused Republican core who never gives up pushing its agenda.

We must face it: the Democrats are nothing but a party of mediocre bureaucrats with one or two exceptions. As a party, they are doomed to failure through the lack of any commitment to difficult work.

When the Bush Administration wanted to do something momentous, like overturn the Constitution, did they let the ACLU or legal scholars or Senators stand in their way? Hell, no. Even now, Bush thumbs his nose at decency, vetoing bills to provide children with healthcare, and the Democrats can't do anything but cower like geeks who have just had sand kicked in their faces by the schoolyard bully.

It's hard to remember that this party is the party that constructed a social safety net and brought desegregation to our nation. Those accomplishments are over 40 years old now, and perhaps it's time the Democrats stop resting on their laurels and try to imagine a future that isn't confined to the status quo. Or maybe it's time for progressives to get their act together and start imagining a future in which the Democrats become the Whigs.

06 November 2007

Darkness at the break of noon.

I'm not sure how many people have actually noticed, but with this time change thing, it gets dark really early. I may have lived through 38 ends of DST, but it always catches me by surprise when I walk outside at 5 p.m. and it's dark. Dark means night riding, and that means lights. Of course, the bracket for my front light had broken in the spring, and I never replaced it, and a few weeks ago some asshole stole the rear light from my baby seat.

I ask, what sort of low-down jackass steals a safety light from a bicycle baby seat?

So I had to go plunk down some money on some new lights to enhance the safety of the three members of the family who rely upon two wheel transport to get around on a daily basis. What I discovered was that you could spend fifty dollars on a headlight if you so desired, or you could spend $17.99 on a combopack of a headlight and a taillight. If you ask me, the taillight is more important, since it's the cars coming up from behind that are more likely to run you off the road, although I won't discount the importance of a front light given the propensity of oncoming traffic to make left turns into bicycles.

Now if I don't find my bike gloves soon, I'm going to have to get a new pair, and that's not fun because they generally cost around $50 a pair, and I'm not sure why, because they don't protect against really cold temperatures -- they're more of a late fall, early spring sort of glove (unless you by those big ass "lobster mitts" that you see some messengers and takeout delivery people wearing in the winter) that are great for cutting the wind and providing some warmth, but are absolutely useless below forty degrees. That's when the big ski gloves come out.

Thanks to the lack of snow around the District, we can, with very few exceptions, bike all year round.

05 November 2007

Recapping the weekend.

OK the weekend started out on a sour note: due to family illness we were unable to travel to Happy Valley for the PSU v. Purdue game, and I had to give my brother my tickets. On a good note, PSU won.

On the week, I managed a weak 12-6, 13-6 if you count the PSU call. I came damn close on several though, seeing Texas mount an improbable comeback to win v. OK State and watching Alabama screw up the endgame to lose to LSU. It was torture watching FSU win v. BC, although BC QB Matt Ryan looked like a chump -- how can a guy who throws floaters over the middle be in the hunt for the heisman?

A final question for pondering: what would Michigan's record be right now if the refs ever called their offensive line for holding?

02 November 2007

Another Friday, another day to be wrong, so wrong.

Sorry to disappoint those of you coming to the site expecting Marxist commentary, but today is Friday and during the busy fall Fridays I am generally consumed on Friday with the college football weekend. As many of you know, I received my undergraduate degree from that hotbed of Communist infiltration, Penn State, where our football coach appears to be a Republican but is really a Manchurian Candidate and only awaits the signal from his handlers.

So here we go:

1. Ohio State v. #21 Wisconsin. After the buzzsaw PSU went through in Happy Valley last week, I think Ohio State simply stifles Wisconsin in a most ugly fashion in Columbus.
2. Boston College v. Florida State. Oh how sweet it will be when BC crushes FSU.
3. LSU v. #17 Alabama. Oh the storylines...Sabin v. LSU...Bama wins.
4. Arizona State v. #5 Oregon. Undefeated ASU v one-loss Oregon. The winner of this game wins the PAC-10. Oregon wins it.
5. See #4 above.
6. Oklahoma v. Texas A&M. Ouch, if you're an Aggie fan. Of course, if you are, you probably can't read this post anyway. Oklahoma wins.
7. WVU is idle.
8. Kansas v. Nebraska. In any normal year, Nebraska would see Kansas as a definite win. However, this year it's the Huskers who are trying to save bowl eligibility and Kansas is undefeated. Nebraska is really bad this year, but I still don't trust Kansas. I say the Huskers win this one.
9. Missouri v. Colorado. Hapless Colorado will be no challenge for Missouri.
10. Georgia v. Troy. The Bulldogs get an easy one after several weeks of tough ones.
11. V-Tech already beat G-Tech.
12. Michigan v. Michigan State. Wouldn't it be nice to see Mich State show up? They're too unpredictable for me to pick them...Wolverines win this one.
13. Connecticut v. Rutgers. What is this world coming to when UConn is ranked in football? It's the end of times, I tell you. Rutgers wins.
14. Hawaii is idle.
15. Texas v. Oklahoma State. A few weeks ago I confused Iowa State with Oklahoma State. This week Texas will lose to OK State.
16. Auburn v. Tennessee Tech. Auburn in a slaughter.
17. See #3 above.
18. South Florida v. Cincinnati. Amazingly, only a few weeks ago these teams were #5 and #15, respectively. USF actually made it to #2 before tumbling. USF is at home, so I give them the win.
19. USC v. Oregon State. USC gets back on track v. the PAC-10 punching bag.
20. Florida v. Vanderbilt. V-bilt is no pushover this year, but Florida will still beat them.
21. See #1 above.
22. Boise State v. San Jose State. Boise State wins.
23. Virginia v. #24 Wake Forest. Yawn. ACC football. Is it basketball season yet? Virginia wins.
24. See #23 above.
25. Clemson v. Duke. Umm...Clemson in a rout.

And for the record, I will be at the PSU v. Purdue game this weekend and it is my belief that PSU will wake from their slumber and shut down the Purdue attack. And PSU will win the game. Much hot chocolate will be consumed.

01 November 2007

This started as a sweet little post Halloween recap, but then...

Last night was a blast. Hung out on the block with all the other middle-aged parents, sipping wine out of Starbucks paper coffee cups so we wouldn't end up like this lady (oh yes, my DC memory is deep, my friends, very deep). Every now and then I had to hand out some candy. It was a remarkably light night, and by 9 p.m. we were inside, lights off, and upstairs. It wasn't long ago that Halloween meant knocks on the door well past ten p.m., with trick or treaters taking a very liberal definition of "costume" to mean street clothes.

The light traffic meant I had plenty of time to sit on my porch silently contemplating the night and watching rats scurry across the yard. I chased a few of them, especially after I got a big stick to flush them out of the underbrush. And speaking of flushing out rats...

George Will is writing his usual nonsense again about topics he knows nothing about. For Will, if the topic contains the keyword "Choice" or "Competition," it must mean "Good." So in this case he's writing about education, a topic about which he's so ignorant, but gosh he uses all the correct right-wing keywords: "near-monopoly," "anti-choice," "opponents of choice," "fear of competition," etc. It's really very tired.

Of course, he gives the game away when you realize he's mainly concerned with teacher unions. Will isn't concerned whatsoever with the poor downtrodden children forced into Dickensian workhouses that liberals and big bad teacher union bureaucrats call "public schools." These children don't exist in his world, because they aren't going to grow up to be little overprivileged bowtie wearing stuffed shirt prigs...his opinion of public education is so low that he imagines all the products of the teacher union enslaved schools will become the faceless trolls who take his plates away after dinner, hand him his drycleaning, and bag his groceries.

Like any shill for laissez-faire capitalism, Will's real bogeyman is unionization, and the specter of living labor getting together to meet dead accumulated Capital on even somewhat level terms terrifies him. Teacher unions just happen to be an especially easy target for him, since teachers are public sector employees. For some strange reason, Will believes the NEA (he generally attacks the NEA, probably because it's the larger of the two major teacher unions) should not look after the rights of its members, and more fantastically he somehow believes that the interests of teachers (the union membership) is somehow at odds with the interests of education. As if teachers are looking for ways to make schools fail.

Like most right wing critics of education, Will couldn't be bothered with actual facts or details about how schools work and curriculum gets set. Again, Will isn't concerned about the children in the schools or the idea of public education itself (for all its flaws, universal public education is anathema to Will's coterie of elitists, since it assumes that everyone -- not just the children of privilege -- deserve education and are capable of learning): he's interested only in dismantling the system that for all the scare tactics (beginning with Why Johnny Can't Read way back in the 1950's), actually works for most students (the job, of course, is to make it work it work for all, since public schools, unlike private schools, can't throw out anyone and everyone who might lower their test scores...).

This reactionary anti-union stance is why Will finds himself defending what he would otherwise deride as a "government handout" (Will is great at cherry-picking his anti-government stances, generally ignoring right wing entitlements and deriding the "Big Government" excesses of, let's say, funding for public education or healthcare for the poor). Here's Will explaining the Utah program that he's trying to defend:

In balloting more important to the nation than most of next year's elections will be, Utahans next week will decide by referendum whether to retain or jettison the nation's broadest school choice program. Passed last February, the Parent Choice in Education Act would make a voucher available to any public school child who transfers to a private school, and to current private school children from low-income families.

Note the hyperbole that he leads with: this state-level ballot about a program that is very similar to programs that have been around a long time in other states (and the District) is more important than "most of next year's elections," which are at the national level, including for President. But that's typical Will. Will touts this government handout because it comes from the "general fund" and not from traditional sources of public education funding, therefore robbing the voucher opponents of the argument that it's taking funding from the public schools. So if you follow along, essentially Will is arguing that the $500 - $3000 vouchers are in addition to funds already allocated for education, and Utah's state expenditure of $7500 per pupil will remain intact. He uses this line to argue that the voucher program, and I quote, "every Utah voucher increases funds available for public education."

In fact, he details the process. Follow carefully:
Utah spends more than $7,500 per public school pupil ($3,000 more than the average private school tuition). The average voucher will be for less than $2,000. So every voucher that is used -- by parents willing to receive $2,000 rather than $7,500 of government support for the education of their child -- will save Utah taxpayers an average of $5,500. And because the vouchers are paid from general revenue, the departed pupil's $7,500 stays in the public school system.

OK, got that? Since Utah spends about $7500 per public school pupil, and the vouchers are worth on average $2000, then Utah saves $5500 per child using a voucher, but the $7500 per pupil doesn't go away. Did anyone else wonder at Will's deployment of the New Math? If the money stays in the system, you don't actually save that money and get to count it as savings to taxpayers, who by Will's admission are still paying the $7500 to the public school system...now in addition to the $2000 for the private school subsidizing voucher.

Am I missing something? Is he not claiming that the original $7500 that would have been there anyway is still there, and an additional $2000 is being paid out, yet somehow the taxpayers are saving $5500? As I said before, Will and education are not exactly familiar with one another...

To seal the deal (and I know you're bored by now), Will makes the argument that Utah's private schools "are operating one-third below full enrollment" and the vouchers will help fill them up. Isn't it funny when a free marketeer like Will starts arguing for subsidies because the market doesn't seem to work the way he wants it? Check it out:
The voucher program will enable demand for private schools to match the supply. A privately funded scholarship program, Children First Utah, for low-income pupils can support only 15 percent of applicants. Although most of the total value of the new voucher program will go to low-income families, the program amounts to a reduced government subsidy for such families -- at most $3,000 rather than more than $7,500 per pupil.

So replace "voucher program" with "subsidy" and you see what Will's aiming at. The private schools are underenrolled because they aren't seen as providing the value for their cost. Rather than make them "compete," as he wants with the public schools, Will wants the government to give them a handout, therefore allowing them to continue to overcharge their pupils. And he returns to his ridiculous, wrong even on the basis of his own evidence, argument about a reduced cost. He's already stated that the $7500 per pupil remains in the system, so we aren't looking at a "reduced government subsidy," but rather an increased subsidy (in fairness to Will, he does say "reduced government subsidy for such families," and technically he's correct: since the family is not in public school, they don't directly receive the subsidy; but he's either lying to the reader or simply too stupid to understand the difference between the individual family and the system as a whole when he argues that it's some sort of reduction in taxpayer burden).

Anyone read this far?

31 October 2007

Halloween is here...after which it's nonstop to Christmas displays.

It's Halloween, a time when all the button-down men can dress like the fairy-princesses they always wanted to be and business-suit women can wear their naughty nurse and maid costumes, safe in the illusion that really it's just for pretend.

Ever since having children, I've been costume challenged, in large part because having kids means you either no longer get invited to your friends' knock down, drag out, drunk to the gills parties or you get invited but can no longer let it all hang out at your friends' knock down, drag out, drunk to the gills parties. Either way, it seriously inhibits the costume-creativity ambitions.

Back in the day, I went to a party as Andy Warhol (easy: black jeans, a black turtleneck, and a silver wig...oh yeah, and I was about twenty pounds lighter) and also to one as Sickboy from Trainspotting. I really enjoyed that one. I even picked up a heroin habit so it would be more realistic.

This year I plan to dress up as "dad home from work" and hand out candy to the delightful passers-by, many of whom in my neighborhood believe it's acceptable to wear jeans and t-shirt as your costume, use a plastic Safeway shopping bag as your candy bag, and trick-or-treat well into your thirties. I have in fact entertained one group that consisted of about eight children and one mother (or accompanying adult) in which the mother not only asked for candy for herself but also reeked of alcohol. The ones who get out of that one will either look back upon their childhoods with humor or hatred; the ones who don't will repeat it.

30 October 2007

Again, is anyone really surprised?

Now here's a big surprise for everyone, I'm sure. Dick Cheney goes hunting at private hunting clubs, where he can enjoy the thrill of hunting down fierce creatures like quail and dove and maybe pheasant. It's really dangerous stuff (if you're in Cheney's line of fire, that is). But apparently this particulare hunting club in upstate New York is causing a stir because in a garage on the club's grounds there hung a Confederate flag. Al Sharpton is all over this detail, which is good timing for him, especially after Ta-Nehisi Coates laid the beatdown on him over the weekend, labelling him "irrelevant."

But it's stupid, and it misses the point. Cheney has so much plausible deniability in this particular incident, that it makes Sharpton look even more like the fool. It's possible Cheney wasn't within eyesight of the garage, or that the garage doors were closed at the time. Who really cares? The larger point is that these private enclaves are nothing but hotbeds of regressive behavior, whether it's in hidebound racist and sexist behavior or simple elitism. And they're the places Cheney feels at home. Cheney doesn't need to know that his hosts that particular day were true throwback yee-haw Confederate flag waving white supremacists. He just knows that they're his kind of people. You know, the kind who applaud his principled stand against establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and against a resolution to free political prisoner Nelson Mandela. They understand each other...

So the point isn't whether this little rod and gun club proudly displays the Confederate flag (and in this case it seems they keep it hidden in the garage) in the proud remembrance of all the noble New York regiments who fought to keep slavery legal, but rather to note that you would probably be hard pressed to find a single "private hunting club" that didn't include at least one less-than-covert member of the KKK or CCC or subscriber to the American Renaissance. These places are breeding grounds for the most socially backward members of American society, a place where wealth, power, and right-wing quasi-fascist viewpoints can congregate freely and shoot at things.

29 October 2007

Out of the woodwork

I never really knew how many people from Boston were around DC. For fourteen years I've lived in our nation's capital and never noticed it. However, now everywhere I turn, there's a Boston Red Sox cap or sweatshirt. It's like a plague.

Sure, they were by far my favorite post-season team, but I'm not exactly going out and buying a ballcap.

Speaking of which, I've owned ballcaps from exactly three teams my entire life: the Oakland A's (don't ask me why, but I loved the A's since childhood...the early 1990's steroid scandals kind of soured me on them though), the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago Cubs (it was a white with blue stripes old timer ballcap...wish I still had it).

26 October 2007

Friday fall traditional.

This Saturday everyone's talking about the Penn State v. Ohio State game in Happy Valley. Ohio State enters the game undefeated and ranked #1, having taken a tour of small Ohio colleges for three of their wins, but also compiling a 4-0 record in the Big Ten so far, albeit against Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan State. Additionally, they've beaten Washington. They finish their schedule against Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. So clearly they were front-loaded with cupcakes and now they're hitting the meat of the schedule, although you have to say that given the up and down performances of the teams on the list, Michigan is probably the best of the four teams remaining.

Saturday's game is in Happy Valley, though, and the Nittany Lions also happen to be the last team to beat Ohio State during the regular season, so the line is a surprising -3.5 points for OSU. I would like to have been there, but the bad weather and my bad cold and certain events in town are keeping me away, so the television will have to do. For Penn State to win this game, QB Morelli has to keep his head and some sort of run game has to get established.

Now onto the rest of the top 25 (acc. to the BCS):

1. Ohio State v. #25 Penn State. PSU surprises everyone by forcing four turnovers in a win.
2. BC already beat #11 VTech.
3. LSU is idle.
4. Arizona State v. #21 Cal. The PAC-10 has been eating its own this year. Cal takes down ASU.
5. Oregon v. #12 USC. Ducks fall to Trojans.
6. Oklahoma is idle.
7. WVU v. Rutgers. WVU slaughters the Knights.
8. See #2 above.
9. Kansas v. Texas A&M. Look to A&M to topple Kansas from the unbeatens.
10. South Florida v. #23 Connecticut. Some things just shouldn't be, like these two teams in the top 25. South Florida will see to it that Connecticut is gone next week.
11. Florida v. #18 Georgia. The best thing that could happen here is that both teams get into a brawl and the players are all expelled from their universities and the teams cease to exist. In light of the dim chance of that happening, I'm going with Florida over Georgia.
12. See #5 above.
13. Missouri v. Iowa State. Missouri wins big.
14. Kentucky v. Mississippi State. It's been tough at MSU. A win over Kentucky helps.
15. Virginia v. NC State. Virginia wins.
16. South Carolina v. Tennessee. As Florida coach, Spurrier was fond of saying, "You can't spell Citrus without UT," expressing the lesser-bowl fate of the team he dominated back then. South Carolina will win this game, but it will be a close fight.
17. Hawaii v. New Mexico State. Hawaii wins again.
18. See #11 above.
19. Texas v. Nebraska. Nebraska rights its ship with a win over Texas.
20. Michigan v. Minnesota. In a battle of two Big 10 teams that lost to I-AA teams this year, Michigan absolutely clobberfies Minnesota.
21. See #4 above.
22. Auburn v. Mississippi. No problem for Auburn here. Auburn wins big.
23. See #10 above.
24. Alabama is idle.
25. See #1 above.

Being sick can make time for reading otherwise worthless columnists

Another thing I did while I was sick was sit around and read the paper. Thoroughly. In fact, I read two papers. Thoroughly. Because we get both the Washington Post and now recently the New York Times home deliveries. We'd cancelled the Times delivery back in the dark days of dissertation deadlines, when both papers often sat wrapped and stacked in not so neat clear and blue plastic piles in our front hallway. Ahem. Now in the heady days of post-doctoral bliss (and indeed that "we" a few sentences back is not royal, it's plural) both papers come thumping on the doorstep (generally) before seven a.m.

So I was reading the editorial page of the Post, when I noticed that one of their numerous conservative columnists was pushing yet another piece of ill-framed and unwieldly arguments across a few columns like so much shit rolling through the gutter. Yes, it was Michael Gerson opining on James Watson, our addled Nobel laureate of DNA code-cracking fame. What a coincidence, I thought, since I'd written about Dr. Watson about a week previously. Gerson was Bush's chief speechwriter for about five years and is largely responsible for the ridiculous scare phrases that Bush used to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq back in 2003 (remember the "don't let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud" bullshit? pure Gerson). He cut his teeth working for the rabidly anti-egalitarian "Heritage Foundation," and somehow the Post allows him to spew filth twice a week on their pages.

Gerson of course didn't see Watson's gaffe as a problem for the usual consumers of racist eugenicist claptrap, but rather a problem for "liberalism":

Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science -- and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that "we already accept" genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children.

Oh. Well, maybe I can accept it so far, since you could read Gerson as tacitly acknowledging that it's only a problem for liberals because conservatives already agree with Watson's racist argument. But you only have to read a little further before you realize that Gerson has actually just set up a straw man argument that he labels "liberalism," and he doesn't even do a very good job of it:

This creates an inevitable tension within liberalism. The left in America positions itself as both the defender of egalitarianism and of unrestricted science. In the last presidential election, Sen. John Kerry pledged to "tear down every wall" that inhibited medical research. But what happens when certain scientific views lead to an erosion of the ideal of equality?
OK. Not hard to spot the first one, right? That little slip between "unrestricted science" and Kerry's attitude toward medical research. Gerson would probably have us believe that Kerry was looking to bring back Josef Mengele as head of NIH. The second one though is more important, and it's that moronic conflation, so common among conservatives, of "equality" and "identity." To ask for equal rights is not to assert that everyone is identical down to every last molecule of their bodies. Of course you could scientifically ascertain that some people are taller, some are shorter, some are stronger, some are weaker, but one doesn't go about handing out political rights based on such distinctions.

Sure, you could argue that Gerson, behind his straw man argument, is really scared that more genetic research will lead to attempts to "perfect" the race (like many of us, he's probably seen Gattaca), not that it hasn't been tried before. Those attempts generally come from the conservative side of the table, you know, the ones who at one time or another are trying to keep immigrants from the "wrong places" out of the country because they'll "mongrelize" America, or who tried to keep anti-miscegenation laws on the books to maintain the "purity" of the white race.

However, Gerson tries to slip it by us one more time, arguing that because progressives trust in science so much yet believe in egalitarianism (which again he sees as somehow opposing one another), they might yield to the temptation of creating a master race:

Watson and many scientists assert a kind of reductionism -- a belief that human beings are the sum of their chemical processes and have no value beyond their achievements and attributes. But progressives, at their best, have a special concern for the different, the struggling and the weak. When it comes to eugenics, they face not only a tension but a choice -- and they should choose human equality over the pursuit of human perfection.
Ahhh, he shows some real concern over the plight of the progressive, which is nice, except he's the only one who ever asserted there was a danger of progressives advocating for genetic manipulation to "weed out" the potential weaklings, etc. (seriously, Michael, it's pretty clunky to shove eugenics into the progressives' laps, as if that's a big progressive talking point -- keeping in mind that I do cede to him that back in the teens and twenties many individuals aligned with the capital P Progressives, like Margaret Sanger, were enamored of eugenics). Mainly, eugenics has been wielded by the conservative movement, who in the US argued that feeble-minded immigrants and their biological inferiority made them susceptible to Bolshevism. I kid you not -- a political outlook linked to one's genetics.

Unfortunately in today's world, most of us realize that it's the progressives in this country who tirelessly work to protect the rights of the downtrodden (physical, economic, or otherwise) already in this country. It takes real chutzpah for a neocon like Gerson to tell progressives they should side with "human equality"; after all, it's Gerson whose rhetoric has been essential to dehumanize Arabs (especially Iraqis) and to ensure the linguistic success of Bush's hubristic war of political eugenics, attempting to install democracies from the barrels of guns.

I have a seriously hard time trying to take seriously moral advice from a man so closely linked to the most corrupt, blood-stained, morally bankrupt administration in the US with the exception of Richard Nixon (and maybe Andrew Jackson).

25 October 2007

Not gone, just missing.

Friends. Dear internet imaginary friends. Dear ghosts.

From Sunday until today I have been unusually sick. I have been to the doctors and the doctors (OK, to be accurate one doctor, one med student, one nurse, one radiation technician, and one lab tech who took blood) have told me it's some sort of viral infection. Get plenty of fluids. Get plenty of rest. Which I did. Normally, on sick days I can get plenty of my own stuff done -- read books, finish petty paperwork, straighten up the house, run errands -- but not this time around. About the only productive thing I managed to do for most of the time was watch one movie -- Almodovar's The Flower of My Secret -- and it was a nice diversion, so thank you NetFlix.

Yesterday I was still feeling ill, but by afternoon had recovered enough to get interested in this dusty stack of metal and wood and plastic in my basement. I hadn't messed with the guitars in a while, and in fact I'd forgotten just how damned beautiful the bass guitar that I've owned for twenty years is. So I took a picture of it. Check it out.

The picture really doesn't do it justice. It's a beautiful birdseye maple and quite solid. It's not for sale.

19 October 2007

Friday toss-ups.

Friday generally means that I do a college football post. Why not? It's a weekend of some really tough games to call, and with South Florida going down to Rutgers already, we could have another huge shakeup of the top 10. By the way, these are BCS rankings, since that's the way ESPN listed them.

1. Ohio State v. Michigan State. Ohio State finally has to play a school that has or once had a real football program, but it's Michigan State. Look for a close 1st half and a big Ohio State second half. OSU wins.
2. USF already lost to Rutgers.
3. Boston College is idle.
4. LSU v. #17 Auburn. Man this is a tough call. I think LSU will win, though, in a low scoring game.
5. Oklahoma v. Iowa State. Oklahoma will maim, maul, and mutilate Iowa State.
6. South Carolina v. Vanderbilt. South Carolina isn't Georgia. Vandy will be out of this game early.
7. Kentucky v. #15 Florida. UK ranked above UF in football? What a brave new world that has such rankings in it. Florida will take Kentucky down.
8. Arizona State is idle.
9. WVU v. Mississippi State. I'm having trouble with this one. It's in Morgantown, so I'm going with the Mountaineers.
10. Oregon v. Washington. Oregon wins this one.
11. Va Tech is idle.
12. Cal v. UCLA. Cal wins this one.
13. Kansas v. Colorado. Wonder why an undefeated Kansas team isn't in the top 10? After Colorado beats them, you won't wonder.
14. USC v. Notre Dame. Do you have to ask? USC has something to prove. USC wins big.
15. See #7 above.
16. Missouri v. #24 Texas Tech. Texas Tech's stay in the top 25 will be short. Missouri wins.
17. See #4 above.
18. Hawaii is idle.
19. Virginia v. Maryland. UMD wins this one.
20. Georgia is idle.
21. Tennessee v. Alabama. Tough call. I say 'Bama wins a shootout.
22. Texas v. Baylor. Continuing their cakewalk schedule, Texas will decimate Baylor.
23. Cincinnati v. Pitt. Pitt wins this one.
24. See #16 above.
25. Michigan v. Illinois. I'd love to see Illinois take out the Wolverines. It can happen, but I fear I'm voting more with heart than head. In the end, I say Michigan escapes with a win.

Other weekend action:
PSU v. Indiana. PSU wins in Indiana, setting up a showdown with unbeaten and top ranked Ohio State in Happy Valley on October 27th.

18 October 2007

Sometimes things don't compute.

Scientist James Watson is best remembered for his and Francis Crick's unraveling of the code for DNA, but these days he seems more intent on reheating discredited theories on race. His latest foray into this arena has been to claim that Africa is in the state it's in because Blacks are simply not as intelligent as whites. Here's what the esteemed researcher had to say:
He made the controversial comments in a Sunday Times interview, reportedly saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our
social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really".
Dr Watson was quoted as saying he hoped everyone was equal, but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".

Um...yeah. Watson's currently a prominent researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research facility with a long and checkered past, including being the home of the Eugenics Record Office, a hotbed of racist psuedoscience that promoted precisely the same sort of thinking that Watson is now, in 2007, espousing. The ERO was shown to be sham long ago, but for a time it was a powerful force in maintaining racist and anti-immigrant policies since it provided a "scientific" basis for discriminating against native-born Blacks and those nasty nasty immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

To Cold Spring Harbor Lab's credit, they've immediately denounced Watson's ravings with a pretty strong statement:
The lab's trustees and its president, Bruce Stillman, said in a statement: "(These) are his own personal statements and in no way reflect the mission, goals, or principles of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Board, administration or faculty.
"(We) vehemently disagree with these statements and are bewildered and saddened if he indeed made such comments.
"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory does not engage in any research that could even form the basis of the statements attributed to Dr Watson."

So there you go. It's not too far from sad old Bobby Fischer, who while a brilliant chess mind, is a bit of a loon otherwise.

17 October 2007

A judgement call.

Please identify the racist stereotypes in the photos below:

The team from Cleveland is of course long-suffering and it looks like they're finally headed to the World Series, where they will hopefully knock the stuffing out of the Colorado Rockies, but maybe it's time to give that mascot a rest.

15 October 2007

Weekend brief.

Last weekend my picks were 15-5. The worst pick was probaby the Texas v. Iowa State game, in which I got my teams confused (thinking Iowa State was OK state) and figured the Longhorns would be upset. Instead, Texas clobbered the 1-6 Cyclones. And I'm happy to report that one of my losses was Wisconsin beating PSU. Penn State thoroughly dominated Wisconsin under the beautiful October sky in Happy Valley.

In the gaps between the stands you could see the trees turning colors on the hills beyond the stadium, the air was crisp but not biting, and the PSU defense was powerful. A great day all around.

On a final note, I have to give props to the GSR, who predicted both the PSU blowout win and the Illinois loss, although he also thought Washington would upset ASU. For a while, at least, that game looked good, then it all went bad for the Huskies.

12 October 2007

I'm not going out on a limb on this prediction...

Al Gore has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of right-wing outrage both at Al Gore and the Nobel committee, whom they will accuse of being politically correct idiots.

I remember the same sort of dustup when Dario Fo, an Italian playwright, won the literature prize back in the 1990's: it wasn't good enough for the Wall Street Journal's editorial page to slam Fo and the Nobel committee; no, they even went after previous winner Toni Morrison, arguing that her work was undeserving and she never would have won the prize if not for political correctness.

Seriously, they don't give it a rest. Even after V.S. Naipaul won the prize in 2001, they had to kick at Toni Morrison again (God forbid a Black woman be able to write in such a way that teaches us about life...), with Tunku Varadarajan opining that Naipaul's win was a shocker, since the Nobel committee "whose record shows a marked bias in favor of the liberal and the leftist, not to mention the meretricious--one that has given us such tawdry laureates as Dario Fo and Toni Morrison" finally chose a writer who had recently spent his time bashing homosexual writers like E.M. Forster.

Their fellow travellers over at the New Criterion are just as bad, lamenting in 2004 about the poor choices the Nobel committee has made recently, in their eyes. The New Criterion. Seriously, does anyone read that rag? It's like a nostalgia theme park for wanna-be literary and culture critics, like a Busch Gardens The Olde Country for the arts. Hear Ye Hear Ye, watch ye olde privileged males and token female or two partake of the ancient art of lamenting the impending demise of our culture! A fantastic show, constantly renewed and never ever correct!

STFU, right wing losers.

Another Friday...

This weekend I will be a few hours north and west of here, celebrating the rite of homecoming in Happy Valley, where I expect there to be good food, somewhat cold beer, and a good football game featuring the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Wisconsin Badgers.

Badgers are relatively nasty creatures, but from my experiences, their fans are not, so it should be a pleasant day, especially if PSU wins.

Here are the top 25 picks:

1. LSU v. #17 Kentucky. LSU simply mauls Kentucky.
2. Cal v. Oregon State. Cal thoroughly dominates Oregon State in Berkeley.
3. Ohio State v. Kent State. Ohio State continues its tour of small Ohio schools. OSU wins.
4. Boston College v. Notre Dame. BC will run rampant on Notre Dame. It will be ugly.
5. South Florida v. UCF. South Florida will not lose to UCF.
6. Oklahoma v. #11 Missouri. I think it'll be a good game, but Oklahoma wins.
7. South Carolina v. North Carolina. No contest, the Gamecocks kick the tar out of the Tarheels.
8. WVU is idle.
9. Oregon v. Washington State. The Ducks will avenge themselves for the Cal loss by pummeling happless WSU.
10. USC v. Arizona. USC will come back focused following the Stanford loss and crush Arizona.
11. Missouri v. Oklahoma. See #6 above...
12. V-Tech v. Duke. Virginia Tech cruises versus the ACC's favorite cupcake.
13. Florida is idle.
14. Arizona State v. Washington. Close game, but ASU wins.
15. Cincinnati v. Louisville. Now it's time to see if the Bearcats are for real. They aren't. Louisville wins.
16. Hawaii v. San Jose State. Hawaii wins on the road.
17. Kentucky v. #1 LSU. See #1 above....
18. Illinois v. Iowa. The Zooker remains undefeated in the Big 10 this year.
19. Wisconsin v. Penn State. I really want PSU to win this game. However, I call Wisky by 10.
20. Kansas v. Baylor. What the hell is Kansas doing being ranked? They will beat Baylor with ease.
21. Florida State already lost to Wake Forest.
22. Auburn v. Arkansas. Auburn finds ways to lose games it should win, but it will win this one.
23. Texas v. Iowa State. Iowa State upsets the shaky Longhorns.
24. Georgia v. Vanderbilt. Georgia wins in a tighter than expected game.
25. Tennessee v. Mississippi State. UT will win.