25 December 2008

RIP Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter has died age 78.

Pinter's drama, like Beckett's, was always remarkable as much for its silences as for its utterances, but unlike Beckett, Pinter's characters tended to lay into each other and strip their relationships to each grievance and power position.

We have lost a great writer and thinker.

18 December 2008

Didn't I just say I was disappointed?

Yesterday I expressed disappointment with President-elect Obama's corporatist choices for the Cabinet, but those selections look downright progressive next to the right-wing wind bag he's picked for the Inaugural Invocation, Rick Warren.

I mean, how quickly can you shit on the constituency who got you elected (I'm not simply talking about homosexuals -- I mean the entire progressive mass of the Democratic and beyond Democratic voters and activists who worked the phones, the streets, and the polls to get Barack Obama elected)? As Andrew Sullivan put it, "Shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now." Obama most likely won't be so retrograde in the area of gay rights as McCain/Palin would have been, but now liberals, progressives, and leftists should know that Obama is not terribly interested in doing more than treading water on that front.

17 December 2008

And so my friends, the time draws near...

I've been away so long living in my dream world of grading and finalizing and tracking down plagiarism that I've neglected my dear, dear blog. My blog that is scheduled to turn four in February. Four years is nothing. It only took four years for the Bush Regime to sink our country's troops, finances, and future into a costly mistake in Iraq. It only took them four more years (and seriously, I can't figure out how in hell they got those four more years except that the majority of the American voting public are seriously uneducated and lack critical thinking skills...sorry, there it is...don't blame Kerry -- though his campaign was horrible: a block of wood with a face painted on it should have been able to beat Bush in 2004) to destroy our economy through a combination of military largesse (though not to the vets) and nonexistent regulatory oversight.

Talk about a weapon of mass destruction...how about an administration so reckless, so ideologically savage, that they're willing to bring down the economies of their erstwhile allies in the name of their laissez-faire dream?

So it's not surprising that Dick Cheney can look back on his eight years in office and think things have gone remarkably well. No regrets from Dick. The administration doesn't torture, holding people without charges for seven years is the American way, the Iraq Boondoggle was the right thing to do, etc., etc.

The amazing thing is that given the access to information that we all have if we are literate and can get ourselves in front of a computer (and I'm not talking about access to blogs and right or left wing political sites), 29% of people in this country still approve of Bush's job as President. Is that also the same group that makes up the 100% of morons in this country?

Look, I voted for Obama and I already don't approve of the job he's doing filling cabinet posts with Clinton holdovers and corporate lackeys (e.g. proposed Dept. of Ed. Secretary Arne Duncan and mining industry spokesperson Colorado Senator Ken Salazar for Sec. of Int.). I would vote for him again, because even these lackluster appointments are worlds away from the horrifying selections and policies McCain/Palin would offer, but if someone called me and asked if I approved of the job he was doing, I wouldn't say yes. So how stupid or simply blindly loyal to a party can someone be to approve of Bush's job at this point in time? We're talking about a quarter of the U.S. population. Have our schools failed so miserably that 1/4 of voting age adults are functionally illiterate?

The one thing I do approve of is Bush's ability to dodge a shoe. He moved pretty quickly and both those shoes were on target. I don't think Clinton could have gotten out of the way. Obama, sure -- in fact, he might have caught it and tossed it back.

Speaking of Bush, even he is starting to reflect on his time in power as a little less than mistake-free. But not Cheney. After all, he and George made their friends some nice money during their eight years in office.

04 December 2008

New things I learned today.

Aside from the mildly surprising news that Canada has its own Parliament, I also found out today that apparently the Prime Minister can suspend Parliament in Canada if the wind is blowing a bit too fiercely in his direction.

Can you imagine if George Bush decided to shut down Congress?

I'm generally a fan of parliamentary systems -- I think it's a great concept that more than two parties can win significant representation in the national legislative body -- but seriously, the PM suspending Parliament?

OK, sure it's Canada, but doesn't this action seem a bit Mickey Mouse?

01 December 2008

No rest for the weary.

We're into the frenzied days of December. As a child, I only worried about killing time until Christmas, and that wasn't hard to do, although the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed an eternity. I'd come home from school -- the less planned hours of which generally included heavy loads of holiday crosswords or the perennial favorite, the old "see how many words you can make from 'Merry Christmas'" activity -- and it was time to lie under the artificial tree listening to Christmas music. On many days, my mother was baking something. There were always cookies.

Now, as an adult, there's simply no time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Time isn't measured in hours or days, but in weekends. Since the post-Thanksgiving weekend is a wash, we're left with three weekends, and every weekend has a party invitation if not an acceptance, the semester ending papers and exams demand attention, those of us foolhardy enough to attend the MLA are planning not only a Christmas trip, but also a post-Christmas pre-New Year's itinerary, and we're well aware that when we return there's another semester waiting for prep. Throw children into the mix, and you're looking at one-twelfth of the year completely, utterly, irrevocably gone.

Happy holidays, everyone.

29 November 2008

What we talk about when we talk about...well, what do we talk about?

I hope it all was worth it. Nothing says holiday spirit like trampling workers to death or shooting fellow shoppers. Of course, the authorities in California are trying to distance the shooting from Black Friday or an argument over a toy, but the point remains that those involved were shopping and had an argument. And someone got shot. So maybe they weren't fighting over this year's hottest hard to get item, but I'm willing to bet that they're frayed nerves and quick tempers had something to do with the consumption frenzy that generally begins around 4 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.

It seems to me that the main way in which we relate to other people is through consumption. We chat with the barista, we hand the valet the keys, or maybe we're on the other end of that equation. However, it goes beyond our interactions with others as server/served, producer/consumer. I think in many ways, consumption is the way many of us relate to the world. We don't know what to do when we aren't consuming. If a store is open -- even if there's nothing inside there we need -- many of us (and I'll include myself here) will go to that store just to walk around the aisles.

Maybe we'll find something we desperately need. Maybe we'll kill the hours, anyway.

21 November 2008

In partial explanation of my absence, in lieu of a doctor's excuse.

I'm at a conference on teaching at the college level, so I'm getting a bit of a break from the daily grind. Conferences are usually energizing experiences for me, since the environment is intense and the locations are, if not exotic, at least out of the ordinary. However, I can't help but think that the main problem with college-level education conferences is that they tend to present information I learned as an undergraduate as if it were new material. Hey, look -- students learn more when they have to manipulate content rather than simply take notes at your lecture! Oh, check this out -- varied assessment techniques are more valid than just midterm and final!

However, the best one I've had so far was a session on using technology in the classroom -- or to be more specific, it was a session on "trends" in technology that could be applied to education. In other words, it turned into a "did you know that there are things called blogs that can be used for interacting with students?" and a "search engines can pull up all sorts of information about you, even information you may not have provided yourself."

I kid you not. 2008. Late 2008.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that the food was good, the accomodations pleasant, and that some of the sessions have been much better than those I've chosen to outline. I suppose my big problem is that I'm comparing it to English conferences, in which you'd most certainly get laughed out of the room if you tried to present some twenty year old reading of Moby Dick as if it were something new (not that I haven't seen my share of bad English conference papers, but in general you get savaged in the question and answer session for presenting old ideas as new discoveries).

I've also discovered that most of the people at this conference aren't actually trained education researchers -- they're college professors from one discipline or another who have a great interest in their teaching, and it's good they have that interest; they're probably all good teachers, dedicated teachers. However, that doesn't mean they can design valid research studies on educational models. For instance, I question the validity of a study in which students are divided into two groups: one group takes the course online, the other takes it in a traditional classroom setting. Learning is measured by a multiple-choice post-test that the traditional students take closed book in class under time constraints, and the online students take online under time constraints. The instructor seemed to think that the time constraints precluded online students from looking up answers, even though the tests were based on readings in their textbooks (hello, google books anyone, or even the good old fashioned method of having the book open and marked to key chapter summaries, bullet lists, etc.).

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon.

17 November 2008

Chemical Warfare.

Apparently, chemical weapons were used on US troops in the first Gulf War. Unfortunately, it was our own government who employed the chemical weapons on US troops. CNN reports on a study that was done for the "congressionally mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses" finds two causal agents:

The report identifies two Gulf War "neurotoxic" exposures that "are causally associated with Gulf War illness." The first is the ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to protect troops from effects of nerve agents. The second is exposure to dangerous pesticides used during the conflict.

While CNN doesn't identify who used the "dangerous pesticides," I can only guess that with our country's history of using chemicals to deal with naturally occurring hazards (see Agent Orange), that it was the US deploying the pesticides.

The US also has a fine history of experimenting on its own soldiers and civilians, as the early atomic bomb tests ably demonstrate:

Not to mention the fallout about 65 miles away in Las Vegas. Roll those dice, baby!

Notoriously, we also have the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted over an amazing 30 years by the US Public Health Service and only stopped when it became public knowledge that the U.S. government was deliberately failing to treat study participants so they could study the effects of this fatal-if-left-untreated disease...of course, the participants were poor Black men, so I guess the government thought, "eh, who really cares."

So the idea the government would deliberately infect our troops with experimental medicines and expose them to poorly researched chemical pesticides isn't exactly a shocker. The only question is whether George H.W. Bush will be brought to justice for presiding over this act of chemical warfare.

These two need to be stopped.

Adrian Fenty, who apparently thought that running a school system boiled down to slapping paint on walls and hiring incompetent, unprepared managers, and Michelle Rhee, who has no idea how to manage a large organization, must be stopped. In their latest move to mask their sheer ignorance of education, Rhee and Fenty are seeking to declare a "state of emergency" in the DC public schools. Now, in a "yes we're all concerned" kind of way, DCPS has been in a state of emergency, but in a technical, as in "declare martial law, suspend laws, shoot to kill" kind of way, no such state of emergency exists.

These two must be stopped.

I argued this publicly and privately to anyone who would listen when the school takeover was being floated and Rhee was handed the reins: this maneuver [the takeover] had nothing to do with improving DCPS and everything to do with dismantling the teacher union and outsourcing -- essentially privatizing -- public education. With every move Michelle Rhee has made, I've only grown more confident in that prediction. [as a side note, I suppose when I use "incompetent" in relation to Michelle Rhee, then I'm taking at face value her claims to want to improve the system -- I think she's a tremendously competent tool of the think-tanks and foundations that want to dismantle public education in the US, but a terribly incompetent manager.]

Now comes this bizarre move, where she and Fenty seek to invoke the same sort of emergency activity that New Orleans used after Hurricane Katrina. Under the Bush regime, neocons and neolibs alike looked to the "state of emergency" conditions to suspend ordinary regulations that sought to protect workers and turned the New Orleans rebuilding effort into a giant laissez faire showplace of corruption and thievery. Let me be clear: privatization in most of these contexts means taking public money and handing it over to cronies in the private sector, often giving far more for far less and with no oversight or accountability.
If adopted, the measures would essentially allow the District to begin building a new school system. Such an effort would be similar to one underway in New Orleans, where a state takeover after Hurricane Katrina placed most of the city's 78 public schools in a special Recovery School District. About half of the district's schools are
charters, and it has no union contract.

Unfortunately for Rhee and Fenty, DC apparently hasn't suffered any major natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, or flood (although I might make the argument that Rhee's tenure has been an man-made disaster, maybe like an act of terrorism...though that's a bit harsh isn't it?), and I doubt Barack Obama's administration will be as friendly as Bush's was to undermining public education.

Teacher unions aren't the problem. Bad management is the problem. Critically underfunding local school in-classroom and enrichment activities is the problem. Utterly mismanaging facilities is the problem.

Yes, there are bad teachers out there, just like there are bad co-workers at most offices in the private sector, but anyone who thinks the solution to DCPS is to dismantle the teachers union is falling for the old bait and switch. Destroying the teachers union does nothing to improve education but it goes a long way toward satisfying the anti-government forces whose ultimate goal is to undo government support for education.

For years -- long before Rhee rode into town -- DCPS's problem has been a lack of good management at the top. That lack has resulted in crumbling facilities and moronic curriculum decisions that treat phys ed, art, and music as luxuries rather than integral components to education (not to mention an administrative attitude that placed little emphasis on keeping track of students and seriously underfunded guidance offices). That's where the problem lies, and until someone addresses that root problem -- the imperial central administration -- DCPS will not improve.

These two must be stopped.

16 November 2008

As Ice Cube would say, it was a good day.

The stadium was wet, and it wasn't helped by some extremely drunk woman puking her guts out two rows in front of me sometime in the middle of the second quarter...she and her boyfriend/husband/partner skedaddled soon afterwards, leaving everyone within four rows of their ground zero gasping for air depending on the breeze. Also, the guy who's back she threw up on wasn't terribly thrilled about it.

The important thing, though, is that Penn State beat Indiana convincingly, although the first half was anything but, with PSU going into the locker room up 10-7. However, the defense clamped down in the second half and stymied any possibility of an Indiana comeback. As for the

Big 10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, now it comes to the final game of the regular season, the so-called "rivalry game" against Michigan State. It's not much of a rivalry game, since PSU and MSU don't have a history; it's simply the league-generated rivalry game...Penn State's only real rivalry -- as in hate and violence, fear and loathing -- was with Pitt, and sadly they stopped playing regularly in the early 1990's. I think it's as ridiculous as Florida dropping Florida State or Miami because they're in rival conferences.

Anyway, after the game I strolled about campus and the rain let up and above Burrows Building, which houses the English Department, there was a fantastic rainbow:

That's gotta mean something good.

14 November 2008

Six on the Quick Pick.

I'm heading out of town to attend the Penn State v. Indiana contest in magnificent Beaver Stadium, located on the eastern edge of the University Park campus. But before I go, I'll leave you with some advice you'd be best served by ignoring or turning around on its head:

1. #11 Ohio State at Illinois. I'm taking Illinois in a shocker.

2. #25 South Carolina at #4 Florida. Homecoming for Steve Spurrier, but it won't be happy. It'll be more like a Harold Pinter play. Florida in a rout.

3. #16 UNC at Maryland. I know I picked against them last week and got burned. I'm picking against them again. Maryland wins this game...by a hair.

4. Boston College at #19 Florida State. Can BC sustain their momentum after shutting out Notre Dame? Can FSU sustain their momentum after trouncing Clemson? Good questions. I'm leaning Florida State here, because BC should have put up more points against ND -- I don't think they can keep up with FSU.

5. Cal at Oregon State. This game is interesting because it remains to be seen just how good Oregon State, defeaters of USC, might be. I think Oregon State wins over a disappointing Cal team.

6. Indiana at PSU. PSU by a landslide in a rainfilled mess.

13 November 2008

To borrow a phrase, You Cannot Be Serious.

Sarah Palin refuses to go away. Discredited even by Fox News, Palin is making hay about her influential position as a governor. After having actively ramped up the most ridiculous partisan attacks in my memory (Obama as Marxist -- if only, Obama as terrorist), Palin now complains about those very tactics:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday argued that she and her fellow Republican governors were ready to put aside "extreme partisanship" and act if Washington
fails to provide the leadership America needs.
What the hell is she talking about? Since when do governors run the show around here? Do you know what governors do? They run their states, and every now and then they meet up with other governors who run other states, and they talk about running their states. They don't pass laws. They don't set federal policy. They don't run federal agencies. And no one outside their own states look to any of them for leadership. But don't tell Governor Palin:
"I think that this group is going to be looked to and looked at for leadership that perhaps had been lacking in Congress and in Washington, D.C.," she said. "This group is going to be uniquely qualified to provide leadership in this nation."

Palin addressed reporters at the annual Republican Governors Association convention in Miami, Florida. Palin was joined on stage by a long line of Republican governors.
Um. No. Let me repeat: at a national level, no one gives even half a rat's ass what a collection of governors think, and trust me, they care even less about what a collection of one party's governors think (be they Republican or Democrat). The story gets better, with Palin -- whose only apparent ability during the Presidential campaign was to try to talk about Barack Obama's pre-political career and events that occurred while Obama was a child -- decrying the media for talking about the past.

Doesn't she get it? The fifteen minutes are over.

I've got the post-car inspection new tire blues.

Took the car in for inspection, down to the station round 'bout noon.
Took the car in for inspection, down to the station round 'bout noon.
Well the car inspector man told me
I'd be riding on rims now pretty soon.

That sounds like money, I told myself then right away.
Oh, that sounds like money, I told myself then right away.
Four new tires is what I needed,
And I sure as hell would have to pay.

Now I drive a Honda Civic, not some fancy cadillac.
Yes I drive a Honda Civic, not some fancy cadillac.
But those four little dinky tires
They set me a good far piece back.

Now that's my sad little story, a common one I'm told.
Yes it's a sad little story, mighty common one I'm told.
But if you don't get your tires fixed,
Pretty soon you will not roll.

12 November 2008

Academic building projects.

I am beginning preparations for the spring semester and I'm digging around in anthologies for material. I had planned on teaching a course on contemporary down and out fiction, mainly because I want to teach Richard Russo and Russell Banks, but my ideas have evolved a bit because I'm trying to form a class held together by more than a couple of upstate New York/New England writers, and I'm not interested in doing a regionalism course focus. So I found myself thinking about other writers of the down and out, and immediately Raymond Carver came to mind.

Now I don't want my students thinking that only white men are down and out or that only white men write down and out fiction, so my first three, while good, would only tell part of the story. So I thought I'd add in some short stories from Edward P. Jones, whose Lost in the City I've been reading. One thing led to another, and I ended up with a syllabus that included those I've mentioned, Helena Maria Viramontes (Under the Feet of Jesus), Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street), and some random short stories. The course is ending up being less about pure down and out and more about working class studies, which means I'll probably front-load it with some short theoretical bits from Michael Zweig and Janet Zandy among others.

But in the midst of putting this course together, I came across this poem by Peter Oresick in American Working Class Literature: An Anthology (eds. Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy) that I'd like to share (in part and hopefully within the limitations of fair use) with you:

The Story of Glass

From the holes of the earth, from
truck, from silo, from cullet,
from scale, batch, tank, heat-wind; from

heat, from ribbon, from flow, roll
roll, from lehr, they feed the line.

They crosscut, snap, they flour lites,
plates, plates, plates on belts, coveys,
glass, glass you grab, you pull, you

lift, you pack, you kick, you count,
and you turn, they feed the line.

You reach, you grab, you pack, you
tap, into skid, into crane,
into pack, uncut and cut-

down, they stock, they bay, they stack
skid, skid on skid, box, and they

feed the line. [...]

I'll stop there; maybe I've already overstepped my bounds. The poem is beautiful, the rhythm of the words prodding you forward and the repetition of "they feed the line" giving you a full stop before you start all over again. And again.

I'm not going to use it because I'm not going to do poetry in this class, but I almost changed my mind because of this poem.

11 November 2008

What would a socialist Presidency look like?

With all the fearmongering that John McCain and company did over the last legs of the campaign about Obama ushering in a socialist, communist, or Marxist government (really, the fact that McCain's core followers can't distinguish these forms of government/economic practices from each other should speak volumes to how little they should be trusted near complex machinery, computers, or children), I got to wondering how it might look if we actually elected a socialist -- not even a communist -- President.

First of all, the President might try to nationalize the banks, maybe by buying up large ownership stakes in the firms.

The President may also try to nationalize the natural resources and distribute profits from the appropriation and exploitation of those natural resources to the people; if so, he could look to Alaska for a model of how to do it.

In league with his fellow travelers in Congress, he may rig the system so that -- on a state level -- we follow the Marxist creed of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," and use the tax system and federal budget allocations to redistribute wealth from productive, successful states to less advanced areas of the nation.

What a world it might be.

Poor journalism

I read this throwaway Post article menacingly titled "Racism Rears Its Head in Europe," and thought to myself, no shit. Europe is no different in that respect from the US, or Japan, or any other nation/culture (and while it's true Europe is a continent, the EU has it trying to act a bit more like an "Articles of Confederation" era United States). While we in the US have the shame of having enforced racial segregation well into the 20th Century, we also have the advantage of being a nation of immigrants, not all of whom were white (and in the case of Blacks, not all of whom were voluntarily settled here), and while we're still a predominantly "white" nation, we have large minority communities and in the long run that will trump the residual white supremacists and everyday xenophobes who cling to their increasingly isolated beliefs.

Notably, the Post article couldn't find any high-ranking European officials to say anything completely outrageous. The closest they could get was Silvio Berlusconi making some crack about Obama having "a tan." Awkward, yes. But hardly a smoking gun during a week that saw Obama making a crack about himself as a "mutt." The most outrageous comments came from the Austrian equivalent of Bill O'Reilly -- a television personality -- and obscure legislative figures from various parliaments...gee, much like you can find if you interview some of the wackier wingnuts in the US House of Representatives.

Europe certainly has its share of racial problems -- the German right-wing regularly engages in harrassment and sometimes deadly violence against the large Turkish immigrant population -- but an article that thinks it's found something meaningful in cherry-picking statements from a few racists on the US election -- rather than an analysis of actual race relations IN EUROPE -- is barking up the wrong tree.

08 November 2008


When you can't put a game away, you get burnt. That's exactly what happened to Penn State at Iowa this afternoon...field goals instead of touchdowns, punts instead of field goals, and two crucial turnovers: one to begin the game and one to set up Iowa's winning drive at the end of the game. I said Penn State would win by at least 24...well, 24 points are how many Iowa scored, so at least that number meant something. Unfortunately, Penn State scored 23.

I didn't do too well in my other calls either, with the exception of the Florida State v. Clemson game, which I pretty much called on nose, a 14 point win for FSU. I suppose the Texas Tech v. OK State game was a "high scoring affair" for both teams, although TT was clearly in charge of that game.

I completely fell flat with USC v. Cal, because I thought USC would pound Cal. And I was had the wrong ACC team dropping out of the Top 25, since UNC beat Ga Tech convincingly. And Alabama escaped Baton Rouge with their unbeaten record intact. Barely.

Really, the only saving grace of the day for me was that Charlie Weis got himself shut out in Boston. I still remember him bragging when he arrived in South Bend that he was an offensive genius...I suppose it's true that genius isn't understood in its own time.

07 November 2008

Saturday gridiron action.

This Saturday has a number of interesting matchups. I always like the late season, because each weekend brings a sorting out. Unless it doesn't, as when Maryland's loss to Virginia Tech mixed up the ACC picture more than it clarified it.

1. Georgia Tech at North Carolina. At #20 and #19 respectively, it's a good bet that one of these teams will be unranked come Sunday, which means the ACC will have exactly 2 ranked teams in the Top 25, both sitting somewhere in the high teens. Neither of those teams will be UNC.

2. The other ranked ACC team, #22 Florida State, hosts Clemson, a team that peaked at #9 BEFORE THEY'D PLAYED ANY GAMES. Although Clemson's given FSU trouble in the past, I don't think FSU will have trouble with this year's Tiger model. FSU by 14.

3. #1 Alabama at #16 LSU. Before LSU's less than exciting offense and less than feared defense were exposed, I'm sure many people were salivating over this matchup. I haven't been impressed with Alabama's wins EXCEPT for Georgia. And even though LSU lost to Georgia while 'Bama crushed them, I call LSU over Alabama.

4. #3 Penn State at Iowa. Easily Penn State's most difficult remaining game aside from their bowl game, wherever that will be (please NCG, please...fingers are crossed). However, Iowa will play tough for about a quarter, then the floodgates will open. PSU by a whole lot. At least 24.

5. #9 Oklahoma State at #2 Texas Tech. I don't see Tech losing to OK State. I don't think any team in the Big 12 is a safe bet, though, because of the porousness of the defenses. A hihg scoring affair for both teams and a Texas Tech victory.

6. #21 Cal at #7 USC. Everyone waits for USC to trip up, but they've already done it this year. I think USC will be merciless in this game.

7. Notre Dame at Boston College. Neither team is ranked and neither team is good, but BC looks at this game as a rivalry, presumably because they're both Catholic schools. I don't think too many Notre Dame fans think it's much of a rivalry. I'm not even going to make a call on this game. I want to see ND lose (it goes all the way back to scumbag Charlie Weis's decision to fake punt on Penn State when he was up about 24 points in the 3rd quarter of their 2006 game...and to reinforce his asshole-ishness, Weis did it again to hapless Washington just to be a jackass), but I don't feel comfortable trying to predict games that rely more on which team is less shitty than on which team is more skillful.

Elite or is it L33t?

I was browsing through the Post today and had to check the Chucky Krauthammer column. Just had to. I wondered, what would this half-insane crank prattle on about today? Well, I was surprised in his level-headed analysis that McCain had made several strategic and tactical blunders in the campaign...here I had expected Krauthammer, longtime established right-wing crank whose columns are found in the most hated paper of the dread MSM after the NYT, to rail against the evil MSM and their unfair treatment of noble John and uncritical elevation of false god Barack.

But I found none such drivel. Truly, I was amazed. However, in the midst of his most cogent column that I've read in the past decade (HIS most cogent, not THE most cogent), he lets slip this odd bit of nonsense:
The choice of Sarah Palin was also a mistake. I'm talking here about its political effects, not the sideshow psychodrama of feminist rage and elite loathing that had little to do with politics and everything to do with cultural prejudices, resentments and affectations.

Now Krauthammer is willing to remind his readers that he himself criticized the Palin choice back when McCain made it. However, I'm not clear on what he means by the "psychodrama of feminist rage and elite loathing." First of all, it's difficult to understand how you can divorce "feminist rage" from politics when the main feminist critique I heard was about Palin's stand on abortion. Is Krauthammer against all credible evidence attempting to claim that abortion is not a political issue? (and I have to admit, I am out of touch, for I didn't see anything from feminists that I could liken to rage...for me rage has more to do with people threatening bodily violence, like you know, shouting out "kill him" or "traitor" or "terrorist" at political rallies...)

As for the further charge of "elite loathing," I'm really wondering what Krauthammer, a charter member of the Elite Club, could be talking about. Palin is a member of the elite. She's the governor of a state. The Right Wing Yacht Cruise made a port of call to see her last year so everyone could shake her hand and write loving odes to her ascendancy. Seriously, when is the right-wing going to stop pretending they're part of the media machine they constantly rail against? More to the point, when will an overwhelming majority of Americans stop buying that line of bullshit?

Seriously, though, Sarah Palin comes out on stage in designer -- vaguely "European" even -- glasses and a sharp wardrobe enhanced by $150K of Republican campaign money, and Krauthammer is talking about "elite loathing"? And here I thought the loathing came from the fact that Palin was so woefully uninformed that she couldn't handle an interview with slow-pitch softball pitcher extraordinaire Katie Couric. And now even Fox is admitting what most intelligent Americans guessed a month ago: Palin doesn't know anything about world affairs, even when that world is right next door in Canada. Can he seriously believe that such critique and revulsion is chalked up to "cultural prejudices" rather than political concerns that the person McCain nominated to be Vice President probably wouldn't make it further than the $2000 level of "Are You're Smater than a Fifth Grader?"

Give me a break. Palin is dead in the water. 2012 will be Palin free. Or better yet, how about Palin-Plumber 2012? Running on a revival of the old Know-Nothing Party ticket, chosen more for name than ideology, though ideology does dovetail.

06 November 2008

A post that will need explaining to future generations.

Where has Joe the plumber gone? (to the tune of "Where have all the flowers gone?")

Where has Joe the Plumber gone?
A fad that's passing
Where has Joe the Plumber gone?
Don't want to know
Where has Joe the Plumber gone?
Fox has kicked him to the curb
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

So long, it's been good to know ya.

You know, in the rush of the national elections I forgot to thank the DC Republican Party for ensuring that Republicans would be completely unrepresented on the DC Council. In their urge for ideological purity (actually idiot-illogical purity), they kicked long-time Councilmember Carol Schwartz off her own party's ticket because -- for all her faults -- she seemed to understand that working people deserve benefits like health care.

Schwartz was the only Republican to be able to mount a credible challenge to the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary, which after all is when DC's mayor actually gets chosen. Of course, it was because she wasn't a knee-jerk reactionary that her party know-it-alls soured on her and elevated Patrick Mara in her place...except he couldn't get enough votes to make council. And running as a write-in, neither did Schwartz.

Talk about self-immolation.

Waiting by the phone.

The Obama Transition Team has yet to contact me regarding my proposal to create a new "Commissar of Cultural Studies" Cabinet level position, with me as the appointee. I figure they're probably too busy renaming everything "Supreme Soviet" and working with North Korea on where to hold the next meeting of the Communist International.

Ahh, but I jest. I am looking forward to having heads of the NEH and NEA (not the teacher's union -- the Natl Endowment for the Arts) who aren't hostile to the humanities and arts. Maybe a Secretary of the Interior who isn't hostile to, well, the Interior and the environment. A Vice President who understands that the President is in charge. A President who understands that the Vice President isn't in charge.

Maybe we'll have a Secretary of Education who understands that standardized tests are not the key to educational and life success. Unfortunately, I don't know if Obama will expend the political capital needed to shake the stranglehold that the testing industry has on our children. I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing about the nomination of Bill Ayers for Secretary of Education soon...not.

Can you imagine? Education for critical thinking would be the death knell of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and cable news in general.

05 November 2008

Now the hard work begins.

Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama. For any number of reasons, his win offers hope that the United States will adhere more closely to its reputation as a land of freedom and liberty and progressive human rights.

But there's much work yet to do, both in keeping the regressive residual factions of society on their heels and in holding Obama's administration to its promise of change. It's one thing to promise change; it's quite another to deliver on it. The greatest disappointment of the Clinton Presidency to me was his capitulation on health care and welfare. Let us hope that as President, Obama will show more backbone than Clinton did in facing down the retrograde elements and powerful lobbies that have turned health care into an industrial enterprise rather than a public service.

The narrow success of California's Prop 8 and the more comfortable victories of similar discriminatory, dehumanizing initiatives in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida demonstrate that the forces of fear and hatred are still powerful. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., now is not a time to sit back and rest on our laurels.

04 November 2008


So Walt Whitman, toward the end of Song of Myself, writes:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman has just given us an incredible portrait of an America that is and
also of an America that he wishes would be, so this admission near the poem's
completion describes both the nation and the narrative voice (which, let's face it, is Whitman, or at least his idea of himself -- the poem is also known as "Poem of Walt Whitman").

There's nonchalance in Whitman's understanding of contradiction: who cares, he says, that he may not be consistent...very little about life is. In that attitude he was joined by at least two of his contemporaries. Ralph Waldo Emerson opines that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Among other things, Emerson is arguing against those who value sticking to one's guns above re-evaluating and getting things right (like the idiot pictured on the link). Emerson and Whitman are joined by one of the foremost philosophers of the 19th century and a man hated by the far right (look up Eagle Forum and harmful books -- I don't like to link to fascists), Friedrich Nietzsche, though many attempts were made to co-opt him.

One of Nietzsche's aphorisms from Twilight of the Idols reads: "I mistrust all systematizers and I avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity." The idea of a system is inextricably linked to closure: its laws must explain completely or the system is inadequate. Understood on a basic level, there are plenty of "gambling systems" available to Las Vegas aficionados, but to date, the casinos still rake in massive profits. Something obviously is escaping those systems.

So here we are on the day of election. Maybe Whitman is smiling amazed at the transformation in American society from his time to ours.

Or maybe he's simply saying it's about time.

Finally down to the deed itself.

I started my voting life in Pennsylvania in 1988...what an uninspiring election year that was...George H.W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis. In 1996, I voted in Pennsylvania for the last time and began voting in Washington, D.C. Now in 2008, I'm back in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania voting for a President.

I will say it's more interesting voting in a race where you don't know 100% for sure what the outcome will be.

I got to the polling place early. It was a volunteer fire department hall stocked with three voting machines, three or four election workers and two Republican "poll monitors" or whatever they're calling themselves. They were unobtrusive, but within the voting hall itself they were telling voters as they checked them against their books that they were just "trying to make sure John gets elected." Aside from a young man who went out the door as I was coming in, I was, at 39 years of age, the youngest -- or at least close to it -- person there.

Outside the polling place, three women, one of them a conservative Republican running for the state legislature, discussed the vote. The third, who had just cast her ballot, confided in the other two that she was worried...she could control the economy, her economy, but she was scared of terrorism. Then she started talking about Iraq and relatives and relatives of friends she knew who were deployed there or who had returned safely, thankfully.

I simply don't see terrorism as an issue between the two major party candidates. As much as McCain and Palin want to paint Obama as some sort of terrorist sympathizer, it simply doesn't hold water. It was a strategy -- a link to terrorism -- that came off, at least to me, as a rhetorical flourish, a completely unsubstantiated thesis. For all his bluster about not sitting down with Iran, I can almost guarantee you that McCain as President would find himself sitting down with Iran within the first two years of his term (and don't get me started about Iraq. I don't care about speeches and the such when it comes to Iraq -- everyone's looking for some way to pull us out of that quagmire; all they differ on is how to paint it V for Victory). Probably the place these two come closest is on issues of national security.

Anyway, I've voted. I'm done for the day as far as that goes, and I'm going to talk to students all day long about their papers. Tonight is when it all comes out.

03 November 2008

RIP Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died on Friday at age 96. I'm not sure the world will ever see his like again.

In 1970, Terkel published Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. Over the course of 462 pages, he offers up the words of everyday people, financial leaders, politicians and others who lived through the Depression, as well as people who didn't -- part of Terkel's point is that the succeeding generation for the most part couldn't comprehend the Depression. I offer two excerpts. The first is from Ed Paulsen, who during the Depression was a transient worker before he managed to get a job with the New Deal's National Youth Administration:
If I had to pick one constant enemy during this time, it was the American Legion. They were made up of home guard types. They were the most vicious enemies of this drifting, reckless, hungry crowd of people. Everyplace I went, Hoovervilles -- they were raided. This bunch of Legionnaires with those damn caps on. Guys with baseball bats, driving them out of the jungles around the railroad grounds. Even in the little towns I lived in. I had a war with those guys by the time I was in high school. They were always the bane of my existence.

They were the Main Streeters. They were doing all right. Merchants, storekeepers, landowners. They had a fix that was just awful to live with. They were hard on the little candidate for Governor [Upton Sinclair]. They'd come to his meetings with baseball bats and clubs and break it up. Once, when we sang in the Valley, they attacked us and beat the hell out of us. We barely got out of there. [Hard Times 32]

And this second excerpt from a young journalist, Diane, who's 27 years old at the time of the interview:
I never could understand why the Depression occurred. Perhaps that's why I've not been as sympathetic as I'm expected to be. You're supposed to admire them because they've been in the "Flaring Twenties" -- is that what it was called? -- where they danced a lot and drank gin in automobiles, hail F. Scott Fitzgerald! The connection is not made economically, but socially.

It runs from the morally errant generation of the Twenties, with the too-short skirts and the bathtub gin, the rise of the stock market and bad poetry. It's all confused in my mind. Prohibition comes in somewhere. I'm not quite certain whether it preceded or came after the Depression. And then there's Al Capone and people on film in wonderfully wide-shouldered suits, with machine guns, gunning down other people. It's an incredible, historical jungle. It's cinematically very mixed up, terribly fluid. [Hard Times 24]

Yes. Mixed up indeed.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Following the Texas loss, the new BCS rankings list the following top 5:

1. Alabama
2. Texas Tech
3. Penn State
4. Texas
5. Florida

I really wish I could get behind the idea of the Big 12 being a powerhouse conference, but teams that have little or no defense tend not to do well when they have to play their peers that do. I was impressed with Texas Tech's first half defense, but it was pretty clear in the 2nd half that they still have work to do.

Anyway, here's what I know about the BCS standings: Alabama will not win out, so kiss them goodbye. If LSU doesn't take them down a peg, then Florida will certainly do it. Texas Tech still has to play Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and I think Oklahoma will be too much for them. So I now see Florida v. Penn State in the national championship game. However, it's possible for Texas Tech to win out and for Florida to overtake Penn State in the BCS rankings, especially if they beat an undefeated Alabama team in the SEC championship.

It should get pretty interesting with the last few weeks reshuffling everything.

02 November 2008

(De)face the nation.

If John McCain had a shred of decency, he'd immediately distance himself from Joe the so-called plumber after Joe, clearly relishing his fifteen minutes of fame, went on Fox -- of course, Fox -- and questioned Barack Obama's loyalty to America:

Even when given a chance to rephrase -- note the interviewer offers him a golden opportunity to back out of the idiocy -- Joe decides to dig deeper and showcase his ignorance by announcing that Obama's "ideology is completely different than what democracy stands for."

Sure, Joe. You're really dusting off those political science credentials now, aren't you? And wasn't it McCain who early in the campaign -- before sheer desperation set in -- was running ads about Obama's supposed "celebrity status." Now he's reduced to relying on Joe, who is the worst of all celebrities: the one famous for being famous.

He's like a poor man's Tom Arnold.

31 October 2008

You'd think they'd be happy about the end times coming...

I love this little quote from the Washington Post story on Liberty University's politically active students (I'd say "activist" but that's a bad word among the Right):
Ayendi and Allen playfully dog one of their Liberty friends for wanting to go into the seminary.

"If you want to get anything changed around here, you have to go through the courts," Ayendi says. "You gotta be a lawyer."

Totally, Allen agrees. "My goal is not to make laws Christian but to make government as small as possible so you can be as biblically Christian as you so choose," she says.

I'm unaware of any laws in this country that keep people from being as "biblically Christian" as they so choose. However, I think what Ms. Allen -- sorry, Miss Allen -- means is that she wants a government that can't enforce anti-discrimination and equal access legislation, though what that has to do with being "biblically Christian," I don't know. I also enjoy the fact that for a supposedly "Christian" school, the students seem to belittle the idea of religious training. I suppose that means they don't really believe that claptrap about the meek inheriting the earth and their reward being in heaven and it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven...silly stories for their foolish friend looking to enter seminary.

30 October 2008

A little current events, a little history. Rambling in general.

I'm going to run through some college football pick 'ems a little early this week. It's sort of a boring weekend for me, because Penn State doesn't play, but events may shake out the BCS picture a bit. Let's take a look....

1. Texas v. Texas Tech. For some strange reason, Texas Tech was voted #1 at least temporarily in the ESPN fan poll. Obviously, someone in Lubbock jobbed the system, but no worries. Texas and Texas Tech in a shootout that leaves Texas standing...
2. Pitt v. Notre Dame. I expected more out of Pitt this year; I expected less out of Notre Dame. This should be a good game, unless the good Pitt team shows up. Either way, I pick Pitt to win, let's say by 10.
3. It's not even worth looking at Alabama v. Arkansas State -- of the Sun Belt conference. That's as ridiculous as Penn State playing Coastal Carolina...ugh.
4. #8 Florida v. #6 Georgia. Florida will lay a hurting on the Dawgs, although I expect a tougher game from Georgia than they gave Alabama.
5. Florida State v. Georgia Tech. Sure, I know, it's the ACC, but this game could be a pretty good one. Earlier in the season I'd have given it to G-Tech, but fortunes have been reversed...I think Florida State by 14.

That's it. I can't even find five games that are that interesting. I mean, I'll be interested in the Wisconsin v. Michigan State game because I want to gauge PSU's upcoming opponents, but with Wisconsin clearly down this year, it doesn't feel the same.

The most important matchup, as far as the BCS is concerned, is Texas v. Texas Tech. A Texas loss would throw the whole equation up in the air, because Alabama will lose either to LSU or later to Florida in the SEC title game. Then you'd be up against it with so many 1-loss teams lurking about. However, that's not going to happen, and Texas Tech will fade from the Top 10. Likewise, the loser of the Florida v Georgia game will find all hopes for BCS glory shattered. In other years, the Nebraska v. Oklahoma game would be compelling, but Nebraska is very much down this year, and Oklahoma's at home.

I'm obviously a Big 10 apologist, but I'm willing to admit the conference looks bad this year. Michigan's haplessness is especially hurting, since they're a high profile program, and flameouts by Wisconsin and Illinois haven't helped, either. However, I think USC has shown that you don't need a stellar conference to build a powerful team, and there's only so far that "conference strength" can take you. Going back through Penn State's last eleven bowl games, I think their performance holds up well against the supposedly uber-powerful SEC and Big 12:
  • 2007 Alamo Texas A&M W 24-17
  • 2006 Outback Tennessee W 20-10
  • 2005 Orange Florida State W 26-23
  • 2002 Capital One Auburn L 9-13
  • 1999 Alamo Texas A&M W 24-0
  • 1998 Outback Kentucky W 26-14
  • 1997 Citrus Florida L 6-21
  • 1996 Fiesta Texas W 38-15
  • 1995 Outback Auburn W 43-14
  • 1994 Rose Oregon W 38-20
  • 1993 Citrus Tennessee W 31-13

That's a 4-2 record against the SEC and a 3-0 record against the Big 12...granted I wouldn't think too much of Alamo Bowl wins, but aside from the 1996 thrashing of Texas in the Fiesta, that's all I have to go on for the last eleven. If you're interested, though, overall PSU is 2-0 v. Texas and 1-2 v. Alabama in bowl games.

Rhetoric to nowhere.

I really want to take a break from politics, but politics won't give me a break.

Now Sarah Palin is out there acting as though Obama has a whole network of "radical" or "terrorist" professor buddies who will be running the White House from their Ivory Towers, claiming that Obama's a "political ally" of Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi:

"It seems that there is yet another radical professor from the neighborhood who spent a lot of time with Barack Obama going back several years," Palin said at an event in Bowling Green, Ohio.
"This is important because his associate, Rashid Khalidi ... in addition to being a political ally of Barack Obama, he's a former spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization."

In Palin's world, of course, even knowing someone who's a professor or worse yet a professor at one of those elite liberal unreal America universities is bad enough, but when that professor also calls into question US policy toward Israel and Israeli policy toward Palestinians, then it's beyond the pale. Except that there's no evidence that Khalidi was ever a spokesman for the PLO and there's no evidence that he and Obama are ideologically aligned on Middle East matters -- in fact, there's considerable evidence to the contrary.

Apparently, though, being neighbors -- whose kids attended the same schools -- and colleagues at a university aren't supposed to lead to any sort of relationship at all, in which case, I'm completely screwed because I happen to do things with my neighbors and colleagues...even ones I disagree with...and god knows I've managed to put up with lots of unsavory associations for the sake of peace with my kid's soccer and baseball teams...Not to mention that a whole host of my best friends from back home are conservative to greater or lesser degrees.

So, yeah, I'm screwed from all these friends and neighbors I have who aren't ideological mirror images of me, but I suppose that means my friends and neighbors are just as screwed as I am for associating with me.

Professor Khalidi is a prominent and respected scholar in his field. He is one of many scholars who question existing relationships and attitudes, analyze the results of Middle East policy, and advocate for changes. It's called research. Within his field, I'm certain, there are several other scholars who challenge his conclusions and disagree with his approach. They are also engaged in research. They probably meet at conferences and either avoid one another or catch up over the old times; they may be personal friends but scholarly opposites. That's how fields of knowledge develop, and that's how professors live: holding divergent opinions but in an atmosphere (most of the time) of collegiality and shared inquiry (which is not to sugar-coat all the nastiness that can go on intra-departmentally, etc: some of your worst enemies are your everyday colleagues and some of your best friends are your ideological opposites).

Unfortunately, in Palin's world view the questions are already settled, Israel is always right (a view not shared by the way with many Israeli civil rights groups, but let's not complicate Ms. Palin's simplistic rendering of complex political, historical, and geographical questions), and scholarly inquiry is Un-American.

29 October 2008

Some people who hope to leave a mark are just circling the drain, if you know what I mean.

If you want to see how over-the-top pathetic the hard-core Republican political types -- not the crazy ass ignorant tin foil types that these politicos use -- are, then look no further than the red state blog, a proving ground for what passes for serious Republican thought these days. Dan Perrin offers up -- at first I thought tongue in cheek, but he seems to be serious -- seven reasons why the McCain-Palin ticket is a "lock to win" the election. His first reason is the media:
The first and foremost reason McCain-Palin will win is the absolute arrogance, elitism, condescending, patronizing and in-your-face voter suppression campaign – don’t vote for McCain, he can not win -- being conducted by the national media on Senator Obama’s behalf.

Americans do not like to be told what to do. But the national media has become a feminized, electronic vote-for-Obama nagging machine. There is plenty of precedent for the average American telling those telling them what to do, to go pound sand, especially to those who tell them over, and over, and over again. Just ask the HMOs. Their you-can’t-do-this or you-must-do-only-this business strategy ended with the average American saying NO to joining HMOs.

Really? The media is conducting a voter suppression campaign? So far in this election cycle, only Republican operatives have been convicted of voter fraud, and the typical suppression campaigns on the ground seem to be run to the benefit of Republicans (the letters in Virginia supposedly asking Democrats to vote on November 5 rather than the 4th to ease the crush at the polls...). There's nothing elitist, condescending, patronizing or anything of the like in reporting the polling results. You may not agree with polls -- although you can be damn sure the Republicans wouldn't have any problem with them if they showed they were ahead -- but you can't blame the media for covering the seemingly directionless trainwreck that is the McCain-Palin campaign.

However, Mr. Perrin then goes on to show, in his second paragraph, two glaring reasons why the Republicans are so hopelessly out of touch. Apparently seeking to alienate most women, Perrin likens the media to the stereotypical "nagging wife," complaining that the media is "feminized." I'm not actually sure how one jumps from the claim that the media is pro-Obama to the assertion that such an alleged bias makes the media "feminized," but it's very clear that Perrin sees feminized as a derogatory term.

The second bizarre contention that Perrin puts forth is his analogy about HMOs. Again, I'm not clear on why he thinks the media is telling Americans what to do (and I do not discount the power of the media to shape opinion and reflect dominant biases in the culture at large, but it doesn't work in the simple way Mr. Perrin seems to think it does) in covering the absolute thrashing McCain-Palin are getting in the polls, anymore than the media was telling Americans "what to do" in covering California wild fires or Hurricane Katrina or any other disaster. But what the hell is this bit about HMOs and "average Americans." Due to Republican policies, a large chunk of what you might call "average Americans" aren't saying "no" to HMOs so much as they're saying, "Jesus, I can't afford health coverage..." -- for those of us lucky enough to have health care, HMOs are one of the prominent choices: you can't escape their presence. Agree or disagree with HMOs and the principle of profit-based healthcare, but please don't manufacture some sort of HMO rebellion where there is none, and from a rhetorical standpoint, please don't bring such exotic references into a diatribe about the media's political coverage.

Mr. Perrin's other six points are equally ridiculous, although he doesn't elaborate on them as extensively as he does for the media. In fact, a few of those other reasons are indirectly blamed on the media as well. For instance, he thinks women who are likely to vote for Obama won't vote, because the media has told them Obama would win (he actually conflates the "young" with his argument about women, so it's unclear whether he means young women or the youth in general), but older women will vote, and they'll vote for McCain, he says. Apparently because the all-powerful media hasn't deterred them, despite its being feminized.

In fact, Perrin's points are so goofy that I suspect he is having a bit of fun, and maybe I've been taken in by an arch piece of satire. Maybe.

28 October 2008

Meanwhile, in cloud cuckoo land.

No big surprise here...the Washington Times, read by about twenty-five people in Washington, DC, and perhaps three people elsewhere, has endorsed Senator McCain for President. Reverend Moon's mouthpiece has a solid track record of Republican endorsements and paper dumping to increase circulation numbers. However, the McCain endorsement's summation is pretty funny (sorry no link to the W-Times...I don't like to link to white supremacist organs):
On balance, Mr. Obama represents a radical break with laws and policies of the past 50 years. Mr. McCain has the experience and judgment to lead America through economic turmoil and to safeguard this nation from terrorists. We heartily endorse Sen. John McCain.

You'd think given the first sentence, the paper would be endorsing Obama. I mean, what we need right now is exactly a break from the failed policies of the last fifty years -- especially the last thirty. Then you get the turn: an unfounded statement about McCain's experience and judgement -- what judgement? Have you ever seen a campaign spin around so fast grasping for some sort of identity? Are we talking about the Keating Five? Anyway, you know the rest...the W-Times not only endorses McCrazy, but they "heartily" endorse him.

27 October 2008

The real moonbats...

The Guardian is great for coverage of the US election. They've got reporters all over the US talking to shop keepers, restaurant patrons, plant managers, etc. And they're willing to talk to the voters rather than just soundbite them and punditize. Here's an example from the great state of Missouri in which a plant manager --in charge of a large ethanol manufacturing plant, so a pretty responsible position -- goes on about Obama not only being Muslim, but also being the AntiChrist as referenced in the Book of Revelations.

I am not kidding. Just click the link to watch the video.

Spreading the wealth.

What the hell is wrong with spreading the wealth? If you're a functionally illiterate moron with no sense of history, then everything. However, if you have any sort of awareness of your responsibility to this nation and to the world, you might take the trouble to acquaint yourself with the way that the United States government and most governments work.

If you pay taxes of any sort, if you drive on government-paid-for roads, if you enjoy the security of the police and fire departments, like streetlights, enjoy national parks, or go to sports events in any one of a number of new ballparks and stadiums financed by local or state governments, then you are actively involved in the time-worn government strategy of spreading the wealth.

What Obama proposes as a tax plan is hardly revolutionary. It's simply a return to a more progressive tax system than we currently have (we currently have a progressive tax system -- but the Bush tax cuts, with their failed trickle-down ideology, put more of the burden on the middle class).

Progressive tax policy is not socialism. I swear, the older I get the more I lack patience for idiots who throw around big words but have no goddamn clue what they're talking about. If you don't know what the hell socialism is, then shut up. It's as ridiculous as if Obama were to come out tomorrow and label McCain a fascist. It would be ludicrous -- unless of course McCain started taking tips from Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales.

Of course, when you're dealing with the moron mentality -- the type of people who with 8 days to go before the election still believe that Obama isn't an American citizen -- then you've got no chance to expect they actually understand the political system they currently live under, let alone have any sort of knowledge of comparative political systems.

Does that sound elitist? If so, then we need some more elitism in this country. As a culture we need to stop giving credence to every asshole that coughs out a turd on Fox News or squirts into a microphone on talk radio. Rush Limbaugh amazingly still has a large listening audience even though he's been squatting over his microphone since October trying to wring something useful out of the thoroughly discredited Obama birth certificate tin foil alien abduction plot.

We need to stop claiming ignorance as a birthright.

26 October 2008

Recap on how I did Saturday.

First, I was correct in the only game that really mattered to me: Penn State beat Ohio State. I expected more offense from both squads -- especially Penn State -- but I was quite satisfied with the result.

As to the greater scope of predictions, I looked at seven other games. I thought Texas would wipe the floor with with Oklahoma State. Texas won, but it came down to defending a hail mary from Oklahoma State, and I'm not sure what that means. Either OK State is a much better team than I thought or Texas is a much worse team than I thought. One thing I discovered was that Texas was a one dimensional team -- now that one dimension is amazingly prolific and harder to stop than most one dimensional teams would be, but I wonder what might happen when they meet a defense that has a good secondary and linebackers to key on the short passes McCoy throws.

I thought Alabama would beat lackluster floundering Tennessee. I made no score predictions there, but really was there any question Phil Fulmer looks lost on Rocky Top?

I thought Oklahoma would beat K-State by a kajillion. It took a while for the Sooners to get started, but once they did, they beat K-State by a kajillion.

I thought USC would beat Arizona because the Cats simply didn't have enough to beat the Trojans. I implied a close game, but I expected more scoring from both sides. Still I got the result right.

LSU will beat Georgia, I said, in a low scoring affair. Uh huh. Well, neither of those things happened; Georgia dominated LSU and the score was close to 100 points total...Oh well.

I said Texas Tech would beat Kansas in a game I couldn't get very excited about -- I mean neither team belongs where they were ranked. Thankfully, Kansas will no longer be a blot on the rankings come this afternoon.

Finally, I said Florida would decimate Kentucky. They did.

So let's recap: I was wrong on a few scores, but only on one result. However that one I was wrong on might have been the most difficult to call (along with the PSU v. OSU game), and I can't really toot my own horn for calling things like the Florida destruction of Kentucky...it's kind of like saying the sun will come out tomorrow...bet my bottom dollar.

I'm sticking by my prediction that Florida will win the SEC.

24 October 2008

Weekend predictions.

Wasn't Auburn one of those supposedly high-powered juggernauts from the unbeatable SEC? I thought their only shortcoming was that they turned out not to be as good as other SEC teams...I mean on Mount Olympus only one guy gets to be Zeus...then they go and drop a game to Big East stalwart West Virginia 34-17. It wasn't even close. West Virginia has beaten one team with a winning record: Villanova. Yes, Villanova. They squeaked by 1-6 Syracuse 17-6 and were one touchdown better than 2-5 Rutgers...but they blew the shit out of SEC Auburn.

I feel bad for Auburn, because it's not their fault that the sports pundits have overrated the SEC for the entire 21st Century. Yes, the SEC boasts a few of the best teams in the nation (Florida, Alabama, maybe LSU -- I personally believe Alabama will lose to LSU -- I don't think Bama is as good as their press) this year, but you could say the same for the Big 12, the Big 10 (don't laugh -- PSU and OSU look good, and up until last weekend I would have thought Michigan State was a good team...now I'm not so sure), and to an extent the Big East (I can't believe I just said that), based on Pitt.

Here's a quick runthrough of the weekend:
1. Texas over OK State. Not even close. OK State is hollow.
2. Bama over Tennessee. Phil Fulmer is having a horrible year at Tennessee and I don't see him pulling off the miracle. I'd like to see it; I don't think I will.
3. PSU over OSU. It's time. Even at the Shoe, I think PSU has the defense and for once the offense to overcome the Buckeyes.
4. Oklahoma at K-State. Remember those two or three years in the past 100 that K-State was actually a good football team...yeah, only a memory. Oklahoma by a kajillion.
5. USC at Arizona. Arizona will be the best team that USC plays until their bowl game...and the Cats don't have enough. USC will win.
6. LSU will beat Georgia. Low scoring affair, LSU probably by 10.
7. Texas Tech v. Kansas. Who really cares? It's a toss-up of two currently ranked teams that shouldn't be. I see Texas Tech knocking Kansas out of the rankings.
8. Florida all over Kentucky. Florida will decimate the team that Alabama barely beat.

That's all for the predictions.

23 October 2008

There is no cultural memory on Facebook or in Second Life.

When I have to explain to a class full of college freshmen (and women) who John Brown is...and who Lenin is...in the context of 1930's revolutionary poetry, I'm in bad shape.

22 October 2008

Archival quality.

I was reading an article in the Guardian about Doris Lessing recently turning over 113 letters to the University of East Anglia and I began thinking about how much of our literary biographies and indeed whole volumes of background material on authors relies upon that antiquated form of communication -- something permanent in its composition, but not mechanically transmitted and therefore not infinitely reproducible should the original be lost.

Very few people write letters today. Love letters, such as Lessing wrote to an RAF officer in her youth, are more likely to be text or instant messages these days. Letter writing as an activity was taken seriously; letters were cherished, stashed into drawers or boxes and saved in many cases long after the love affair or friendship ended; at the opposite extreme, letters were imbued with the emotional wreckage of poorly ended affairs, and their consumption by fire could prove cathartic.

To receive a letter from a friend or a loved one -- or even a publisher -- was a special event that consisted of more than a hello shout out. It brought local news and family updates in an age that didn't have the internet or cable television news and long distance was reserved for very special events. In artists' cases, it often brought news of current projects, artistic theories, attitudes on important social subjects of the day, etc., and that of course is what biographers and other scholars were interested in.

I wonder in our internet age, with communication as cheap as the time it takes to type a few terse sentences, if future generations will have access to the private thoughts of writers and other artists. On the one hand, the medium is ephemeral -- unless you take special steps, no hard copy of the document ever exists. On the other hand, the medium is more permanent than hand-written letters ever could be: on most systems the email is backed up and stored well beyond the individual user's ability to delete it. As more than one criminal has found out, deleting mail from the inbox and emptying the trash is not the equivalent of burning letters on the fire.

So copies exist. But unlike hardcopy handwritten letters, these copies don't fall to anyone upon the death of the author. Our email accounts as a general rule aren't enumerated among our estate's miscellaneous property. In fact, privacy concerns have led some companies to deny families access to the deceased person's email (though I don't know if the company in this particular case changed their position...).

In other words, the wealth of documentation -- as sheer quantity -- is most likely greater now than at any time in literacy's history. More written information is being passed on a daily basis by more people from all walks of life than ever before. IM's about going to the gym or to the grocery store; emails about upcoming weekend activities and chain letter forwarding. Electronically at least we have documented our lives in ways our predecessors never have.

I won't pass judgement on whether the quality of this documentation has increased or decreased. The key question is whether we will be able to get to that information.

Let's leave aside for now the question of identity and verifiability. Will authors begin donating their email archives to universities? Will the ephemera of instant chat sessions, which can of course be captured and saved as text files, fall into the hands of future biographers?

McCain is giving me a headache.

I may have to take a break from following the dumb shit John McCain has to say on the campaign trail. It's too heartbreaking listening to that mean-spirited liar rattle the cages with ridiculous assertions.

Look, I'm from western Pennsylvania. John Murtha is right --it is a racist part of the state. Hell, most of Pennsylvania has a higher than expected share of racists given that Pennsylvania was one of the leading abolitionist states. I remember in the 1990's checking out a Multicultural Student's Guide to Colleges that stated that the area around State College (where Penn State University is located) was home to "many white supremacist organizations" -- and you don't have to take a book's word for it if you grew up there. While it's true that the majority of people would never admit it and in fact many of them would never take part in anything specifically racist like a Klan rally, there remains a strong undercurrent of white supremacy and everyday racist attitudes. When the Aryan Nations were kicked out of Idaho, where'd they go? Potter County, Pennsylvania.

When I was getting ready to leave my hometown and begin graduate school in Washington, DC, I remember a co-worker asking me how I was going to handle it down there when "one of those big niggers grabbed hold of me." A friend of mine was in a bar not far from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. On parting for the evening, a guy he didn't know but had been conversing with during the night flashed him a hand sign -- index fingers pointed up and hands joined at the thumbs, so the hands made the shape of a W. "What's that stand for?" my friend asked. "White Power," came the reply.

Anecdotes, I know. Just anecdotes. Could happen almost anywhere. But it saddens me to see McCain pandering to the basest populist elements when he declares western PA free of racism. I'm not sure I can take seriously a candidate who refuses to acknowledge that we still have deep racial divisions in this country -- obviously not as deep as before, since we have a Black candidate not only running for President from a major party, but also currently winning in the polls.

Actually, I should elaborate on McCain's stance and strategy. McCain may refuse to acknowledge that we have deep racial divisions in this country, but his strategy is to exploit those divisions -- to play on the fear of Obama as Other: the Arab other, the Black other, the Muslim other.

If for no other reason than this racially divisive campaign strategy, John McCain is unfit to be President.

21 October 2008

I don't know why I do it sometimes, because it makes me weep for our nation...

Every now and then I thumb through the astounding number of right-wing sites out there on the internet. I suppose I could say it was to try to understand what the wingnuts are thinking, which is OK so long as you stay on moderately thoughtful conservative sites, but such reasoning loses all credibility once you hit crazy conspiracy sites like newsmax.com -- a site that pretends to be a legitimate news source. At that point, you realize that making an honest effort to approach the truth is beyond these frothing fools' grasp.

I honestly don't know how you begin to approach people who are so utterly invested in their myopic worldviews that they cling to falsehoods and unverifiable rumors -- not conjecture, but rumors with no basis in any sort of evidence. I can only imagine it's like talking to people who believe the moon landings were faked or to holocaust deniers.

Newsmax has as a "headline" -- again presenting their site as if it were actual news, much like the Onion does -- the following: "'Smears' About Obama Largely True" -- and the "story" goes on to outline ten items that most people think are smears but that Newsmax has unearthed as "largely true." It's worth quoting at length one of their claims:

Claim No. 8: Barack Obama is a Muslim.

FightTheSmears.com states bluntly that Obama is a Christian, not a follower of Islam.
In fact, Barack Hussein Obama’s Kenyan father was raised Muslim, though he reportedly was not religious.

His mother divorced and remarried another man, a Muslim from Indonesia. As a youngster in Indonesia, Barack Obama attended two schools and was registered at
both as a Muslim. He received religious instruction in both schools as a Muslim,
including studying the Quran. According to a childhood friend, Obama occasionally attended services at a local mosque.

[snip paragraph about the disgraceful Daniel Pipes]

Obama says he became a Christian in his late 20s. He now describes himself as Christian. Until recently, he spent two decades as a member of a Chicago United Church of Christ congregation that embraces Black Liberation theology. Somewhat like the Roman Catholic liberation theology of Latin America, the Chicago UCC church preaches elements of neo-Marxist class warfare. It combines these radical socialist
elements with black racialism.

We'll leave aside the ridiculous last paragraph about liberation theology, because it's really a bait and switch that allows Newsmax to blunt their admission that indeed, Obama is Christian -- because he's a Marxist Christian! OMG!

So the smear is that he's a Muslim, and the response -- the way in which Newsmax claims that it's "largely true" -- is that his father was a Muslim, that his step-father was a Muslim, and that as a young child he attended a religious-based school. The fact that for at least two decades -- until recently -- he had attended the same Christian church and claims repeatedly to be Christian apparently don't count.

Similarly, this website also makes claims -- despite the lack of evidence -- that Obama wasn't born in the United States. The only birth certificate available for Obama lists Hawaii as his birthplace, but Newsmax insinuates that it's a forgery...with absolutely no evidence.

It's absolutely laughable. It's as if I had put forward my previous post as fact, because of course no one could prove that McCain had not been programmed by a Bill Ayers-led North Vietnamese intelligence team, just as they couldn't prove that McCain and Obama aren't both aliens sent from Uranus intent on turning the earth over to the Intergalactic Harvesters. Because when you've descended to the level of wingnuttery, no conspiracy is too absurd.

Of course, in the 2000 Republican primary, Newsmax was attacking McCain repeatedly, including running stories supporting the notorious push-polls that intimated McCain had fathered an illegitimate Black child.

Maybe McCain is a Manchurian Candidate, planted by the Dems long ago.

OK. Follow me on this one. I, too, had been discounting the whole Obama-Ayers connection, figuring that while Ayers may have been a sixties radical, a member of SDS and the Weathermen, a non-lethal bomb planter, etc., it had little bearing on this campaign in 2008.

However, if you connect the dots, I think the picture becomes a little clearer.

One of the popular slogans of the SDS was "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! The ARVN is gonna win!"

John McCain was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. This fact is well-known.

Here we get into conjecture: Bill Ayers, through his underground weatherman connections, secretly communicated to the N. Vietnamese, possibly through secret coded messages carried by Jane Fonda and Dan Rather, and masterminded the programming of John McCain.

Back in the States, McCain spends a few years selling beer before a "chance" encounter with a beer buyer triggers the programming latent in his head and activates his desire for public office...in the meantime, aboveground members of the Weathermen organization are grooming Barack Obama for a Presidential run...when the time is right.

It all makes sense now....

Well, I'm off to the store to buy up all the tin foil...

20 October 2008

Allow me to press my case...

Look, I might just be a little high coming off the incredible smashing Penn State laid on Michigan this weekend. Sure, all you naysayers are saying, "Yeah but it's Michigan and they suck so bad this year that they lost to Toledo at home. They lost to Notre Dame." To all of you, let me say, when it comes to Penn State v. Michigan, logic rarely prevails. Michigan has had PSU's number for 9 straight previous meetings going back a dozen years. So any victory over Michigan -- despite their reduced circumstances this year -- provides a powerful endorphin rush to any Penn State fan.

So as I said, maybe I'm buzzing still a little bit, but let me try to sort things out. The Big 10 is starting to shake out as being a contest between two teams: Ohio State and Penn State, with the main event coming next weekend at that incomplete stadium in Columbus. Ohio State looked damn impressive against a 6-1 Michigan State team, whereas in previous games this season they've looked anemic on offense. Does this mean Michigan State was an inflated 6-1, or does it mean Ohio State has finally put together its machine? Hard to tell. Michigan State's wins are sort of suspect...they squeaked by a decent Iowa team and beat a not as good as its record Northwestern by 17, but other than that, you don't have any sort of good comparisons. MSU's one loss prior to the Ohio State game was to Cal by seven on the opening weekend.

At any rate, I'd have to say that a 45-7 smoking of a 6-1 team is impressive.

I don't see Penn State or Ohio State losing more than one Big 10 game, so whoever wins this game next weekend will win the Big 10. After the home game against PSU, Ohio State plays on the road v. Northwestern and Illinois, then finishes the season back home against Michigan. Fans of both Michigan and Ohio State are fond of pretending that in that rivalry game records don't matter, but let's not fool ourselves: Michigan has about as much chance of winning that game as McCain has of carrying Washington, DC. As for Penn State, following their date at the Horseshoe, they visit Iowa, then have home games against Indiana and Michigan State. I'm looking at Iowa as their toughest challenge of those three.

All of that preamble is something of a roundabout way to say that in January I expect to see Texas against either Penn State or USC...with an outside shot that Florida may be involved. Sorry, Alabama, but shaky wins against Ole Miss and Kentucky mean you will not finish undefeated, and a late season loss is always more damaging than an early season loss.

Why will Texas go undefeated, you ask (I'm revamping my predictions from a week ago)? Well, I'm looking at the fact that Texas is now midway through the heart of the Big 12 schedule. On the face of it, the Big 12 looks impressive, with Texas having to run a gauntlet of five top 25 teams (3 of them top ten) all in their own conference, but I think the last two weeks have exposed Missouri as a paper tiger that should have been ranked no higher than 18th this year, and Kansas's inexplicable top 25 ranking has been built on wins against -- get this -- Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Sam Houston State, Iowa State, and Colorado. They've lost to Southern Florida and Oklahoma. Only one of the teams Kansas has beaten -- Colorado -- has ever in its history been identified with major college football. Oklahoma State's undefeated season will end harshly next week against Texas -- talk about a house of cards. I see Texas winning that matchup by thirty or forty. No, make that forty or fifty. Undefeated Texas Tech should be ashamed of their schedule...their one win against a quality team -- a team that historically is good but is down on its luck this year -- is Nebraska, and it took them overtime to do it.

I just don't see anyone in the Big 12 capable of beating Texas.

17 October 2008

The Second Coming of Tammy Faye Bakker.

It's hard to tell anymore if Sarah Palin is running for Vice President or if she's leading a megachurch rally. Dig these remarks from one of her cloistered events, where after she's done complaining about the big bad media coverage, she unloads some sort of PTL rerun:
“But yeah, sometimes you do get depressed watching what it is that they’re reporting and the spin and some of the distortion of what our message is and what we stand for, sometimes that, that gets draining,” she added. “But it’s at events like these and our rallies that we are so energized and inspired and we know that we are not alone. We feel your strength and we feel the power of prayer, so many of you tell us that you are praying for us and praying for our country, and that’s why we so appreciate you being here.”

The view isn’t all glum from the trail. “We even saw today, thank the Lord, we saw some movement,” looking upwards and making a fist. Another bright note for her, she said later, was visiting “pro-America” areas of the country.

Seriously. Is this a political candidate or a preacher? How exactly is she feeling the power of prayer? Is it in the poll numbers that continue to show McCain-Palin trailing by 6-8% in the popular vote and 313-150 in the electoral college? Because, Sister Sarah, if so then that prayer isn't pulling for you...it's pulling against you.

And just what the hell does she mean by the "Pro-America" areas of the country? I'm guessing she doesn't mean Alaska, where her cronies -- including "first dude" Todd Palin -- in the Alaska Independence Party -- at whose conferences she's spoken -- are open secessionists. Other than in the fringe wacko militia circles that she runs in, where is this Anti-America area of the country? Does she mean Noo York Citeee? LA? DC? Places where the choice of wine fluctuates between Boone's and Mad Dog? What the hell is she talking about?

It may have been funny at first, but now it's just sad and predictable.

I don't know who started it. Maybe it was Janet Reno coming on to Saturday Night Live to break up Will Ferrell's Janet Reno Dance Party. Maybe it was DeNiro or Pesci coming on to the Joe Pesci Show. It all depends if the line is crossed when the real actor confronts the impersonation or if it's really when political figures take part in their own impersonation.

But enough already. It's become de rigueur, something akin to the Fonz walking through the Cunningham's front door to the hoots and cheers of the studio audience.

Now, apparently Sarah Palin, well-aware that her moment on the national stage is nearing its end, is jumping at the opportunity to become even more of a joke by appearing on Saturday Night Live even before the end of the election season.

I'm willing to bet the joke will revolve around her not actually being folksy and full of "you betchas," akin to the twenty-year-old sketch of Reagan as mastermind.

16 October 2008

It's hard to win an argument when you look like a mad dog.

I watched that debate last night, and all I can say is that John McCain seemed like a frothing mad dog when he didn't seem condescending and smarmy. The shots of him while Obama was speaking were exceedingly unflattering. And you know what...Obama sat there looking cool, calm, and collected, while McCain looked like that guy down the street who's telling you all about the UFO he saw outside his trailer window and how the aliens gave him a butt probe.


In the matter of the last two weeks, the race in Pennsylvania has gone from sort-of battleground to a lopsided rout. As of today, he's polling 15 points behind Obama in Pennsylvania. Fifteen points.

Source is pollster.com.

Note to Senator McCain: the crazy routine isn't working. The wingnut base is already there...and you're getting closer and closer to having nothing but the wingnut base the more you look like an enraged, directionless, vindictive fool.

Also, it took almost no time for his surprise attack of "Joe the Plumber" to be unmasked as a plant. Talk about blowing up in your face. In the wake of the Sarah Palin disaster, this new misstep makes McCain look dishonest as well as rash.

15 October 2008

Going off the rails on a crazy train...

Sarah Palin rallies are interesting things. For starters, they're more Sarah Palin rallies than they are John McCain or even McCain-Palin rallies. Check out this write-up from a Scranton-area paper after Palin's appearance in Joe Biden's hometown:
One anti-abortion Palin supporter at the event shoved two graphic photos of aborted fetuses in front of a Times-Shamrock reporter.“This is why I’m voting for her. They stand against this,” said West Wyoming resident Maryann Yorina. “They stand for babies. They stand for God.”

Others said Palin represents a fresh start for the country because she’s not from Washington. Meg and Peter Siegel, vacationing in Pennsylvania from Vienna, Va., said they feel like they know Palin.“She gives an accurate representation of middle America,” Siegel said.

Note that these three rally participants seem to think Palin is the driving force of the ticket, with the first actually stating she's voting "for Palin," apparently under the mistaken impression that the vice-president bullies the President around (understandable I suppose after 8 years of Cheney). I also find it humorous that the couple vacationing from Vienna, VA, a few stops from DC on the Orange Line, are pleased Governor Palin isn't from Washington (although McCain's quarter-century tenure there doesn't seem to faze them). I disagree with them about whether her over-the-top mimicry of aw-shucks lunch counter locals is an "accurate representation of middle America." Outside of redneck stereotypes (see Hee-Haw, Dukes of Hazzard, and Beverly Hillbillies), I've never seen a speech so full of gosh-darnits, you betchas, and the like...and that includes Bobby Bowden post-game interviews.

Beyond that, you get the sense that she is drawing -- and intends to draw -- only the hard-core true believers. At this point in the campaign, she and McCain have to hope the die hard Republican base shows up, because if the Black Helicopter, Obama-as-Muslim, International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, registered Democrats-as-traitors wack-jobs don't come out, McCain-Palin will simply be trounced and what's worse is that the Senate and House races will be lost.

So she needs to energize the fanatics who haven't managed to develop critical thinking skills or are so hard-line that they are the 27% who still approve of Bush's job handling...

Update: I took this video from the Daily Kos website...it's a great look at Palin's core supporters and what happens when you waste your mind.

14 October 2008

Talk about burying the lead...

The Washington Post has this bombshell of an article on their website. The headline reads "U.S. Forces Nine Major Banks To Accept Partial Nationalization," which is pretty amazing. Here's the first paragraph:

The U.S. government is dramatically escalating its response to the financial crisis by planning to invest $250 billion in the country's banks, forcing nine of the largest to accept a Treasury stake in what amounts to a partial nationalization.

Throughout the rest of the article, which spans three pages on the web, you might think you'd find out which banks are being "partially nationalized." But you'd be wrong.

What kind of hack reporting is this?

Note: not liberal or conservative reporting...just plain bad reporting.