30 May 2008

A major victory against rats.

This morning, a crew of three workers struck a resounding blow against the local rat population. Using picks, shovels, and god knows what else, they pulled apart a crumbling cinderblock planter that served as a divider in the parking area between our house and the neighbors.

This little three by six area was riddled with rat holes and less than affectionately known as the rat hotel. It is now gone. In the process, the three men killed sixty rats.


More importantly, since the mutant rodent armies of the night are endlessly replaceable, the planter is gone, and the hotel is no more. In it's place is an open, flat surface less amenable to rodent infiltration.

Let us greet the new dawn!

23 May 2008

Perhaps my only post ever on fashion.

Every now and then when I've been peeking around the news sites on the internet, that story of the FLDS Texas cult is in the headlines. And always with those pictures. What is up with these women? Why do they all have the same hairstyle? And those dresses that make them look like circus clowns without makeup?

I'm not passing any judgement on their desire to live in a separate society devoted to semi-free love (at least for the men) and communitarian child raising, but what gets me is the obsession with cast-off costumes from the set of Little House on the Prairie. Except even the wardrobe that made it to the cameras looked better than the ill-tailored 19th century clownsuits these women are wearing (the men for their part sometimes look like "cowboys" from a dude ranch and at other times look like assistant managers of shoe stores).

On the other hand, maybe they are huge fans of Little House. At any rate, I wondered a little about their anachronistic dressing style, and I realized they should take some tips from the Amish, by the way, who actually do the "old-timey-clothes" thing right:

It's actually hard to find good Amish photos online, mainly because the Amish aren't exactly volunteering to get their pictures taken. Most of the photos available are related to the school shooting a few years back, and I didn't feel like using any of them. Disturbingly enough, my search indicates there's a strange underground market for Amish porn [sorry, no photos].

But seriously, there are lots of inexplicable fashion choices out there (I for one have never understood the thankfully-now-dead trend of wearing jeans that appeared to have had the front thigh area dipped in bleach...gawd-awful ugly), and what might seem right at the time often ages most embarrassingly:

Look at Magic trying to pull those shorts down just a little bit to cover his thighs. Useless.

22 May 2008

At best I give her two more years.

The D.C. Teachers are fools if they sign on to the contract proposals Michelle Rhee is offering. Rhee wants to eliminate seniority, a move she pretends -- as all managers do -- is meant to allow greater flexibility in staffing. It's a tremendous public relations ploy, too, because everyone, and I mean everyone, has heard the old war stories about the tired old teachers who can't teach and don't care and just show up and no one can get rid of them because of the union....


Bad teachers can be fired. It's happened at my son's school. The problem though is that it takes an administrator who feels like doing his or her job, and those people are hard to come by. Don't blame the union; blame the administrator who didn't feel like documenting poor performance.

At any rate, the teachers would be fools to sign any agreement giving Michelle "The Hatchet" Rhee any more control over hiring and firing; Rhee's already shown she can't be trusted to act judiciously with the power she's already been given. For example, look at the Oyster Bilingual Fiasco. Rhee unceremoniously dumped Oyster's principal, despite the school's success and popularity, and she can provide no reason for doing so, cloaking her arbitrary retrograde action behind the facade of "not commenting on personnel matters."

If the Post were interested in doing some journalism instead of parrotting the Rhee line, they might try digging into the actual cause for firing a principal at a successful school. Instead, if you followed the story, you realize the following:
  1. May 6: The Post does a story on Rhee's firing of "up to 30 principals" and links that to failing schools. The story also accepts as standard practice the notion that principals are hired on one-year contracts, a change that Rhee implemented this year (and one that should serve notice to most good principals that they don't want to have anything to do with DCPS).
  2. May 9: In the wake of the link between Rhee's firings and failing schools, the Post does a story on Oyster's principal being fired. While the reporter points out that Oyster is "among the city's most coveted, with high test scores and a national Blue Ribbon for academic achievement," he doesn't even try to penetrate the lack of accountability that is Rhee's style: "Rhee said through her spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, and by e-mail that she could not comment on Guzman's situation because it was a personnel matter." Wow, way to dig, Scoop.
  3. May 16: The Post details the 24 principals fired by Rhee and notes that 13 are at schools that didn't meet NCLB guidelines. That means 11 are at schools that are meeting the standards. The Post reports as fact the standard Rhee line that "She has been conducting an aggressive national advertising campaign to attract high-performing principals to the District." Again, the reporters, who seem to be more like repeaters, accept the Chancellor's line: "Rhee and other school officials have steadfastly refused to discuss specific reasons for the dismissals, citing privacy and personnel regulations." Again, Scoop, if Rhee and her henchmen won't talk to you, start digging. Don't you think encountering such a stone wall around this topic is a clue? Jesus, where's Blue when you need her? HINT: Maybe the Post should start looking at the candidates that come before the principal selection panels to see how "national" these candidates are...go from there.
Anyway, I'm still astounded by the ease with which an inexperienced and politically clumsy Chancellor manipulates the Post. The Examiner -- a free paper! -- has actually published several better examples of investigative reporting as regards DCPS this year, and school activists routinely outmaneuver her on legal grounds.

I'll be surprised -- and greatly saddened -- if the WTU rolls over so easily for this amateur.

21 May 2008

If anyone follows it...

Today's the big Champions League final in Moscow between Manchester United and Chelsea. As far as the teams go, I couldn't really care less for the team's sake which one won. However, I'm throwing my backing to Chelsea in the hopes it will wipe that smug look off Christiano Ronaldo's face.

In the best of all worlds, Ronaldo will be guilty of an own-goal, then be sent off the pitch a few minutes later after one of his more egregious dives.

In fact, between him and Chelsea's Didier Drogba, you've got two of the premier divers in soccer outside of Italy.

20 May 2008

Ted Kennedy.

Senator Ted Kennedy has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. This stalwart liberal has defended the nation against some of the more mean-spirited attacks by conservatives, although he inexplicably signed on to Bush's shoddy No Child Left Behind bill and like nearly all of his colleagues he pathetically kow-towed to post-9/11 hysteria and authorized Bush's Iraq Boondoggle.

Brain tumors are nasty things, and the treatment is as bad as the tumor: radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation creates brain scarring that doesn't stop; it just keeps building and a few years out, you begin losing your brain to the treatment. However, it's the treatment because most patients with brain tumors aren't expected to make it that long.

Raise a glass for the senator, please.

19 May 2008

More on that MLK memorial...

If you get the print edition of the Washington Post, you can see the side by side before and after shots of the proposed MLK sculpture to be placed on the National Mall near the FDR Memorial. For some reason, those shots are not available in the online edition, nor could I easily turn them up via google. I do know that my son, when asked which one was MLK, identified the original sculpture, not the new one.

Here's the original sculpture:

Strong, dignified. It's hard to tell the exact nature of the changes, because the Post only has headshots of the before and after, but the story indicates the changes are mainly in the level of detail:

The furrows in Martin Luther King Jr.'s brow already are gone, and his face looks less troubled.

The pen in his left hand is gone, too, replaced by a scroll. His hands seemed etched in more detail, down to the creases in his knuckles and the bones under the skin. There are buttons on his coat sleeves.

However, these changes apparently occurred before the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts issued their edict to tone down King's confrontational stance, apparently believing that leading movements to tear down racial and economic oppression in the United States were walks in the park. Racial oppression got you down? Don't worry....Be Happy!

Perhaps these changes will be enough to appease the Commission, although I hear they have entered their own design for the MLK memorial, something a little more to their desire to remember MLK as a great provider and helper to the oppressed masses:

09 May 2008


I'm walking up New Hampshire Avenue and in front of Hamilton House there's a guy watering the flowers after nearly twelve straight hours of rain.

Racists still don't get it.

It's bad enough, I suppose, that racists had to swallow the federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Dick Cheney sure wasn't happy about it. But then again, he felt the Apartheid South African government was doing a fine job and voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

Now that "massive resistance" has proven an utter failure, the racists have had to regroup and couch their objections to the lessons the rest of society has learned in more reasoned, if still ultimately indefensible, terms. So we have it that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts is now complaining about the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., that will go at the planned King memorial along the Tidal Basin.

Sure, they're pretending their objections have something to do with a similarity between the statue and statues in former and current "communist" states, but you can bet that a similar style statue of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush would have no problem passing muster with the commission. In fact, I'm willing to bet that somewhere in America -- perhaps not specifically commission certified, I'll grant -- a statue of Reagan in similar style exists. Just a hunch. Anyway, here's what Thomas Luebcke says:

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts thinks "the colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed statue recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries," commission secretary Thomas Luebke said in a letter in April.

So he makes it pretty clear that he sees MLK's statue as reminiscent of Lenin's statues. As if Martin Luther King didn't have enough problems with the FBI and right wing lunatics' attempts to tar him -- and the entire Civil Rights movement -- as a front for Communism, now forty years after his death we have this moron falling back on the same tired slanders.

The Post, in its entirely unhelpful way of making poor and leading comparisons, notes that the statue of King -- 28 feet tall -- would be "eight feet taller than the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial." Well, Honest Abe is sitting down.

At bottom, though, the sculptor, Ed Jackson, Jr., and artistic consultant James Chaffers got it right in their response:

The sense of confrontation in the sculpture is not a coincidence. "We see him . . . as a warrior," Chaffers said yesterday. "We see him as a warrior for peace . . . not as some pacifist, placid, kind of vanilla, but really a man of great conviction and strength."

King was a powerful man, a man who was killed not because he melted into the background, but because he took stands that powerful people opposed: he fought for the rights of the racially and economically oppressed. Therefore lies the discomfort of the commission and other critics, who are not interested in being reminded that King's struggle was against their complacency, their resistance, their inability to take responsibility for the inequalities being perpetrated and perpetuated in the United States of America.

And they're still turning their heads away.

07 May 2008

Research and Teaching. A rebirth of wonder.

I'm reading through Foucault's lectures at the College de France. The volume I'm reading is Society Must Be Defended, from 1976. The volume is essentially a semester's worth of Foucault's lectures, so it really lends itself to reading group use, if let's say your reading group were to meet once a week.

Foucault gets the ball rolling with an interesting comparison of research and teaching:
"I would like us to be a bit clearer about what is going on here, in these lectures. You know that the institution where you are, and where I am, is not exactly a teaching institution...we are paid to do research. And I believe that, ultimately, the activity of teaching would be meaningless unless we gave it, or at least lent it, this meaning, or at least the meaning I suggest: Given that we are paid to do research, what is there to monitor the research we are doing? How can we keep informed people who might be interested in it, or who might have some reason for taking this research as a starting point? How can we keep them informed on a fairly regular basis about the work we are doing, except by teaching, or in other words by making a public statement? So I do not regard our Wednesday meetings as a teaching activity, but rather as public reports on the work I am, in other respects, left to get on with more or less as I see fit."

In the academic world, teaching and research have an uneasy relationship. Officially, of course, we have distinctions between "Research I" institutions and down the line to liberal arts colleges, and the common way to talk about schools is whether they're research or teaching focused (and to tailor our job letters toward each school's emphasis). However, no matter where you are, you're generally expected to do at least a little of both teaching and research.

Foucault's position is interesting in part because he at first seems to equate teaching with "making a public statement," but then immediately pulls that back in the next sentence by admitting he doesn't consider the lectures "a teaching activity, but rather public reports" on his research. This contradiction can in part be explained by the fact that Foucault is really providing something as straightforward as a report on his current research interests, but that since his research is so remarkably original even that report provides insight and guidance to the audience.

Part of the usefulness of the lectures is simply the connections he makes, tracing the development and divergences of concepts like "nation," "state," "race," "class," and "society," especially as they relate to the workings of power.

I can't say it's the easiest reading I've ever done, but I've got to re-dedicate myself to the academic life and I'm thinking these bite-size lectures are a good way to begin.

06 May 2008

In springtime, Adams Morgan is alive with rats!

The rats are winning.

A few weeks ago we could say that
April was the cruellest month, forcing
a Home Depot run for more propane, dragging
out the hot-cold-hot-cold weather patterns, bringing
rats and the baby rats and dead rats out in the open.

I noticed a hole in the fencing I've installed to keep rats from getting under the deck. It was a small hole a few weeks ago. Now it's about the size of a cartoon mouse hole. Not cool. And definitely not cool when I go down the stairs to the grill in the backyard I am hearing the scuttling noises of four-legged intruders along the wall behind the rows of daffodil and iris stalks.

I trap a few. There are always more, and traps are damned expensive (no I don't reuse them -- if a rat's hanging out of it, the whole damn thing goes in the trash). However, in trapping them, I've learned a few things.

Perhaps these are only local rules.

Perhaps these rules are so local they apply only to my backyard.

First, peanut butter has never worked for me. Inevitably, when I bait with peanut butter, I will come out the following day to find nothing but ants licking the last scraps of peanut butter from an unsprung trap.

Second, the nasty skin from grilled salmon, something so smelly and slimy that you'd think it's have to succeed, has only mixed results. I've used it about five times and caught one rat. The trap is most always sprung, but usually empty.

Third, I've had the greatest success using the following two baits: old leftover pizza and old leftover hot dogs (not tofu pups or smartdogs...meat hot dogs). These are so successful that I'll keep a slice of pizza in the refrigerator for weeks for use as bait.

Finally, I've learned that it's best to trap the night before trash pickup, because otherwise the dead rat is hanging out in your trashcan for a few days, and that can lead to some unpleasant odors.

I hope my observations have helped.

02 May 2008

Friday roundup from the email mailbag.

First, I want to thank E.J. Dionne for gussying up my brief discussion of the racists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and turning it into his column for this Friday.

Now onto the real business of this fine Friday. I received the following email from "Wayne" (not his real name) in my blog email box:

Hey,where are you ? i called your home but you did not answer.I have very good news.Do you remember we talked about a cheap and secure pharmacy shop ?
Yeah finally i could find one.I ordered 3 medicines and i got them in 2 days :) I will go on and order more.These guys really know this busines.Check them out.See you soon.Let me know

I've taken the liberty of not posting the website he offers as the "cheap and secure pharmacy shop," because the subject line of his email was "friend," and I figured he didn't want everyone in the world to know about this great inside information on this online drug store.

I need to check it out soon, though, because I'm obviously off my meds: I don't remember having a conversation with Wayne about a cheap and secure pharmacy shop, nor do I even recall having a friend named Wayne, although I know someone called Dwayne. And this guy must be a good friend, because he has my home number...although I guess when he called he didn't leave a message.