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.

Sports, for a change of pace.

I'm getting kind of sick of hearing about how tough the SEC and Big 12 are. For starters, the Big 12 is a joke of a conference. Texas v. Oklahoma was supposed to be a major game, but these two teams have combined to beat a who's who of Palookaville. Excluding Oklahoma, here's a list of the powerhouse teams Texas has beaten this year: Florida Atlantic, UTEP, Rice, Arkansas, and Colorado. Those teams' combined record? 12-17. As for Oklahoma, they ascended to #1 whooping it up on teams like Chattanooga (?), Cincinnati, Washington, TCU, and Baylor -- a sorry group that might seem a bit more respectable at 15-16, until you realize that TCU (6-1) has played only one team from a major conference, and that was Stanford.

Also in the Big 12, Missouri supposedly was good, but Missouri has exactly 1 win against a decent team (Illinois), and that win is getting less respectable with each Illini loss. South East Missouri State? Nevada? Buffalo?

Now why are all the columnists ragging PSU about its schedule? Sure it hasn't been stellar, but I'm not seeing anything in the Big 12 that looks as good, let alone better.

As for the SEC, lately we've been told by the ESPN talking heads that the SEC is too good for its own good, that it cannibalizes its teams through the season, etc. Just because crappy conference teams are beating the good conference teams does not mean the conference is difficult; it means the quality of play is inconsistent. That's true of nearly all conferences. Auburn, which was supposed to be so damn good according to the pundits, is a colossal flop. Tuberville most likely is done after this season. LSU was revealed to be a paper tiger (though we're talking cardstock, not tissue paper) by Florida this weekend. Perennially overrated Tennessee has at last sunk into utter incompetence. Only Alabama remains, and they've not been tested except by Georgia (Georgia failed that test miserably); they're not likely to play another halfway decent team until they play LSU.

When Big 10 teams beat each other up, it's because the conference is weak; when SEC teams do it, it's because the conference is strong.

Make no mistake, the Big 10 is down this year, yes indeed. Michigan lost to Toledo at home. Toledo. In the Big House. Ohio State, in the midst of running through its schedule of teensy tiny schools in Ohio, got pounded on national television by USC. Only one Big 10 team remains unbeaten, and that's Penn State. I can't defend the strength of schedule with Coastal Carolina, Syracuse, and Temple on the schedule, but my point is not so much that PSU's opponents are so much tougher, but rather they're on par with the so-called "tough conference" leaders. Penn State's victims are a combined pathetic 17-27, so there's no gloating there.

I'm not happy with the Big 10 this year; they should be pounding non-conference opponents, at least the ones who are from little baby conferences. However, you've got losses to Utah, Toledo, and Notre Dame from Michigan; to Notre Dame from Purdue; to Ball State from Indiana.

I don't care that Ball State is ranked at this time; a Big 10 team should not lose to Ball State.

That being said, here are a few predictions:
1. Alabama will lose to LSU.
2. Texas will not lose to Missouri; they'll lost to Oklahoma State.
3. Notre Dame will go 7-5 and be invited to a BCS bowl, where they'll get their overmatched asses handed to them.

4. Florida will win the SEC.

5. Missouri and Oklahoma State will play each other for the Big 12 title.

6. Penn State will win the Big 10.

7. USC will win the PAC-10.

8. No other conferences matter. BYU will get waxed in their bowl game, which will be the first time they play a decent team.

by the way...Penn State's two national championships? Playing as an independent, the Lions suffered through years of complaints of "weak schedules" etc to beat Georgia and heisman winner Hershel Walker in 1982 and Miami and heisman winner Vinny Testaverde in 1986.

12 October 2008

Scenes of Eternal Depression

As I've stated before, I'm pretty old. Old enough to remember when people didn't shop at malls; they went to this place that was called "downtown." I remember my parents stuffing us in the car and driving to a place called Altoona, because that was the big urban center in the area (a whopping 60,000 people or so; less now) and therefore had the largest downtown. Then sometime in the mid-1970's the Logan Valley Mall became the dominant shopping area. And slowly downtown emptied out first of shoppers then of businesses.
The Kaufman's store located on the left of the photos is not related to the Kaufmann's department store chain that is now part of Macy's empire and along with Hecht's lost its individual identity to the Macy's brand. Incidentally, the Kaufman's building no longer exists; it was demolished a year ago. The large brown-brick building in the distance at center was a huge department store named Gable's, which was the centerpiece of the downtown.

Altoona's downtown is one block from the railroad tracks. In the heyday of the Pennsylvania Rail Road, Altoona was an important stop, mainly as a center for car repair and engine building shops. There's a railroad museum across the tracks from the downtown, next to the more or less moribund Station Mall, a small one-story mall that never could compete with the larger Logan Valley Mall and perhaps never intended to, as it was anchored at its high point by a grocery store and a Hills Department Store (think of a K-Mart before they launched the Super K or Giant K or whatever). As with most rail towns, Altoona has seen its high mark receding into the distant past, but it clings furiously to the memory. The downtown is plastered with murals and posters depicting the glory that was the railroad.

The one above is an older one that was done while the downtown still had some shops and shoppers roaming around in it. As the downtown has become ever more desolate, the murals have become more ambitious, compensating for the fact that the lifestyle they allude to is gone forever, if it ever existed before anyway:

The downtown is currently full of empty storefronts with great historic (and some not so historic) bones. The train still stops twice a day -- once going east, once going west -- and the station -- which also doubles as the bus terminal -- is at least more permanent than the trailer that sat next to the tracks when my family boarded the train for an Arizona vacation in 1979.

I long for a liberal media...

Ever since the good old days of Nixon, the Right has pounced on the concept that we have a "liberal media." As evidence of such, they point to the Watergate investigation (apparently breaking and entering, diverting campaign funds to criminal activities, exerting executive power to cover up wrongdoing, and basically running a criminal organization from the Oval Office are OK; it's reporting on them that's wrong), Vietnam War coverage, media reports of Ronald Reagan's attempts to get ketchup labelled a vegetable, Dan Rather, CNN, PBS, NPR, the New York Times (and most newspapers in general), coverage of Bush's lies on Iraq, etc. Basically any news that sheds critical light on a Republican policy or action becomes evidence of "liberal bias."

As a term, "liberal media" is so pervasive that any neocon can conjure up a defense and a counter-attack all at once simply by uttering it. It's nearly as powerful as the term "soft on communism" was in the 1950's and 1960's. The latest development in this whole hoax is the new coinage, "Mainstream Media," or "MSM" for short. The MSM is invoked not as it properly should be, which is to differentiate it from the marginal publications out there, but rather as shorthand for both the "liberal media" and some sort of monolithic elitist conspiracy. Somehow, though, FOX News (one of the most popular television outlets), the Wall Street Journal (certainly a venerable and respected example of the print press), widely circulated tabloids like the New York Post, and the nearly inescapable stranglehold right-wingers have on talk radio don't actually count as MSM.

I honestly don't understand that contradiction, unless we are to understand "mainstream" in some context other than "popular" or "widespread."

But back to the Liberal Media. They seem to be everywhere, if you listen to any number of fearmongers on your radio dial. Ann Coulter, widely syndicated columnist for the "MSM," tells us they're everywhere. However, it's also utterly untrue that we have a "liberal media" in the USA.

It's true that liberal media outlets exist: Pacifica radio (WPFW 89.3 in the District for example), small run magazines such as The Nation, but to consider them mainstream or pervasive is nothing more than a perversion of truth. That's why I have to read The Guardian for a dose of liberal press.

Back in the run up to the Iraq Boondoggle, the so-called liberal media couldn't get enough of the Bush Kool-Aid...remember Judith Miller, disgraced reporter for the most prominent target of right-wing hate, the New York Times? Miller was so eager to promote the Bush Adventure that she didn't really give a crap about the veracity of her sources. The Washington Post nearly wore out the skins on their war drums. How about CNN, the supposedly liberal cable news outlet? They were too busy fine-tuning their war production values (ominous music, iconic graphics) to bother to investigate Bush's fabrications. This so-called "liberal media" helped Bush right along.

Personally, I don't see any way out of this utterly false discourse, because in a world in which a sizeable amount of the US electorate can believe both that Barack Obama is a Muslim AND that he's anti-American because of his Christian preacher, you don't stand much chance applying reason.

10 October 2008

Maybe Zeppo, but definitely not Karl...

If you want to see something that's either sad or funny, depending, you should google "obama marxist." It's pretty revealing. I'd been reading comments on various mainstream press articles about how Obama was some sort of liberal or even worse radical Marxist, and I kept thinking to myself that I didn't know a single Democrat in the House or Senate who could come close to being a Marxist. In fact, my main criticism of Obama is that he is simply more of the same neo-liberal pro-corporate fluff served up by the Democrats for decades.

Yet there seems to be a widespread belief among conservatives that Barack Obama is a Marxist. I would show examples, but I don't link to right-wing blogs as a general rule. Just do the google search, you'll see them. The fact that most of these sites also make a point of emphasizing Obama's middle name (I don't even know John McCain's middle name...) shows their hands a bit too clearly, though...and illogically of course, because there aren't too many Muslim states that are Marxist. In fact, one of the first things that generally happens to Marxists in a Muslim state is that they get thrown into prison. So I'm not sure of the connection.

Then I saw in a funny piece Dana Milbank did at the McCain/Palin rally at Lehigh University a few of the McCain/Palin supporters wearing these identical shirts that took Obama's campaign symbol (you know, that blue circle above the red and white stripes...the thing that looks an awful lot like Bank of America's corporate logo) and in the circle they had a hammer and sickle. Now where the hell does all this "Obama-as-Communist" thinking come from (I've yet to see a similar McCain logo redo with a swastika in place of the star, but maybe that's coming)? It certainly can't come from an examination of his policies or voting record in the Senate.

Unless of course you count the recent bailout bill that both he and McCain supported, since it strongly suggests that the U.S. Government will at least partially nationalize several financial institutions...but that plan was presented by the Republican administration and can hardly be said to belong to Comrade Obama.

The tax plan that Obama has been touting is hardly a new thing...it's simply a continuation of the progressive tax system that's been in effect in the United States for basically the entire 20th century and in weakened form in the 21st.

Where are Obama's plans to seize the means of production? I have yet to see his plans to nationalize private property...maybe he's being coy.

If Obama is the poster-boy of Marxism, then we Marxists are in serious trouble.

09 October 2008

Who's writing the writing that will define our time?

Every now and then, a writer or writers come along who become representative for their time. Sometimes that designation fades, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the top authors of their time, authors whom everyone thought would be instantly eternalized as symbols of an era, fade into the out of print or at least obscure netherworld of the literary imagination.

I can think of a few writers in that latter category, like James T. Farrell. Farrell had a long and productive literary career that began and peaked in the 1930's. His Studs Lonigan Trilogy was required reading in college English courses in the 1950's and 1960's. These days, you probably won't find a Farrell book on the syllabus for anything other than an upper level or graduate course dedicated to the 1930's or Social Realism.

On the other hand, it's pretty easy to identify authors who have stuck evocatively to their times, at least after half a century has passed. F. Scott Fitzgerald comes to mind immediately. Jack Kerouac. Jane Austen. I'd argue for Steinbeck as well. This exercise could continue: Edith Wharton, E.M. Forster, Chucky Dickens.

It's immeasurably harder to identify these writers in our times, in part because it's harder to tell who will last and who will be a mere flash in the pan. It's also harder to tell because very few authors do get designated as top of the pile representatives of their time. Faulkner for instance remains an immensely respected author, but I would suspect that no one reads him because they identify him so closely with the 1920's or 1930's. Zora Neale Hurston's output doesn't establish her as the voice of the 1930's rural South either.

Again, this isn't about great writers, favorite authors, etc. It's about figuring out who has written the literature that will be understood in the future to be about the latest fin-de-siecle. I mean, I absolutely adore Jeanette Winterson's work, but will those texts be the touchstone for the late 1980's and 1990's UK?

So I'm asking, who is evoking our era (considered roughly as 1990-present, exceptions allowed) in ways that are not only extremely powerful now, but also likely to continue to retain that power for future generations?

I'd be proud to count Bill Ayers as a co-worker.

Hell, I'd even be proud to number him among my friends, if of course we had ever crossed paths or had to work together in those ways that would draw us together as friends, which we haven't. I've never met the man in real life or fake life, and even if I had in fake life, I haven't yet devalued friendship to the point that I consider something like a facebook contact or knowing someone's name equivalent to being a "friend."

Ayers was a leader of the Weather Underground (aka the WUO, aka The Weathermen -- don't get on my case about the name changes and timeframe, ok), an organization that carried out symbolic bombings against property -- the key point that all reports on the WUO seem to leave out is that the WUO took great pains to ensure that their bombings did not cause physical harm to living people. In fact, the only three people to die from WUO bombs were WUO members. They were not carpetbombing civilians in Cambodia. They were not firing on unarmed college students.

What do you do to stop a war? Do you try non-violence only? Or do you go with Malcolm X's dictum of "by any means necessary"? In the face of continued oppressive violence -- when it's obvious that you are functioning within an economy of violence -- does it not make sense at some level to respond in a way that "brings the war home" as the Weathermen (and SDS) put it?

The answer, for me, is maybe. It's not an absolute; you have to contextualize, historicize. That's exactly what Thoreau did between his widely-known essay "Resistance to Civil Government" (1849) and his lesser-known and later "A Plea for Captain John Brown" (1859).

In the former essay, Thoreau is committed to what we understand as traditional non-violent means:

Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose.
In fact, he calls this resistance a "peaceable revolution." Yet as a decade rolls on and it seems that the state has no interest in stopping slavery -- as slavery seems destined to roll through the newly acquired territories -- Thoreau changes his tune. In his impassioned response to John Brown's failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, for which John Brown and his Black and white comrades were condemned to die, Thoreau makes clear that there are limits to non-violent responses:

It was his peculiar doctrine that a man has a perfect right to interfere by force with the slaveholder, in order to rescue the slave. I agree with him. They who are continually shocked by slavery have some right to be shocked by the violent death of the slaveholder, but no others. Such will be more shocked by his life than by his death. I shall not be forward to think him mistaken in his method who quickest succeeds to liberate the slave.
Thoreau is clearly advocating intervention "by force" on the side of abolition. Furthermore, he makes clear throughout the essay that a government that countenances the violence of slavery should be met with violent resistance. Does this make Thoreau a terrorist sympathizer? Or is Thoreau simply following true to the doctrine that some Americans subscribe to that holds that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."

Again, there's nothing universal about it -- it's situational (I mean the document discusses a pattern that "evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism," not the actual reduction to a state of absolute despotism -- there's plenty of room for judgement calls), and I'd argue that in the face of the overwhelming unethical violence of chemical warfare, carpet bombing, and domestic assassination, it's utterly hypocritical to judge symbolicly placed, non-injurious bombings on the level of terrorism.

That stance does not open the door to defending every newspaper kiosk thrown through a Starbucks window or the assassination of executives of companies whose hired help executes labor activists.

08 October 2008

High Plains Grifters.

It's funny how AIG never complained about the mark-to-market rule while it was making them tons of phony money, but once the economy soured and they did nothing about it other than booking spa retreats in exclusive resorts, they're trying to blame the rule for their own poor oversight. Here's a summary of ousted CEO Martin Sullivan's attempt to cast blame on regulation:
Sullivan said that when credit markets seized up, AIG was forced to mark its $70 billion in CDO swap positions at "fire-sale prices" even though it believed the positions would have much higher values if held to maturity.
Yeah, I feel for you. Even though my morale wasn't being pumped up by a nearly half million dollar retreat on the taxpayer's dime, I too can understand how it sucks to have to report on real value instead of what you "believe" should be. I remember trying to get a home loan based on my belief that I'd find a sack of money in the next few months that would allow me to pay off the loan while supporting my crack habit and stable of women too high priced for Eliot Spitzer.

07 October 2008

Down the drain.

The Guardian is reporting that the IMF recalculated their estimates of US banking losses to 1.4 trillion US dollars, up from 945 billion dollars. To put that number in perspective, it’s way higher than A-Rod’s current contract and all his future contracts as well as twice the federal government bailout amount. We’re talking Iraq Quagmire War numbers here.

Bush – the latest Republican who was going to “shrink government” but did exactly the opposite (I still can’t figure out why morons out there fall for that line) – has blessed us with the double-whammy of emptying the government coffers for his vanity war, while simultaneously ignoring domestic troubles to the extent that we find ourselves reaping the bitter harvest of the decades-long assault on regulation.

In the meantime, we’re now learning that the sunny outlook on the economy that Bush and his cronies like John “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” McCain is due quite possibly to the faulty information being supplied by private companies (e.g. RealtyTrac) who found it more profitable not to do proper surveys – kind of like the DC Police find it more useful not to take crime reports. Following demands from Congress – in the form of the Foreclosure Prevention Act (why these acts get such lofty names is beyond me – how about the Foreclosure Information Act…that’s more accurate) – HUD conducted its own survey of foreclosures. A sample difference between the private company’s numbers and HUD’s numbers: 500 v. 12,000 in West Virginia:

RealtyTrac, based in California, compiles data that government officials — and journalists — rely on for a picture of the nation's housing market. But in West Virginia last year, it counted fewer than 500 foreclosure notices. New federal statistics counted 12,000 notices in the state, since the start of 2007.

Now I’m not going to go into NPR’s sleight of hand statistics of comparing RealtyTrac’s “last year” numbers to the 12,000 counted “since the start of 2007” (which could be over a year and a half of data). Why do journalists have to obfuscate? It’s clear that RealtyTrac’s numbers are way off, so why not compare apples to apples?

$1.4 trillion sure could buy a lot of homes…and I’m willing to bet much of it did…at least for a while.

06 October 2008

The Google reveals all. The Google speaks to me of the reading public.

Back in 1914 a man by the name of MacGregor Jenkins -- publisher of the Atlantic Monthly which in those days wasn't the complete right wing rag it is now -- published The Reading Public. It's something of a tongue-in-cheek book published a few months after the outbreak of the Great War and so perhaps was a bit untimely in its glib presentation. I don't know how well the book did as a critical or commercial success, but I do know that google books has digitized it and anyone who cares to read it can.

Jenkins divides the "reading public" into book readers and magazine readers. He further subdivides the book readers into three categories from least to greatest numbers: the sponge reader, the sieve reader, and the duck-back reader. The sponge reader reads "fewer and better books than his fellows" -- resulting, according to Mr. Jenkins, in his being ignored by authors and publishers. The sieve reader reads quite a bit and is full of surface facts and plots and literary gossip, but doesn't have the critical acumen of the sponge reader. Meanwhile, the lowly duck-back reader, while great in number, absorbs absolutely nothing and is entirely unchanged by reading because reading is for the duck-back simply a way to kill time (Jenkins believes the swelling of this number to be caused by the increasing phenomenon of commuting).

I'm not entirely sure if Jenkins takes these classifications seriously. He warns us at the outset that in his professional job he's not "a man of letters" and therefore is used as a stand in for the nebulous "man in the street." Secondly, he warns us -- after having classified readers -- that "it is very easy to classify the readers of books, but like all generalizations, such a classification is only half true" (36). So he's either taking the piss or he's a nascent poststructuralist or maybe both, as many traditionalists believe all poststructuralists to be. However, he seems to fall squarely in the traditionalist camp when he states that the "day of real literary criticism has past [sic]" (36). In 1914.

Jenkins clearly believes -- and I think without irony -- that one should not waste time reading inferior books (he uses the term "inferior," yes). However, he leaves the door open with his definition of "literature" as "only a form of expression, an interpretation of the phenomena of human existence, the painting of pictures of life" (41), and suggests that such a thing can be found in many genres. As many a literary scholar schooled in the 1980's and beyond knows, this definition is almost as wide-open as that of a "text."

In the end, Jenkins reveals almost nothing about the reading public; he is much more preoccupied with advocating "proper" dedication to reading and reading choices. So I don't know that I'm any closer to understanding what the hell the reading public actually is, although I was greatly interested in his obvious understanding that lifestyle shapes reading patterns, as in his belief that "duck-back" readers have increased exponentially due to the growing pattern of commuting in the early 20th century.

In this day and age, it may be that the duck-backs are all that keep publishing houses afloat, since reading as a recreational activity has long-since ceded top billing to the television and has lost serious ground to the internet and video games (and by reading I mean reading as the activity, not reading as a skill that facilitates the activity). "Reading" is both everywhere and nowhere; more people read today than ever before, but a smaller percentage of them "read" today.

If you catch my drift.

04 October 2008

The state of the profession.

I may be crazy, but it seems there are fewer English jobs out there this year than last year on the old JIL. Maybe people just don't need to read books and analyze texts anymore. An increasing number of job listings also are calling for "new media" specialists and despite the fact that most major universities force their graduate students into "American" or "British" tracks, many jobs are specifically asking for "transnational" or "transatlantic" or "cross cultural" approaches.

I'm not saying these are bad developments; after all, it's silly to think that American authors were influenced solely by American literary developments or American society. Despite the wailings of the right wing who would most likely decry the "leftist assault on our national identity" should universities stop insisting on nationalist study tracks, the authors themselves rarely gave half of a rat's ass about where their peers were from. Most of the American authors we still care about from the 1920's were hanging out in Europe with their European buddies.

Which is not to say that the study of national literatures doesn't have its place, but the reading public (whatever that may be when you finally get down to trying to analyze it) by and large does not distinguish between American and British in its consumption. Most of the individuals who compose that group are just trying to read things that interest them, that they think they're "supposed to read" to be cultured, or that are current best-sellers. Or that Oprah told them to read.

What is the reading public anyway?

03 October 2008

You can't handle the truth...

Looks like Republicans are up to their old tricks again, employing the classic dirtball tactics that have helped empty shells like George Bush defeat far more qualified opponents (Seriously, though, can you imagine what the right-wing media would be yacking about if Kerry were President during this economic debacle? And don't tell me there wouldn't have been one, because the Democrats on economic issues especially are way too ideologically close to the Republicans).

It seems Republican operatives -- knowing that it's near to impossible to absolutely pin it on the McCain campaign or the official party -- are conducting fake polls in swing states that try to link Barack Obama to Hamas and the PLO. This report from the Guardian (UK):

"They said; 'Are you Jewish?' and I said 'Yeh'. Then they said 'if you knew Barack Obama was supported by Hamas, would it change your vote? Would it change your vote if you knew his church had made antisemitic statements?'. All the hot button issues on Israel." She said she will vote for Obama as planned.

In Key West, Florida, another swing state, Joelna Marcus, 71, a retired professor, had a similar experience. She was asked if she would be influenced if she learned that Obama had donated money to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
If you can't beat 'em, smear 'em. As the Guardian points out, the tactic was fundamental in George Bush's overcoming John McCain's double-digit leads in the 2000 primary...double-digit leads that began evaporating when "pollsters" started asking racist Republican voters about McCain's "Black love child."

I'm willing to bet the Democrats are no angels in this category, either; however, it always seems like the Republicans are far better at it. And the risk of getting caught is almost negligible, given how pathetic political coverage is in the US media (outside of the Daily Show), because seriously, how much of the US electorate reads left-leaning British papers?

02 October 2008

Shortening of Days

Autumn comes crisp,
a silver edge on the grass,
dappled with the uncollected
offerings of trees, their branches
growing barer by the day.

And against the cold stone stacked
to parcel this from that,
leaves gathered in corners
tremble with every chilled breath
that mocks their makeshift shelters
and troubles their thinning husks.

Those that were young and green,
that danced with each insistent gust,
that reveled in the wind’s warm rush
across their bright clean faces,
now huddle fragile,
twisted and brittle
against the dying earth.

01 October 2008

I die a little death each time a bookstore closes.

Olsson's has finally succumbed to the Big Box and teh Internets.

I remember their Georgetown store, long gone now, but what a wonderful quirky joint it was, with shelves stacked high and bare floorboards creaking.

How long do any of these places have? How long to do books have?

After libraries, small bookstores were great repositories of knowledge and new ideas. Book warehouses like Borders and Barnes and Noble may have the selection, but much of the staff would be useless without computers.