29 November 2008

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

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

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

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

21 November 2008

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

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

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

I kid you not. 2008. Late 2008.

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

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

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon.

17 November 2008

Chemical Warfare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These two need to be stopped.

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

These two must be stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

These two must be stopped.

16 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

That's gotta mean something good.

14 November 2008

Six on the Quick Pick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 November 2008

To borrow a phrase, You Cannot Be Serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 November 2008

Academic building projects.

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

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

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

The Story of Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

feed the line. [...]

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

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

11 November 2008

What would a socialist Presidency look like?

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

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

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

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

What a world it might be.

Poor journalism

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

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

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

08 November 2008


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

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

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

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

07 November 2008

Saturday gridiron action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elite or is it L33t?

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 November 2008

A post that will need explaining to future generations.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about self-immolation.

Waiting by the phone.

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

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

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

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

05 November 2008

Now the hard work begins.

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

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

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

04 November 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally down to the deed itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 November 2008

RIP Studs Terkel

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Mixed up indeed.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

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

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

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

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

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

02 November 2008

(De)face the nation.

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

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

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

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