13 November 2009

I've had it up to here with political correctness.

Political correctness does not exist, at least not in the way it's being used by pundits and politicians. The term itself -- in its current usage -- gained currency as a neat right-wing sound bite to dismiss any allegations of racism or sexism. Oh, you think I'm being derogatory when I use the n-word to describe Blacks? You're being "politically correct." You don't like that I refer to women on college campuses as sluts and candidates for the MRS degree? You're being "politically correct."

In other words, the term has provided a nice cover for neanderthal behavior and has effectively become a blanket term for anything liberal, progressive, or simply sensitive to multiple perspectives. Now, for some reason, the right wing has decided to deploy "political correctness" to discuss the Fort Hood shootings (I'd say to politicize the shootings, but let's face it -- everything is always already political, and here we have the most pungent ingredients for a political soup: army base, nation at war, Muslim shooter publicly critical of US role in Iraq and Afghanistan...). From his perch in cloud cuckoo land, Charles Krauthammer actually throws out this rubbish:
Have we totally lost our moral bearings? Nidal Hasan (allegedly) cold-bloodedly killed 13 innocent people. His business card had his name, his profession, his medical degrees and his occupational identity. U.S. Army? No. "SoA" -- Soldier of Allah. In such cases, political correctness is not just an abomination. It's a danger, clear and present.

The "political correctness" in this case was the initial response of news agencies -- surprising, actually -- not to rush to judgement. In the absence of any information other than the shooter's name and religious affiliation (because we have to remember that information on his business card, radical cleric contacts, and even his specific statements before and during the shooting weren't known until a few days later), the media didn't supply all those missing details.

I fail to see how that equates to political correctness.

When Timothy McVeigh perpetrated what had been until 9/11 the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, I don't remember the media immediately seizing upon McVeigh's U.S. upbringing and his Christian faith...although of course as details came out they paid quite a bit of attention to the militia movement and white supremacists.

And it's not simply Krauthammer who's trying to link the Fort Hood shooting to the term "political correctness." On comment boards from national papers like the Post to small town local papers, letter writers and anonymous online posters are decrying the "politically correct" military (ha!) and media.

Krauthammer, by the way, doesn't do himself any favors when his major source of information about Hasan's radical ties come via a report on NPR, the right-wing's target that conveniently kills two birds with one stone: liberal media and government waste.

Apparently, what Krauthammer, writing in the comfort of one week's reflection and subsequent news stories, mistakes for political correctness is actually journalistic integrity (which is itself a nearly dead object).

09 November 2009


There's nothing sadder than watching your team fail to show up for big games.

OK, so I exaggerate. There are far, far sadder things than that. Like reading the Washington Post comment boards and realizing that most of the people who take time to write on them are reactionary half-wits. Yet still literate. That's sad.

However, in the context of college football, a team with a good record that fails to deliver in the big game is pretty hard to top in the sadness area. And Penn State has delivered that in spades this year, with losses at home to Iowa and Ohio State, the only two decent teams we will play this year (until the bowl game). In both cases, the offense simply didn't show up. The Ohio State game is harder to swallow, because they essentially have one player, and he's not exactly stellar.

But hey, we lost, and have been deservedly kicked to the lower echelons of the top 25 (19 AP, 18 BCS). We should climb up a few spots by beating Indiana and Michigan State, although I can remember a few late season collapses where we went from big bowl contenders to simply bowl bound.

The bright spots on an otherwise disappointing Saturday were that Florida State and Notre Dame lost.

I really don't take much joy anymore in reading the Florida State espn message board, because the people on there are defeated and nasty and would love to kick Bobby Bowden to the curb -- a bunch of ingrates who wouldn't know football and tradition from next week's flavor of the month hot "new" offensive scheme.

The Notre Dame board still provides great amusement, though, because they are still in denial. They still believe that the nation looks to them as a city on the hill, that every coach and every recruit would love to be part of their mid-tier program, and that every team they play treats Notre Dame as "their bowl game" (I suppose since Notre Dame plays mostly losing teams, it might be their bowl game...most of them end up ineligible to play in real bowls). Oh, and before I forget, that Ty Willingham personally and maliciously destroyed Notre Dame football...some posters, like 73Champs, are rather vehement about this charge, calling him "Willingsham" and "Entitlement Thief" and 73Champs has even provided this little "gem" that provides insight into his asininity: "And then based on the color of your skin, bamboozle another un suspecting employer to hire you so you can drive their business into the ground." He usually pulls that one out when he's called out for still backing Charlie Weis, whose record is a full percentage point (yes one point) above Willingham's despite Charlie's having played far worse competition (Willingham played nearly half his games against top25 opponents; Weis has played fewer than a quarter against that caliber of competition...and their records in those games: Willingham, 8-9; Weis, 1-12...the lone Willingham defender on the board, Cardfan, points this out repeatedly and is generally reviled for backing up his argument with numbers. After all, it's much easier to act like Willingham only got hired because he was Black and, according to 73Champs, was fired because he was "lazy").

06 November 2009

It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Well, this shooting spree at Fort Hood will send the nation into a tizzy for a few days, and set right-wing shitheads off for far longer. Already, the Washington Post's comment boards are filling up with assholes opining that Muslims should be barred from military and police duty, among other things. Here's a fine example:
We should not have muslims in the armed forces, police departments and anywhere they can cause the havoc they live by. Matter of fact, after knowing that several groups of muslims and mosques such as the one depicted spread hate and anti western rethoric we should put them on a watch list. If they find our system draconian then they can go back to the Middle East. After all, the United States of America belongs to Americans, not the rest of the world. I as an American cannot simply go and live in any muslim country safely, thus why should they be safe here. Time to stand up and state: Respect our country or leave. And spare me the "he was born here" routine, time to judge Americans by their allegiance to this country and not by simple birthright. Take a look at Obama, he may have been born here but is the biggest traitor to our nation.

Note the final shot: Obama, for some reason, is the "biggest traitor," although the poster allows that he "may have been born here." Other posters repeat false quotes attributed to Obama that they claim emboldened the shooter. It's insane. I didn't realize so many right-wing retards read the Post. I thought they hated it and read the Times. I mean, I don't go hanging out on the pages of the Washington Times all day long commenting about their race-baiting stories.

The shooting is horrific: a long-time officer shooting his fellow soldiers should be troubling to everyone. The victims died at the hands of a colleague, and while we've become somewhat immune to the notion of workplace shootings, since this workplace happens to be a military base, we're paying more attention. The fact that he's Muslim, of course, is the only thing the right wants to hear, and it is the loudest noise in the media. It's convenient, too, for the racists and ethnocentrists -- the descendants of those who wanted to deport African Americans to Africa and round up the Japanese Americans in World War Two (Yes, FDR, I'm looking at you...) -- who like to believe that the U.S. is a white, Christian nation. They have little understanding of the difference between having a majority population of a certain race and creed and basing your government on racial or religious factors.

But it's going to get worse. It was bad enough for American Muslims after 9/11. Major Hasan's actions will only elevate the calls for state-sponsored religious and ethnic discrimination to more "legitimate" levels. In other words, instead of being the province of racists like David Duke, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, this bile will also issue from the mouths of politicians in positions of legislative power (for instance, from more polite proto-fascists like Michele Bachmann). Look for bans on Muslim garb (but not cargo shorts or mumus) in certain public places, under the guise of their ability to conceal weapons/explosives. Look for legislation to prevent Muslims from joining the military or working in public safety positions including police and transportation. Look for legislation seeking to prevent Muslims from owning firearms (a bit farther out there, because the NRA would likely withdraw their financial support from any right-winger floating any sort of gun law).

As far as the news cycle goes, I'm expecting a few things:
  • A few more days of focus on Hasan's religion and politics.
  • A few days of examination of the stress of being psychiatrist to returning soldiers traumatized by war (aka transference). This aspect will be accompanied by a reassessment of motive.
  • A proliferation of right-wing (and perhaps even left-wing) conspiracy theories: from the right, the usual "Obama is a Muslim" tripe alongside a more inventive "Obama generated this massacre to distract everyone from the Republican electoral victories on Tuesday"; from the left, "Obama generated this massacre to justify more troops in Afghanistan."

It's really a depressing scenario, but I remain firm in my belief that the racists and fascists, despite temporary surges, remain on the losing side of history.

28 October 2009

Weekend preview.

Man, it's Wednesday, and I'm jonesing for Saturday. The problem is, there literally aren't any good games. Penn State v. Northwestern. Ohio State v. New Mexico State. I won't even have the satisfaction of watching Notre Dame lose, as Washington State is probably the second worst team they'll play all season (and that includes their usually conveniently cushy run through the service academies). Probably the highest quality game will be Florida v. Georgia, but given Georgia's woes this season, it'll most likely be over by halftime.

Pretenders to the throne have little to fear this week. Cincy (8...WTF...8th ranked?) plays Syracuse, a team that continues to sink further into oblivion and should probably be stripped of D-1 status. TCU will have little trouble with UNLV. Boise State will blow out San Jose State. Speaking of TCU, their blowout win of then-16th ranked BYU only proved that BYU, which already had a loss to a very mediocre Florida State team, didn't belong anywhere near the rankings. Seriously, I don't know why the hell BYU gets ranked most years. Let's be serious...the Mountain West sucks, yet they clog up the rankings and the bowl games because the one or two teams that would be perennial doormats in real conferences feast on the perennial doormats of their conference...the doormats that everyone clamors to schedule for early season tune-ups or mid-season breathers.

We'll probably have to wait until 8 p.m., when USC v. Oregon and Texas v. OK State come on, in the only matchups of ranked teams. It'd be nice to see OK State lay one on Texas, but that'd be hoping for too much. Given that USC barely beat Notre Dame, the Ducks could win this one.

Anyway, this weekend will most likely be a very disappointing one, because it looks so very predictable.

27 October 2009

Please don't mind my public therapy...

I have been disappointed many times this season, my friends, at the blasted luck -- yes L U C K -- of the Irish, who continue to snap victory from the jaws of defeat. Yes, I could complain about the mysterious increase in yellow laundry flying when the Irish are down and driving, but who really cares? The win goes in the books (although I did take some solace that the refs, despite their best efforts, were unable to award ND the win in their contest against USC). Now the Irish, who should be 2-5, are 5-2.


Cheating Charlie has the Irish ranked, even if at 23, but I look forward to those sweet, sweet words: "Dropped from rankings..."

Truth be told, I don't really hate Notre Dame. During the Gerry Faust era, I pitied them (I was at that laugher of a miserable weather game in 1985 when PSU pounded them 36-6). During the Lou Holtz era, I respected them. During the Bob Davie and Ty Willingham eras, I ignored them. However, in the Charlie Weis era, I despise them.

Part of it's the arrogance of a man who claimed that he would bring Notre Dame a "decided schematic advantage," essentially claiming he could outcoach any of his opponents. Even after it turned out that his "decided schematic advantage" at New England was illegal videotaping of defensive signals, Cheating Charlie still maintains his arrogance, even if the mythical advantage never materialized.

So it'd be nice to say that I'd go back to being indifferent about Notre Dame once Chuck left, but unfortunately during his era I've read the espn fan boards and now realize that Notre Dame fans have to be the most delusional around. It's amazing. Year after year, they are going to crush every opponent they face...no one will be able to withstand their offensive onslaught or penetrate their defense (actually that's a tune they were talking more at the beginning of this season...now it's mainly their offense they talk about). Year after year, they are going to play for the national championship. It's hilarious, sad, and disgusting all at once.

Here's an excellent example. ESPN runs ridiculous bowl projections every week, basically trying to generate content and comment in our era of always-on, always-update media. This week, they have ND going up against either Miami or Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Either team would most likely rip ND apart. Yet here's what the fools on the board say:
As to the bowl projections! This is my wish-list for possible match-ups, as I think Notre Dame has the best chance against these teams because they match-up well; Bama, VaTech, Boise-I'd LOVE to see them play Boise, TCU, Texas-(only if we learn to block the speed rush), Penn State, Iowa-(They'd blow out Iowa. NO OFFENCE, LIBERTY!!), LSU, Cal, Ole Miss, and Ohio State. Teams that I don't want to see ND go up against- MIAMI is the number 1 team I don't want to see ND play, GaTech, Oregon, Florida, and Cincy-Tony Pike worries me.

Some guy named 07BestBet says that. I'm trying to find a team on that list that ND could beat. Maybe TCU. Now granted, he got called out by a few of his compadres for living in fantasyland, but the general euphoria generated by squeaker wins over teams with near or sub- .500 records is bizarre.

Wow. I've wasted a lot of time talking about this sad subject. And while it's been therapeutic for me, I'm sure it's all wasted on a Domer...kind of like talking to a Birther.

12 October 2009

Another business failure, part 2.

I thought I might follow up my post on the bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education with a little more bankruptcy of the business model as applied to education. After all, I was only able to address the overuse of adjunct labor as a cost-savings measure -- that is, the increasing casualization of the faculty. From a business model perspective, the faculty are more or less obstacles to the university, because they demand things like sabbaticals, travel and research grants, and are always trying to get the library to order things like books and journals. All of which, in the administration's opinion, are not terribly related to packing 35 students into survey courses that only exist because of some quaint notion that universities are supposed to produce well-rounded individuals, which by the way is my second point.

The business model hates the core curriculum, which is not to say that the business model doesn't find a use for the core curriculum.

The core curriculum -- that nebulous thing that goes under the name of general education requirements and in my long ago days of undergraduate triumph and tragedy, baccalaureate degree requirements -- is one of the things that keeps humanities departments in business in the corporate university. Since there are far fewer English and history and philosophy majors than there used to be (percentage-wise), the core is one of the only times the bulk of undergraduates come into contact with these "useless" disciplines that don't seem to have any relation to their ability to figure up spreadsheets or create colorful pie graphs for business meetings. In other words, these core courses lie outside the job-training major classes that the students, thinking that they'll forever be doing some static job in one field, crave. It therefore provides these humanities and hard sciences departments (although research dollars often save hard sciences the scrutiny and disdain afforded the humanities) with influence and faculty numbers that administrators find altogether disproportional to their importance in making the university money.

To the business model, the core is a somewhat necessary evil, because it's the most visible vestige of the fact that the school is more of a college and not simply a trade school. In other words, the core is a useful image improving tool, a marketable commodity in that it makes the degree a bit more prestigious than one from DeVry or most schools with "technical" in their name (with of course notable exceptions).

The core's other main use for the administration is to divide and conquer. By monkeying around with the core -- and what by the way could be further from the administration's purview than core education -- the administration generally maintains a constant state of infighting and distrust among departments, all of whom are scared they'll lose their slice of core pie and therefore are more concerned with protecting turf than getting together to demand a bigger pie.

05 October 2009

Another business failure.

If anyone wants to know what the dominance of the business model in higher education means, they need look no further than today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required for full story), which is reporting that the United States' role as a leader in higher ed is now fading.

Sure, the rise of other nations such as India and China contributes to the leveling of higher education across the globe, but that in itself is part of the reason that the corporate university fails so miserably: like their counterparts in Enron, Lehman Brothers, and Countrywide, the self-congratulatory CEO-styled university heads believed their own hype and felt that "they'd changed everything." That's a phrase usually heard before a colossal failure of some sort -- whether it's from an internet start-up, a political hack, or a fossilized CEO.

The rise of the corporate university (and I'm talking here about the aggressive importation of a business model to university governance as well as the replacement of academic university presidents with "business leaders") displaces learning -- whether through research or teaching -- as the central priority of the university, replacing it with customer service and profits. The goal of the university becomes filling seats; if something educational happens once that seat is filled, well, that's a happy by-product.

The business model has resulted in the growing casualization of the faculty, a relentless assault on core curriculum, and an increased attention to style over substance. Because of space restraints, I'll only deal with the first issue today.

As Marc Bousquet has pointed out on numerous occasions, the growing army of adjuncts that now account for the majority of college teaching are not simply being exploited by the university administration; they're also threatening the continuation of the comparatively cushy tenured and tenure-track positions that professors so covet. For a business model, it's a no brainer to hire three adjuncts at $2500 each with no benefits (total cost per year, 2 courses a semester: $15,000) instead of a tenure-track full-time professor at $45,000 plus benefits.

And those adjuncts will be hired, because it's not as if the work isn't there. For all its complaints about the need for flexibility, the corporatized administration ignores the fact that adjunct use is relatively steady or growing. Many adjuncts remain for decades at a school, and for those schools that rely heavily on their own graduate students to provide TA and adjunct labor, the faces may change but the need remains, year in and year out. In other words, the so-called over-production of PhDs (a familiar trope to anyone involved in an academic job search) is simply a fallacy. It's a manufactured crisis that has everything to do with the business model's disrespect for the traditional role of the university as a center of research and learning. As former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg so elegantly put it once, "Professors are like elevator operators; no matter how good they are, you can only fit the same amount of people in it."[1] The attitude that faculty members contribute little to the institutional memory or governance of the university is palpable.

As a result, at many larger universities, freshman may never encounter a full-time professor except as a peanut standing at a lectern on a stage.

[1] I have been searching for the source for this quote. I heard it on WAMU back in the mid-1990's, but can't turn up the source (Derek McGinty Show? Talk of the Nation? Diane "The Idiot" Rehm?). However, in 2007 Trachtenberg sat down with Kojo Nnamdi and an interesting moment came up about 40 minutes into the show, when a caller described her experience at GW as "training" -- in a positive way. She felt she had been trained. Not educated. Trained. Seals are trained. People should be educated. OMG. At 51 minutes he claims Gelman is one of the best libraries in the city. I suppose that's true, if you don't want to do any research, since GWU cut off many of its journal subscriptions in the 1980's, although the chairs and desks are nice and photograph well for brochures.

22 September 2009

Reading choices.

I'm currently wondering if it's worth the time to read some Heidegger. I'm mostly through the introduction to Being and Time and I'm not sure I can stand reading much more than that. It seems dense without the beauty of Derrida and very very repetitive.

18 September 2009

I wrestle, with your conscience...You wrestle, with your partner.

When I first read the headline, I really had my hopes up. I thought, well it worked for Jesse "The Body" Ventura. I thought it might spice things up a bit in the Senate to have Bobby "The Brain" Heenan or maybe Rowdy Roddy Piper smashing chairs over the heads of their adversaries, or better yet, giving speeches with that patented pro-wrestling bravado shout.

How would you like to be represented by The Undertaker?

If my wrestling references seem dated to you youngsters, it's probably because most of what I know about wrestling comes from middle school when my friends would talk about it, and of course the small things I glean from ads for the Pay Per View Wrestlemanias.

But imagine my disappointment when I found out the person in question wasn't even a wrestler, and not even Vince McMahon, but Vince McMahon's wife, Linda. There's no flavor in that story. If it were Vince M., the circus would be in town from now until the election. If it were Ric Flair or one of those Killer B's or Mr. Fuji, then you'd have a story. A carnival even. Questions about steroids. About faking it. About outfitting the Senate chamber with a steel cage.

Unfortunately, this story has the lifespan of a fruit fly.

16 September 2009

Never have so many known so little about so much.

I've read some dumber arguments, but usually they're on freshman comp papers. Here's John Feehery, a supposed professional consultant trying to foist off the teabaggers as a populist movement that's concerned about big government:
Instead, they are mostly motivated by out-of-control spending, towering debt, and the pervasive feeling that government is too big, too powerful, too unaccountable and too cozy with Wall Street.
Huh? Where were these bozos when Bush was turning budget surpluses into deficits that would make even Reagan blush? Let's just go through each of Feehery's claims about the teabaggers and see how they match up with BushCo:
  1. Out of control spending: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least one of which was completely unnecessary, have accounted for most of our spending over the short 21st century.
  2. Towering debt: See above, especially since Bush refused to include war spending as part of the normal budget.
  3. Government too big, powerful, unaccountable, and cozy with Wall Street: Bush created another cabinet position, expanded the appointments at what the media so cleverly calls the "czar" level, refused to regulate Wall Street, and spied on U.S. citizens.
So where the hell were the teabaggers through the last four years of Bush (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the first four years, in part because the Iraq War doesn't start until 2003 and in part because they're not really that bright to begin with)? Apparently out of control spending, towering debt, and a big, unaccountable government with a cozy relationship with Wall Street were A-OK while Bush was in office. The irony of the whole situation is that if anything the government's relationship with Wall Street is far worse now, because Wall Street would like nothing better than to be free of regulation (of course, they'll take free money if they can get it).

However, when given the chance one on one to explain their positions, teabaggers clearly have limited information and limited ability to process what information they do have. They stand as an indictment of our education system, since so few of them can grasp differences between political systems and have no sense of our own government's history.

And they can't spell for shit.

14 September 2009

One of those moods...

I'm in a funk. Every now and then I get this way when I spend too much time reading the comments on news stories, because I soon conclude that we are by and large a nation of morons.

Now that, my friends, is a depressing thought.

To think that over 200 years ago we created a modern democracy that relied on an educated electorate, and to that end we've developed compulsory education, financed state-run institutes of higher learning, and increased literacy rates to amazing levels. These are great achievements that are always under attack from regressive forces (maybe not the literacy rates, but equal access to education has never served those wishing to preserve power for a small elite).

However, we have to realize a few things:
  • Literacy does not equal comprehension or critical thinking. I've taught too many students who can read the words on the page, but can't tell you what they mean in their own words. At the extreme, some students will actually tell you the opposite of what the sentence states; many students fail to distinguish the writer's own position from the writer's gloss of another author's work.
  • Knowing how to surf the web does not equal information literacy. Too many users have no skill in differentiating the reliability or validity of sources. They don't understand that peer-reviewed journals are better overall as sources of reliable information than publisher or company claims or fan pages. The critique of mainstream media has disintegrated into a thoughtless assertion that all sources are equal. Even if people don't believe it in theory or are willing to say it, in practice that's exactly what we've lost. Cousin Joe who lives in his mom's basement and wears a tin foil hat has as much validity to the internetters as the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • The medium may in fact be the message. Television is passive; the internet is interactive. At least that's the story we tell ourselves, but the growth of streaming capabilities means that the internet is increasingly being used as another method for viewing television shows or movies. Being able to comment on said shows and movies is not exactly revolutionary. "Real life" simulacra like Second Life and fantasy worlds like "World of Warcraft" may in fact create rich experiences for their users, but the fact remains that they more or less recreate the same social conditions and interactions as the real world while all the time removing the users for greater and greater periods of time from the real world. To borrow from a movie -- and yes I realize the irony in that and also in blogging about this phenomenon -- that's the real matrix -- the illusion of life.
How do we explain the widespread popularity of frauds like Glenn Beck? What does Glenn Beck supply his audience that works for them? Does he make them laugh? (this component should not be overlooked: plenty of people will do strange things "for the lulz") He doesn't provide reassurance that all is right with the world -- in fact he does just the opposite, pronouncing that we are more or less one inch away from establishing "worker re-education camps" and that at any moment a government secret police squad is about to come through each and every one of our doors taking away our guns, our presses, and claiming the right of jus primae noctis.

So since he isn't providing reassurance that all is right in the world, what is he giving them? Reassurance that they are right and the world is wrong? Both of these impulses are fairly powerful, so it isn't all milk and honey people want to hear about (I mean, the US of A would be a very different place if a few malcontents weren't convinced that the Church of England was dead wrong). Is it the seduction of the easy solution? In other words, he provides simple remedies that seem to make sense?

I like the latter explanation mainly because we are fairly intellectually lazy as a culture. Reading long boring things like history or laws isn't a popular pastime. Showing an interest in such pursuits is likely to get you branded as a snob, a geek, or (especially if you're a boy) a homosexual (and let's be honest, in the world of the school-age, where homophobia rules and homophobes haven't yet learned to disguise their hatred, the label is the kiss-of-death socially). This anti-intellectualism pervades our culture, which explains the contempt we have of the universities (the "ivory tower," not part of the "real world," populated by "eggheads") and our inability to support extended inquiry into issues (it's no mistake that the best news program on television is the PBS NewsHour, because that format wouldn't survive in a commercial situation

Exploring issues takes time, and anyway, shouldn't we already "know what's right"? I mean, if you have to think about it, then you must be a terrorist or a communist. Or a communist terrorist. Doesn't taking the time to compare and contrast ideas, or heaven forbid trying to understand someone's motivation, simply reveal a lack of certainty and therefore an absence of morality? It's always better to be quick with an answer and assert that it's the only right answer available.

13 September 2009

Do you take one cube or two on your planet?

Well, if the teabaggers have made anything clear, it's that they're not only confused on the whole idea of what communism or socialism (oh, and yes, Virginia, they are different) might be, but they're as a group motivated by racism.

I'm not going to circulate the image popular among the "concerned" citizens whose dinky-by-DC-standards 30K rally was described as "massive" by CNN. Suffice it to say you only have to do an image search for Obama and a witch doctor to get at the heart of the teabagger movement.

Let's take a quick look at teabagger rhetoric:
  1. Use of Nazi symbols, check.
  2. Use of Communist symbols, check.
  3. Understanding that fascism and communism are two opposing ideologies, um not so clear. Apparently teabaggers don't actually know anything about either system except that the symbols are scary.
  4. Use of racist imagery (usually in combination with either a swastika or hammer and sickle), check.
It doesn't take Roland Barthes to figure out the mythology behind the teabaggers, and I take solace in realizing that their reliance on unreconstructed racist tropes signals a residual system, a force still present but in serious decline and inevitably doomed. They function on fear and ignorance, and not always as mere manipulators of those qualities: many of their leaders seem quite earnest about their ignorance, actually believing, among other things, that telling students to stay in school is a socialist plot.

Some of the traveling charlatan teabaggers also seem to think that they speak for the armed services. In some really creepy and disgusting pronouncements reminiscent of Walter Sobchak's schtick in The Big Lebowski about "not watching his buddies die face down in the mud," a teabagger speaker pukes out this strained bit of hyperbole to her clueless audience:
"The men and women in our military didn't fight and die for this country for a communist in the White House," asserts Deborah Johns.
No, technically, they haven't fought and died for any particular party or ideology to be in the White House; they've presumably fought and died for democracy, a concept Johns has trouble understanding. However, when you're so hopelessly out of touch with reality that you think Obama is a communist, there's really little point in anyone trying to bring you back to earth.

You've slipped the orbit and are now lost in space.

02 September 2009

Ticket to ride.

I had to laugh at the Washington Post story about the Laurel, Maryland, NFL franchise that sold their tickets to brokers rather than to the deluded fan base. Ever since moving to the District in 1993, I realized that even though Washington had three professional sports teams (remember, 1993 is before soccer, baseball, and women's pro leagues in some sports came to or returned to town), it really was (and remains) a one sport town. God forbid the Capitals or the Wizards or some other team win a playoff game on the same day that a Toughskins reserve stubs his toe in the shower, because there will be no coverage of that playoff win in the sports pages.

Anyway, I digress, but it should be apparent that I have no love for this monstrosity of a team, this pretender to the name "Washington," whose leadership under Jack Kent Cooke was good for a joke or two, but whose leadership under Dan Snyder is nothing but a string of insults to the fans (of which I'm not one). However, you can't argue with the fact that Snyder knows his audience, and he knows he can treat them with utmost disdain and squeeze every penny he can from them, because they're idiots. Absolute idiots.

So his ticket office is selling tickets to ticket brokers instead of the fans who may wait years to see his subpar product strut and fret their three hours upon the stage. It's hilarious. But Snyder, through a spokesperson, does not like this practice:
Donovan said Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder was unaware of sales to brokers. When he found out, Donovan said, "he was livid" and tried to have the accounts canceled immediately.
Well, of course he was livid. He wasn't getting a cut of the action (and I can all but guarantee you that the ticket agent or agentss responsible for the brokers getting their tickets was probably receiving a nice finder's fee for their services). He's probably sitting in his mansion fuming at the fact that for years he could have been pocketing a few extra bucks by selling to the secondary market.

01 September 2009

California Dreaming.

These California fires are amazing, but like earthquakes, I think we out East consider them part and parcel of the California lifestyle. Yes, it's very sunny out there, but it's also a place for earthquakes and wildfires. The wildfire threat has grown mainly because so many remote areas are now subdivisions. As Americans, maybe as humans, we tend to disregard the power of nature and stretch our limits with little care for the long-term effects.

Not only California, but also the entire western United States, has seen massive population growth, with much of it occurring during a period in which the suburbs and then the exurbs were created and sprawl hadn't come to signify a long-term negative. The massive explosion of building around Las Vegas in the 1990's and early 2000's indicates that despite the lessons learned from half a century of sprawl in southern California, we still haven't learned that lesson.

In Chinatown, the plot revolves around the sinister possession of water rights in a thirsty LA that essentially gets its water from northern California. Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the massive LA metroplex all rely on the same water that farmers and fish rely on. As we push further into the hillsides and forests, we occupy land that is either subject to landslide or brush fire. So far we have water, earth, and fire. Maybe air is the Santa Ana winds.

We've essentially built a theme-park style dream of uninterrupted development, of perfectly landscaped cookie-cutter living boxes as deceptively laid out as any Disneyland. We turn on the tap and out comes water. We drive through the canyons and only encounter the occasional roadkill coyote or wandering scrub brush, and we convince ourselves that nature has been pacified.

In Ecology of Fear, which I have to revisit because it's been a long time, Mike Davis makes the argument that southern California is a disaster not only waiting to happen, but also already happening. He might push his point a bit far, but in general it's hard to argue with the thesis that hubristic overdevelopment has exposed us to a wrathful return of the repressed (to sneak a bit of Freud in), a reminder that we are not all.

30 August 2009

Utterly Pathetic.

Our former Vice President for Torture, Dick Cheney, maintains a steady pace on his attempts to derail and de-legitimize any investigation into possible (ha!) criminal activity under his the Bush administration. From a purely selfish standpoint, I can't say I blame him. If you were one of the major players -- in fact probably more culpable than the President himself -- in crafting policies in direct violation of established laws, both domestic and international, and you suddenly found yourself out of power, you might be more than a bit apprehensive about the extent of your criminality finding the light of day.

So his latest charge (really just a refrain he's been humming for several months now, only this time he's enunciating it a bit more clearly) is that "the process is political." Well, to an extent everything is political. His decision while a U.S. Representative in the 1980's to side with the Apartheid regime in South Africa was a political decision. His decision to reject a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., was a political decision (in 1978 he rejected it; in 1983 he voted for it -- so some measure of growth). So sure, on one level, of course it's political, because -- duh -- we're talking about our government.

However, on another level, we're talking about accusations -- and some significant proof even from the culprits themselves -- that some very illegal and very un-American (if "American" is meant to indicate adherence to the U.S. Constitution) activities were pursued under the former administration. Here's Cheney:
He criticized Obama for allowing a review considering the president previously said that CIA operatives involved in the interrogations would not be prosecuted. "I think he's trying to duck responsibility for what's going on here, and I think it's wrong," Cheney said.
What exactly is Obama ducking responsibility for? Obama wasn't the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania when these crimes allegedly occurred. It's fairly easy to tell that Cheney's trying to employ a classic bait-and-switch, in which he implies the target of the investigation is CIA operatives, when it should be apparent to anyone with a pulse that the real criminals are a bit further up the torture food chain, like maybe, I don't know, the VP himself. That way it's Obama who looks bad for going back on a promise, and not Cheney who looks bad for advocating torture.

However, my favorite Cheney argument against investigating his alleged criminal activity is this one:
"The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago," Cheney said. "They looked at this question of whether or not somebody had an electric drill in an interrogation session. It was never used on the individual -- or that they had brought in a weapon, never used on the individual."
So the Bush Administration Justice Department reviewed whether or not the Bush Administration had violated the law. I certainly see how that works, because I served on a grand jury once, and if the defendant said he or she was innocent, we naturally took his or her word for it, and voted not to bring charges.

28 August 2009

MWF 8:00 - 8:50

Ah, the new semester is upon us.
Feel the fresh grass, soon to be tipped with frost,
the murmurs and shuffles, busy fingers
on minute keypads. Baseball hats and ponytails
remind us eight a.m. is too early to shower.

If books' pages still came uncut
many would remain so, their words dumb,
their covers staring back at their owners,
the two like teenagers being introduced
as distant cousins at a funeral.

26 August 2009

RIP Ted Kennedy

With the death of Senator Kennedy, the U.S. Senate has lost one of the last true liberals, and certainly the last with any sort of charisma. Unlike Paul Wellstone's unexpected death in 2002, Kennedy's illness made each legislative session he made seem an astounding act of endurance.

He will be missed.

18 August 2009

All the world's a stage.

Call me a simpleton, but I don't understand the connection between packing heat and health care. I've been to a lot of protests in my life -- anti-war, anti-corporate globalization, anti-xenophobia, pro-peace, pro-equal rights, etc. -- but I've never even thought it necessary to carry a gat, nor would I have seen a connection between any of these causes and my right to bear arms.

I suppose if you go back to the 1960's with the Black Panther Party for Self Defense you have the same sorts of images, but even in that case there are few parallels; after all, the Panthers were calling attention to the lack of protection they were getting from the government and the need for self-defense. They weren't protesting health care; in fact, they were often providing social welfare services.

The similarity in both cases, I suppose, is that the gun functions as a prop, a bit of costume. In the Panthers' case, it was to promote an image of strength and self-reliance in the face of nearly 400 years of racist oppression that at the moment seemed particularly virulent, what with assassinations of prominent Black figures and the mass murder of less-prominent blacks.

So in this more recent case, what's the prop represent?

12 August 2009


My guess is that if the internet had been around in the 1930's, there wouldn't have been a New Deal, because even half-literates with no grasp of issues or reality can be freepers.

10 August 2009

13 ways of looking at a lamp post.

I love the whole "town hall" flare-up. Unlike President Bush's so-called "town hall" meetings, where only carefully selected party faithful were allowed to attend, legislators have been holding meetings that are presumably open to all their constituents (and probably in a more realistic sense, the general public, whether they happen to live in the representative's district or not), and the results apparently are newsworthy for their lack of producing any sort of informed discussion.

Whether from the Right or Left, whether noble causes or not, protesters always speak louder than their numbers, and the main reason for that is that it takes an awful lot of energy and an awful lot of passion to break your normal routine to hike out to a protest, and one of the tried and true protest maneuvers is to block debate, although it's normally a tactic reserved for situations in which you aren't invited to the table (G8, World Bank, etc.).

What's interesting about the reporting is that not enough is being done to talk to the protesters (no surprise there -- in general reporters would rather have the police spokesperson or some political figure explain from their perspective what's going on...it's much easier to republish press releases), most of whom probably couldn't explain the details of the health care plan they're protesting. It would also be interesting to see how posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache relate to health care. Apparently, Hitler was for health care. Who knew?

At any rate, it seems that the Right has the fervor of the Left with the information of the tin-foil hat brigade. The real story, if reporters were interested in doing their jobs, would be to trace misinformation like the euthanasia red herring back to its source and try to hold the source accountable for making up shit. Then, once that's done, the real story would be how some sentient beings are quite capable of looking at a lamp post, touching the lamp post, perhaps even gripping it tightly and banging their heads against said lamp post, and then when all is said and done telling you that indeed, it's not a lamp post....it's Hitler's mustache.

09 August 2009

A slow boat to nowhere.

Yeats has a line in "The Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." It fairly well sums up the Democrats and Republicans in our era, with the Dems having absolutely no spine to pass meaningful legislation, and the Republicans chomping at the bit for a chance to ride herd over international and domestic law.

President Obama is a great example of the failure of the middle-ground. Back when there used to be liberals, you could count on actual legislation having a bite to it. However, we haven't had a critical mass of liberals in power for at least thirty years, and the few who remain (Wellstone is gone; Kennedy is going...don't even consider Pelosi or Reid liberals...if you do, you have no idea what the word means) can be counted on a single hand with a few leftover digits.

Did George Bush II give a rat's ass about his detractors' whining about the Constitution and individual rights and international treaties? Hell, no. His administration had a goal, and no amount of facts were going to stand in the way of attaining that goal. Fake some evidence, lie to other governments, start a war, torture a few (thousand) prisoners...bold steps in pursuit of your goals.

Obama campaigned on promises of shutting down Bush's illegal, embarrassing, and ultimately counterproductive enterprises, but once in power he seems to have lost his resolve. Critics -- both the nutty Right and the well-paid comfortable lap dogs of the corporate Democrats -- like to argue that he's had to confront the "reality" of the situation. Bullshit. The reality of the situation is that as long as we operate in opposition to our Constitution and its principles, we are not the United States of America...we're some banana republic proving that words on paper are worth nothing more than the pastel patterns on your toilet paper.

When confronted by millions of people clogging New York City's streets on a cold day in February 2003 in protest of the Bush Administration's lurch toward an evil, illegal, and worthless war in Iraq, did BushCo pause to hem and haw and massage the message? Hell, no. They plowed forward with the most implausible, irrational, and ignoble course of action they could think of. Now Obama finds that the pundits of the Right are (predictably) comparing the U.S. to Moscow circa 1917, and pasty-faced radio personalities are (again predictably) trying to cast his every move as either 1) America hating, 2) white hating, or 3) freedom hating, and so he's worried about them and getting caught up in the details of trying to win over a faction of the U.S. population that wouldn't believe he was born in the USA even if they could go back in time and be present in the maternity ward at the birth.

Let the losers go. It's painful to say it, but there are some Americans who don't take to heart the values embodied in the Constitution. They're the reason it took nearly 100 years (after the founding of the nation...longer if you count the colonial era) to eliminate slavery, and why it took 100 more to do away with legal discrimination, and why it took until 1920 for women to get the right to vote, why several states maintained laws on the books against interracial marriage, why many social clubs restricted membership, etc. etc. etc. They simply don't care about the Constitution (except the part about guns), and no amount of appeals to that document will change it. No amount of appeals to evidence will change their opinion.

They'll just have to get used to it, because history won't stop for them and the era of minorities and women not voting and not holding elected positions are over, at least in this country. The US government getting involved in health care is nowhere near as revolutionary as the US government busting up the trusts 100 years ago. It's nowhere near as revolutionary as the government deciding that industries should be regulated to ensure the safety of the nation's citizens.

Have some guts and do it. But go the full monty, don't settle for some compromised second draft.

13 July 2009

Analogies always limp.

Mary Matalin claimed on CNN yesterday, in regards to the latest item on the CIA torture scandal that implicates then-VP Dick Cheney as mastermind behind covering it up, that Dick Cheney was no Darth Vader. Here's a small snippet from CNN's ticker:
“Every time they get in trouble . . . they dredge up a Darth Vader story,” Matalin also said, making a reference to past comparisons between Cheney and the villain in the “Stars Wars’ movies.
And of course she threw in the obligatory fear-talk that revealing the extent of BushCo corruption would give information to "the enemy." Of course, I tend to see corrupt governments that undermine the basic principles of our nation as "the enemy," but apparently Matalin thinks it's more important to defend eight years of misrule than 220 years of our little "American experiment."

However, Matalin does have a point in the comparisons between Cheney and Darth Vader. In the end, Darth Vader does renounce his association with evil and helps Luke defeat the power-mad emperor. I don't see Cheney doing that.

12 July 2009

The dream of purity.

Ah, that sceptered isle...you know, for all our racial problems, at least in the U.S. a political party so forthrightly racist as the British National Party would never be a serious political force...oh who am I kidding? If we had parliamentary representation instead of a winner-take-all two party duopoly, we'd probably have the same proportional amount of right-wing wackos in Congress. I mean, Trent Lott managed to get re-elected numerous times.

So Nick Griffin, the leader of the UK's heir to the even more virulent National Front (a good comparison would be David Duke before he shed the sheets and David Duke in a three piece suit), has come out with the seemingly surprising statement that even the BNP doesn't want an all-white UK...which of course gives us the easy punchline of "after all, who would fill the servant ranks..." ba-dum-dum.

Here's Herr Griffin himself on the BNP's position:

Mr Griffin, who is due to take up his seat as an MEP for the North West, said the idea of a UK without ethnic minorities was "simply not do-able".

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Griffin said: "Nobody out there wants it or would pay for it."

He said claims that he was a fascist were "smears" but said the European Union was "very close to fascism".

Mr Griffin told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that the BNP would put more money into voluntary repatriation programmes for members of ethnic minorities "who want to go back to their lands of ethnic origin".

Ah yes, "simply not do-able," so the real objection is that it's not practical to practice large scale ethnic cleansing in the UK, because, as he astutely notes, no one "would pay for it" (the final bit of that sentence heavily qualifying the "want" portion -- as in "I don't want it at that price."

Now his pledge -- should the BNP manage some sort of hellish miracle and take control of the UK -- to fund voluntary repatriation programs is most interesting and begs the question of where they draw the line at "ethnic minority," since the history of the UK is the history of invasion and immigration. The Welsh are an ethnic minority, except in Wales, but I'm wondering if he's offering to pay moving expenses for the Welsh living in England, Scotland, or the north of Ireland? And speaking of that other island, who's the ethnic minority over there in the six counties? Should they all leave?

And that's only the beginning...going back to the Norman Invasion as a good example, let's see if the BNP is hoping to repatriate those of Norman descent to France. Or maybe the Anglo-Saxons to Germany. But maybe they're the majority now, and it's the Britons who should be repatriated. It's getting too confusing. Maybe they should all just wear gold stars or pink triangles or some sort of identity markers...

08 July 2009


It's time to put some serious government regulation on "always on" media. That means television (network, cable, satellite), radio, and their associated streaming sites on the internet. But especially on the so-called news channels. In fact, I'm in favor of an outright ban on any stations that pretend to offer 24 hour news coverage.

You think I'm joking.

OK, I might be. But only a little.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch these channels. In fact, I haven't watched CNN on a regular basis since the 1st Gulf War, and I never watched Fox, MSNBC, or CNBC on a regular basis. The 1st Gulf War was really a turning point for these channels. Back then CNN was the only game in town, but that war coverage led the way in making war into entertainment. While Vietnam coverage brought the war into the living room to show its horror, the Gulf War coverage was there to show the power and the glory of technology and American military might (never mind that the US v. Iraq was basically the equivalent of an early September pre-conference football game for Penn State or Florida State).

Now before I get too Baudrillard on everyone, let me cut to the chase: the 1st Gulf War showed that it was the presentation of spectacle and not the importance or lack thereof of the object itself that mattered. It also showed that you could talk about one subject 24 hours a day if you just pretended you had different takes on it...so panels of experts appear out of nowhere, hour long pundit shows spring up to vary the delivery of the same information. And it doesn't only work for wars: the OJ Simpson chase and trial, Monica Lewinsky, etc. and now the Michael Jackson death can all be given the same treatment.

Enough is enough. Has anyone seriously reported on the G8? The length of time spent on unraveling actual stories that affect the world in a real way, like the G8 summit or Darfur or unrest in China? No, and the reason is that these stories aren't sexy. And they're dangerous. Sure war is dangerous, too, but the payoff is too great to ignore if it's a U.S. war. G8 summit coverage takes too much time, what with having to explain all the complex financial and political implications of a small cabal of industrialized nations getting together to decide how to maintain their influence. Darfur is, well, kind of dangerous, and so, well, 2008. And who wants to anger the Chinese government with coverage of internal unrest when China may decide to buy controlling interests in your news channel next year (OK, I jest on that last one, but only a little).

Complex analysis doesn't sell. You will learn more in one hour of the PBS NewsHour than you will in 24 hours of CNN or Fox. In other words, you don't need 24 hours of coverage to cover stories well, and you certainly don't need companies whose main goal is to fill 24 hours of time with about two hours worth of news (if that) fluffing stuff up like super-whipped butter on the IHOP buffet.

I'm willing to bet there's a direct correlation between how little you know about a lot of things and how much you watch cable news. And in the case of Fox, I'm willing to bet there's a direct correlation about how much you don't know and how much you watch Fox.

I think I've vented my spleen sufficiently.

07 July 2009

I can't quit you baby...

It's an odd thing to announce the week after you've announced that you're quitting, but Sarah Palin, the governor every Democrat hoped Obama would be running against in 2012, declared as much looking folksy in her hip waders on a family fishing trip. The soon-to-be ex-governor told CNN:
"I am not a quitter. I am a fighter," Palin told CNN on Monday while on a family fishing trip, on the heels of her Friday bombshell announcement that she was resigning as Alaska's governor.
Catchphrases are cheap, but deeds are often a bit more lasting. Let's assume that there's no real reason for her quitting (no tawdry sex scandal, no federal ethics investigation, no details emerging that she planned all along to secede from the Union and join her friends in the Alaska Independence Party). Let's assume that she simply quit -- can I say that? she's not a quitter...um what exactly did she do? Is "resign" essentially different than "quit"? -- to recharge her batteries for the 2012 push.

Well, actually she did give CNN a few reasons during the interview:
She resigned because of the tremendous pressure, time and financial burden of a litany of ethics complaints in the past several months, she said. The complaints were without merit and took away from the job she wanted to do for Alaskans, Palin said.
Now, she may have a little short-term sympathy from her supporters over the pressure etc. of the, as she says, unfounded ethics complaints, but I'm willing to bet that all she's doing is adding to the burden of any 2012 run. Can you imagine the Democratic debate prep experts sitting around salivating over comparing the pressure of being President of the United States of America to being President of a single state, and despite its size a relatively remote and low populated state at that?

On top of that, does failing to serve out your term really inspire confidence in the masses whom you need to vote for you (let's set aside the 25% of the population who still thought Bush was doing a good job at the end of his term and therefore are never going to vote for anything but a Republican even if said Republican is a sock puppet)?

Obama's been in office for about 6 months. There's a long time to go until the next election and I don't think getting yourself out of active politics is a bright move no matter how you cut it.

22 May 2009

Cast out of Eden...

The oddly named Liberty University has decided not to recognize the College Democrats as a student organization, apparently because they believe the Democrats stand against the moral principles upon which the school was founded.

I'm trying to figure out how many College Democrats there were on a campus that's mainly a breeding ground for didacticism and denial. I mean, if you were a young person feeling so political that you wanted to join the spiffy, earnest young person's wing of the Democratic Party, why the hell would you go to a school that more or less stands against everything the Democratic Party stands for? I can understand there being a large contingent of College Republicans at Liberty, and a fair number of College Fascists (not really an official group, but they're trying...), as well as several other groups whose main plank in their charter calls for rounding up Democrats, longhairs, beatniks, and other pinkos and shipping them off to Gitmo, but I'm having trouble believing there was a vibrant contingent of College Democrats at the School that Hate Built.

The College Republicans are just lucky that starting wars, killing foreign civilians, neglecting the poor, and lying through your teeth aren't against the moral principles on which Liberty was founded.

18 May 2009

Routine isn't always routine.

The other day I nearly hit a kid with my car. I was driving "over the mountain" as they say and coming through one of the little hamlets that dot the hillside. I had just pulled away from a stop sign and was picking up speed, while up ahead in the opposite lane sat a man in his car talking with people on the porch of an apartment building on my side of the street.

I'm about fifteen yards from this man's car and he beckons to someone on the porch. A kid, maybe six or seven, comes running off the porch with his backpack, straight into the traffic lane -- no sideways glance, no hesitation. I'm ten yards away now, tops. I'd never had this happen to me in my 24 years of driving. I slammed on the brakes and the car slowed down, inching closer to the kid, who was in no position to get out of the way.

I think the car stopped about a foot from the kid.

He looked at me half a second then ran to the man's car. The man, who was probably his father, starts to yell at him. I catch the man's eye, mouth the word "sorry," because it shook me up and I bet it shook him up a bit, too, and then I drive on.

That's how quickly something so everyday can change on you. I don't know if that kid learned a lesson about checking the roads, or if the father learned a lesson about beckoning your kid out into the street without checking the road (or how about a lesson in not doing a pickup sitting in the traffic lane?!), but I learned a lesson about not taking even a routine trip for granted.

15 May 2009

Let's get it over with...indict this frothing madman.

Dick Cheney may not be the most reprehensible human alive, given that he has to work within a functioning democracy and therefore isn't free to exercise his will like those thugs he supported like Pinochet and Botha, and those still living who continue to represent living evil, like the Burmese Junta, Kim Jong-il, and their ilk. So he still has some betters, living and dead, within the Ministry of Evil, but in American politics he may be the worst we have. Ruthless, remorseless, relentless.

Cheney has been out there telling anyone who will listen that torture isn't torture, and besides we got lots of great information from it...blah blah froth sneer blah.

Now Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to Colin Powell is coming out with revelations that the focus of the torture program wasn't gaining information to safeguard America, but rather to gain information to justify the absolute boondoggle and vain blunder that was the illegal Iraq War:
"Its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al Qaeda," Wilkerson wrote in The Washington Note, an online political journal.

So says CNN. Well, we all know how that turned out: Bush and Cheney were unable even with torture to uncover any link between formerly-US supported strongman Saddam Hussein and 9/11. I seriously don't know how many prescription pharmaceuticals were being consumed in the White House during this time, but I'm fairly certain that even a college-bound senior, given an assignment to investigate Hussein and Islamic fundamentalism, would be able to figure out that Hussein's government, brutal and totalitarian though it may be, was largely secular and a target of criticism from al-Qaeda and the like.

All torture could hope to produce in this case would be false confessions, which shows how cynical and at bottom criminal Cheney actually is. It really is time to indict him.

11 May 2009

Lost in the City.

I have recently read Edward P. Jones's Lost in the City. It's an amazing book, and it makes me miss DC in so many ways. The funny thing, though, is that the text itself misses DC -- the neighborhoods and communities it invokes are largely gone, done in by either riots or urban renewal.

The opening story is a good example. "The Girl Who Raised Pigeons" tracks a girl and her father in a neighborhood that has been completely razed to make way for various DC and Federal agencies, including DCPS. The story takes place in the final years of the neighborhood, as family after family abandon their homes for someplace else -- either the suburbs or another neighborhood safe from the rumors that the railroad (an industry also in decline whether it knew it then or not) will be taking over their property soon.

So there's great loss in terms of communities, and the characters are lost to themselves in a city that for many of them remains safe only on the neighborhood level.

06 May 2009

Right where he belongs.

Poor Michael Savage. The hate-spewing reason-challenged radio host is absolutely incensed that he would be listed with other hate-mongers. I don't get it. Why is hate-mongering Michael Savage so upset with being grouped among his own fellow feeble-thinkers?

To Savage's credit, he's not a murderer (although one might argue that his hate-filled screeds supply fuel to the gay-bashers who enjoy ganging up on lone homosexuals) like some of the other thugs on the UK's list, but then again neither is Fred Phelps, a lonely voice crying in the cesspool of his own tortured mind. Klan leaders and neo-Nazis also make the list, and while a few of them may protest their innocence, arguing they themselves don't have blood on their hands, it's not too far of a stone's throw away.

He's threatening to sue, which I think would be brilliant. I'd love to see his hatred become a centerpiece for mass consideration, a little airing beyond the echo chamber of his radio show, whose audience -- if a scientific analysis were possible -- consists of unrepentant racists and the mentally challenged (not always a mutually exclusive bunch). Then again, poor Michael might lose a good chunk of his audience for protesting that he doesn't belong among their Klan and neo-Nazi heroes on the front lines...

04 May 2009

What else could she say?

Let's suppose you're in a position where you took a high level position in what turned out to be one of the most criminal administrations in U.S. history. In fact, while you could argue that Watergate (if not the carpetbombing of Cambodia) was a domestic fracas, and the Harding administration's indiscretions were confined to our shores, the Bush administration's criminality went international.

Now, let's suppose you entered that adminstration from a relatively comfy job in academia at a well-respected college and you had hopes of perhaps recovering what little is left of your dignity in those circles and perhaps others. It's obviously not a good thing to be so visibly associated with the criminal actions of the Bush administration, especially if you spent half of it as National Security Adviser. Most people might try to distance themselves from something so obviously criminal, so completely without regard to precedent, law, or treaty, but not Condi Rice. Oh, no. Like any true believer, she defends completely the Bush record on torture. In fact, for her, there was no torture. Never happened.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended the Bush administration's policies on the interrogation of terrorism suspects Sunday, saying former President George W. Bush would not have authorized anything illegal.

"He was also very clear that we would do nothing -- nothing -- that was against the law or against our obligations internationally," Rice said during an appearance at a Washington school.
Oh, it would be so easy to fall into Godwin's Law right now, but I...will...resist....Needless to say, there have been plenty of rogue regimes in the past that justify their crimes through both a naive belief in the leadership and goodness of their leaders and through the "necessity" of the means to gain an end. Rice is nothing if not a good talker, and she manages to avoid talking about the actual charges, instead falling back on the repetitive talking point that George Bush would never authorize anything illegal:
"I hope people understand that it was a struggle, it was a difficult time," she said. "We were all terrified of another attack on this country because September 11 was the worst day of my life in government -- watching 3,000 Americans die because these people attacked us." But she added, "Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal."
Right. That's why he had an army of lawyers working overtime to find ways to redefine practices that pretty much everyone in the world knew were torture. So her argument boils down to the most moral relativist argument you can possibly propose: it wasn't torture because we defined it as not-torture; it wasn't illegal because we said it wasn't illegal.

So much for international conventions. So much for moral certitude. So much for the Bush administration's constant invocation of "Axis of Evil" and "bad guys." Because Condoleeza Rice basically says you are what you say you are. There are no standards of judgement. Is Kim Jong-il a "bad guy"? Better ask him, find out how he defines his actions.

Let me reiterate: Condoleeza Rice is arguing that regimes can only be judged by their internal standards of conduct.

Or to put it another (also entirely useless) way, in the words of the immortal Dave Mason:
So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye.
There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys.
There's only you and me and we just disagree.
Ooo - ooo - ooohoo oh - oh - o-whoa
Applicable perhaps for friendships and love affairs, but not so useful for world politics.

29 April 2009

Leaving on a jetplane...

What do you think the thought process was behind the NYC flyby?

How do you think that went?

"Um, we want to take some pictures with a passenger jet and some tall buildings, real real close."

"Hey, how about New York City?"

"Oh, yeah, but, um, what about 9/11 ... some of those tall buildings are gone."

"Yeah, but they have plenty more."

"Should we send an alert or something?"

"Nah, who's going to notice...you can't really see the sky from most of the streets."

Caldera should be out on his ass.

27 April 2009

Who is a huckster and a sham?

CNN.com has an item that made me want to throw up when I read it. Apparently in the depth of financial crisis caused by nearly unbridled capitalism, readers are turning to Ayn Rand's fantasia Atlas Shrugged (either as comfort food or for answers, I don't know). It's bad enough to have to wade through Rand's horrific writing style and cardboard characters, but to have people take it seriously is an entirely new level of fail.

The Wall Street Journal opines:
"If only 'Atlas' were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster," Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore wrote in early January.
WTF? Has Moore not been paying attention to the last thirty years in which government became more and more Ayn Rand friendly, virtually recusing itself from any oversight of the economy? Yes...by doing more of the same, only more so...we will recover. If you're driving 100 MPH toward a cliff, all the better to drive 200 MPH. You get there quicker.

While the article does point out that Alan Greenspan, former chief of the Federal Reserve and architect of much of the monetary policy that led us down this rabbit hole, was a young Randian acolyte, it gives him too much credit for moving away from her absurd beliefs -- he did so only after the wheels had come off, the engine had blown, and he himself had bailed out of the car.

Atlas Shrugged should be viewed in the same way that anyone outside the white supremacist movement views The Turner Diaries: hogwash designed to perpetuate evil.

25 April 2009

No contest.

According to the Guardian website, American conservatives are all agog over the latest celebrity bigot, some runner-up in a beauty contest. The story is banal as far as I'm concerned. First, you've got the beauty contest...a sad anachronism that has tried to keep up with the times by instituting a whiff of an "intelligence" component through a question and answer period. Then you have the questioner, Perez Hilton, whose credentials demonstrate what a decidedly low-rent affair this event actually is. This contest usually is a throw-away blurb in the smaller papers that carry news about beauty contests, so you might say that both Prejean and Hilton did their parts by injecting a little afterlife into an inherently dead genre.

So the question was something along the lines of gay marriage and whether the erstwhile beauty queen supported or opposed it. She opposed it, it turned out, but her answer was so inarticulate that it took a while to figure it out. Here's the transcript:
I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman.

Um, so she's for choice (leaving out the fact that choice is only available in 4 of 50 states, so she needs to qualify that American's are able to choose in only 8% of the United States). She reinforces that statement with another misconception that federal law covers same-sex marriage and something she calls "opposite marriage." But then she says that in her country she thinks that she believes -- so uncertainty enters in: she isn't actually sure of what she believes, but she thinks she believes something -- and then she finally comes out contradicting (slightly -- it's not a direct contradiction) her initial support for marriage choice with opposition to marriage choice.

To be generous to Ms. Prejean, one could argue that while she supports the ability of every individual to "choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage," she thinks she believes that it should only be between a man and a woman. In that iteration, it's not unlike some politicians' support for abortion rights while believing personally that it's not for them.

But, hey, she's not exactly trying to land a Rhodes Scholarship...she's trying to win a tiara and a sash, so let's forgive her confused answer to attention-hog Hilton's question. The interesting although entirely predictable thing is that blowhards like Sean Hannity and other bigots feel that she's a cause worth rallying around. It's true that their forebearers made hay and won a few elections for a while with bigotry directed against women and then, following the 19th Amendment's demolition of that strategy (at least as a national platform plank), bigotry directed against Blacks, but the larger lesson they should learn -- but apparently can't -- is that they are on the losing side of history all the time. Every time. They couldn't stop the march of women's rights; they couldn't stop the march of Black rights (and every other flower of the Civil Rights movement); they won't eventually be able to stop the march of gay rights. They've already lost so many of these battles, and soon the war.

Carrie Prejean is nothing more than a deckchair on the Conservative's Titanic.

24 April 2009

Apples and trees and dynasties.

What is it with politicians' kids that the media finds so fascinating? A few weeks ago it was big excitement in some quarters that John McCain's daughter is out of sorts with the radical racist right in the Republican Party; now the offspring flavor of the day is Cheney's daughter, Liz, who agrees with her nasty old man that Obama "doesn't stand up for America," the definition of which is, apparently, that you should never ever admit that you could be wrong or agree to meet other nations as sovereign entities.

I remember Cheney's other daughter Mary from the disastrous Edwards v. Cheney debate of the 2004 election cycle. Here John Edwards had the most black-hearted evil man in American politics sitting opposite him and he somehow humanized him with the horrible tactical blunder of harping on Mary's homosexuality. It was like asking OJ to try on the glove. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The point, I think, is that I'm getting tired of hearing what political offspring think (OK, let me rephrase: I'm getting tired of hearing from political offspring simply because they're political offspring). In general, it just highlights the nepotism of the system or, in the media's case, the way in which politics has been turned into entertainment -- celebrities and their children. Politics and movies are simply two different subdivisions within the ever-growing entertainment industry. On the one hand you have photos of Brangelina's brood; on the other hand you have sound bites from grown children of political leaders who wouldn't get the time of day if they weren't related to actual political figures.

Of course it's a juicy story when the child turns around and criticizes the positions and/or the allegiances of the parent, as in Meghan McCain's case (but wait...he's a maverick...she's got maverick blood in her too, pardner...mavericks....yeah), but still we all know that the only reason this story had any legs at all was that she's a McCain.

Liz at least has some political credentials. The fact that she gained all of them while her father was running the White House Vice President is entirely coincidental...OK, I exaggerate a little bit: she did work for the State Department under Bush the First while her father was --- wait for it --- Secretary of Defense. Yes, entirely different departments, so there could be absolutely no sign, no hint, no whiff of nepotism. None at all.

Anyway, it's not that Liz or Meghan or Chelsea or Amy or Jenna or Barbara or Ron or Mike etc. shouldn't have opinions. Or that they shouldn't choose to follow in their parents' footsteps in one way or another. It's that for the media, their opinions aren't the point: it's their relations. They are moons orbiting a star, and the media is all about the star system.

21 April 2009

The Minister of Evil has spoken.

From his permanent seat on the Legion of Supervillains Security Council, former VP Dick Cheney has opined that the CIA should declassify evidence of torture's "successes." What Cheney doesn't actually understand is that torture is wrong. It's an ethical issue, but you'd hardly expect someone like Cheney to understand ethics. It's about following principles that set us apart -- or so we'd like to think -- from the rogue states out there that we routinely denounce.

Let's not forget that Cheney's the man who voted against pressuring the Apartheid government in South Africa to release Nelson Mandela, arguing that Mandela was a terrorist. Understanding right from wrong isn't exactly his forte.

However, in a move eerily reminiscent of late Senator Joe McCarthy, Cheney alluded to "reports he'd read":
I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country.

This from a man whose administration had been caught several times "massaging" intelligence reports to suit its own agenda.

In related news, he also has announced that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

20 April 2009

I'm going where there's no depression.

I've been puzzling over the whole "Obama as Messiah" rhetoric I've been reading. I'm wondering where it started. What's the ur-text for the trope that goes under the name of Messiah, the Prophet, the One? It seems rather long-lasting for a bit of mud slung in a campaign that ended close to six months ago. Did it come out of disgruntled Hillary supporters? Did it come from disgruntled McCain supporters? Did it come from freepers?

I find it fascinating. I wonder if there's any history for this sort of demonization of President as false prophet or cult leader in the religious sense. I know with Reagan there was certainly a critique of the "actor as politician" charisma, but did it play out as religious fervor run amok? Perhaps a good place to look would be in the months following FDR's election. There are certainly similarities: a period of great financial upheaval following a long stretch of misrule, and a President with many plans for a new course.

It's fairly common of course for one side to see the other side's supporters as dupes of some kind, but it's the specifically religious aspect of this backlash that I'm interested in. I was thoroughly convinced in the summer leading up to the 2004 election that G.W. Bush wouldn't be in office come January 2005, given his already proven record of war crimes abroad and neglect at home. Sadly, I was wrong (thanks, Kerry). It never crossed my mind to think that anyone saw Bush as God, though. I figured his supporters were simply either stupid or protofascists (often the same thing) in the main.

The religious right, who sees the election of any Democrat as both a horrible event and a hopeful sign of the End Times, have long had the canned notion that the leader of a great nation (usually someone with faith in -- or at least the willingness to work with -- a world government like the UN) will rise up as the Antichrist, so I suppose for the really loonytune rightwingers Obama's just the latest in a line from Clinton and Carter who are eligible for that role. Still, the rhetoric is too pervasive for it to be the standard Tribulation Rap. Or maybe it's that the internet allows it to spread more virally. The last time a Democrat was elected on a platform of change was 1992, when social networking consisted of BBS and text-based email clients, so maybe the whole Messiah thing was there with Clinton and it just didn't get out beyond the remote armed compounds and John Birch Society meetings.

UPDATE: I was reading up on the Energy Crisis of the late 1970's and an article in The Progressive alluded to both Kennedy and Reagan's challenges to Carter's leadership as possible "new saviors," but the reference was fleeting and not an extended metaphor.

19 April 2009

Michael Hayden: War Criminal.

So when's someone going to waterboard Michael Hayden?

This a-hole should be shut up in a prison (a real one, not one of his special secret black prisons) for human rights abuses. He most certainly should not be given platforms on national cable channels to spout his evil.

23 March 2009

Lack of recognition.

Washington, DC, is many different towns, which sounds trite, but the most important aspect of that concept is that people outside of the District metropolitan area do not recognize DC as anything more than a symbol of the federal government.

In this world view, homes and neighborhoods don't really exist in DC. The District government is a joke, side show acts, like The Players in Hamlet, or maybe like the mock government some people played at in high school. People in DC work for the government, lobby the government, contract with the government, or don't work at all.

In part, it's not a terribly wrong impression, since DC so often becomes the plaything of itinerant powergrubbers who are completely unanswerable to the subjects on whom they conduct their experiments. However, it certainly passes over the lives of most residents of DC, who don't spend much of their time thinking about the federal government, or politics for that matter, except in the sense that everyone else in the US thinks about those things. Sure, it rankles to have no representation in Congress when you have a complaint or an issue, but it's not the sort of thing that creeps into your daily conscious state as you're trying to catch the L2 so you can hit the Safeway for groceries before it gets too late.

I should be thinking more about this bifurcated urban identity. The city as lived experience and the city as imagined space, in particular as tourist destination. London, New York, and Paris may be tourist destinations as well, but people talk about the experience of the cities. I don't know if people visiting DC think about it as a city so much as they think of it as a collection of monuments and museums.

02 March 2009

An old theme.

March has caught me
sleeping, and I give a backward
sheepish glance
to a forgotten friend.

The buds peek green through brown shrouds,
morning frost still catching the less cautious.
These are days of renewal, yes,
but also moving on.

09 February 2009

The School for Scandal

Looks like newly ensconced RNC chair Michael Steele is having his own Daschle moment (although in fairness to Steele the scale is not nearly as large as Daschle's own malfeasance), what with his disgraced former finance chairman from his 2006 campaign accusing Steele of directing campaign funds to his sister's company. In a "he said, he said" story, Steele's former finance guru, now a convicted felon, claims the sister's company didn't do any work for the money it received; Steele claims it was proper reimbursement.

Just proving how pathetically unethical the entire Republican Party is, Steele's major claim to fame is being part of former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich's administration, specifically as Lieutenant Governor. That's the administration that was essentially a Bush Administration on a state level -- purging state agencies of qualified career adminstrators who didn't have the "right politics," spying on the constituency, giving away protected land to developers, etc.

And since I brought him up at the beginning, let's talk about Daschle. Proving how pathetically unethical the entire Democratic Party is, Daschle calls into question the entire appropriateness of someone who has no sense of day to day responsibilities to be in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services. It's pretty much a good bet that none of the constituency that department serves would be well-acquainted with the proper tax line item to declare your car service or driver as a taxable benefit.

Daschle is a textbook example of the type of people Obama doesn't need in his administration.

02 February 2009

Adding insult to injury.

Wait a minute. Michael Phelps set an Olympic record for number of medals by a single athlete AND he's toking up? No apologies necessary, bro.

OK, aside from the obvious apologize for your lost sponsorship dollars, I'm thinking how in the hell do you do all that in the pool and still drag that unfiltered weed down your lungs?

The other swimmers are probably really rethinking their training regimen right about now. I mean, you can't exactly call marijuana performance enhancing, can you?

29 January 2009

To all buggered bastards out there...

We get it. You're depressed. Just don't be such a selfish bastard and let the wife and kids make their own decisions.

Who knows how many more stories like these we will hear in the times to come, and how many we didn't hear about before media saturation and the internet echo chamber.

25 January 2009

The short track to street cred. Or not.

I like Joe Strummer as much as the next person, but...

No, let me rephrase that. I revere Joe Strummer, but...

I would never buy this Faux Strummer guitar for nearly $1000:

Seriously. For a grand you can get a manufactured Telecaster that simulates Joe Strummer's 1975 Tele. Forget the fact that his Tele looked that way from relentless repaintings and actual road wear -- now you can buy it prefab. But the best bit (if by best you are thinking nearly throw up in your mouth) is the verbiage written to sell this distressed guitar:
All his life, he vigorously championed individuality, self-expression and change-tenets often reflected in the constantly altered look of his favorite instrument-his Telecaster (currently on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland), an otherwise standard '60s-era model with all the original parts and specifications.

So in tribute to his individuality, self-expression, and change, we're going to offer a cookie cutter replica so you can all be individuals (yes, we're all individuals...).


22 January 2009

Have another bag of pills, fool.

You do have to hand it to right-wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh. He not only gets behind his microphone and tells his vast listening lemmings that his four words for Obama are, "I hope he fails," but then he tries to explain what he means.

Apparently, he claims the government is trying to take over "as much of the private sector as possible," and that really it's those plans that he hopes fail, so therefore he hopes Obama fails.

Now that explanation may work for the comatose reactionaries who listen to his show on a regular basis, but for those of us whose memories aren't shorter than a goldfish, we recognize all of Limbaugh's complaints -- from the auto industry to the banking sector -- to be programs instigated by the Bush administration.

These drastic measures of course were made necessary by the last thirty years of Republican and Democratic free market foolishness (sure the Repubs bear the brunt of the blame, but the Dems -- esp. the Clinton wing -- share in it quite a bit). Rabid de-regulation (thanks, Phil Gramm) created a whirlpool in which a small group of greedy sociopaths could cook books and line their own pockets while creating phony profits based on selling not even paper but the idea of paper to one another.

For all the idiots out there who actually consider Ayn Rand a philosopher and not some third-rate literary hack (I'm talking to you, Alan Greenspan), it bears repeating: unfettered capitalism does not work. Not surprisingly, when people look to maximize their own personal profits, they tend not to give a shit about the long-term stability of their company or the social implications of their own recklessness.

By the way, ever talk to a Randian, or "Objectivist" as they like to be called? It's like talking to a 9/11 truther or a JFK conspiracy theorist. Reality is no obstacle.

21 January 2009


It's bad enough the IDF shelled the UN compound in Gaza, but now we find out that Israel has admitted to using white phosphorous shells, in violation of international law. I guess they figured they wouldn't be caught. Or maybe they just don't care. After all, it's not like the UN -- the very body that gave birth to the state of Israel -- has ever been respected all that much by Israeli governments.

From terrorists and rogue states, you expect such behavior. Is this the company then that Israel wants to keep?

20 January 2009

"The time has come to set aside childish things..."

At that point in the speech, G.W. Bush put down his Nintendo DS and looked sheepishly about...

12 January 2009

New semester.

I'm teaching in a basement classroom that must have been a storage room at some point. Low ceilings, floors with lumps beneath the carpet (seriously, it's as if they simply rolled some carpet out over a bare dirt floor and said done with it -- I nearly tripped waltzing around the classroom), and some bizarre paneling like it was someone's mid-70's basement rec-room redo.

However, the absolute best thing about the room is that when I stand at the podium with built in computer console, my ass hits the blackboard. My back is quite literally against the wall in this class. So I need to watch my use of chalk, lest I end up powdering all my clothes. Additionally, the podium is placed so that, unless I contort my body and lean further into my little corner, I'm blocking about a fifth of the screen when I use the LCD projector.

I suppose I shouldn't complain, since I do have a computer and LCD projector, but I have almost no room to roam at the front of the classroom, and I like to roam. I like to move from side to side in front of the rows. In this class, I have about ten feet to move across. That's three, four paces, then I'm up against either my immobile podium or the extra student desk they crammed into the front of the room.

Does anyone take classroom design into account when they're counting on how many tuition paying students they can cram into a space?