10 November 2011

The uncanny.

This Saturday Penn State takes the field for the first time since 1949 without Paterno as a member of the coaching staff. The trustees made the right decision in removing him immediately from the team. However, for any Penn Stater under 50, the sight of a Paterno-less sideline (or press box recently...Jay doesn't count) will be a melancholy curiosity.

I grew up in the heart of Penn State country and remember the epic battles between Pitt's Jackie Sherrill and Penn State's Paterno. Between Alabama's Bear Bryant and Penn State's Joe Paterno. Between Notre Dame's Faust (sorry) and Penn State's Paterno. Since those coaches were at their respective schools, Pitt has had 7 coaches (not counting interim or hired but never coached), Alabama has had 7 coaches (again, not counting hired but never coached), and Notre Dame has had 5 coaches (again, not counting hired but never coached).

It's going to be a very odd experience.

08 November 2011


Busy dealing with the Penn State scandal right now.

Eight victims in the indictment and a possible ninth coming forward. There will be more. What a horrific experience for them.

Absolutely devastated. It's going to be a clean sweep in the football program, and one hell of a sad way for Joe Paterno to go, but there's no arguing he bears moral responsibility for not seeing that his longtime coach -- although retired when Paterno allegedly first heard of the issue -- face criminal charges sooner.  Absolutely inexcusable.

There's no way you can do any less knowing the leadership allowed a predator to continue his abuse for at least a decade after knowing what he was up to.

LaVar Arrington has said it most clearly in terms of the shock, dismay, and anger many PSU alums must feel.

29 October 2011

Recapping college football gameday.

I went 7-3 on my predictions. I'm particularly proud of picking the Georgia Tech upset of Clemson, although I got dogged on a few of my Big 10 picks...Michigan State must have sent the squad that played Notre Dame to play Nebraska, because they got skunked in Lincoln. It was a solid performance by the Huskers. In an incredible back and forth finish, Ohio State got the better of Wisconsin. I'm not sure what's happened to Wisconsin, who now seem to have lost their way.

Penn State won ugly over Illinois. Neither team seemed particularly interested in winning that game, with Penn State turning the ball over 3 times and Illinois giving it up 4 times. The anemic Penn State offense could not capitalize on those turnovers or a blocked punt that gave Penn State the ball deep in Illinois territory. Then, after nearly four quarters of impotence, Penn State's offense put together an 80 yard drive for the game winner. Hard to believe, really.

I thought Ole Miss would beat Auburn, because even though Ole Miss isn't exactly good, Auburn isn't exactly as good as their ranking would indicate.

In a bizarre result in a game I didn't even bother noting, Iowa State beat up on Texas Tech, the team that took out Oklahoma last weekend. I mean, Iowa State was 3-4 heading into that game, with their only decent win coming in overtime against Iowa. Since starting the season 3-0, Iowa State had lost four straight to Texas, Baylor, Missouri, and Texas A&M. And none of those games were even close. So their decisive 41-7 thrashing of Texas Tech was fairly surprising.

Getting back to the Big 10, Penn State is the only team undefeated in league play, and in their division, the Leaders, the next closest teams are Wisconsin and Ohio State, both at 2-2 in league play, and both on Penn State's schedule. Penn State's three remaining games are all big challenges: Nebraska, @Ohio State, and @Wisconsin.

It looks to be an interesting end to the season.

It only gets better...

David Stern has announced that NBA games are now cancelled through the end of November.

Sure we've endured floods, hurricanes, bizarre snowstorms, and Fox News, but this news makes up for all of that. 

Now there's something to give thanks for this Thanksgiving!

28 October 2011

College football preview for this Halloween weekend.

Let's take a quick look at the Big 10 matchups this weekend.

The marquee matchup is probably #11 Michigan State v. #14 Nebraska. After Michigan State's win over Wisconsin last week, they may be in for a let down in Lincoln. However, I think Michigan State wins this one.

Purdue is at #18 Michigan. I don't know, but Purdue has been surging. I still think that in an offensive shootout, Michigan wins. Especially at the Big House.

#15 Wisconsin at Ohio State. Ohio State has been struggling. Wisconsin looked unbeatable (at least in the Big 10) until last week. Ohio State's most impressive victory was a 17-7 victory over a flagging Illinois. I think Wisconsin routs Ohio State in the Horseshoe.

Illinois at #19 Penn State. Illinois had a great season going, but have lost their last two games. Their season is collapsing, and I think Penn State will put another dent in their bowl status.

In less, exciting games, Iowa v. Minnesota...Minnesota is so unbelievably bad that Iowa will appear to have a well-oiled offense. Look for Minnesota to have incredible difficulty scoring. Iowa in a rout.

Likewise, Northwestern at Indiana should see a bit more of a high scoring affair by both sides, but Northwestern will outscore Indiana comfortably.

That does it for the Big 10.

#9 Oklahoma at #8 Kansas State should be one of the best games of the weekend. I'm thinking Oklahoma rebounds from last week's loss to Texas Tech and hands K-State a real whooping.

Other than that, the only game of any real interest might be #5 Clemson v. Georgia Tech. G-Tech at home has a chance of toppling Clemson, and I think they'll do it.

Navy has owned Notre Dame recently, but I think this year Notre Dame clamps down on a team that has yet to win any significant games (Delaware and Western Kentucky are Navy's two wins).

I also see Ole Miss taking down #23 Auburn.

I'd like to improve on my record from last week, which shouldn't be too hard.

27 October 2011

Still no excuses.

I'm sure the right-wing readers of the Washington Post -- and there are a surprising many of them, judging from the racist comments on the article discussion boards -- will be wailing about today's article about Black fans embracing the nearly local NFL franchise, the Laurel Redskins.

The Post leads by noting the team's racist past, being the last NFL franchise to accept Black players, which essentially means they were forced to integrate because they could no longer afford to exclude a growing pool of skilled players from consideration, and also because the federal government threatened to ban George Preston Marshall's racist ass from using D.C. stadium. Theirs was no crisis of consciousness.

Missing of course in the Post's celebration of Black fans coming to love the franchise that excluded them the longest is the fact that the Redskins today maintain the most racist name in professional sports (although the Cleveland Indian's Indian mascot and emblem is easily a far more racist graphic).

Seriously. The Redskins.

Why not the Darkies?

24 October 2011

On grading.

I am wading through student assignments, trying to finalize grades for a half-semester course I've been teaching. It's not my favorite thing in the world, but it's necessary, since apparently students expect grades back for the work they've submitted and the university demands it.

Who knew?

I have moved over the years toward rubrics, in part to keep my sanity, but also in part because they give students a fairly clear overview of the areas of emphasis for the paper. No rubric, I've decided, is perfect, but a good rubric can speed the grading process while allowing for reliable grades. Trust me, looking at thirty papers on the same topic without a rubric can be a deadly experience.

I think many teachers dread grading because the nature of one assignment given to the entire class lends itself to repetitive papers, many of which are close to unreadable. I offer as a perverse proof of this thesis the fact that when you do happen upon a well-constructed paper that has a clear argument and uses direct specific support that actually relates to the argument, you are so overjoyed that you want to tell your colleagues and close family members about it.

Not too many teachers get into the profession because they love grading or love the idea of being able to assess individuals and control their futures via the power of the letter grade. I know I initially got into the profession through a love of my subject and a desire to talk about it with other people, both colleagues and students.

Grading is the price we pay to get to do stand in front of a class and ask them what they thought e.e. cummings was up to when he wrote "next to of course god america i."

23 October 2011

As predictions go...

My NCAA football predictions yesterday were less than stellar. Let's see what I predicted:

1. PSU v. Northwestern. I weaseled around this game and didn't make a prediction. PSU won.

2. Wisconsin v. Michigan State. I picked Wisconsin. I picked a solid Wisconsin win. I was wrong. Michigan State was in control most of the game, with Wisconsin mounting a late comeback and nearly getting to overtime. Michigan State's win raises the question, how in the hell did this team lose to Notre Dame?

3. Speaking of which, I thought Notre Dame would win by two touchdowns over USC. Again, I was wrong. USC won by two touchdowns. I probably should have noted that Syracuse beat #15 West Virginia on Friday, but I didn't actually pay attention to that and seriously undervalued USC's victory over Syracuse. Still, I would have picked ND to beat USC even with that information.

4. Auburn v. USC. I predicted a major kill by the LSU Tigers, and I at least got that one right.

5. Texas Tech v. Oklahoma. I thought the Oklahoma offense would keep pace with Texas Tech and the Oklahoma defense would clamp down on the Texas Tech offense. Wrong on both counts, at least until midway through the third quarter, where the Oklahoma defense finally showed a little resistance.

6. I thought Stanford would stomp Washington, and they did.

7. I picked FSU to beat Maryland, even though I wish they wouldn't. FSU beat Maryland.

So I went 3-3, but I'm really puzzling over the games I missed, not so much because I missed them as because it's very difficult to figure these teams out. Notre Dame had looked to be putting together a decent season from the shambles of their first two games, and Oklahoma looked like a machine. As for Michigan State, they're utterly unpredictable, but Wisconsin had been steadily steamrolling opponents.

In a really bizarre turn, Illinois looks to be in freefall, following up last week's loss to Ohio State with a loss yesterday to Purdue. I can only hope that freefall continues next weekend in Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lions play host to the Illini.

Penn State and Michigan State are the only two Big 10 teams unbeaten in league play, but I like MSU's victories (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State) more than Penn State's (Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern).

Penn State has a tough final four games: Illinois, Nebraska, @Ohio State, and @Wisconsin.

I'm predicting a 9-3 regular season.

22 October 2011

And now a post about NCAA football.

Today looks to be an interesting day in college football.

In the most important game of the day, Penn State travels to Northwestern in only their third road game of the season. They've beaten Temple and Indiana on the road, but both wins were lackluster performances that resulted in very close games (14-10 and 16-10 respectively) against some very weak opponents (I'll grant that Temple is having a good year at 5-2, but it's still Temple...and Indiana, well, they're 1-6).

Northwestern is not having a good year at 2-4, but their offense puts up some numbers, whereas Penn State's doesn't. Penn State's defense will have to be on its best behavior, since Penn State's offense is unable to put up numbers against even weak defenses such as Indiana (95th in the nation in defense).

Penn State has a very good chance of losing four of its next five games. It also has a realistic chance of winning four of its next five games, though, with the one exception being Wisconsin. However, if they drop the game to Northwestern, their odds of winning any of the remaining games goes way down, because of the remaining teams, the weakest is Ohio State, and despite the Buckeyes' woes this year, PSU has a bad habit of crumbling against even mediocre teams from Columbus.

Also playing this weekend:

In the Big 10, the only marquee matchup, aside from PSU, is the Wisconsin v. Michigan State game. It'll be played in East Lansing, which I think is really the Spartans' only hope. You have to remember that Michigan State lost to Notre Dame. Big time, 31-13. I don't know if all the MSU players were smoking crack the night before the game, or simply thought the game was later in the day, but somehow they lost to a Notre Dame team that  hasn't beaten any other team with a winning record. I predict a dominating Wisconsin performance. Wiscy is the class of the Big 10 this year, the only team that I would say is really ready for a New Years Day bowl.

In the SEC, Auburn v. LSU could be interesting, but it would be much more interesting if it were being held at Auburn. Auburn was convincingly stomped by Arkansas, and they haven't been impressive in any win. The only hope for Auburn is that LSU is looking past them to Alabama. I predict a major pounding by the Tigers. The LSU Tigers, that is. 

In the Big 12, or what's left of it, Oklahoma v. Texas Tech is the only interesting game, but it's being played in Norman, and Oklahoma is simply a better team. Texas Tech has hung tough against ranked opponents, but it's lost to them, and it's also allowed crappy teams like Kansas and Nevada to hang around, so I'm again predicting a monster stomping by the Sooners.

In the PAC-10, Washington is at Stanford. Stanford has encountered absolutely no resistance in its 2011 campaign thus far, but then again it hasn't played a single good team (their victims sport a combined 15-25 record), with none of them having a winning record. Washington at least has a winning record at 5-1, their one loss coming to a very respectable Nebraska team. However, Washington can't point to any respectable victories, and I'm going with Stanford in a comfortable blowout.

In other games, I'd love to see Maryland beat Florida State. I don't think it will happen though, even if Maryland pulls out all stops and wears even more unimaginably hideous uniforms than in previous games this year.

The USC v. Notre Dame game, which in many years has major bowl implications, is really an afterthought this year. Neither team is ranked, and USC's seemingly impressive 5-1 record is built upon punching bags such as Minnesota (1-5) and Arizona (2-5). Their most impressive win came against Syracuse, whose 4-2 record will most likely be 5-7 by season's end. As for Notre Dame, I've already noted their convincing win against Michigan State and the fact that MSU was the only opponent they've beaten who has a winning record. However, the two teams they've lost to, Michigan and South Florida, are better than any team that USC has beaten. Or even played for that matter. I'm handing this game to Notre Dame, probably by two touchdowns.

21 October 2011

Still not missing you at all...

I love the NBA lockout.

If any sport could disappear from the American landscape, the one that would do the most good simply to go away would be professional basketball.

Remember, I'm talking sports here. While it would certainly do our nation a favor to dispense with such activities as auto racing, professional wrestling, MMA, etc., we're talking about sports now.

The NBA is still deadlocked between greedy-ass owners and pampered athletes, with neither side having any sort of justification for the outrageous sums of money they command. Of course, that fact alone doesn't set them apart from any other professional league. What sets the NBA apart from other leagues is the amount of damage the league does to the sport it supposedly plays.

Basketball is a beautiful game when played in high school and college. However, in the NBA, the game has been diluted in the interests of "watchability" to the extent that it is substantially different than its feeder system games. In the NFL, the game becomes harder -- two feet must be in bounds on a catch, rather than one, for instance -- but in the NBA it becomes easier: walking is redefined to allow more steps (2) and then is rarely enforced.

The NBA court should be, if not longer, then wider than NCAA courts. Already the NBA game resembles a pick up game in converted church basement or school cafeteria, with the players too big for the court.

However, the major problem with the NBA is the awful effect it has upon its viewers, who seem compelled to leave their sofas and migrate to gyms once the season rolls around. Note to all of you: watching the NBA doesn't make you a better player. You don't jump higher, shoot straighter, or play better defense. All the NBA does is teach you bad habits.

Grabbing my shirt is not defense.

Sticking your elbows out like you're an old electronic football lineman is not good defense.

Turning the ball over while you dribble is, believe it or not, a violation.

While deliberately attempting to draw a charge is bad form in a pickup game, that doesn't give you the right to drive to the basket as if no one is in your way.


I can only hope the NBA stays off the air.


The Republican Party certainly has no monopoly on scoundrels and liars, but it's always nice to be reminded that they do seem to have the most shameless scoundrels and liars. Now Marco Rubio's family story of his parents fleeing Cuba in the wake of Castro's liberation of the island from decades of U.S.-backed business friendly dicatatorship (alas, only to see it founder into a state with about as much freedom of expression, if a more equitable distribution of income, than the one it replaced) turns out to be a big fat lie.

Apparently, Rubio's parents have immigration papers from 2.5 years before Castro's takeover of Cuba.

Not terribly concerned about having been caught in a lie, Rubio retreated into the "family lore" and "I didn't carry around their passports" weaseling that's so familiar to anyone who follows political liars. In other words, he built pathos for his campaign and solidarity with his community around a story he simply made up. The defense that perhaps his parents didn't remember correctly would appear incredibly unconvincing to all but the most stalwart ignoramus. We aren't talking about what day you dropped off your dry cleaning here; we're talking about perhaps the single most important event in Cuba's 20th century history coupled with a relatively major decision to leave the land of your birth for another country. To put it in perspective, I may not remember whether I bought a pair of shoes before or after September 11, 2001, but I can sure as hell tell you where I was living.

He took advantage of the Cuban exile community's trust in his origin story and duped them into thinking he, too, was a product of forced exile, rather than choice. Hell, Castro wasn't even in Cuba when Rubio's parents bid farewell to the island that he cynically claims they were forced to leave.

An even uglier side to this story appears to be the cropping up of yet more "birther" bullshit from those who want to make hay of the fact that Rubio's parents weren't officially U.S. citizens when Marco Rubio was born. So what? He was born in the U.S. and that's good enough to make him a citizen. Rubio may be an opportunistic liar, but he's one of ours still.

18 October 2011

The Washington Post: If you don't get it, sometimes you write for it.

Anne Applebaum has a piece in today's Post that goes a long way toward highlighting the real problem of the supposed "liberal media": they stop at corporate liberalism and think that they represent the limits of rational thinking.

In her critique of the protests, which utilizes the now dominant trope of mainstream media both right and center (there is no left mainstream media) that the protesters "don't have a program/don't know what they want," Applebaum believes the protesters, by exercising their rights under our democracy, are in fact undermining democracy. It's a profoundly conservative argument that usually comes from knee-jerk reactionaries and those who think that anyone who protests inequality in America should "see what it's like in [name your third world dictatorship]," as though those are models we really aspire to.

It's essentially a lack of vision. Applebaum cannot see around her belief in theoretical democracy to understand the critique is leveled at a gamed system, a democracy that unfortunately has come to resemble more and more, as V.I. Lenin put it a century ago, a "political shell for capitalism" (State and Revolution 14). Applebaum actually -- and in proof of what many a deconstructionist might argue -- admits what she can't admit, recognizing in the Occupy movement a coherent message that the process is broken: "national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world," she writes, but she simply can't sustain the critique, because that would call into question all the "economic and spiritual benefits" of globalization (I assume she alludes to her ability to purchase cheaply the products of child/slave/prison labor and her ability to take those products with her to a spiritual retreat in some ancient ruins).

Unable to think beyond the boundaries of our corporatized democracy, Applebaum retreats, after throwing a gratuitous dig at the Occupy movement's claims of solidarity with and affinity to Arab Spring, into a laughable conclusion:
“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further. 
One could have said as much about the American colonists. They also "already had a process," it it also was called the "British political system." The fact of a process's existence isn't the point. Serial killers "have a process." The issue is whether the process works.


Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution.1917. New York: International Publishers, 1932. Lenin does a fairly good job of describing our current situation: "A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and therefore, once capital has gained control [...] of this very best shell, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly that no change, either of persons, or institutions, or parties in the bourgeois republic can shake it" (14).

11 October 2011

No harm, no foul.

The cancelation of the first two weeks of the NBA season is great news, because it will keep armchair athletes off the courts for at least that long. You can always tell when the NBA starts up by the sudden influx of no-talent ballers, looking like little caricatures of their NBA counterparts, wearing replica jerseys and sporting two inch verticals.

Let's save basketball by canceling the rest if the season as well.

03 October 2011

Proving that you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

So Michelle Obama went to the Alexandria Target over the weekend.

Big whoop.

Outside of the usual complaints you'd expect to hear from the right wing (or really the left if a Republican first lady were to make a shopping trip) about taxpayer money being spent on security and how the money saved at Target was wasted on the security detail etc., I wouldn't think the trip would garner much attention.

However, because Michelle Obama dresses elegantly on many occasions (apparently unlike previous first ladies, who to infer from the right wing's frothing all wore off the rack stuff from the Kathy Ireland Collection at K-Mart or did all their shopping at Frumps-R-Us), she shouldn't be seen in Target.

What really has the right wing press machine in an uproar though is the fact that someone from AP got a photo of her shopping. Apparently, this fact amounts to a conspiracy nearly as deep as the CIA/Mafia/KGB assassination of JFK. Rush Limbaugh, himself no stranger to fraud, had this gem to contribute:
 “What a phony-baloney plastic banana good-time rock-and-roller optic photo op.”
Coming from one of the most powerful men in media who constantly pretends he's outside that whole machine, those words seem a bit hollow.

Of course, Limbaugh is also the guy who had the gall to claim Parkinson's sufferer Michael J. Fox was "acting" when he shot an ad for stem cell research in which he very noticeably twitched and rocked. Limbaugh, who accused Fox of skipping medication so that he would appear more damaged than he was, was perhaps thinking of his own experience with withdrawal from Oxycontin. However, Fox's medicinal intake was not recreational, but rather legally prescribed, unlike Rush's.

30 September 2011

When being correct should show you how wrong you are.

Catholic University's president, John Garvey, is absolutely right in his column in today's Washington Post: the new Health and Human Services birth control rules do intrude on Catholic values.

He's as right about that as any segregationist was when arguing that Brown v. Board of Education intruded on white supremacist values.

28 September 2011

In which I take a look at a candidate who's gone from an afterthought to this week's cause célèbre.

Why in the hell is anyone taking Herman Cain seriously?

I suppose I ask that question as a subset of the question "why is anyone taking any of the Republican Presidential candidates seriously?"

This guy's website is a riot, unless you take him seriously. At that point it becomes downright frightening.

His "999 Plan" -- and by the way I can guarantee you that if he were a Democrat, the religious right would immediately note that it's really a "666 Plan" turned upside down to fool you...who knows, they're probably saying that about Mr. Cain as well...seriously...Cain, the Bible's first murderer...the "999">"666"...c'mon, it could only be more obvious if he had horns on his head and carried a pitchfork -- oh yeah, but back to the plan.

Anyway, his "999 Plan" combines the regressive elements of a flat tax on income with the even more regressive 9% national sales tax. Proponents of the 9% sales tax suggest that it will encourage saving and thrift, but they apparently don't understand that Joe Jones who earns $22,000 a year and Chauncey Witherspoon who earns $250,000 a year both have to fill their cars with gas and eat food to stay alive and that both of them will pay the same new 9% on those everyday expenses (no details on the website as to whether food is taxable under his plan...currently some states tax food and some don't). Additionally, does Cain intend to put his 9% national sales tax on top of the existing state (and in some cases municipal) sales taxes?

For example, California has the highest state sales tax at 7.25% (before you California haters start hating, understand that with municipal taxes added in, some regions of Alabama, Arizona, and Illinois actually have higher sales taxes than California's maximum local + state sales taxes). So let's imagine that state sales taxes remain in place (after all, sales tax is currently a significant chunk of state revenue in states that have sales taxes) and Mr. Cain manages to pass his 9% national sales tax. That gives us a whopping 16.25% tax on most items purchased in California. In some parts of Illinois, your sales tax would be 20% once local, state, and federal sales taxes were applied.

His corporate policies are even friendlier, with corporations being allowed to avoid most of the taxation by hiding income as "investment" and as an added kicker, dividends paid to shareholders are exempted from the corporate tax. The interesting thing would be to see how Mr. Cain would treat dividends on the shareholder's end...currently they're taxed in most cases around the same rate as capital gains, and Mr. Cain would eliminate capital gains. Would he treat dividends as capital gains, or would they be lumped into general income? If he treats them as capital gains, then he could pull off the amazing feat of taking these items from the conservative talking point of "double-taxation" to the la la land of tax-free income.

Aside from the general regressiveness of his policies toward individuals, and the friendliness of them toward corporations, his website is full of meaningless platitudes, which I suppose many politicians' websites are. This little gem, however, is a real keeper:
A dollar must always be a dollar just as an hour is always 60 minutes.
Last I checked, a dollar always was a dollar. It's the exchange rate that varies. Is he proposing to eliminate inflation? To set exchange rates? I'm not sure what the hell he means.

Which of course brings me back to my initial question: why the hell is anyone taking this joker seriously?

27 September 2011

One day you wake up and you wonder where everyone went.

I was noting how sad my blogroll was, sitting over there on the right with only two or three of the current inhabitants regularly updating their blogs.

I decided to do some pruning, so I removed a few that hadn't updated in over a year. In some cases close to four years. It's probably a safe bet that leaving the blog unattended for over a year indicates you've abandoned it for one reason or another.

I know I've gone through some dry spells when I didn't update for several months....I think years 2009 and 2010 were pretty pathetic in terms of writing output.

Anyway, as I went through my blogroll I tried to think of bloggers -- even those that I didn't put on the blogroll -- that I read back in the halcyon days, when there were always some good blog wars to follow and there seemed to be a fairly active blogger meetup social scene (which I didn't participate in, but I did follow the blog recaps). Many of those folks are gone or have changed blogging identities/sites so I don't know where they are anymore.

A few remain.

Reya had a very nice post yesterday on writing. It made me think more deeply about why we write, and that also made me think about why it is we stop writing. I stopped for a time because I was finding writing outlets in different places, and part of that also had to do with my feeling of disconnection from the scene of writing that gave birth to this blog.

There's a lot of good writing still going on. I need to pay more attention.

26 September 2011

The Code of Silence.

It's been an interesting day of reading the paper. If you checked the Post today, you'd see a big story about people putting their pets to sleep at home. You'd see a story about another Tea Party Kool Aid Drinking induced Government Shutdown that's on the horizon.

Speaking of which, how in the hell did the Tea Party get to wield so much influence? Their rallies tend to be small affairs (I can tell you that more people marched on May Day from Malcolm X Park a few years back than have attended most Teabagger rallies...but the PLP marches get zero coverage), but I suppose they make good media with their frequently misspelled vaguely or outright racist placards that often threaten some form of violence. I suppose having deep pocket puppet masters is also handy, since they can funnel money to their brain-dead candidates who would have little reach if not for the complicit media.

So I'm looking through the paper, seeing these stories, reading a little bit about the protests in Greece, the possibility that a dissident army is forming in Syria.

Not a peep about another protest happening much closer to home in what you might call a major U.S. city. Apparently, NYPD has been entirely successful in cordoning off the area and preventing out-of-state media from entering to cover the story. Luckily we have foreign media, whose correspondents must have been trapped in the city and can now cover the story...until NYPD manages to discover their means of transmitting stories. Whatever the reason, the Post apparently is unaware of these protests.

I myself have recently discovered this amazing underground site called "youtube.com." It's pretty revolutionary because you can upload your own videos and other people can see them. Technology like this could be used to get information past the censors. If the Post and other outlets ever find out about this phenomenon, they may be able to cover stories even if their correspondents can't get through the intense police security apparatus.

Here's a sample from You Tube of the NYPD putting down a group of extremely dangerous and obviously threatening women. It's a good thing the cops had mace...I'm sure those women were about to charge:

23 September 2011

Yet again, there's no free lunch.

On The Guardian's website, Dan Gillmoor raises a very good point about our increased reliance on and desire for technological interfaces in everyday life. We love the convenience of mobile phones, GPS, and the like. We enjoy the "free" services provided by facebook and, well, blogger.

At facebook, we go apoplectic when they make changes to the interface, acting as if we've paid dearly for a product that the company won't keep as we want it, when really we've paid absolutely nothing...at least in material compensation (we have paid quite a bit in privacy and provided companies like facebook with valuable marketing information, so in essence, they're the ones getting something for next to nothing).

Gillmoor argues, though, that facebook is really only the tip of the iceberg. As our devices get smarter and more interconnected, they and we become reliant and visible to the global network of data exchanges and that exposes us to ever more present surveillance. Speaking of the GM OnStar service, Gillmoor paints a rather dystopian future:
We're only at the beginning of this trend, I fear. Someday soon – count on it – governments will order car makers to install software and communications "services" that give government not just the power to know where you are, but also to govern your top speed or, should it decide it needs to do this, stop your car, dead, on the highway.
I submit it's not terribly far-fetched to speculate in this manner.

Moreover, it raises the point, uncomfortable to many, that Marx was more right than even he knew about the long-term effects of Capitalism. Capitalism created the modern consumer and through the mechanism of commodity fetishism we are being drawn ever deeper culturally into a world in which we become the objects we consume; our identities are no longer even ours, but are rather pieces of data shared around the world and marketed back to us.

Concurrent with the market infiltration of our everyday life, we have the rise of the surveillance state that grows, through our own desire for consumer objects, in its ability to track us and our activities.

Which is not to say that technology is bad. However, we do grow closer to those dystopian imaginings of the 1980s and 1990s in which the only people who can effectively resist the state are those who can re-program or disable the surveillance, like Neo in The Matrix or the Gene Hackman character in Enemy of the State, who exists completely disconnected from the grid and whose most dangerous moments occur when he must reconnect for brief periods.

Once again, the piper gets paid one way or another.

21 September 2011

One of the last and greatest holdouts from the eighties succumbs.

I'm sure the cynics will say "they should have done this around the time of Automatic for the People," but haters are gonna hate, aren't they?

R.E.M. has announced they are breaking up.

I had no idea who they were in the fall of 1987 when a friend of mine who was still in high school called and asked me if I could get tickets to their show on campus. Tickets were something like 15 bucks and a cd was something like 12, and as I didn't know any of their songs, I decided to get him tickets (2) and myself a CD (it was Fables of the Reconstruction -- not one of the band's favorites, but I think it's one of their best). As it turns out, it was a stupid decision, because they weren't playing college shows after that tour, which was in support of Document.

Not soon after, some local band named -- wait for it -- Driver 8 provided live entertainment at an Amnesty International letter writing event that I attended, which was a welcome break from the steady diet of pop and classic rock (and I have no problem with classic rock per se: I do have a problem with its radio format) that was all you could hear on the local radio stations.

R.E.M was essential listening in those days, and I would argue up through the release of Monster they were really at their peak.

I know I was late to the R.E.M. party, but they'll always bring me back to 1987.

20 September 2011

Oedipus Complex.

If you want to close the budget gap really quickly, you return capital gains taxes to Reagan-era levels, say 28%.

So let's go back to Reagan...if it was good enough for the Gipper, it ought to be good enough for those who claim him as an ideological father...

...except they would most likely burn him at the stake as a heretic if they got their hands on him.

19 September 2011

In this age, an old decision haunts the U.S.

When Thomas Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls," he wasn't working to protect the vested interests of the powerful. Certainly, you could argue that the American Revolution was a bourgeois revolution and the government that we arrived at was a democracy that still kept the real levers of power at the last turn safely in the hands of a relatively small elite, and maybe that's why Paine went on to the more violently revolutionary fields of France, but it still was a revolution that benefited the common people more than it hurt them.

What we have today is an erstwhile revolution that is all about solidifying the powerful's position over the powerless. Adopting the rhetoric of political freedom to the business arena, the Republicans act as though American democracy is founded upon the notion that corporations -- entities wholly unaccountable to the people -- should be free from oversight by the people through the mechanism of government regulation. Republicans, who have no qualms about regulating the individual body (especially if female), think it a great sin to regulate the corporate body, which is considered a body only, as Twain would say, through "a fiction of law and custom."

Honestly, must we be bound by one of the poorest interpretations of a Supreme Court decision?

The 1886 decision on Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, as has been widely noted (even on Wikipedia!), didn't actually rule on the issue of applying the 14th Amendment to corporations, yet it has been widely cited as precedent for ensuing cases. This miscarriage, which following the Citizens United ruling, has effectively decimated the role of actual people in promoting candidates and put our elections (which everyone knows cost plenty of money to run) in the hands of corporations and the most wealthy of our citizens.

Tom Paine would not approve, which helps highlight all the more the differences between those who really defend individual rights and those who, in the name of individual rights, defend only corporate bullying. Mitch McConnell, whose hypocrisy is only heightened by his deadpan delivery, somehow manages to get elected time and again by citizens whose interests he very actively legislates against. He's a senator from Kentucky, for Christ's sake, and outside the blue bloods of Lexington and Louisville, the state is full of nothing but ordinary people whose health and welfare have been either ignored or undercut by the Honorable Mitch McConnell.

However, one can't get elected if one's so obtuse as to state the truth. So despite his constant legislating for the rights of corporations to shutter factories, avoid paying taxes, and shield themselves from damage to the environment, McConnell must still pretend he is "defending freedom" or arguing for "liberty," both cornerstones of the American mythology. Understanding that postmodern war is a war of language and information (a la Lyotard) -- and politics has for most if not all of its history been postmodern in that sense -- McConnell and his predecessors have argued insistently for the freedom of corporations to monopolize our airwaves and print outlets among other things. A grand perpetrator of class warfare, McConnell pretends it only exists when someone sticks up for the little guy.

He is at root the playground apologist for the bully who claims that the bullied have victimized the bully by getting their blood on his hands.

And the Court's reliance on a court reporter's cynical insertion into an 1886 decision only makes it more certain that McConnell's brand of class warfare will carry the day.

Reader's Report: Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

I don't know why but it took me forever to get around to reading Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. You'd think I would have come across it in high school, or maybe have picked it up in one of those undergraduate kicks you can get on where you read everything you can by one author. Alas, the author I chose for that kick was Faulkner. Very rewarding, that. Less rewarding was when I went on the same kick with Kerouac.

In my teaching of Hemingway, I've stayed pretty close to the In Our Time or The Sun Also Rises texts. I like the angle of Hemingway as representative of post-Great War alienation, and by the time The Old Man and the Sea rolls around in 1952, well, we've got another major war to deal with and I'm not sure -- although correct me if I'm wrong -- that Hemingway deals with WWII in any of his work. Maybe a short story. I don't know.

So one of the nice things my wife bought me this year was an old library copy of The Old Man and the Sea. She gave it to me in June. I read it in September. It's very striking for how isolated it is. It's pretty much the old man, Santiago, and the big fish, and since Santiago is all alone out on the sea, the entire text is pretty much what we'd call Man v. Nature, although you could also argue that Man v. Himself is also pretty heavily involved. When Santiago interacts with his village, if you can call it interaction, it mainly establishes his position as an outsider who follows his own way, which makes him a perfect Hemingway code hero.

I also find it interesting that Santiago's great success is in a way only fleeting; while the fishermen in the village may marvel at the remains of the fish he brings home, he himself is upset that it is only remains. There's a certain mythological quality to the tale because his obsession with the fish -- his knowledge of proper pursuit and landing of the fish -- requires him to be carried so far beyond so many limits.  You could argue that even with Santiago being left with nothing but bones, he regains his reputation among the villagers and attains a certain peace in doing things the proper way, much like Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

At some point, I'll get to the next book my wife gave me in June, Hemingway's Islands in the Stream.

16 September 2011

The days are dark ahead I fear.

As a society we used to believe that education was an important component to maintaining the republic. Thomas Jefferson certainly believed that when he wrote to Charles Yancey, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." [1] The push for compulsory education in the U.S. arose from a belief that some education -- at least at the elementary level -- was necessary to secure the continued survival of the nation. The establishment of compulsory education has been maintained, despite the wailings of the right wing, through court decisions resting on the right of the state to secure the general welfare of its citizens.

In so far as schooling creates docile bodies, the right wing has come around to accepting universal compulsory education. However, the right wing has never been interested in the emancipatory power of education, bemoaning (a la Glenn Beck) the supposedly horrible fact that education does not seem to to reinforce their narrow definitions of patriotism, nationalism, or "American ideals." Despite their insistence on individual rights, the right wing has a great fear of individualistic thinking; theirs is the individualism of make-believe atomistic production and consumption, a fantasy land in which you or I simply float in isolating ether until we enter into contracts with one another.

Education at every level has been under assault by the right wing for at least thirty years (dated from the landmark scare tract A Nation at Risk which yeah I know is only 28 years ago but I'm rounding up), and while most of these scary myths have been promulgated ignorantly or dishonestly by those who fail to understand that the US tests every child while many other countries test only those who have already tested into rigorous academic-tracked schools, we as a nation still seem to swallow those lies hook, line, and sinker.

We have allowed the penny wise and pound foolish to control the national imagination where it comes to education, substituting job training for critical thinking. As we advance memorization of rules and procedures and denigrate problem solving, we train students for the next five years and leave them more or less on their own for the following thirty or forty. Or fewer if they happened to have been trained in a field that is easily shipped offshore in service of capital.

At the same time the right wing has sought to dismantle education, they have been aided and abetted (sometimes actively and sometimes simply by lucky chance) by the transformation of (visual) news providers into entertainment centers. Whereas the depth and breadth of your news organization used to signal prestige if not profit, now entire cable channels are built around nothing other than the presentation of news as the sole profit generator. The era of infotainment has been particularly destructive to our nation's ability to think critically, as the lives of the Kardashians assumes preeminence over the upheavals in the Middle East. Even when world events are presented in death, they are given the infotainment treatment with slick graphics and theme songs that transform them into Baudrillardian events. The emphasis is not on informing viewers, but on keeping viewers.

Recognizing that most people get their news from television and that the format doesn't allow for deep analysis or even a moment's reflection, and understanding that the media's ostensible commitment to objectivity has for the last few decades most often meant that even outright lies will be reported unchallenged, demagogues such as House Speaker John Boehner can spout off factually incorrect statements knowing they'll reach their target audience who either don't have the background, time, or desire to question the factual content of Boehner's lies.

This post is already incredibly long, and it would take another five paragraphs to analyze the ludicrous vomit that spewed from Boehner's mouth yesterday and was given an airing even on NPR, who would certainly have challenged the Speaker had he argued that Blacks or Jews were responsible for our current economic woes. However, what he did say was just as empirically incorrect and blindly bigoted as those statements, suggesting that businesses (or to use the preferred Republican nomenclature, "job creators") were shackled by onerous taxes...when businesses currently enjoy their most favorable conditions since the gilded age.

I suppose I'll stop here. I sense my blood pressure rising, and as disgusted as I am with the cynical content of Speaker Boehner's lies and the media's lapdog consumption of them, I am even more disgusted that a significant portion of Americans are unable to see this venomous fraud for what he is.

14 September 2011

Spiting the face.

The Democrats are in a real bind, losing a solidly Democratic district in Queens to a political unknown, Bob Turner. The district is heavily Jewish, and most speculation is that the Democrats lost the seat because American Jews are displeased with Obama's stance on Israel.

Which, if nothing else, should show the Democrats the foolishness of taking lukewarm stances in theory and doing absolutely nothing on the ground.

Contrary to popular belief, Obama has not abandoned Israel. He has steadfastly refused to lend any sort of actual support to humanitarian relief efforts in the Palestinian territories (occupied territory, Gaza, West Bank, Greater Israel...whatever your preferred nomenclature) and the US continues to work in the UN to block any resolutions or activities that would harm Israel.

What he has done, and this of course is his great crime, is suggest that Israel is not as pure as the driven snow.

For some, this position is tantamount to declaring that Hamas is full of goody-two shoes whose main objective is to make streets safe for the elderly to cross.

Some otherwise educated people have difficulty distinguishing these two positions.

Israel bills itself as a democracy, and it pretty much is. There's no question Israel is a freer society than its neighbors. That's a red herring. Criticism of Israel does not amount to support for the criminal regimes of Syria's Assad and Egypt's (recently deposed) Mubarak, or the relatively more legitimately elected Iranian government (let's face it: Ahmadinejad isn't the real power in Iran, so the "legitimate" part is only relative).

Israel is not alone in its inability to face its own abuses. The "land of the free" long into the 20th century saw no problem with billing itself as a champion of democracy and liberty, which of course it was...so long as you weren't Black (and to a lesser extent so long as you weren't Jewish, Asian, Indian, Catholic, etc.). Those who worked for justice and pointed out US hypocrisy were reviled by the power structure and significant chunks of the US population.

The Democrats lost the South when they decided to support equality for all American citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity. To even declare that white supremacy wasn't the natural order of things, that the white racial power structure wasn't pure as the driven snow, was grounds for landslide defeat in most regions of the South. So these politicians and activists who were called enemies of the South and enemies of America and enemies of Christianity figured there was no use in going half way...you weren't going to win the bigot vote by suggesting that bigotry was wrong anymore than you would by taking a strong stand and enacting legislation guaranteeing full citizenship to Blacks.

What the Democrats have lacked since the early 1970's is the backbone to take those stands domestically or internationally.

12 September 2011


Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of 9/11/2001. It was certainly a significant day in our history, and it was horrible. However, I remember more the damage of what came after, when the Democrats lost all backbone and caved into every ridiculous assertion that the Bush Administration made in curtailing civil liberties and pursuing personal family vendettas that embroiled us in a costly war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

I do not agree with those who find 9/11 to be the worst day in our nation's history. I'd say the outbreak of the Civil War probably beats it. Pearl Harbor is undoubtedly a contender for the title, but at least in the wake of that attack, we had a clear enemy. The tragedy of 9/11 didn't stop when the towers fell; it continued through years of mismanagement, as Bush first squandered the world's good will prosecuting an illegal war against an essentially powerless target unrelated to the 9/11 attacks and as he continued to bankrupt our nation fighting two wars while ignoring the economic crises at home.

Our greater tragedy is that Barack Obama, elected to remove us from these wars and restore economic stability, has refused to make the hard choices to do either. True, we have left Iraq, but we have escalated Afghanistan, propping up a hopelessly corrupt regime that has as much chance of standing as any of the South Vietnamese puppet governments we supported in Viet Nam.

In one sense, we have won the war on terror: Al Qaeda is a shell of itself, its leader dead and its leadership decimated. So for the first time, we mark the anniversary of 9/11 with a sense that some measure of justice has been done to the perpetrator. However, we have allowed this pursuit of external enemies blind us to the ongoing and accelerating damage done by domestic policies inimical to our nation's long-term interests. Most of these principles are on display in the Republican primary fights, but Obama has offered only moderate resistance to the continued assault on the American middle class and working poor, and our nation faces the prospect of extended recession.

The result of the Great Depression was a system of government regulation and labor activism that saw the United States become the most prosperous nation in the world, with a solid middle class. Capital has chipped away at those gains, beginning in the 1970's, and in a time of terror we need to look not only at the enemies who build the bombs and point the guns, but also at those who seek to gut government oversight, consumer protection, and labor power.

Both these enemies seek the collapse of the American ideal.

11 September 2011

Reading Report: The Conjure-Man Dies

I just finished reading Rudolph Fisher's The Conjure-Man Dies. It's subtitled "a mystery tale of dark Harlem," and Fisher wrote it in 1932. Fisher had two short stories collected in Alain Locke's The New Negro, which was essentially a who's who of Harlem Renaissance writers published in 1925. Fisher was also a trained physician, and the central character of The Conjure-Man Dies is John Archer, a physician who lives across the street from the conjure man's place of business.

The novel is notable in being the first known mystery novel written by an African American. The writing style is very engaging, although the central mystery of how the conjure man, N. Frimbo, is capable of seeing into the future rather accurately is not dealt with. Frimbo is a former African king, educated at Harvard, who collects sex glands, although where they all came from isn't very well explained. At least one comes from a fellow tribesman, an assistant who dies an untimely death. Frimbo explains to Archer the necessity of the removal of the sex glands for proper tribal ritual, but the several jars he keeps in his office seem a tad too numerous for the number of fellow tribesmen likely to live and die in NYC in the early 1930's.

The story is very much in the style of the parlor mystery, a bit of a twist on the locked-room plot: the suspects are for the most part assembled in the place of business when the doctor arrives on the scene, and he along with the police detective, Perry Dart, sort through the events and the evidence trying to figure out who did it.

My overall impression was that Fisher's novel is not nearly so well-crafted as his short stories, but it has several factors that make it an attractive text for study, not least of which is its status as the first example of African American mystery writing. Fisher perhaps doesn't resolve the mystery of Frimbo's prognostication because Fisher is reserving a bit of mystery that the doctor, who is very much a believer in reason, can't resolve. Therefore, you have a nice rational/irrational or science/magic dichotomy to explore. Further, there's the question of class. Against Dr. Archer and N. Frimbo's patrician bearing and speech you have the unpolished but professional Perry Dart and a cast of working class and low-life buffoons, one of whom, Bubber Brown, supplies a good deal of comic relief.

The novel was reprinted in 1992 by Ann Arbor Press, and I think that's the only version available, which could make it dicey for course adoptions, unless A-A Press still has it in print. I picked my copy up from abebooks.com.

06 September 2011

Brief impressions of the first weekend of college football.

Week 1 of the college football season brought a few sweet moments. Opening weekend is usually a wasteland of cupcakes being creamed, with embarrassing matchups like Penn State v. Indiana State, a non-division I -- or excuse me, a non FBS opponent. Honestly, scheduling FCS teams should count for automatic losses in the computer polls.

I didn't care much about the LSU v. Oregon game, given that neither of those teams should interest anyone who's even remotely human.

I was absolutely delighted to see the unranked University of South Florida knock of #16 Notre Dame (how'd they get that ranking?) in South Bend. There's a real possibility that ND can start the season 0-3, a plight that may keep them out of the BCS.

It was also very enjoyable to see the criminal program at Miami handed a defeat by Maryland, who are wearing perhaps the ugliest outfits I've ever seen outside of a Vegas show. They're so ugly they make the Oregon Ducks look traditional. However, I am nothing but glad that they sent the outlaws back to Miami 0-1.

Next week I may be more dour. I don't have high hopes for a Nittany Lion victory over the Alabama Crimson Bribe.

03 September 2011


I'm coaching my son's soccer team this year. It's the first time I've ever been head coach of anything my son's been involved in. I was assistant coach for a few years, sure, but that's very different. I ran a chess club in my son's school, but we didn't compete against other schools, so I was more a teacher than coach in that capacity. The only other time I was ever a coach for anything was in my first two years out of undergrad, when I was teaching in slower lower Delaware and I coached the middle school track and field team. You could tell it was a high pressure job, because my previous experience with track and field was that I had dated someone who ran track and cross country.

She didn't really like the way I coached, either.

However, I'm no longer 23 years old and I know more about soccer than I ever did about track and field, despite the fact that my own high school didn't have a soccer team until three years after I left and the first time outside of gym class I ever touched a soccer ball was to play intramural soccer in college. I do, however, understand how the game should be played. I can talk about defensive position and dribbling far more than I could ever tell someone about how to clear a hurdle.

Besides, it's recreational soccer.

The most difficult task I have is making the line-up to ensure equal playing time. I'm committed to giving the players equal time, no matter how much their skill levels differ, and playing them in every position so they can learn the game, unless of course they're absolutely averse to one position or another. For instance, I won't make everyone play keeper. I have a few players who only want to play in the backline. I have a few players who simply can't keep up with the running in midfield.

We're 3-2 or 4-2. I can't remember how many games we've played. Interestingly, I remember the losses.

It's odd coaching my son, because I'm very cognizant of playing favorites. My son plays baseball, and it's not a big shock to see all the coaches' kids playing the infield and playing all game, while my son (among others) is relegated to the outfield and spending a few innings on the bench.

Sure, I could play my best players all game, putting two very good travel players in forward positions and two others in midfield and reserve two others for backs, then shuffle the weaker players in as need be, but let me repeat...it's recreational soccer. The travel players get their time on their travel teams. Even my son, who is not a travel player, would play more often than not, because he's quick and he clears the ball out decisively when he plays back.

It's been great watching some of the kids develop from the first practice. We have a game today and we'll be missing four of our top players. I think it'll be good for the other players to have to step up.

We'll see what happens.

02 September 2011

I wonder how many people have used the title "Goodnight, Irene" for blog posts this week?

Last weekend was the hurricane weekend, and I figured in NEPA there wouldn't be much of a problem. Some rain, sure. Lots of it, I thought. So Saturday night we rented a movie from Redbox and watched it, or more accurately our son watched it, while I put our daughter to bed and fell asleep doing so and my wife fell asleep supposedly watching the movie. When my wife and I woke up in the middle of the night, the wind was up. I remembered to tie down the patio umbrella and shuffled off to bed.

Sunday when we woke up, we had no power. Not the biggest deal, as we've been there before, but something of an inconvenience. Maybe more so than you'd think.

No power at our country abode means no water after a few flushes of toilets and brushes of teeth -- forget a shower -- because we're on well water. No electricity means no well pump. So we were quickly following the "if it's yellow..." rule.

One of the trees that had contributed to the power outage happened to be lying across our driveway, so that was impassable, which wasn't actually a problem for us. In fact, we didn't fret much over it, since we couldn't get to our cars anyway. They were in the detached garage that has no entry point except the automatic garage doors.

It was all so brilliant.

One of the doors has a keyhole that supposedly would detach the door from the automatic opener chain, but I'm not very confident in that device given how much slack is in the line and the force I know it requires to detach the doors from the chains. Anyway, I couldn't find the key. I know it was in a little dish, the sort of thing you're supposed to use to put peanuts or cashews in if you're having friends over for bridge, or maybe the sort of thing you throw hardly used keys, safety pins, random buttons, and pennies into.

Couldn't find it. Still haven't found it.

So the cars were trapped. All rechargeable devices were losing power, but luckily we still have a land line. We called the power company who weren't overly impressed with the fact that one of their lines was stretched tight under one of the downed trees in our yard, or that we weren't only without power but also without water and with no means to go out and get some. When they did finally show up Sunday night, after we'd used the land line to call Domino's Pizza (all other pizza establishments nearby having lost power as well), they restored power without checking the line to our house.

It's too bad, really, since the ground had snapped on the line to our house. The resulting power surge fried anything we had connected to 220 or 240 volt plugs: clothes dryer, wall oven, and range. It also fried all of our clock radios, several power strips, and oddly enough nearly every lamp we had purchased at Ikea.

We didn't find out these items were fried until an electrician came out on Monday to fix the line, and I won't go into the details of how the power company claimed they were killing the line and how the electrician found out the line wasn't dead at all, but needless to say even though power has been restored to the house, without an oven or a clothes dryer, you're still not in great shape. Also the refrigerator appears to have been damaged by the surge: it's cooling off the food that remains, but its exterior is extremely hot to the touch.

The garage, meanwhile, remains without power, since a tree had actually taken out the electrical mast. However, the electrician hooked a generator up to the panel long enough for us to operate the garage doors and get the cars out. I also took the opportunity to release a door from the chain so we can access the garage until electricity is restored. Another friend brought over a gas powered chainsaw (mine is electric), and it didn't take long to clear the driveway.

In one year I'm going to have plenty of firewood.

01 September 2011

A new semester brings new challenges.

I have a fairly big semester in front of me. I'm teaching a new class on modern and contemporary poetry. After a few preliminaries with background information on poetry and the modern era and some tales about steel cages in Pisa and epic poems about industrial cities in New Jersey, as well as a scheduled trip to the library next week, we will be ready to launch into Walt Whitman, the sturdy first poet of any anthology of modern poetry.

I love Whitman's encyclopedic lists, his complete commitment to inclusiveness. Of course, we follow him directly with Dickinson, who couldn't be more different in style. Two very different souls throwing open the gates of modern poetry.

Let's see what happens.

31 August 2011

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, well why not?

Only someone who knows how dysfunctional the DC government is would have the wherewithal to try to pull this one off.

Allegedly, convicted (but now released) "drug kingpin" Cornell Jones landed a sweet deal -- via a non-profit he started called Miracle Hands -- with the city to renovate a warehouse into a job training center. The WaPo has the details. Sort of. The salient points are as follows:
According to the suit, Miracle Hands submitted false invoices to “wrongfully obtain” $329,653 in grant funds in its agreement to renovate a 14,000-square-foot warehouse at 2127 Queens Chapel Road NE into a job training facility.
The claim is that Mr. Jones received HIV/AIDS funding to build the training center, but instead it became a strip club. Let's leave aside the status of the property and try to figure out what the hell the DC government is doing giving grant money to convicted drug dealers. This guy was sent away for 27 years...he served 9 years of his sentence, then promptly started a non-profit because there are so few worthy non-profits out there that the District was falling over itself to distribute buckets of cash to a convicted drug dealer.

But it gets better. Miracle Hands obtained the grant money most likely because Mr. Jones was a close chum of a D.C. official:
The series also exposed the unopened job training site and the conflict of interest between Jones and Debra Rowe, interim housing chief of the city’s HIV/AIDS program from 2004 through 2008. Three of Rowe’s relatives worked at D.C. Tunnel, a nightclub operated at that time by Jones.
Four years as "interim" housing chief of the HIV/AIDS program? Was the job so crappy that no one would take it? I suppose it has its benefits if you can steer several hundred thousands of dollars to cronies who in turn employ your relatives.

And by the way, this didn't happen under Vincent Gray's watch (corrupt though he may be) or our former Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry. This cavalier attitude toward oversight occurred under notorious bean counter Anthony Williams and his successor, Adrian Fenty, who billed himself as a modernizer who would bring new transparency to District government.

Of course, Fenty was too busy bringing in new untested idiots like Michelle Rhee to worry about corrupt officials already working for the District.

09 August 2011

Reader's report: Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown

Looking forward to the spring 2012 semester, I have set a task to revisit or acquaint myself with some early American literature. So I read Wieland, a text I'd only glanced through before as part of my graduate work.

Brown was a pioneer of the novel set in the New World, where such fanciful pursuits as fiction were deemed less than honorable. The tale would be well paired with Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, both texts dealing with unreal circumstances and dreadful crimes.

Wieland leaves a major event unresolved, and that is the mysterious death/disappearance of the elder Wieland, whose maniacal religious devotion seems in the end to descend upon his son.

The text is a tremendous study in the power of superstition over even those who feel themselves educated, rational beings. It's also, I think, in the tenor of our age, a useful meditation on religious certainty and willingness to commit horrendous acts in service of one deity or another.

I finished the text this morning, after plowing through the bulk of it with the sound of waves hitting the sand. I am now starting a very different novel, Rudolf Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies.

05 August 2011

Still devoted to the printed word.

I'm getting ready to depart for a week of (hopefully) sun, sand, and surf in that lovely summer oasis known as Ocean City, MD. My bag is packed, and aside from getting together the necessities such as beach chairs and towels, as well as assembling the bike rack, my major concern is with beach reading.

I've decided already that I'm not going to haul the current tome I'm reading, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, for two reasons: first, it's really thick and, second, I'm not sure that I want to commit to that book just yet. I'm about fifty pages deep in it, and it's intriguing but not absorbing.

So what to take.

One of the books I will be packing will be Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland. I'm teaching early American in the spring, and I have to get up to speed on that book. For that same reason I may bring the Franklin's Autobiography, although I just taught it earlier this summer.

However, I also have some newer books I want to read before the semester begins and my dreams of leisure reading are dashed. I want to read the Patti Smith memoir Just Kids. I want to read Brock Clarke's Exley. I'd like to read Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic.

Of course, it being the beach, I'll probably pick up some books at the discount book dealers down there, and so add to my deficit of books purchased v. books read.

04 August 2011

In which I imply yet another way to lower federal spending on unproductive areas...

The Post has an article today on Texas Governor Rick Perry's desire to destroy what remains of education in the state of Texas. Perry's argument, which is really couched in economic terms, is more of the same lament coming from cultural conservatives for at least the last thirty years and going back even further if you really care to dig around.

The complaint, in cultural terms: humanities and social science programs are turning out people who hate America.

The complaint, in more economic terms: humanities and social science programs are turning out people who don't agree with global corporations' priorities.

However, it's always useful if you can make this a purely economic issue, and therefore claim that ideology has nothing to do with it. So Rick Perry has determined that universities cost too much because they're filled with unproductive majors and programs (e.g. humanities and social sciences) and really the place needs to be run like a business.

Perry, who at Texas A&M was a "yell leader," which is what the insecure-in-their-masculinity powers that be at Texas A&M call what most people in the country call a cheer leader (if, albeit, a specialized one), is taking direct aim at one of the few institutions in Texas with any credibility, the University of Texas.

Look, I can understand his envy. He went to a third-rate school and, like many Americans, doesn't like "high falutin' thinking." So what better way to exact revenge than to turn Texas higher education into glorified trade school? The University of Texas is in fact the only thing that makes Texas bearable. It is, if you will, a flower growing in an otherwise barren and inhospitable landscape.

Take away the University of Texas and most Americans wouldn't give a rat's ass if Texas left the Union, aside of course from those people trying to get from Louisiana to New Mexico who would now have to go around the third world country.

03 August 2011

Decline and fall.

It was 30 years ago this week that MTV started broadcasting. For those who don't remember, MTV stood for Music Television and it broadcast these things called music videos. It did this all day and all night. There were hosts called "VJs," for "video jockeys," who told viewers about the videos and the artists before or after the station played them. The whole thing was modeled on music-format radio.

Back in those days, MTV played a variety of artists, which didn't include rap or country. Once videos as a concept became more acceptable, videos became more sophisticated. Some of them received preambles to set the mood before the music actually began. Videos that consisted simply of live footage of a band became less frequent or developed a storyline of sorts (see Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark"). Finally, we arrived at the overblown production of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," a founding moment in which videos aspired to be something other than a visual rendering of a song. "Thriller" was a mini-movie, made all the more unbearable because its popularity meant it was on several times a day, eating up a good sixth of an hour every time it aired.

With no serious rivals, MTV consolidated its grip by offering niche shows, such as Yo! MTV Raps and 120 Minutes and the Headbangers Ball. In my opinion, 120 minutes soon became the only time it was worth it to watch MTV.

Then MTV started offering original programming such as game shows, expanded news, and cartoons. Reality shows soon followed. Music became less and less a part of the so-called Music Television's programming.

I have to admit that I rarely watched MTV after I was in high school/college, and when in high school I never watched it home because we didn't have that cable package, so my depth of personal knowledge and experience with MTV ends about a decade into its existence, with the last two decades of its life being categorized as occasional viewing. I know for instance that in the first Real World (I think) there was that annoying bike messenger named Puck and some guy with AIDS and some brunette who wore stupid clothes. However, I can't tell you how many Real Worlds there were.

The channel is clearly aimed at the young, and to an extent it's hilarious to hear people like me, people in their forties and/or late thirties, complaining about the format of a channel that's so clearly geared toward teenagers to early twenty-somethings. No one is stopping a rival from coming in to fill the gap left by MTV's abandoning of music videos.

Most of the people complaining about MTV's decline are probably people like me who complained bitterly back in the day about the crappy quality of the music that MTV did play. I hated almost all of the artists we associate with MTV-friendliness: Michael Jackson and Madonna first and foremost. MTV in its music phase was essentially a top 40 station that deigned to play outside its format on occasion.

It's really hard to measure decline when you're constantly running into references to its latter day output, from Jackass to Jersey Shore.

So MTV isn't what it was 30 years ago. So what?

01 August 2011

Chugging through the summer with literature.

For a summer course I'm teaching I just finished reading Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. It's an interesting text and like its predecessor, The Kite Runner, this novel is a real page turner. Hosseini knows how to pace a story and how to build suspense. His chapter breaks are impeccable.

Let me continue.

His character development is very good where it concerns the two main women of the novel, Mariam and Laila. It's not as good as developing the male characters in the text, but in part you could argue it's because the male characters do not develop at least as far as the women are concerned. Rasheed, who is probably the central male figure, is simply nasty. He enjoys his position as absolute lord over first Mariam and later Laila and Mariam. Since the story is told from the perspectives of the women, Rasheed essentially presents himself to them as an unquestionable overseer: he gives orders and they obey.

It's a harrowing story and I think an important one for us to understand U.S. cultural consumption of the last decade of the Afghanistan conflict. Both Hosseini's novels have been bestsellers; one has been turned into a film, while the other is in development. They certainly contain a narrative that American audiences (both liberal and conservative) can identify with: the Taliban were bad.

Of course the texts are more complex than that, but one theme they reinforce is the absolute tyranny of the Taliban rule. In The Kite Runner, the main problem one might have with the story is that its sympathies lie with a ruling elite that has lost power and been exiled...yes the Taliban are bad, but lingering at the back of the mind is that perhaps it was the excesses or blindness of the wealthy that made the Taliban possible.

A Thousand Splendid Suns
brings us much closer to what you might call "everyday experience," in that the two women come from markedly different backgrounds but neither is of the ruling elite. Mariam, the daughter of one of her father's servants, is born an outcast near Herat. Laila is the daughter of middle class parents in Kabul. When the middle-aged Rasheed marries the teenaged Mariam and brings her back to Kabul, it is to Laila's family's neighborhood that they move. Years later, when Laila's remaining family is killed in fighting between warring factions of warlords, Rasheed marries her, uniting both women under his oppressive rule.

You could argue with the ending, as things fall in place a bit too neatly and quickly, but the main interest I have in this novel is its place in our cultural memory. One thing that propelled these novels to best-seller status was their subject matter: the U.S. was and continues to be intimately involved in the affairs of Afghanistan. However, Hosseini does not offer easy solutions and no one comes out of his books unscarred.

Changed my clothes ten times before I take up my template...

Some of you may have noticed that my blog changed its look for the first time ever. That was something of an accident. All I wanted to do was get my charts to fit. They used to fit. No matter how inept I was, blogger always fixed the size of my pictures and charts so they fit in the main window.

No longer.

Apparently, some template change has my charts etc spilling over the margins into my housekeeping column. I am not happy about this feature.

I am also having difficulty returning to my original template without returning to some god-awful version of my blog layout and blogroll from 2006. All I want is Rounders 3 back.

It should be simple.

It probably is.

And no, I do not have the time to sit around coding this crap myself and I'm not at the moment interested in moving to a more professional self-publishing tool such as wordpress. I'm actually pretty happy with the crap I can do with blogger.

28 July 2011

Solving crises in under an hour.

I have a modest proposal to solve this debt ceiling crisis.

Here's a chart from the most modern of sources, Wikipedia, showing federal spending in 2010:

I'd like to take that big blue slice that's being hogged up by the military and cut it in half, but I know that's not very realistic. First of all, a good chunk of the money is spent on paying salaries to soldiers. A very small amount is spent on paying for veterans, and you can't cut that either -- and in fact as a percentage of military spending it's so scrooge-like it wouldn't make much of a difference to the overall problem of the deficit. So let's propose to cut a modest 20% from the military's chunk of the pie. Let's do it by forcing the military to adhere to the same austerity programs we force on education.

Beyond that, let's take a look at that big orange slice of pie called "discretionary spending." I would propose to eliminate every program currently in place in one of our free-loading states. The free-loading states are the ones that hog up more federal resources than they put in. Remember, we're talking states, so DC doesn't count in that equation. However, the major drains on our economy, such as Mississippi and New Mexico, can stop feeding at the federal trough.

Mississippi and New Mexico get two dollars back from the feds for every dollar they put in. Alabama gets 1.66 back. Alaska gets 1.84 back. Most of these states who are getting fat off the feds are the same ones who routinely elect people who are the most hostile toward Washington.

They're like house guests who invite themselves over then harangue you over how poor your cooking is and how uncomfortable your beds are, but they don't ever feel like doing the cooking or cleaning the house.

Seriously, if we could take these scroungers and make them pay their own way (ah, the irony of applying conservative rhetoric to "conservative" states), we'd save a hell of a lot of money. Do you know that outside of Texas and Florida, every state in the old Confederacy -- that bastion of anti-federal government politicians -- takes more money than they give? Do you know who foots the bill? Primarily the Northeast, upper Midwest, and California.

Let's stop paying their way.

27 July 2011

One of the great things about issuing yourself a challenge is that you can periodically review your progress or simply think a little bit about the past, present, and future.

I've challenged myself to post seventy times between Tuesday, July 26th, and December 31, 2011.

I see the high point of my blogging activity was 2006. I had 238 posts that year. That's nearly a post every weekday. The low point was 2010, where I managed a paltry 39 posts. That's fewer than one post a week.

I can see that my decline really began in the late spring of 2008. If it hadn't been for the election in the fall of 2008, I'd have struggled to distance myself from 100 posts. Outside of October and November 2008, which accounted for 56 of my posts that year, I had trouble breaking single digits for most of the year. Except for Oct and Nov, I didn't break 20 for any other single month in 2008.

The major reason for my decline, I think, is that I -- hopefully, temporarily -- moved from DC in fall of 2008. I knew I was moving in the spring of 2008, and so I had some trouble keeping my mind in the business of blogging. Although I don't write often about DC-specific topics, I have always viewed my blog as part of the DC blogosphere and linked very closely to that aspect of my life.

I'm still connected to the District. I'm still looking to return physically as well as mentally to our little inland colony.

Maybe I'm keeping this blog alive because it keeps me looking at other DC blogs.

Of course, it might also be that I'm just fed up again with all the BS the right wing and corporatist politicians are disseminating through the all-too-acquiescent media.

26 July 2011

The always classy Glenn Beck...

Apparently not understanding just how irrelevant he is beyond the reason-addled adherents of the Tea Party and white supremacist fringes, Glenn Beck decided that the Norway killings would be a good excuse to bring up Hitler yet again.

However, it wasn't the white supremacist killer that Beck had in mind when making his comparison. No, it was the murdered children whom Beck compared to adherents of Adolf Hitler, likening them to a sort of "Hitler Youth."

Sure, it's disgusting to anyone who can think straight, and sure, Beck's idiotic ramblings eventually got him kicked off Fox News (now there's some food for thought: the home of Sean Hannity couldn't stomach the Beck hate parade...well, more accurately they couldn't stomach the falling ratings and loss of advertising revenue), but Glenn Beck still draws a significant population of under-educated voters, who are very visible reminders that the US education system has a long way to go to develop critical thinking skills in its curriculum. Unfortunately, with the high-stakes testing regime ushered in by George W. Bush and enthusiastically nurtured by Barack Obama, we are going in the opposite direction.

I just noticed...

I posted as much during the month of July as I did for the entire first six months of the year! Sure, fifteen posts from January - June wasn't exactly a hard mark to beat, but now I can set my sights even higher.

I'm looking to eclipse my 39 post total from 2010. To sweeten the pot, I'll throw in the fifteen from January to June, and the fifteen from July so far, and this post as well, so the number to beat will be 70.

Seventy posts from now until December 31, 2011.

Five months to post seventy times.

Easy as cake, some of you might say. Circa 2008 I would agree with you, but lately I've had a habit of stopping for long periods of time.

Let's see what happens.

25 July 2011

It's hard to break old habits...

It might be Pavlovian, but then again it might be that dull simplicity that you see in cows as they move on the paths they've been shown and come to a dead halt when confronted with something new.

Here's the front page of Rupert Murdoch's Sun on Saturday, July 23, the day after the Norway killings:

Now why the hell would The Sun, Murdoch's popular British rag, print such a ridiculous headline? Probably for the same reason that the racist Right in the US immediately jumps to blame Muslims (or Latinos or unions, etc.) for tragedies. For examples of which, simply read the comments section of Washington Post articles on the killings -- preferably the articles from Friday, when no one was sure who had done it. Or maybe I should say, when no one actually knew who had done it -- because these racist yahoos were pretty damn sure they knew who had done it, just as Murdoch's tabloid was certain.

And of course, you have the "experts" called in by the various television media, such as Cliff May, the president of the "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies," which despite its nice name often aligns itself with police-state reactions to unrest and overall has a xenophobic attitude. On Bloomberg/Washington Post, May immediately responds with a list of Norway's "enemies," all of which are connected in some way to so-called Islamic interests, and after giving that some expansion, he finishes up with "it may not be any of that, of course." Why was this idiot given air time?

We really don't need the sort of "analysis" that either May or Conley provides. Anyone can sit in a chair and speculate without providing any evidence. It's called fanning the flames of ignorance.

It isn't helpful.

21 July 2011

Couldn't stand the weather.

Who's blogging about the heat?

Yeah, I know. It's hot out there. End of story.

20 July 2011

Closed Borders (a follow up)

Yesterday, I wrote about the demise of the Borders Books and Music chain, but I mainly concentrated on my first encounter with what became, for a brief time, a behemoth of books.

As amazed as I was by that first encounter and the idea that it was possible to go into a huge bookstore, sit down in the philosophy section, and browse around for hours without anyone bothering you, I actually tried my best to support local booksellers.

So many of those booksellers are gone. Chapters, which had been on K Street before moving to 11th Street, had tried appealing to its customers for donations of a sort and clung to life for a few years before it had to close up. They had a tremendous selection of poetry, and every April you could I believe buy two poetry collections and get one free. Plus, I saw Brock Clarke read from his first novel, The Ordinary White Boy, one winter night in Chapters.

I mentioned Vertigo Books yesterday. They were in Dupont Circle, just south of the Circle on Connecticut Avenue before relocating to College Park, MD, in 2001. In 2009, they closed for good. Great cultural studies section and interesting authors coming to speak.

How many others? Sisterspace and Books as well as Prometheus Books on U Street. Sidney Kramer Books on I Street (Sidney's son opened up Kramerbooks and Afterwards in Dupont -- still a vibrant place...mainly because of the food and hooking up opportunities).

It's true that DC hasn't been all loss; Busboys and Poets is an addition, but I don't think anyone would argue that the bookstore component could stand on its own...the wait time for a table alone provides an impetus to purchase a book or magazine so you have something to do for the next hour.

19 July 2011

Run for the Borders.

What a short, strange trip it's been.

When I was a young lad, oh let's say 19 or 20, I had never heard of this bookstore called Borders. I was from a little town in Pennsylvania, went to a not so little school in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, and was pretty happy with the little bookshop that had recently expanded in the downtown area.

However, visiting friends in Washington, DC, one year in either the late 1980's or early 1990's, sometime between 1989 and 1991 let's say, my one friend told me I had to visit this place called Borders.

There was only one in the area, I think. If I recall correctly it was out in Bethesda or Friendship Heights. Back then, my knowledge of DC geography was very spotty.

I was amazed that a supermarket of books existed.

I think the largest bookstore I'd ever been in to that date was the Ollsson's on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown, one of the first casualties in that ill-fated local chain's demise.

Fast forward a few years, and I've moved to DC. I was a graduate student at a school in Foggy Bottom and a Borders opened up on 19th and L. It was a great place to go to kill time before or after class, and of course to buy books, although once I discovered the great local bookstores, I spent less and less time buying books at Borders.

Many of those local bookstores were done in not so much by Borders -- although they played a part -- as by Barnes and Noble, which aggressively moved into DC, and the pressures everyone faced from online retailers like Amazon. Vertigo Books in Dupont Circle was one of my favorites.

I'm pleased that Bridge Street Books in Georgetown -- my personal favorite -- continues.

So now all the Borders will be shuttered. What do we do with these hulking beasts on the periphery of our cities and towns? Link