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.