28 July 2011
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
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
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'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
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
20 July 2011
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
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?
18 July 2011
Shortly afterward, down went Les Hinton.
Over the weekend, the head of Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson resigned.
This morning, Scotland Yard's John Yates resigned.
And if you parse Paul Stephenson's resignation statement, we're talking about issues that could touch the Prime Minister.
However, in the US, the Murdoch-controlled media refuses to acknowledge that anything important has happened or is happening.
We're beyond talking about Murdoch's minions resigning from their media perches. We're talking about top law officials in a relatively respected foreign country having to relinquish their posts. Although analogies always limp, Stephenson's resignation would be akin to the head of the FBI stepping down in the U.S.
Still, the Murdoch lie machine churns on Stateside, with the Wall Street Journal, a relatively recent Murdoch acquisition trying to deflect attention from their owner's criminal activity and instead arguing that this event -- the event that has caused two top law officials to step down, been the subject of hearings in Parliament, and has even caused an ostensibly contrite Murdoch to apologize to some of his victims -- is really about circulation numbers and ideological distaste for Murdoch's right wing media conglomerate.
Americans by and large will probably pay little attention to this mess. Fox News is hardly covering it, and when they do, it's mainly to dismiss it as overblown media hype, a minor incident that isn't really important, which is much how they would likely have reported on Watergate had they been around then: a minor burglary, committed by a few rogue operatives, who are being punished...what's the fuss?
NewsCorp's most damaging problem in the US will most likely be the bribing of foreign officials. It's not good enough for the WSJ, whose editorial team has always been ideological hacks whose ethical brain zones either never developed properly or were killed off years ago, to argue that "everyone pays for stories...so who cares" when that argument won't even get you out of a speeding ticket. Besides, we aren't talking about paying some celebrity for a scoop (or better yet paying a friend of the celebrity for a scoop); we're talking about paying bribes to the police. We're talking about official corruption.
We're talking, in short, of criminal activities and criminals.
15 July 2011
On the Fox and Friends show[*], Fox journalist Steve Doocy wondered just what the fuss was all about: "The company has come forward and said: 'look, this happened a long time ago, at a tabloid, in London, somebody did something really bad,' and the company reacted. They closed that newspaper, all the people got fired, even though 99 percent of them had nothing to do with it."
Doocy's guest, public relations consultant Robert Dilenschneider, was in agreement:
"If I am not mistaken, Murdoch, who owns it, has apologised but for some reason, the public, the media keeps on going over this, again and again. It's a little bit too much."
"The bigger issue is hacking and how we as a public are going to protect outselves," said Dilenschneider, who earlier listed a number of US companies which had recently become the targets of hacking.
Doocy added later: "One of the things about the media, you look at some sites and you would think that martians had landed in New Jersey - again"
Right. Because hacking over an extended period of time into the voice mail of celebrities, royalty, politicians, crime victims, and dead soldiers really isn't a big deal. Forget the fact that the people responsible for these crimes were rewarded with promotion within their criminal organization. Let's focus on the fact that we're all in danger from hacking...not that Murdoch's minions are the ones who have been caught doing the hacking.
And what the hell does he mean by "a long time ago"? For most people, "a long time ago" is in a "galaxy far far away." We're talking last decade.
And "somebody did something really bad"? Is he explaining this event to a five year old (well, given the IQ of the Fox audience, maybe)? And it wasn't "somebody": it was "somebodies," including but not limited to the head of Murdoch's UK News International. We aren't talking about the secretary stealing office supplies. We're talking about corporate criminals engaged in ongoing illegal invasions of privacy and electronic eavesdropping.
Seriously, Steve Doocy can't be called anything resembling a journalist. Dog shit is actually too noble to be muddied by association with that scumbag's name.
How stupid are Americans that Fox News can continue to dominate news ratings?
[*following long-standing policy, I tend not to link to hate groups]
However, a lot of people do live those lives -- at least the dating part of it -- and they like to blog about it. I mean, why not? It's a central part of being human.
I don't habitually read these blogs, but I do read them on occasion, at least the more well-written ones. I do read DC Blogs, which is a tremendous resource. And on DC Blogs I found a link to Date Me, DC! and a really, I think, important topic: Figuring out just what the hell "No" means. Apparently for some it's a difficult lesson.
To read some relatively popular blogs that have been around a while, "No" is more or less the start of negotiations. Not their preferred start, but still a start and not an ending. Those who disagree either "don't have game" or are "betas." Perhaps.
However, to read Date Me, DC!, it seems like some people might not find it much of a fun game.
14 July 2011
Nevertheless, Fox News claimed to be the center and cast CNN as the left, when in reality it was CNN running a corporate journalist center while Fox allowed themselves a very partisan voice on the right. That much is old news and goes many times over to show that most people can't tell naked partisan reporting from reporting that, while still implicated in all sorts of biases, attempts to tell the story honestly, i.e. traditional journalism as taught in schools and the old school news rooms.
Fox News didn't invent such distortions, of course. William Randolph Hearst famously (perhaps apocryphally) said, "You supply the pictures, I'll supply the war." And Hearst had enormous influence through his media empire, just as Murdoch does today. I imagine Hearst may have been capable of tapping phone lines of not only celebrities, but also of crime victims, dead soldiers' families, and politicians. Hearst may also have been capable of bribing police for inside information.
We know Murdoch is capable of such things.
Murdoch will predictably argue that he had no idea what his underlings were doing. He will predictably point the finger at "rogue" elements within his empire. That was the strategy during the first fall out from the News of the World phone tapping scandals, when most of the UK thought only celebrities and footballers were targeted. Rogue elements, acting without authorization, Murdoch et al argued, were responsible for these criminal activities. However, this latest scandal directly implicates Rupert Murdoch's son James and the head of his UK branch, Rebekah Brooks. The Guardian has a great timeline here.
11 July 2011
The third thing was volunteering, but I was volunteering to sell the baked goods that I was baking. That's the connection I was talking about.
I graded three sets of papers, one set of annotated bibliographies, and about seven sets of discussions over the weekend, beginning on Thursday. I was in that situation because I am something of a procrastinator when it comes to grading, so although I was giving feedback on projects throughout, I hadn't exactly sat down to assign formal grades to things.
And yes, I know I posted on both the grading and the baking earlier on. I'm now providing the post mortem.
The grading was miserable. I hate it. However, I dutifully plugged along and took the punishment for those weeknights during the semester that I decided sleeping was more important than grading a bit here and there (it also didn't help that I went to Seattle toward the end of the first summer session to attend a wedding...traveling is not good for my grading motivation).
The baking on the other hand, while exhausting, was a joy. It was so enjoyable in fact that following Friday night, when my pies and cookies sold at a brisk clip, I went home and baked two more pies and a few more dozen cookies. This time I rose to the challenge of a friend and produced a vegan apple pie, which essentially meant I didn't use any butter or margarine, as that's the only animal product in a fruit pie. Instead of butter/margarine (margarine contains whey, which is made of milk, so it's not vegan...something I learned this weekend), I used Crisco baking sticks with "buttery" taste.
Mm-Hmm. If they say so.
Although I didn't like it nearly so much as the butter-laden regular dough, the all vegetable shortening dough was not bad (may I never say that loud enough for Julia Child to overhear me in the Hall of the Kitchen Gods). The filling is absolutely the same: apples, flour, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and cinnamon.
I feel a great sense of accomplishment today, having both turned in my grades and sold off the baked goods, and look forward to turning my eye to more important matters such as John Boehner's tan and Michele Bachmann's pledge to oligarchy.
08 July 2011
OK, I'm not being terribly honest.
I knew for a few weeks that I was going to be baking last night. I volunteered to supply a few baked goods to a charity sale for the local library, and so my baking wasn't this time a reaction to the impending doom of turning in my grades.
Sorry I don't have pictures.
However, I baked three apple pies. Two are double crust and one is crumb-top. The apples are braeburn and I dice them up pretty well, although I always leave a few larger chunks. I was planning on one double crust and two crumb-tops, but I had so much dough that I went with the two double-crusts. Good dough. I use the Julia Child recipe from The Way to Cook. I highly recommend it.
There's something nice and simple about flour, butter, vegetable shortening, sugar, salt, and water.
Between making the pie dough and actually filling and baking the pies, I made cookies. Three dozen are chocolate chip and three dozen are chocolate chip with walnuts. My cookies come out flat and crispy. They come out exactly like my grandmother's in fact, a point that mystifies my mother and aunt. I don't do anything special; I use The Joy of Cooking recipe.
The kids are a bit upset right now because they're not allowed to have any of the cookies.
07 July 2011
I understand that's probably not a novel confession. I think it's universally reviled as the most annoying thing about teaching. It must, however, get done.
I have a whole slew of grades due on July 11, as the first summer session has ended, and I am not really interested in getting through the grades. I'm five days out (sort of), so you think it's no big deal. Yeah, I hear that voice, too. It drowns out the more reasonable voice that knows my schedule and what happens to time on weekends and realizes that today and tomorrow are probably the best chances I have to get these grades done.
The main problem I have with grading is coming up with concise comments. I tend to overwrite my comments, and that kills my efficiency. According to research, comments are not as helpful as teachers intend them to be (at least on my typical assignments, which don't allow revision). The typical student apparently glances through the comments and gets to the grade and that's that. I wasn't a typical student, I suppose, because I loved to read the comments if they were good and I felt a significant sense of discomfort if they were bad.
And when possible, I took them to heart and strove to fix problems the next time around.
Comments are to an extent important, even if they don't improve the student in the way we intend; comments indicate to the student that you actually did reflect on their work and in the case of the few who do see their academic work -- even in core classes a world away from their majors -- as important to their future as "college educated adults," then it makes a difference for their next paper. The research jury, as with so many things in social sciences, is still out.
You know, it's a lot more fun to write about grading than to grade.
06 July 2011
If we don't see better in the quarters, it's going to be one and done.
05 July 2011
When I was a kid if you tried to go anywhere on the 4th of July and buy stuff, you would be, as they say in Virginia, SOL. We had respect for holidays. However, we've managed to turn most of our holidays into excuses to consume, so it makes sense that the day off (for office workers and government employees) is pretty much nothing more than an extra day to shop.
The summer is marked by the three major holidays devoted to grilling: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. The gods of charred meat are honored on these days.
We didn't char any meat yesterday, mainly because on the 2nd I'd charred about 50 burgers (beef and turkey) and a dozen chicken legs and that I think was enough of an offering. Yesterday we grilled veggie burgers and corn.
But I digress.
Just about everything is open on the 4th these days. True, many mom and pop joints close down, but even one of the local guitar shops was open like it was any other day. There's a sad feel in these big box stores (for instance Target) on holidays, because the aisles are full of holiday related material that didn't sell and will soon be on clearance, and the workers are already setting up the next big shopping event.
In Target's case, that event is back to school. The backpacks, notebooks, pens, pencils, and glue are all positioned for maximum visibility at the end of the long wide aisle (a bit like a major Parisian boulevard) that divides the housewares from the groceries/junk food. We turned the corner from the toothpaste and laxatives and our son looked down that long gleaming aisle and let out a very audible "ugh" as he spied the huge "back to school" banner and the backpacks hung high over the aforementioned orderly rows of school supplies.
Talk about killing the holiday spirit.
02 July 2011
The story is based on trust, or confidence, and the necessity as well as danger of confidence.
It is, I have decided, not a text to be served up to freshmen in an introductory literature course.
Introductory lit students seem to think the text is plotless, and to an extent it is, and they view that as a great fault, which it can be but isn't always, and I would say that by and large they are not fans of the book.
One of my students, however, did me the great honor of giving me her copy of the book after class: it was the Norton Critical Edition, whereas the official book was the Penguin edition. Now for those of you who aren't in the know, the NCE is a series that includes not only the text of the book with explanatory notes, but also several essays about the author and/or the text. They're very nice scholarly editions, so I appreciated that gift, even though it also told me that the student didn't see much value in keeping the book.
I have a few books that I've decided need to be reserved for more advanced students. Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! are among those books. I also don't think I would surprise them with anything of Toni Morrison's beyond Beloved (although I might think about Jazz). Sula, on the other hand, is a great introduction to Morrison.
I will continue to teach Melville in the introduction to American lit, but it will most likely be my favorite, "Benito Cereno," or "Billy Budd." Maybe Typee.
01 July 2011
Strauss-Kahn, if you recall, never denied having sex with the maid. He never said "I did not have sex with that woman" as some other famous leaders have been known to say. However, he alleged the sex was consensual. The maid alleged rape.
It looked pretty dark for the DSK, and the story had all the makings of a TV or movie crime drama: wealthy privileged man takes advantage of lowly support staff on the margins of society. Surely in most crime dramas, the man would be convicted after having used his wealth and power to try to escape, only to find justice prevail in the end...cue courtroom steps scene of victorious lawyers wearily asking each other if they'd like a drink.
Our dear recently departed Peter Falk could have made mincemeat of the DSK stand-in during another installment of the best detective show ever, Columbo.
And of course, even in the cop shows where the good guys don't always win, such as Law and Order, the audience would still be left with the impression that the bad guy got away with something, that he's still guilty as sin but that money and power can sometimes buy the verdict, a message hammered home in so many Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett tales.
Alas, we don't even have the luxury of moral if not judicial superiority, as the case appears to be so completely done for that DSK's story may in fact be the true one. Certainly the report that she consulted a jailed drug dealer friend on the financial windfall that could occur should she press charges makes her look, um, a bit unreliable.
So we still have the story of the power broker and the maid, but that's about it.