Because I don't post enough silly stuff on this blog:

A Debate on Female Genital Mutilation?

There's a debate on this?

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized “feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage.”

I bolded the most significant aspect of that statement--as an adult. Most of the time, as I understand it, this is not a procedure done on adults. It just so happens that we covered Marge Piercy's "The Moon Is Always Female" in my poetry classes today, and I'd like to excerpt it here.
If you are a woman you feel the knife in the words.
If you are a man, then at age four or else
at twelve you are seized and held down
and your penis is cut off. You are left
your testicles but they are sewed to your
crotch. When your spouse buys you, you
are torn or cut open so that your precious
semen can be siphoned out, but of course
you feel nothing. But pain. But pain.

If Dr. Ahmadu wants to cut parts of her clitoris off as part of her cultural heritage, that her choice as an adult. I feel the same way about that as I do breast implants, tattoos, and piercings--your body, your choice. But you don't get to make that kind of choice, not one so life-altering as a clitoridectomy, for a four year old, no matter how acceptable your culture says it is.

And to call it female circumcision is intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind.

Reading early Wonder Woman, part one of a series

Okay, so Bradley’s committed me to this – we’ve been talking about it for a while. The early appearances of Wonder Woman are too much fun to neglect. She’s a powerful figure – and a far cry from the hyper-sexualized character that most people reading the comic today see.

(I hope to write about most of the comics in the first volume of the Wonder Woman Archives, so we’ll see how this goes.)

Wonder Woman first appeared in the December 1941-January 1942 issue of All Star Comics (no. 8), which gives some background on her origin. Wonder Woman was a princess on Paradise Island, the Amazonian stronghold ruled by Hippolyte. When the young princess – who has fallen in love with the downed American pilot Steve Trevor – asks her mother about men and their world, Hippolyte reveals the ways that the Amazons had previously interacted with men. She recounts her battle against Hercules, the loss of her magic girdle to him, the subsequent enslavement of all of the Amazons, and their eventual escape.

Those bracelets that all of the women of Paradise Island wear are intended to be reminders that they – as Queen Hippolyte explains – “must always keep aloof from men,” because when they do not, men will put them in chains. Those bracelets are reminders of the bondage that men use to oppress women in what the comic describes as “The man-made world.”

And it is that world of men that William Moulton Marston (writing under the pen name Charles Moulton) found a failure. While Wonder Woman gives up her heritage and eternal life to escort Steve Trevor back to a United States in the midst of World War II, she does not do it merely to "catch a man" (more on that idea in a future post). She certainly loves him – and Marston clearly thinks the love is an important factor in life. But she also adopts the United States as her homeland, a nice piece of propaganda during the war. But it's not just an adopted patriotism: in the second appearance of Wonder Woman, Moulton explains that

Like the crash of thunder from the sky comes the Wonder Woman, to save the world from the hatreds and wars of men in a man-made world! And what a woman! A woman with the eternal beauty of Aphrodite and the wisdom of Athena – yet whose lovely form hides the agility of Mercury and the steel sinews of a Hercules! Who is Wonder Woman? Why does she fight for America? … The Amazon maid Diana fell in love with Captain Trevor, and decided to bring him back to America and help him wage battle for freedom, democracy, and womankind thru-out the world!


Wonder Woman is fantastic in these initial comics. She’s powerful and compassionate – and clever.

Next time, I’ll talk about Wonder Woman’s fashion sense (seriously, she’s got some good stuff to say about the clothes that women wear…)

cross posted at The Seacost of Bohemia

This Shouldn't Bother Me, But...

Bill O'Reilly's debating Alf tonight. I guess he's trying to regain credibility or something.

Stuff Worth Reading and a Random Ten

I don't quite have it in me to type up a proper post at the moment-- I kinda want to write about Wonder Woman gettings its first woman ongoing writer in its 66 years of publishing history, but I think Emily's preparing a thoughtful post about the original Wonder Woman comics of the early 40s-- back before the character became a violent, sexist fantasy figure-- so I think maybe I'll wait until she's talked about the character's past to talk about the present and future.

Bob Moser has written a fantastic article in The Nation (reprinted at AlterNet) about the Democratic Party's decision to disenfranchise Florida voters. I thought if I read the article, I'd understand the issue in a new light, and I do-- Democrats are stupid.

(Okay, that's not quite the case, but in this instance, put the Jim Belushi CD in the player and pass the corndogs-- we're having a stupid party!)

S.J. has written an eloquent post about censorship, librarians, and people who "challenge" books. Challenging books. Christ. We must have a better word to describe this process. I mean, Rocky was a challenger. These people are villainous illiterates. Why describe what they do in terms that could possible be construed as noble? From now on, when I read about someone trying to get a book banned, I'm going to refer to it as "assaulting."

Teh Portly Dyke has, once again, elevated the tone by writing about why so-called progressive white bloggers are still reluctant to talk about race. Well-reasoned, well-written, important stuff.

And you can still vote in my "What dead nonfiction writer would you like to have a meal with?" poll over at my creative nonfiction blog The Ethical Exhibitionist.

Okay. Random Ten time. Shuffle... music player. Record... top ten. Marvel at... how much Journey you actually own.

1) Morrissey-- "How Could Anybody Possible Know How I Feel?"
2) Queen-- "Flash's Theme" (awesome!)
3) Me First and the Gimme Gimmes-- "Leaving on a Jet Plane"
4) Warren Zevon-- "Splendid Isolation"
5) Reel Big Fish-- "Good Thing"
6) James-- "Tomorrow"
7) Ron Sexsmith-- "I Don't Like Mondays"
8) The Velvet Underground-- "Here She Comes"
9) Electric Six-- "The Usual"
10) Len-- "Steal My Sunshine" (shut up-- you know it's cool)

A new tagline and the Random Ten

About a week and a haf ago, I asked for suggestions for a new tagline for the blog, in part because I'd become disappointed with Barack Obama's rhetoric on Social Security. Well, after reading the new Krugman last night, I decided to go ahead and make a change, and in consultation with Amy, came up with what you see above, which is obviously a direct theft from Oscar Wilde. If you're going to steal, steal well, I say.

Krugman is hitting Obama again, and hard, for his rhetoric on health coverage. Let me start by saying that I think it's awesome that we've gotten to the point in the debate where the candidates are arguing over the details of the plans, and not over the need for a plan in the first place. And if Krugman is accurately describing Obama's plan, then he's exactly right here. It has major flaws, an certainly is not superior to either the Edwards or Clinton plans. Krugman starts on the explanation this way:

The central question is whether there should be a health insurance “mandate” — a requirement that everyone sign up for health insurance, even if they don’t think they need it. The Edwards and Clinton plans have mandates; the Obama plan has one for children, but not for adults.

Why have a mandate? The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they’re currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it.

And it’s not just a matter of principle. As a practical matter, letting people opt out if they don’t feel like buying insurance would make insurance substantially more expensive for everyone else.

He's limited by space, and I'm less so, so I'll elaborate on what he's talking about a bit. If you let healthy people opt out, then the ratio of people who are paying for insurance and people who are using it approaches 1, and there's no savings involved. The only way a system keeps costs for the consumer low is if you have people paying in who aren't going to use the system very much.

But wait, you say, that's unfair to those people who are healthy--you're forcing them to pay for other people's health care. Yes, just like we force people who never get robbed to pay for police protection or people who never drive to pay for roads. It's a societal good to have everyone able to get high-quality health care, even if some people rarely use it.

And then there's the "shit happens" factor. Any one of us can be hit by a car, or fall down a flight of stairs, or have some sort of catastrophic accident which is neither our fault nor could be avoided or planned for. I don't have the figures, but the vast majority of money paid out in health care claims is taken up by a relative handful of cases--that's why they're called catastrophic injuries. The 50 or 100 or 500 people who never get badly ill are paying for the care of that one person who did, and while you may think that sucks if you're paying for something you never use, think about how glad you'd be if it were you facing the catastrophic costs of a major injury.

It's called empathy--the ability to see beyond the orbit of your own ass.

My complaints with all these plans is that they don't go far enough. I'd like to see the power of insurance companies in this country destroyed, and I'd like a government-run, single payer, not-for-profit universal health care system, and I think we'll get there, once we've put the early stages in place. But it has to have everyone involved right from the beginning. No exceptions.

Here's the Random Ten, and despite the time stamp on this post, I'm running behind now, so no time for pithy remarks about my questionable taste in music. Or yours. Here we go.
1. Gone Daddy Gone--Violent Femmes
2. Way Down Here Without You--Superdrag
3. Box of Rain--Grateful Dead
4. Let Me Clear My Throat--DJ Kool featuring Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie
5. Wires and Watchtowers--Thievery Corporation
6. The Harbor Is Yours--Aesop Rock
7. Uh Oh Plutonium--Anne Waldman
8. Stakalee--Dr. JOhn
9.Crooked Frame--Alejandro Escovedo
10. Portland--Loretta Lynn

What's on your player today?

A note to my students

No matter how much I support the writer's strike, I won't take this as an excuse.

Avoid hard questions: give fashion advice instead

I resurface for the moment to share this with you. From The Chronicle of Higher Education's elections blog:

At the event, Brent Igo, an assistant professor of psychology at Clemson, asked Mr. McCain whether he’d consider someone a terrorist for researching the events of September 11, 2001, according to the AP. He said he wanted the candidate to weigh in on federal legislation that Mr. Igo believes could threaten such academic work.

In his response to Mr. Igo, Mr. McCain commented on the attire of the professor, who wore a gray sports jacket over a pink knit shirt with jeans and tennis shoes, the AP said.

“From the sneakers, you’re not a snappy dresser,” the senator was quoted as saying. “That doesn’t mean you’re a terrorist. You terrorize the senses.”



The original AP story is here.

I will admit that academics are not always the best dressed, but then again we have to dress ourselves. Still, the use of "fashion commentary" to dodge a question is irritating at best, since the issue is serious.

Eric Schlosser

Is one of my favorite writers. Yes, I am one of those people for whom reading Fast Food Nation was a life-changing event. (I never saw the film; was it good?) I also read portions of his newer book, Reefer Madness -- the portions on migrant laborers.

His new op-ed in the NY Times strikes especially close to home, being as it is about a local corporation (Burger King is a SoFla Co, if you didn't know), and a major local issue: the near-enslavement of migrant workers -- most of whom are here illegally, making them vulnerable to abuses unimaginable to those of us whom fortune has bestowed with "legality."

Migrant farm laborers have long been among America’s most impoverished workers. Perhaps 80 percent of the migrants in Florida are illegal immigrants and thus especially vulnerable to abuse. During the past decade, the United States Justice Department has prosecuted half a dozen cases of slavery among farm workers in Florida. Migrants have been driven into debt, forced to work for nothing and kept in chained trailers at night.
Andrew Cockburn's 2003 National Geographic article "21st Century Slaves" affected me so much I actually taught from it one semester. Click those links and the first thing you'll see is that, "There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade." We understandably think of slavery as a 19th Century issue, but slavery goes on today, and the Abolitionist movement is nowhere to be found. In part, that's because slavery's gone underground. You might see six enslaved men carted down I-95 in the back of a pickup truck, but how would you know they were slaves? We assume it doesn't exist, and so we don't see it. One of the stories (not accessible on the online version) told by Cockburn is of a trailer full of men in chains, in Florida, men literally enslaved, that was kept right beside the entrance to a lovely gated community. People drove past slavery every day on their way to and from their own homes, and did not see it.

So I was really pleased to see that the plight of the enslaved was mentioned by Schlosser as well. My almost-finished novel, which is based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, but set in Southwest Florida, uses this very setting: it takes place on a sugar plantation staffed by illegal migrant workers. Because the workers have no rights, it gives the story that aristocratic flavor (a Duke, a Countess, their powerless servants) found in Shakespeare's original.

So the real point of Schlosser's op-ed...

In 2005, Florida tomato pickers gained their first significant pay raise since the late 1970s when Taco Bell ended a consumer boycott by agreeing to pay an extra penny per pound for its tomatoes, with the extra cent going directly to the farm workers. Last April, McDonald’s agreed to a similar arrangement, increasing the wages of its tomato pickers to about 77 cents per bucket. But Burger King, whose headquarters are in Florida, has adamantly refused to pay the extra penny — and its refusal has encouraged tomato growers to cancel the deals already struck with Taco Bell and McDonald’s.
...is about much more than just whether or not the most poorly-paid and abused people in Florida are going to get a tiny hike in pay, or have their previous tiny hikes maliciously taken away. It's about the rights of human beings to be free. The best way to free the people who are currently literally enslaved is to improve the working conditions of the migrant workers as a whole, the piece-pay slaves; The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is the most awe-inspiring group of any kind in America. This is the most powerless group of people taking on the tallest climb against the greatest opponents, surrounded by not just the indifference but the outright ignorance of the American people. What, here, slavery?

Making things worse, many Americans decry "illegal immigrants" as though they are some other type of human, as though this entire continent weren't snatched violently from its native people, as though this society weren't built on the sweat of the enslaved and near-enslaved, as though every group that came here wasn't, at first, seen as some kind of "scourge": the poor white trash ("Polacks," "Micks," "Bohemians," "Kikes") from Europe.

Just as Irish children worked in textile mills in New England two centuries ago, Salvadoran children work in tomato fields in Florida. Invisible, unschooled, without rights. A sub-class of people. "Illegal" people. The future will be made of their descendants, and those descendants may be proud of their ancestors' struggles, or may forget them, or may complain about the latest "scourge," like their rights go without saying and the new people's rights are a deeply offensive cut to their hearts.

What most offends me is when people who claim to be "Christians" become hatefully righteous and indignant, apparently putting their "love" of law above their love and compassion for their fellow human beings in need (I have a student who is a very public Christian who recently railed to me about those horrible "illegals" and I had to hold my breath to keep from throwing him out a window) -- what would Jesus think of that? If Jesus were alive today, he'd be walking the tomato fields, ministering to the people who need it, and condemning the Burger King eating, public-praying, money-counting, law-loving Hypocrites.

So would it kill you to boycott Burger King? Maybe write a letter? Maybe show up at Burger King headquarters in Miami tomorrow to protest? Get involved! Where have all the abolitionists gone? Just a thought.

Make Love Fuck War
or
"MO-BEE P-E! MO-BEE P-E!"


Love this song...

And on a lighter note

The 9 Most badass Bible verses. Apparently Cracked doesn't suck anymore. Who knew?

Whoa there fella

Trapper John, a front-pager over at the home of of our liberal overlord, the Great Orange Satan, is a terrific blogger, but I think he's gotten a little overly excited about the news that Rudy Giuliani was billing NYC taxpayers for his illicit booty calls.

Beginning tonight, Rudy is more likely than not done as a serious candidate.

Barring a remarkable explanation from the Giuliani campaign or a superlatively craven trad med press meltdown, Rudy's campaign is likely to be destroyed by this story. Two things capture the American attention like no other: sex and money. Only scandals involving sex or money garner any serious public interest. Even then, a money scandal without sex leads most Americans to yawn. And dogged persistence can outlast most sex scandals (see Vitter, David). But when you combine the two -- when you add adultery to misappropriation of taxpayer money -- magical things happen. It's like that beautiful chemical reaction when heat, yeast, and sugar meet. There's an unusual smell, then lots of hot air, and then everything blows up real big. People can't turn their eyes away from the unholy marriage of lust and lucre. And no amount of 9/11ing can distract the attention of a wild-eyed press from the shame.

First of all, Trapper, you should know better than to underestimate the ability of Republicans to ignore anything inconvenient. But my second reason is even simpler: Troopergate. It doesn't matter that Troopergate wound up not being a scandal--something it had in common with most of the other Clinton scandals--that story had everything this story has: the abuse of executive power, the use of public money and public servants to facilitate an illicit affair--and even better, in 1993, it involved a Democrat that the press didn't like.

So why on earth would Trapper John think that the press, which has had a hard-on for Giuliani since sometime in mid-September 2001, would suddenly go gunning for him now, especially when his competition for the Republican nomination is, well, pathetic?

Besides, as Atrios likes to say, everything that happens is good for the Republicans.

Carson Daly: More of a Jerk-off Than You Thought

Sure, we've all known since the early 90s that Carson Daly was a no-talent douche. And we've probably always suspected that he was kind of an asshole-- I mean, he just looks like an asshole, doesn't he? Like some weird creation somewhere in the labs of MTV-- some bland nobody who's just attractive enough to convince braindead teenagers that he's "hip" and an authority on what's "cool."

So it should come as no surprise to learn that Darson Daly is not only the first late-night talk show host to return to the air in the midst of the writer's strike-- he's also trying to get his friends and family to write his show for him while the strike is going on. He's set up a hotline so that people he knows can call and leave jokes that he can play on his show-- comedy without writers, ya dig?

"... I don't have any writers working," his email says, "and hosting a latenight show without them will be nearly impossible for me." Well, gosh. I can't believe that the inconvenience factor didn't occur to those selfish writers! I mean, when you think about it, it is "nearly impossible" to have a television show when the writers are on strike! Jeepers creepers, what were they thinking?

Asshat.

Anyway. The hotline is available at the bottom of the email, which you'll find by clicking on the link above. In case you have any good jokes like "How many MTV douchebags does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" or something.

Don't turn around

This augurs well...

We Never Just Talk Anymore, Do We?

It occured to me tonight that Emily and I haven't actually had an evening out with other people (aside from my family, who came to town for Thanskgiving last week) since Halloween. This, of course, is the time of year when we regularly turn into hermits-- there's grading to be done, abstracts to write (for her), letters of recommendation to compose (for me), and next semester to plan (or at least think about). Add to that my recent thyroid difficulties (which, I'm afraid to say, wound up getting worse again before they got better), and, well... We're really hermits this year.

So in an effort to reach out to the rest of the world, I thought I'd open up a discussion-- sort of like I did months ago after I read John McNally's When I Was a Loser collection. This time, I'm reading David Shields's Remote, which explores the impact our culture (mostly of the "pop" variety) and various forms of media have impacted and constructed the author's identity.

So my question to all of you is, what pieces of pop culture debris have had the greatest impact on your life? And don't try to get all intellectual on us here-- I want to hear about the crap. The pleasures you don't feel remotely guilty about, but that you call "guilty pleasures" anyway."

It's a tough one for me. I love horror movies and soap operas and message boards devoted to horror movies and soap operas. But I think, more than anything else, superhero comic books of the late seventies and the eighties have had a more profound impact on my life and identity than any of the other worthless crap I've absorbed like some type of flushed-away sponge. When I was little, I learned to read with The Incredible Hulk and Batman and the Outsiders. As I got older, I became pegged as a "geek" (and hung out with fellow geeks) because of Justice League and Flash collections. And even now, after I've graded a stack of student essays and have done all the assigned reading for the rest of the week, I reward myself by reading Batman in the Sevnties or Essential X-Men until I fall asleep.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't have much use for most comic books produced after 1992 or so. I don't know why that is, except that most of the "mainstream" comic books produced today are written by guys around my age or a little bit older who firmly believe that comics should be written for the same audience that buys Dennis Lehane novels and watches Quentin Tarantion movies-- grim, violent fantasies of suffering and righteous retribution. Bah. Who needs that? I'd much rather read about the Flash, using his cosmic treadmill to achieve speeds fast enough to travel through time in order to prevent Gorilla Grodd from conquering the future. Or the past. Doesn't matter. It's totally awesome either way.

You know I'm right.

So, what gets stuck in your imagination, even when you're trying to think deeper thoughts?

Forty Least HipHop Moments

Brought to you by VH1.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Side note: This is what happens when I'm alone at the apartment and Amy isn't around to keep me from watching banal, mindless crap. And when I've spent the morning reading poetry essays.

In my defense, I've only been watching since number 25, so if I've missed something, please feel free to fill me in.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with mocking "Marky" Mark Wahlberg for his pre-acting days. But maybe Vanilla Ice shouldn't be the guy doing it.

Madonna's rapping should have been higher on the list.

Weird Al should have been lower on the list, especially since most of the people who spoke about "Amish Paradise" were complimentary.

Don't give Nelly shit for doing a song with Tim McGraw, and not mention this.



Trace Adkins doing a country-rap video is far less hiphop than Nelly singing some doofy-ass ballad with McGraw.

And finally, my personal connection to all this. At number 2 was hip hop dolls, and on the screen was one I used to own--the Master P talking doll. It said "Uhhh. Na-na-na-na," and it sat in my office at the University of Arkansas confusing students for the better part of three years. Truly terrifying.

Me, I'm Waiting to See Who Shecky Greene Endorses

Barack Obama's got Oprah Winfrey. Mike Huckabee's got Chuck Norris. Dennis Kucinich has got Shirley McClaine's vote. Rudy Giuliani's got both Ron Silver and Robert Duvall. Now comes words that Barbra Streisand is endorsing Hillary Clinton.

I don't need to tell you that today's media-saavy, pop-culture obsessed youth pay a lot of attention to who Robert Duvall says they should vote for. But candidates who still don't have a celebrity endorsement don't need to despair-- Bradley of Incertus is here to help! In fact, there are still plenty of celebrities we've yet to hear from. Here's a partial list:

Robert Wuhl
Tina Yothers
Anthony Geary
Ned Beatty
Peter Criss
Farrah Fawcett
Frank Sinatra, Jr.
Frank Stallone (though something tells me he's a McCain guy)
Tommy Chong
Estelle Getty
Malcolm Jamal Warner
Dee Snyder
Kane Hodder
Tiffany Brissette
Bubbles
Mr. T
Shannon Tweed
Paulie's robot from Rocky IV

There are probably some others, too, but these are all the famous people I can name off the top of my head.

So if I were Ron Paul, I'd be on the phone with Farah Fawcett's people posthaste! The youth vote depends on it!

Battlestar Academia

Okay. This isn't particularly subtle, but I though the "adjunct instructor-as-rebellious Cylon" conceit made it relevant to a few of the discussions that have occured on this blog in the past few weeks. That, and I liked the description of sinister robots wearing tweed and bow ties.

Things I liked about this piece? There are quite a few. I think that more tenured and tenure-track faculty need to pay attention to the exploitation of instructors who don't have the protection of tenure. It's not just because I'm married to one, or blog with two others-- the exploitation of instructors and adjuncts is bad for the entire institution. As my co-blogger Amy pointed out last week, "I think you can take the best tenure-track professor out there (as far as teaching quality), and give him a 5/5 of comp, and you can just watch his effectiveness plummet. Especially if you take away his office and his copier privileges. Especially if you dock him 10k or so in pay." So even if you can't bring yourself to care about people working their asses off just to-- in many cases-- live below the poverty line, the resulting effect on efficiency should frighten even the most coldhearted of Republican legislators.

I've mentioned this before, I think, but it bears repeating-- the fact that I have the protection of a tenure-track job has as least as much to do with good luck and fortunate timing as any intellectual qualifications on my part (in fact, I've said repeatedly-- and sincerely-- that Emily is much smarter than I am; those of you who have been reading our blog posts these past few months probably understand what I'm saying). I was wrapping up my PhD work and getting my first publications in 2005-- that fall, there were dozens of job listings for creative nonfiction egoists-- er, essayists. There hasn't been another year like that since, and there likely won't be one again any time soon. So while most of my friends from grad school who write fiction, poetry, or scholarship are just as good (if not better) than I am, the market is unable to give them the jobs they deserve.

Of course, this isn't to say that I don't deserve my own job-- I'm the cat's ass. I'm William fuckin' Bradley-- world's toughest essayist (now that Plimpton's dead). I've worked hard to get where I am. But I didn't work harder than a lot of the people who are now working for two-thirds my pay, teaching more classes for less respect. And if you ever catch me saying I did-- if you ever suspect that I'm becoming one of the "hypertenured of GPU," as the author of this Chronicle article put it-- please knock me to the floor and kick me in the head until I regain my senses.

Okay-- but what about the stuff I didn't like about the article? Well, I understand that it's satire, but I found the anxiety about technology to be just a bit extreme. Sure, it's hyperbole, but I think the notion that-- someday-- student-customers will give up books and paper in order for the latest device that downloads edutatinment directly into their microchip-studded brains bears no relation to our current situation. I don't want to be misunderstood-- I know it's deliberately over-the-top-- but I don't think satire's effective if it's completely removed from reality; there needs to be some kernel of observable, resonant truth to be found in the idea (for example, the English really were indifferent to the suffering of the Irish peasants, so why not tell them to eat their own babies?). The resonant truth in this article, if I understand it correctly, is that technology is playing (an often detrimental) role in the classroom. Well... okay. But it's also played an extremely useful role, too-- I've created a blog for my students to visit to study creative nonfiction outside of class; my students now use PowerPoint to give more detailed and dynamic presentations; I've been able to share audio and video recordings of authors reading their own work; my students and I can communicate much more effectively outside of class (should the need arise). Yeah, cell phones and laptops in class are annoying-- and I think I'm about to include a note on "Technology" in my spring syllabuses in order to discourage my students from even bringing these things to class-- but I think it's important to keep in mind how useful technology can be even in a Humanities classroom. In fact, I guess my problem really comes from the fact that I think technology has-- for the most part-- improved education in the past ten years, whereas this author seems to think that we should be concerned about technoligical advances in the classroom.

What bothers me more than anything else in this article is the notion that technology is making our students dumber, or less capable. While this may be true in some cases, I've found that the students in 2007 are just as smart-- if not smarter than-- the students in 1994, when I started college; man, you should've seen those nitrous-huffing, Milwaukee-best swilling cretins who lived on my campus, in my dorm, in my room. The fact that many of today's students already intutively know things that I learned in college-- basic hypertextual theory, for example-- also suggests that technology can-- and has-- made people smarter in many cases.

Still. I'm afraid I sound like I didn't enjoy the article. And I did-- otherwise, I wouldn't be writing about it. I find myself disagreeing with the author's pessimistic outlook, but it's at least given me a lot to think about. Which, I suppose, was the point.

Vocabulary Quiz for Charity

Insane, but addictive. DO IT.

(I can't seem to score above 47 before I screw up.)

DO IT.

For lovers of the Doctor

I give you this webisode I just found on Veoh. And if you're a long-time Doctor geek like I am, well, you'll see a familiar face.


Online Videos by Veoh.com

Speaking of Things That Are Awesome

Here's a clip of Kiss fighting some weird robot-monkey-monster things...

Some Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Yeah, so, spoiler alert.

As regular readers of this blog know, Amy, Brian, and I are big fans of Battlestar Galactica. The new one, with Edward James Olmos. Not the original, Dirk Benedict-y one. While some individual episodes have disappointed (particularly towards the end of last season, with the addition of a new character who was so cool, he kept his sunglasses on in outer space!), the show has-- for the most part-- been an entertaining and thought-provoking look at life during wartime. And it has more than a few parallels to current political and military issues, so that's cool too.

Anyway, last night, the Sci-Fi Channel aired the new Battlestar Galactica movie, Razor, which tells a "lost tale" of the Battlestar Pegasus. Actually, it's more precise to say "two lost tales"; one takes place during (and immediately following) the attack that launched the original 2003 miniseries, when the ship was under the command of Admiral Caine; the other takes place at a point towards the end of season two, when the ship was under the command of Commander Lee Adama (the show's resident "everyman" character).

Earlier in the series, Admiral Caine was introduced as something of a villain-- a woman who has lived by the sword for so long, she's lost her humanity (she even orders the use of rape as an "interrogation technique"). When she was eventually killed, it was generally understood that this was how it had to happen; she was, after all, the antagonist to Edward James Olmos's William Adama and Mary McDonnell's Laura Roslyn. So she had to go.

This movie does some work to humanize her-- we see that before the attack, she was still a disciplined taskmaster, but she also seemed to have friends and a more human side. But she very quickly loses whatever humanity she has at the beginning of the movie, eventually executing her second-in-command for insubordination and ordering the execution of a civilians in order to cannibalize their ships for parts, weapons, and crew members. So, you know, all that makes it kind of hard to relate to her.

Except...

The thing that made this movie really great-- beyond the strong female characters, the tightly-woven plot, and the really, really strong acting-- was the fact that, in the second "lost tale," Lee Adama finds himself in a position where it appears that, to save his ship and crew, he's going to have to abandon a group of his own soldiers and another collection of humans to the enemy Cylons, who will-- he knows-- use the humans for brutal medical experiments. Weighing all of the options, Lee concludes that, of course, he's going to have to abandon his own troops for the "larger purpose" of preserving his ship and crew.

Naturally, some last-minute maneuvering (and the intervention of his father, the older and wiser Admiral Adama) allows him to avoid this fate; most of his people come back unharmed and the ship is able to make a clean getaway. Nevertheless, the fact remains that our heroic everyman character, Lee, found himself in a life-or-death situation similiar to the situation Admiral Caine found herself in (alone in space, surrounded by enemies), and made the decision to sacrifice some human lives in order to save other human lives. No, he didn't order any executions himself, but the viewer is left to understand that this hardly exonerates him. If Caine is a "villain," than surely Lee must be as well, as his decision was, fundamentally, as brutal as hers were.

But, of course, what made this movie really great was that we understand that war makes such simple-minded labels like "hero" or "villain" rather obsolete. Morality, this movie reminds us, is a luxury that doesn't really exist in war-- where survival might mean having to do something that would strike a viewer sitting on his couch at home as monstrous. I think this is why Battlestar Galactica is one of the best contemporary war stories I've ever seen. Whereas some movies or TV shows concerned with such themes offer up patriotic platitudes in order to reassure the viewer that war can be justified, that "our side" is inherently heroic, this show confronts the reality that war dehumanizes and destroys everyone in the end.

Awesome

College football 'n me

I used to pay attention to college football -- well sort of. I usually payed more attention to college basketball, but even then, not so much attention.

But when it's on the The New York Times homepage, I notice. Needless to say, I'm pleased (as much as I can be) that Missouri beat Kansas last night. That means Missouri is playing Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship and may well be going to the bowl game that decides the national champions (see, I don't even know what that is).

I'll let Brian fill in the blanks on all our other schools for you. Like I said, I get my sports news only when it shows up somewhere like nytimes.com.

Notice a difference?

Today's Bob Herbert:

It’s a largely bewildered, frightened group that includes people like Dorothy Levey, a 79-year-old widow who sits alone inside the small house she has lived in for 41 years, afraid to answer the telephone or the door.

She has every reason to be worried. The monthly note on her house in the city of Markham, just outside Chicago, is approximately 100 percent of her meager monthly income. Broke and behind in her payments, Ms. Levey expects a foreclosure notice to show up any day, followed by a visit from “the sheriff, or whoever they send to tell you to get out of your own home.”....

After faithfully making mortgage payments for decades, Ms. Levey and her husband, Dan, were persuaded to take out a new loan, ostensibly for debt consolidation, in 2002. It was like plunging into quicksand. Dan was seriously ill at the time and he died two years later.

To this day Ms. Levey does not understand what she and her husband of more than half a century had agreed to. The terms might as well have been written in Sanskrit.

But she kept trying to meet her obligation. She exhausted her savings. She lost her car. She stopped buying clothes and cut back on food. But there was no way to keep up with the payments.

“I had to go to the state and tell them I was hungry,” she said.


Joe del Bruno AP Business Writer:
NEW YORK (AP) -- When Domenico Colombo saw that his monthly mortgage payment was about to balloon by 30 percent, he had a clear picture of how bad it could get.

His payment was scheduled to surge by an extra $1,500 in December. With his daughter headed to college next fall and tuition to be paid, he feared ending up like so many neighbors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who defaulted on their mortgages and whose homes are now in foreclosure and sporting "For Sale" signs.

Colombo did manage to renegotiate a new fixed interest rate loan with his bank, and now believes he'll be OK -- but the future is less certain for the rest of us.
I've written about this before--how the media focuses on well-to-do people getting hammered by the mortgage meltdown but leaves the people hit hardest by it out of the discussion. Herbert made the same point in his Op-Ed, and this is a perfect example. Mr. Colombo's house payment was going to go up by $1500 a month, and that was a 30% increase. So what is he paying already? (The math is left as an exercise for the reader.) The increase in his mortgage payment is significantly more than Amy and I pay in rent for a 2-BR apartment, just to give you a sense of the market here. Let's just say that Mr. Colombo doesn't have to wait for the 2 Big Bufords for 3 dollars special at Checker's if he doesn't feel like it. And he was able to get out of his crappy loan and into a fixed rate mortgage. Why tell his story? Any ideas?

Keep it up, guys

Because if you keep giving us this kind of ammunition, we'll have a French style healthcare system, and I can't wait. Via Krugman comes this article from Business Week that deals with the transfer of medical costs for the uninsured to what are, essentially, collection agencies. It's filled with all sorts of anecdotes about people who got blindsided by unforeseen medical bills, but who, instead of owing hospitals, owe financial giants such as General Electric, U.S. Bancorp, Capital One, and Citigroup among others. Mind you--these companies are targeting those people who are least likely to be able to pay, and they're being popped with interest rates as high as 28% a year, being harassed, forced into bankruptcy, and generally made to feel like bad people simply because they can't afford the medical treatment that might save their lives.

It's this kind of attitude that gives me hope, though.

With more uninsured patients failing to pay medical bills, she said Satilla has to rely on HELP. "When you go to the dentist or the vet, you know you have to pay. If you go to the hospital, why should it be different?" said Katrina Wheeler, Satilla's chief financial officer. HELP's Posa said that it's up to ­Satilla and other hospitals to decide on appropriate interest rates: "What is right in one market may not be right for another."
Part of my response is that dental ought to be included in any universal health care system, but that's getting a little ahead of the game. It's the sneering attitude of people like Ms. Wheeler that will get us a national healthcare system, because there are a lot of people who are hoping against hope that they stay healthy because they're not covered, and there's also a lot of people dosing themselves with booze or pain killers to mask tooth pain who'll hear a statement like that and vote for the first person who'll promise to put Ms. Wheeler out of work. It's not that I wish bad things to happen to her in particular--I just want her job to become redundant. I'll even support a tax-funded program to train her for some other job.

From the First Sentence

I knew that something was wrong:

SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses.
"We are repeatedly told," huh? This guy just lost every reader not already in his choir, and I'll bet he doesn't even realize it. I'd guess that to him there is no logical catastrophe in this sentence. But he's just giving us the definition of the word, with a rhetorical "doubt" between the word and its definition, with the intended result of separating the word from its definition. Reading no farther than this first sentence, my guess is that he's planning on telling us that "science" is just another "religion"!
Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue. The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system.
Called it! Or should I say, "hypothesis confirmed"? By his argument this would be equal to "prophecy fulfilled." So what are the "articles of faith" of a scientist?
All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed.
Oh, okay: you can't be reasonable and logical (scientific) if you aren't reasonable and logical, seeing patterns and principles and fundamental "reasons behind," instead of thinking that every time you drop a ball from a building, you might get a different result: eventually it might just fly into the sky! So now logos itself is "faith." Boy this guy does like to redefine things.
When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.
Uh, no it hasn't. In fact, the history of human inquiry is filled with scientists who expected to find one result, found something else entirely, and were forced by this necessity to completely rethink their previous suppositions. This is how we learn. You don't know that? So who the hell is letting you flash your ignorance all over the NY Times?
When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance.
Wow, what total bullshit. What does he mean by "when I was a student"? When he was an undergraduate in college learning the basic principles? Lordy-loo. Even when we teach writing, we start them off with the basics, tell them to structure their essays and paragraphs and even sentences a certain way -- no fragments, for example -- giving them rules frequently violated by masters of the language. What we say is, "you have to learn the rules before you can break them." Is this guy really suggesting that all scientists at all stages in their careers are equally capable of questioning with reason and purpose the existing theories? Does he believe that all students hold those learned facts as "scripture" for the rest of their lives?
The laws were treated as “given” — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore.
Oh, yeah, I guess he does. Well, he's completely wrong.
Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin.
This is a lie. In order to receive a degree in science, you have to pass tests that require you to understand the best current theories we have. That is not an act of "faith." You don't have to "believe" in them, and in fact if you doubt them you are more likely to evolve to the level of a Newton or Einstein or Hawking.
You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.
Okay, now he's just being silly.
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.
Insisting that there must be a reason for everything is what is deeply anti-rational. Here are a few: why did New Orleans get hit by a hurricane? Why did my nephew die at 5 years old? Why do cats like to eat beef? There are two different ways to ask for "reasons things are as they are": one is to look for physical principles (air pressure, wind currents; DNA defects; proteins on the tongue; etc.); the other is to look for vast ego-driven whys, like, New Orleans was hit because it's full of sinners, or because the Bush Administration needed to be exposed, or because it taught us all something about community, or something like that. This guy is conflating the two. And suggesting that physicists' failure to answer the ego-driven whys "makes a mockery of science."

I'm not sure how much more of this guy's idiocy I want to post here. He essentially uses these ideas to go on and expound:
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
Oh, clearly. Believing in an ego is the same as recognizing a physical property. Why, the reason that rock sits on the ground is not because of gravity or inertia, but because it wants to, because it likes it there. Maybe gravity and inertia are the same as want and like. If you're this guy.
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way.
Yes, physics is a theological discipline because the first person to define the field was theist. You know what? It's also a male field, and a British field. Also, America is a Deist nation, because the founding fathers were all Deists.

It's his last sentence that really puts his problem on display, though:
But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
Some people just can't handle the concept of contingent knowledge: that you operate on the best available information, without believing that what you're operating on is absolute "truth." This seems to be his problem. Perhaps he is only capable of understanding absolutes. That is sad for him. But lots of people understand that when we see 7 historical models of the solar system or historical models of the atom, we're not seeing a series of "debunked beliefs," but the progress of continued scientific inquiry: each model was tested and its failures led to modifications which led to better understandings of the physical world. We don't conclude from this that the current models are completely right and the old ones completely wrong, but that there may well be a next and a next and a next that we will never see because we'll be dead by then. If that bothers you, you're not interested in science, you're looking for a faith. So look elsewhere. Because this conflation of science and faith is insulting to both.

In the end, though, I don't see this writer as dishonest; I see him as simple-minded. He wants "the truth" and he wants it now. But humankind will only get marginally better at understanding the universe, baby step by baby step; the models we use now will surely be shown insufficient. That isn't "faith" being upended. That's progress.

Unless you're this guy.

Charming, charming, charming

This is absolute bullshit.

From The South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

A gay rights group is accusing Palm Beach Community College of putting puppies ahead of people when it comes to health care coverage.

The college sent an e-mail to employees this month saying they can enroll in pet insurance, a new voluntary benefit that will take effect Jan. 8. That rankled leaders of Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, who have unsuccessfully lobbied PBCC to offer health benefits to domestic partners of gay and unmarried employees.


Even if -- as PBCC claims -- the two are completely unrelated issues and even if the trustees are going to continue to reconsider offering domestic partner benefits, this is awful. They really aren't thinking about how this looks to the employees, and the community around them -- what message does this send?

I'm going to go back to washing the damn dishes (our dishwasher decided to kick it yesterday morning as I was preparing the feast o' the day).

edited for, um, the right words. I'm not so much for thinking these days, apparently

Five Things Mike Huckabee Doesn't Want You to Know About Him and a Random Ten

Not much to say today-- I'm still tired from yesterday's gluttony, and the family's still in town. Still, I thought everyone who reads this blog would appreciate this AlterNet article about Mike Huckabee, and some stuff he'd probably like for us all to ignore. Don't ignore it.

Here's my Random Ten for this week:

1) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers-- "Even the Losers"
2) The Velvet Underground-- "Run Run Run"
3) Wilco-- "Casino Queen"
4) The White Stripes-- "Hotel Yorba"
5) The White Stripes-- "Hypnotize"
6) Lou Reed-- "A Sheltered Life"
7) Macy Gray-- "Sexual Revolution"
8) The Raconteurs-- "Steady As She Goes"
9) The White Stripes-- "Blue Orchid"
10) The Cure-- "Prayers for Rain"

Whole lot of Jack White on there...

Oh yeah, it's Friday--Random Ten

Completely lost track of the week there, what with all the excitement. Here's the Random Ten, chock full of mockable musical taste.

1. Hang On--Teenage Fanclub
2. Faith--Chris Thomas King (no, it's not a George Michael cover)
3. The Tide Is High--Atomic Kitten (yes, it is a Blondie cover)
4. I Don't Believe You--Magnetic Fields
5. Mama Said Knock You Out--LL Cool J
6. Le Souk---Dave Brubeck
7. Build Me Up Buttercup--The Goops
8. Out of Control--Stereo MCs
9. May I Have a Talk With You--Stevie Ray Vaughan
10. Hush--Squirrel Nut Zippers

So how will you be spending Black Friday?

And now back to your regularly scheduled complaining

It's Black Friday, and a curmudgeon like me who is fond of neither crowds nor shopping couldn't be persuaded to head out into today's capitalist mayhem no matter what the bargain. The closest I'll come will be taking Monkey to the airport for her flight back home this afternoon, and perhaps stopping off for some orange juice to help me try to fight off this nascent cold.

Part of the reason I'm so curmudgeonly has to do with my finances. As I've written before, I'm going through bankruptcy right now, and that's hit a complication or two, because unfortunately, my lawyer, a very nice man I'd met a couple of times in person, died of a heart attack about a month ago, and his firm is based in Chicago, which makes communication a little more complicated.

That will work itself out, though I'm getting a little impatient--I'd like to get it over with and move on with my life. And it seems like some credit card companies want to help me do that.

See, the reason I decided to go ahead and declare bankruptcy was because a credit card company (I won't name it) sued me for the balance I owed them and got a judgment against me. Rather than wait for my wages to be attached or for one of my other creditors to follow in their footsteps, I decided I'd take the bankruptcy route. (The reason my credit went bad was because I had serious dental issues when I lived in California, and the choices were to pay the credit cards or pay the dental bills. I was drinking close to a third of a bottle of whiskey a night trying to kill the dental pain.) Wednesday, I received a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail--from the same company that has a judgment against me.

One of the requirements of the last bit of bankruptcy legislation is that you undergo financial counseling, so that you won't make the same mistakes again, and even though I found the program to be a little condescending, I won't say that it's a bad idea overall. If you don't understand just how quickly compound interest adds up, then it's a good program to go through. I'm just wondering why there isn't one for the credit card companies.

Okay, I'm being snarky there. The folks who run those companies know what they're doing. My offer of a credit card came with a $69 up front fee, and a $69 yearly fee, and would have had a limit of somewhere in the $300 range. This company would have figured that a person trying to reestablish his or her credit would pay a premium to do so, and if they run out on the debt, would be liable and could be hit with all kinds of fees in the process.

But is that responsible? I only ask because during the debate over the last bankruptcy bill, there was a lot of talk about personal responsibility for debtors--that was the reason for the counseling, and for the tightening of the requirements for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Consumers needed to be more responsible about their spending, I heard over and over. No talk about the companies who were extending credit.

This is a small scale example of a larger problem. The sub-prime crash we're going through right now is my situation, except with overpriced houses at stake. Mortgage lenders gave credit to people who couldn't afford to pay back the loans, and who wouldn't have qualified for them in the first place. Look, I don't qualify to have a credit card right now--that's the price I should be paying for being in bankruptcy. I'm paying that penalty, but only because it's self-imposed. I could have signed up for five or six other credit card offers in the last couple of months, if I'd been so inclined.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm some sort of self-abnegating hero for passing up the temptation. I'm just trying to point out that when credit card companies start complaining about how they're the victims of unscrupulous people who run up huge debt and then simply vanish into Chapter 7 bankruptcy--and that was the line during the last bankruptcy legislation debate--that they're part of the problem. A big part.

Get Along With the Family This Thanksgiving

I pity the fool who gets into familial arguments this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving, Scott McClellan. Now Go Stuff Yourself, You Jive Turkey.

As we all know by now, in an excerpt from Scott McClellan's new book, the former White House Press secretary claims that he unknowingly passed on "false information" (what George Orwell would simply call "lies") about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby's treasonous reveleation of the identity of a covert CIA agent. The excerpt-- which admittedly lacks some context-- seems to suggest that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Andrew Card, Rove, and Libby lied to him in order to get him to lie to the press.

Yeah. Okay.

Don't get me wrong-- I'm quite certain that Scott McClellan lied to the press on behalf of the administration. But come on-- "unknowingly"? Give me a break. Am I the only one who remembers McClellan's press conferences? The way his eyes would dart about nervously, the way he stammered through every briefing, obviously uncomfortable. Everytime he got up to talk to the press corps, it was as if he knew Chris Hansen was in the audience, just waiting to ask, "What are you doing here, and would you please put your pants back on?" That's not to say that Scott McClellan is a sexual predator, or that child abuse is funny. But McClellan's attempts to convince the press that his answers were credible ("Mr. Rove is a good man who wouldn't do such a thing") always struck me as the desperate machinations of someone who realizes he's gotten himself into a trap, and is trying to minimize the trouble he's found himself in.

If you'd asked me a couple days ago, "Could you possibly think less of Scott McClellan?" I would have been certain the answer would be no. But now here he is, in the news again. Dropping bombshells. Or not-- as administration officials have pointed out, the excerpt lacks context; it certainly looks like he's saying the President and other officials were trying to orchestrate a cover-up, but he doesn't quite come right out and say anything. And now he's refusing to grant interviews. If you want to know the story, you'll have to buy the book.

What a crass, manipulative, self-centered son of a bitch. We're talking about treason, and a cover-up involving the leaders of the land. And his only concern is how he too can make money off of the Bush administration's assault on Democracy. If you or I knew that someone had conspired to provide America's enemies with the name of a covert CIA agent, and instead of going to law enforcement authorities, we instead decided to offer up hints and innuendo to the press, how long do you think it would take before the FBI came knocking at our door? But like his former bosses, Scott McClellan seems convinced that he's above both the law and basic decency.

Fuck him. I hope that his book does spark a substantial investigation into this administration's crimes, and that Scott McClellan winds up sitting in a prison cell right next to the very people he seems to want to distance himself from now.

This one's for you, Grim

Grim has an ongoing series on meat snacks, and I think he'd be willing to sacrifice his body to try this one out.

Via Brave Sir Robin. Deep Fried Bacon.



That makes my heart hurt, and I love both bacon and deep-fried stuff. But damn.

Another milestone

We hit 40,000 visits today, according to the old Sitemeter. That's a pittance compared to a lot of places, but it's big in my eyes, considering that I only put the Sitemeter on about a year and a half ago, and that March was the first time that I had over a thousand hits in a month. Thanks to everyone for dropping by, and to my co-bloggers who've provided so much terrific content. It's no coincidence that the numbers jumped considerably when y'all (Amy, Emily, and Bradley) started contributing. See you at the next milestone.

If I wind up voting Clinton in the primaries

it'll be because of this kind of crap. I don't know what Clinton did to Dowd in the past--if anything--but this kind of pettiness is ridiculous. It's one thing to question her accomplishments in office, or to question her positions on important issues; it's her stance on the Iraq war, among other things, that has her in 3rd or 4th place on my list of potential candidates most of the time. But this is crap.

“She hasn’t accomplished anything on her own since getting admitted to Yale Law,” wrote Joan Di Cola, a Boston lawyer, in a letter to The Wall Street Journal this week, adding: “She isn’t Dianne Feinstein, who spent years as mayor of San Francisco before becoming a senator, or Nancy Pelosi, who became Madam Speaker on the strength of her political abilities. All Hillary is, is Mrs. Clinton. She became a partner at the Rose Law Firm because of that, senator of New York because of that, and (heaven help us) she could become president because of that.”
Yes, I know Dowd didn't write those words, but she's quoting them approvingly, and her tone in the rest of the piece is no different. For example, this is the sentence that precedes the above quote: "Getting ahead through connections is common in life. But Hillary cloaks her nepotism in feminism." And there's this:
But she was not elected or appointed to a position that needed Senate confirmation. And the part of the Clinton administration that worked best — the economy, stupid — was run by Robert Rubin. Hillary did not show good judgment in her areas of influence — the legal fiefdom, health care and running oppo-campaigns against Bill’s galpals.

She went on some first lady jaunts and made a good speech at a U.N. women’s conference in Beijing. But she was certainly not, as her top Iowa supporter, former governor Tom Vilsack claimed yesterday on MSNBC, “the face of the administration in foreign affairs.”
Does Clinton take a little too much credit for the successes of her husband's administration? Probably. Her husband does as well, seeing as that part of his administration that worked so well--the economy--can only be affected in a limited way by presidential policy. But both Dowd and Di Cola are full of crap when they say that Clinton has accomplished nothing on her own. Her husband gave her the name recognition that certainly helped her win her first Senate seat, but that didn't win her that election. Good campaigning did. And her husband didn't cast those Senate votes, take part in Senate debate, and isn't the one on stage at the Democratic debates. She is, for better or worse.

I wonder if Dowd would make the same sort of statements about Liddy Dole that she does about Clinton? (Answer: not really.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm tired of having to defend Senator Clinton from crap attacks, because it's not like I'm chomping at the bit to vote for her come January. But if I vote for her, I want it to be for a good reason, and not because petty columnists with axes to grind have driven me to it.

Re: our recent relative absence

Bradley and I are hosting his family right now. His parents and siblings have rented a house on the Intercoastal a bit north of us, so they're not actually staying with us. They are, however, hanging out with us (of course ...). This means we're really busy at the moment (we played a couple of bitchin' games of Trivial Pursuit last night).

So we're going to be less active the next couple of days. Well, that might not be true. Bradley may still have time to give you his words of wisdom. Or something.

I am preparing for my last trip to the grocery store to pick up Thanksgiving supplies. Okay, it's actually the only trip I'm taking for the bulk of the Thanksgiving stuff. I've only managed to buy the turkey. That Bradley and I will not be eating.

Wish me luck. I'm a bit nervous about all those people with all those shopping carts the day before Thanksgiving ...

A message for Nick Saban

Get the fuck over yourself.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama’s latest loss has coach Nick Saban searching for ways to motivate his team.

Citing the 9-11 terrorist attacks and Pearl Harbor, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday his team must rebound like America did from a “catastrophic event.”

In this case, that would be an embarrassing 21-14 loss Saturday to Louisiana-Monroe.

“Changes in history usually occur after some kind of catastrophic event,” Saban said during the opening remarks of his weekly news conference. “It may be 9-11, which sort of changed the spirit of America relative to catastrophic events. Pearl Harbor kind of got us ready for World War II, or whatever, and that was a catastrophic event.”

An Alabama spokesperson said afterward that of course Coach Saban wasn't trying to equate a lost football game to Pearl Harbor or 9/11 and where on earth would anyone get that impression?

Spare me.

Look, I'm a football fan--not of Alabama, and not of any of the other teams Nick Saban has coached over the years (though I don't dislike the Dolphins)--but it's at times like this where I want to just slap the stupid out of those people who take a game so seriously. It's bad enough that the game is filled with war rhetoric, that some of the plays are named after various kinds of weapons (the bomb, the shotgun formation, etc.), and that far too many of the players and coaches compare the game to a battle, but most of the time, they don't lose their minds like this.

Just so we're clear, Nick--this was a football game that your team lost. It was not a catastrophic event. Nobody died. A country's national security was not compromised, nor were the civil liberties of its citizens suspended or ignored or otherwise trampled on. Your team--a bit of an overrated team at that--lost a game to a team that they should have beaten. That's it.

On a side note, I'd like to point out that while LA-Monroe beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 21-14, they only beat Florida Atlantic 33-30, and that was in overtime. Go team!

Tenure-Track

It's the numbers in this story that are truly alarming.

Three decades ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private.
70 percent. Holy shit. Seriously. That's not a shift in "instructor type" -- that's a shift in "instructor pay and benefits," with the vast majority getting the shaft.

There are some data in here that administrators might move on, too:

Adjuncts are less likely to have doctoral degrees, educators say. They also have less time to meet with students, and research suggests that students who take many courses with them are somewhat less likely to graduate.

“Really, we are offering less educational quality to the students who need it most,” said Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, noting that the soaring number of adjunct faculty is most pronounced in community colleges and the less select public universities. The elite universities, both public and private, have the fewest adjuncts.

“It’s not that some of these adjuncts aren’t great teachers,” Dr. Ehrenberg said. “Many don’t have the support that the tenure-track faculty have, in terms of offices, secretarial help and time. Their teaching loads are higher, and they have less time to focus on students.”


I'm bolding this obviously because I agree with it. I think you can take the best tenure-track professor out there (as far as teaching quality), and give him a 5/5 of comp, and you can just watch his effectiveness plummet. Especially if you take away his office and his copier privileges. Especially if you dock him 10k or so in pay.

I know I'm just a big squealing socialist, seeing this as I do a labor issue first and foremost. But obviously it's an education issue too.

Dr. Ehrenberg and a colleague analyzed 15 years of national data and found that graduation rates declined when public universities hired large numbers of contingent faculty.

Several studies of individual universities have determined that freshmen taught by many part-timers were more likely to drop out.

When we're talking 70 percent, when we're talking a situation that could be fixed just by improving working conditions, we're talking a problem that can be fixed by throwing money at it. Hire more people, pay them more, give them more perks, more benefits, have them teach fewer classes, and watch educational opportunities improve.

The talent is out there, toiling, right now. Show them the money.

Good work, y'all

I'd like to thank the UF students who gave former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales soe well-deserved grief at his speech last night in Gainesville.

GAINESVILLE -- Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales endured screams of "criminal" and "liar" during a speech at the University of Florida on Monday evening....

Early in his speech, two people climbed on the stage in hoods. Gonzales stopped talking for a few minutes as police led them away without incident, though there were several outbursts from the crowd.

The hooded demonstrators were charged with interruption of a public event, said Steve Orlando, a university spokesman. Several other people were ejected for yelling, and more than a dozen people stood for most of Gonzales' hour-long speech with their backs toward him.

I'm glad there was no violence, nothing to detract from the protest that Gonzales unquestionably deserves, and I'm dismayed that state funds would be used to pay for a speech from a man who, if he had been an Iraqi and argued what he did for the US government, would be in jail as a war criminal. He'd have had his face on one of those stupid playing cards, and the howlers over at Fox News would have been clamoring for blood if he was one of them instead of one of us. But he's a US citizen, and that apparently makes all the difference.

Edit: Can I just say I love Youtube and digital video?

I'm taking suggestions

Maybe it's just because I'm tired from a long day, or maybe I've just cranky, but I'm ready to change the tagline of the blog. It's been there for over two years now, and Obama's recent predilection for reviving right wing issues and smears on Hillary Clinton (of who I am no fan) has me thinking that I'm ready to replace it. Any suggestions?

Mitt Romney and Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about Romney's dealings with higher education in Massachusetts during his tenure as governor.

Read the article and think about what this holds for the future of higher education in this country ...

That and notice that Romney's BA is in English.

I'm really not sure what to do with that information. It's going to take some time to process it. I guess I'll reluctantly put him on my list of what you can do with a degree in English.

This Will Probably Be All Over the Place This Week, But...

I know I'm on record as hating just about everything Eli Roth has ever done, but this is the exception:

The Nonreading Public

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about the NEA's new report on American reading habits. (It's a subscriber only article, sorry. I'll try to summarize).

The results are fairly dire. Only 35 percent of high school seniors were reading at or above proficiency levels in 2005. That's down from 40 percent from 1992.

The study looks at how much people are reading voluntarily -- and that's reading books, magazines, blogs, etc. From The Chronicle article:

In 2006, the study found, 15-to-24-year-olds spent just seven minutes on voluntary reading on weekdays— 10 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. They found time to watch two to two-and-a-half hours of television daily.

Older and presumably wiser— or at least more bookish— generations didn't do much better. In 2006 people ages 35 to 44 devoted only 12 minutes a day to reading. Even the best-read group, Americans 65 and older, logged less than an hour each weekday and just over an hour on weekends.


And this isn't just about lamenting that people aren't reading:
The report confirms that poor readers tend to make poor students, who become poorly paid workers. Twenty percent of American workers don't read at the level required by their jobs.


That part's not good at all.

No single culprit exists for the lack of reading:
The study does not dwell on what's to blame, but it makes ominous references to multitasking and to "the omnipresence of electronic media."


So, that's right. Turn off your blackberry and television ('cause you can't really focus on both of them at the same time, despite what you think) and read something -- anything. The study suggests that people who are readers are more active as citizens, go to museums more frequently, and excerise more (and are better at sports!)

It's not all gloom and doom, but the study does show that we need to continue to emphasize with our students the importance of reading in their lives. So, seriously, kids. I'm making you read that poem for a reason. It's going to make you a better person -- I promise.

Jim Holt

Is a really interesting writer who has been contributing to the Science Times. His latest piece is about the question of consciousness:

...the part of our world that is most recalcitrant to our understanding at the moment is consciousness itself. How could the electrochemical processes in the lump of gray matter that is our brain give rise to — or, even more mysteriously, be — the dazzling technicolor play of consciousness, with its transports of joy, its stabs of anguish and its stretches of mild contentment alternating with boredom? This has been called “the most important problem in the biological sciences” and even “the last frontier of science.”
He introduces us (not unreservedly) to the concept of "panpsychism":
Perhaps, they say, mind is not limited to the brains of some animals. Perhaps it is ubiquitous, present in every bit of matter, all the way up to galaxies, all the way down to electrons and neutrinos, not excluding medium-size things like a glass of water or a potted plant. Moreover, it did not suddenly arise when some physical particles on a certain planet chanced to come into the right configuration; rather, there has been consciousness in the cosmos from the very beginning of time.
This sounds like some New Age-y "Universal Consciousness," doesn't it? Well, it kinda is. Just with a little more thought put into it.
...the American philosopher Thomas Nagel showed that it is an inescapable consequence of some quite reasonable premises. First, our brains consist of material particles. Second, these particles, in certain arrangements, produce subjective thoughts and feelings. Third, physical properties alone cannot account for subjectivity. (How could the ineffable experience of tasting a strawberry ever arise from the equations of physics?) Now, Nagel reasoned, the properties of a complex system like the brain don’t just pop into existence from nowhere; they must derive from the properties of that system’s ultimate constituents. Those ultimate constituents must therefore have subjective features themselves — features that, in the right combinations, add up to our inner thoughts and feelings. But the electrons, protons and neutrons making up our brains are no different from those making up the rest of the world. So the entire universe must consist of little bits of consciousness.
I bolded the parts of the argument that I find, uh, arguable. Is this the kind of argument anyone is in a position to prove or refute? Or is this another concept for the pantheon of human gods?
How, the skeptics wonder, could bits of mind-dust, with their presumably simple mental states, combine to form the kinds of complicated experiences we humans have? After all, when you put a bunch of people in the same room, their individual minds do not form a single collective mind. (Or do they?) Then there is the inconvenient fact that you can’t scientifically test the claim that, say, the moon is having mental experiences. (But the same applies to people — how could you prove that your fellow office workers aren’t unconscious robots, like Commander Data on “Star Trek”?) Finally, there is the sheer loopiness of the idea that something like a photon could have proto-emotions, proto-beliefs and proto-desires. What could the content of a photon’s desire possibly be? “Perhaps it wishes it were a quark,” one anti-panpsychist cracked.
I bolded "complicated" because this is the most subjective judgment of all. Something is "complicated" when it's at the limits of your abilities. Tying shoes is "complicated" when you're a baby. A bee, going through the rote motions and dances of its life, might find those experiences nuanced and fraught and complicated, because those experiences are at the edge of its abilities. As to his "or do they?" -- I think that's asked with reason: humans, like lots of other animals, put ourselves at great risk of disease and danger in order to congregate with others, and even seek the company of cats, dogs, ponies, peonies, gardenias, etc. It's reasonable to think that there is a force compelling us together, and it might have something to do with our consciousness and changing states thereof. Lastly, none of us can prove we exist, let alone that we are conscious, or that being conscious is outside of the physical. But if something has physical properties, we might-could-maybe look into a way of proving that.

So I ask again, is this just another theism? Well, I say with reservation maybe not. If this is a theory that could lead to a testable hypothesis, and it sounds like it maybe-might-could potentially could (although in the extreme abstract, at least at first), it can't be lumped in with untestable "faith"-beliefs. If, on the other hand, it turns out to be just another faith belief...

If you're going to worship something, why not all existence?

More About the Writer's Strike

Ned Stuckey-French-- whose discussion of E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake" at NonfictioNow was briefly discussed here-- sent the following email along and has told me I can feel free to post it here:


I apologize for sending out a mass email and I know many of you have not
heard from me in ages, but I want to ask you to support of the Writers'
Guild of America and this seems as good a way as any to do that.

The issue that has forced this strike is simple. The writers are asking
for a fair share of the income stream from "new media" such as Internet,
DVDs, etc. for shows that they write, but the studios and large media
conglomerates are unwilling to share these profits. These new media are
the future. The other day I asked one of my classes how many of them had
downloaded a television show or movie. Every hand went up.

The issues have been brought home for me because my old friend Steve
Peterman is one of the writers of the very popular Disney show Hannah
Montana, which one of my daughters' favorite shows. They're always
checking out the Hannah Montana web site.

I hope you'll do what you can to support the writers. I've included
some links that you might find helpful.

All best,

Ned

A petition of support:
http://www.PetitionOnline.com/WGA/petition.html

A short presentation outlining the essential issues:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ55Ir2jCxk

A video about the money at stake:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a37uqd5vTw

UnitedHollywood.com blog:
http://unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/

Writers Guild of America, West Home Page:
http://www.wga.org/index.aspx

A blog by Nikki Finke of LA Weekly that offers good strike coverage:
http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/

This is Fun

On the NY Times there is a story about the changing frequency of surnames in America (fewers Smiths, more Garcias, etc.), but it includes a searchable list that lets you type in your name and see where, in the 5000 most common American names, your last name happens to fall. I'd list all the Incertians and our friends, but I don't want to risk ruffling any privacy-minded feathers. So please go check yourself out.

My last name? Not on the list. For I am a rare and precious jewel. And also I have an uncommon last name. But your name, you are.

Cliquez ici.

What's Michael J. Fox like?



Via The Misanthrope

Dolemite, Motherfucker!

Sesame Street is Not for Kids

Or was not for kids, I should say. According to the NY Times, we all grew up watching a show that was scarring our innocent little minds, would never be shown to children today, and whose re-release on DVD requires a warning that what is contained is not appropriate for children.

Sunny days! The earliest episodes of “Sesame Street” are available on digital video! Break out some Keebler products, fire up the DVD player and prepare for the exquisite pleasure-pain of top-shelf nostalgia.

Just don’t bring the children. According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

...
The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.

Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.

...

Cows are milked by plain old farmers, who use their unsanitary hands and fill one bucket at a time. Elsewhere, two brothers risk concussion while whaling on each other with allergenic feather pillows. Overweight layabouts, lacking touch-screen iPods and headphones, jockey for airtime with their deafening transistor radios. And one of those radios plays a late-’60s news report — something about a “senior American official” and “two billion in credit over the next five years” — that conjures a bleak economic climate, with war debt and stagflation in the offing.

The old “Sesame Street” is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper “Elmo’s World” started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original “Sesame Street” might hurt your feelings.

...

She told me about Alistair Cookie and the parody “Monsterpiece Theater.” Alistair Cookie, played by Cookie Monster, used to appear with a pipe, which he later gobbled. According to Parente, “That modeled the wrong behavior” — smoking, eating pipes — “so we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody altogether.”

Which brought Parente to a feature of “Sesame Street” that had not been reconstructed: the chronically mood-disordered Oscar the Grouch. On the first episode, Oscar seems irredeemably miserable — hypersensitive, sarcastic, misanthropic. (Bert, too, is described as grouchy; none of the characters, in fact, is especially sunshiney except maybe Ernie, who also seems slow.) “We might not be able to create a character like Oscar now,” she said.

Snuffleupagus is visible only to Big Bird; since 1985, all the characters can see him, as Big Bird’s old protestations that he was not hallucinating came to seem a little creepy, not to mention somewhat strained. As for Cookie Monster, he can be seen in the old-school episodes in his former inglorious incarnation: a blue, googly-eyed cookievore with a signature gobble (“om nom nom nom”). Originally designed by Jim Henson for use in commercials for General Foods International and Frito-Lay, Cookie Monster was never a righteous figure. His controversial conversion to a more diverse diet wouldn’t come until 2005, and in the early seasons he comes across a Child’s First Addict.

Should we all sue?

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