OMG Prison

is SOOO much better in other countries!


Shades of Gray

I worked my first shift as a volunteer at El Sol this morning (El Sol is a resource center where day laborers can find work). As I was leaving, I stopped to chat with one of the organizers of the center who is interested in receiving my help on a writing project. As we were wrapping up our conversation, she told me a group of people from El Sol would be participating in a prayer circle tomorrow morning, in front of the center, and I was invited to attend. The prayer group is in response to the protesters that gather in front of the center every Saturday. Tomorrow will be different because a local man who is running against the incumbent for town council will be joining the protesters, and has issued a press release for the media to come and cover the protest.

John Parsons is challenging incumbent Bob Friedman for his seat on the town council. Parsons advocates shutting down El Sol, and it seems a lot of his support comes from this issue. There are several YouTube videos that show the protesters gathered in front of El Sol (the comments viewers leave are revealing). When I listen to their complaints, I can appreciate where they are coming from---I, too, come from a working class family. But the idea of shutting down El Sol strikes me as incredibly short-sighted. It serves a purpose for the community, and is viewed as a success in the way it keeps day laborers from congregating on streets. It provides a place for them to go if they have questions about immigration paperwork, and it provides English lessons.

It's a black and white issue for many citizens, and hot damn if life wouldn't be easier with such a clear view of the world. Not to mention the self-righteousness this would allow me: They don't have papers? Send them all back. Unfortunately, these issues are a lot murkier for me. I'm a law abiding citizen. I support the working class; hell, I'm a member of the working class. However, I reject the idea of purposefully making a difficult life more difficult for a group of immigrants by closing the only resource center that assists them. Perhaps these are contradictory stances. So be it.

It will be interesting to see how Parsons does in the election. The incumbent has been a supporter of the resource center, so the election results will speak directly to this issue.

Tax v. Service, 2008

Tax v. Service is the eternal debate, and rightly so: no one likes to be taxed, and no one likes to live in a banana republic. In a living system, "balance" is either a myth or a pollyanna way of looking at gridlock-like competition, which is what we have in the world of what to tax and what to buy. So there can be no "balance," not really. Forever shall the battle rage.

I'm proud, in a way, of the FAU students who held a mild protest on campus yesterday -- such events are so rare that even a sedate event, sanctioned by the U, done as a "project" for a class (its attendees sitting in arranged folding chairs, even), is a big enough deal to be reported on the local radio and local papers. But our students aren't accustomed to thinking of themselves as citizens; they are accustomed to thinking of themselves as consumers, and to their minds, that's where their power originates. Conversations with our students and snippets from the protest have been very self-interested: "we need our summer classes to graduate!"; "we're tired of having our tuition raised!"

I want to speak to your manager!

It's clear that complaining to the management and the "always rightness" of the customer is the conceptual limit for most of them. And if the University administration has anything to do with it, that will stay the limit for them; the administration would much prefer the students think of themselves as customers of the U than what they really are: its owners. Very few of the students seem to realize that as citizens in a democracy they are (if we must use marketplace metaphors) much more like stockholders than customers. (For what is a democracy if not a corporation that you "buy in" to by virtue of birth or citizenship?) As citizens of the state of Florida, they have say in what the state of Florida does with the citizens' tax money, and their schools.

And it's clear what the students want: they want to keep their Bright Futures (the free-ride scholarship program that almost everyone in Florida qualifies for), have very low tuition and fees otherwise, and still have access to a large, well-staffed University that offers them quality instruction, lots of options and activities, and -- through its reputation -- respect for the degree they hold when they ultimately graduate.

These are interests they share with the administrators and employees of the universities and with the politicians and bureaucrats of the state, obviously.

Yet the fact that the state has been paying for so many students' tuition means that the state has an even more solid budgetary reason not to raise tuition: a rate hike may cost an individual student $100, but it costs the state (through Bright Futures) millions.

So before the students complain, they should ask, why is this happening?

Time to start thinking like a citizen:

Answer #1: Because tuition doesn't cover the costs. Most students do not realize that even beyond Bright Futures, the state is subsidizing the cost of their education (Bright Futures just means the state is subsidizing it more). It costs far more, per student, to run a university, than the students actually get charged. Yes, Virginia, your university is an example of a socialized tax-funded government-run service. That means if there's a tax cut, you, the student, are going to pay for it (see #2).

Answer #2: Perhaps you, perhaps your parents, perhaps people you know, voted, in the last election, for an amendment that might save homeowners a few bucks a year in taxes. Understand the miracle of taxes: if 300 million people all have 1 dollar, they can't do shit with it; but if they each give up that dollar to taxes, there is now a single bank account with $300 million in it: power. If it's a democracy, they vote for the people who decide how to spend it, and if they're smart citizens, they harass their representatives until they get what's important to them.
However, if they harass their representatives "to get their money back" -- which is what the anti-tax movement does -- they literally destroy the country: turn it into a banana republic, a place with no schools or roads or bridges or citizen police (but certainly private or corporate militias) or citizen fire department or public universities. There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is free starvation.

Answer #3: The plan for the last decade has been to squeeze the money out of the faculty. Florida faculty are the ones really caught in the middle, here: compared even to U faculty in inexpensive parts of the country, Florida U faculty are underpaid. Your high school teachers were very likely earning more than your current U professors. And your high school teachers are so underpaid, the state has experimented with subsidized housing for teachers only! In other words, the majority of the U budget is salaries, and the salaries are already absurdly low: so low the U is having trouble holding on to good people. But up to now, this has more or less sheltered the students from the real costs: students don't have to pay for faculty to have a decent standard of living -- the faculty have to just deal with being screwed. (Which is why the faculty tends to look at the newly-enraged students with a kind of bemusement -- a "well, yes, we are all getting screwed here! Hey, welcome to my world!")

So what's the answer to all this? Raise taxes, especially on the rich. Yes, that sounds a little socialist -- but the first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you are not only part of a socialist system, your state U system, but that you actively support its most socialist features: the low cost, the Bright Futures! Look in the mirror, you commie. Come to grips with who you are. Good! Now, fight for your commie rights! Rich people have had their taxes lowered so much lately, that, while the rest of the country is dressing at Wal-Mart, sales of yachts are booming. I think they can take the hit. If you're still not sure, consider this: the United States of America is the wealthiest country on the planet Earth. What, really, should we not be able to afford? It's like your dad is Bill Gates and he tells you you can't have a car because he can't afford it. Yeah, someone somewhere has a dad that can't afford a car, but not yours. You'd see right through that shit! So now it's your turn to call bullshit for real. We have a very wealthy country, here. A state full of millionaires and billionaires. We have a state full of homeowners who can give back that C-note they voted for themselves, since it's not really going to help them anyway. We have a state full of millions of average people who could all chip in an extra penny on their sales tax or even (gasp!) pay a state income tax, like most of the rest of the country does. But all that is chicken feed: most importantly, let's take a chunk out of rich people's asses -- instead of poor college students' asses -- perhaps raise the docking fees on those yachts?

Blogging when I've just woken up and before even a sip of coffee is probably a bad idea--I'm already having to retype every third word, it seems--but I've never let a bad idea stop me before.

The dream--I just woke up from an eternity of trying to fit a lens back into a pair of glasses. I didn't say it would be an exciting dream.

The book meme comes from Batocchio (who I don't give nearly enough link love--I'll work on that). Here's how you play:

• look up page 123 in the nearest book
• look for the fifth sentence
• then post the three sentences that follow that fifth sentence on page 123.

The book nearest me is actually Marge Piercy's The Moon Is Always Female, but I checked, and there aren't 8 total sentences on page 123, even if I cheat and take the first partial sentence and count it as one, so instead, it's onto my friend Mark Scroggins's Louis Zukofsky: The Poem of a Life, which has been a fascinating read so far. I'm looking forward to Spring Break next week to really get into it.

Its appearance as a single thirty-three-page stretch of printed text announced that Zukofsky, who at the age of twenty-eight had yet to publish a book of his own poetry, was a force to be reckoned with on the poetry scene. In its "Objectivists" Anthology appearance, with the hopeful tailpiece "To Be Continued," "A" was setting itself up in competition with The Cantos, openly advertising itself as what Pound had doubted it fit to be--"a life work."

The anthology as a whole was dedicated "To / Ezra Pound / who...is still for the poets of our time / the / most important."
And finally, an oddity of a Random Ten, falling as it does on a February 29. What are the odds I'll still be blogging the next time February 29 falls on a Friday, and that I'll still be doing a Random Ten? No idea. But I'm here, and it's here, and right now we're going to boo-gie. I've got a pot of coffee, an undergraduate poetry workshop to run in 2 hours, and 2--count them--2 faculty meetings this afternoon on a campus other than the one I'm teaching on this morning. But after that, Spring Break, and something other than academic work.

So here we go people. Put the iTunes on Party Shuffle and post the next ten songs, and if it just happens to include Wrecks-n-Effects "Rump Shaker," shake along. It was meant to be.
1. Recuerdo--Dave Brubeck
2. Blue Light--Bloc Party
3. Gypsy--Fleetwood Mac
4. Gonna Make You Sweat--C & C Music Factory (that's more like it!)
5. Part Time Love--Luther Allison
6. Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth--Primitive Radio Gods
7. Not Fire, Not Ice--Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
8. Get That Monkey Off Your Back--The Coup
9. Crossing (Lee)--Taj Mahal
10. One More Sunday In Savannah--Nina Simone
And one extra for the Leap Year
11. Only Time Will Tell--Asia

Perhaps I should have left well enough alone. Choose your poison--book meme or random ten, and leave them in the comments.

In an apparently unironic moment today, Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, outrage maker extraordinaire, tormentor of, well, anyone who isn't him, blasted John McCain for gladly taking an endorsement from John Hagee, who is, if I'm not mistaken, the mirror image of Donohue, only Protestant.

Can we stick all three of them in a burlap bag and toss them into the river just upstream of Niagara Falls?

Born again virginity is one of them. Part of my lack of understanding is no doubt due to my maleness--for us, the cultural imperative is to get rid of it as soon as possible, in as decadent and unfeeling as way as possible, so that we may brag about it in the hallways.

But as long as we live in a slut-shaming society, we're going to have this sort of thing:

"Have you already unwrapped the priceless gift of virginity and given it away?" asks the Web site for the Pregnancy Resource Center of Northeast Ohio, where Watts began working part-time after she reclaimed her virginity. "Do you now feel like 'second-hand goods' and no longer worthy to be cherished? Do you ever wish you could re-wrap it and give it only to your future husband or wife? Guess what...? You can decide today to commit to abstinence, wrapping a brand-new gift of virginity to present to your husband or wife on your wedding night."
No thanks. That's the kind of gift you better make sure you get a receipt for, because it's getting traded in for something at the adult book store.

This story is three weeks old, in a way, although the latest developments are just a few days old. Somehow I missed this, but I'm glad I finally caught up to it. It's great when the story of a short story competition is the only good story to come out of it.

The Willesden Herald ran a short story contest, to be judged by the very famous and acclaimed Zadie Smith. I am a big fan of the first 100 pages of Zadie Smith's first novel, and a great detractor of the rest of her work, so don't take this for Zadie Smith worship by a long shot, but she ever-so-delightfully decided not to award the prize to any of the 10 short-listed stories.

Her letter is public and relatively detailed. She ends it:

...I have thought, reading through these entries, that maybe the problem with this prize is that my name is attached to it. To be very clear: just because this prize has the words Willesden and Zadie hovering by it, does not mean that I or the other judges want to read hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of North London. Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires. To be even clearer: if these things turn up and are brilliantly written, they will not be ignored. But we also welcome all those whose literary sympathies lie with Rimbaud or Capote, with Irving Rosenthal or Proust, with Svevo or Trocchi, with Ballard or Bellow, Denis Cooper or Diderot, with Coetzee or Patricia Highsmith, with street punks or Elizabethans, with Southern Gothic or with Nordic Crime, with Brutalists or Realists, with the Lyrical or the Encyclopedic, in the ivory tower, or amongst the trash that catches in the gutter. We welcome everybody. We have only one principle here: MAKE IT GOOD.

So, let’s try again, yes? All the requirements for entry you will find below.

I’m very sorry for any disappointment caused this year, but this prize will continue and we hope it will get stronger with each year that passes. And we promise you now and forever: it will never be sponsored by a beer company.
Cute! But of course this didn't satisfy the 850 entrants, and certainly not the 10 people who'd been told they were short-listed -- told, in fact, to prepare for a possible awards ceremony!

So the Willensden Herald wrote, in minute detail, about the experience of judging this context -- perhaps the best narrative of a literary contest judging ever offered! The whole story is worth your time. Here is just a taste:

When the reading was finished, about three weeks after the closing date, we all met for a weekend marathon of discussion.

We immediately discarded the triple NOs without another look. To have gone through them again, after three people had read them and independently come up with a NO would have been almost impossible. It must be remembered that even judges have day jobs and families! In any case, we were confident that we would not find any reason to reverse our decisions on them.

Piles were made of anything with at least one MAYBE. We started with those stories which had the least support and looked at them again and thought about whether anyone wanted to reconsider.

As we went through the stories, small bits of SM’s dining table started becoming visible under the mounds of paper. We got down to the last 90 or so and then the real battle began.

We reread stories, we wrote lengthy crits of them, we haggled, we drank tea.

When something like the last twenty had been siphoned off, we did consider submitting far less than ten stories to Zadie as the short list was simply not that strong. However, although there was doubt about the strength of the short list, it seemed wise to send Zadie as many hopefuls as possible to give her the chance to see if we had missed anything.
So they agonized and anguished to get to the marrow -- of their shitpile. In the end, all the stories were rejected. The WH at first considered re-doing the contest. Then they thought about other things they could do with the prize money:

Zadie was so disturbed by the idea of not selecting a winner that she even suggested she stand back and that the short-listing judges pick the winner. However, this would have deprived us of the patronage of a writer of Zadie’s stature and so this honourable offer was declined.

The short-listed candidates were contacted and asked whether they wanted their names to appear. Some comments made on the comments page of the blog about these writers were so unflattering that it was decided that the WH should be sensitive to their feelings. Some of them might not want to have it publicised that they were the best out of 850 entries (which is an achievement to be proud of), when they had really been aiming to be the best in Zadie’s opinion.

Of course, emails are not read instantly and so it took some time to garner the short-listed writers’ thoughts.

In response to the negative comments left about the decision not to award the prize, Zadie Smith decided that the money should be split, to help counter the suggestions that the short-listed writers were somehow ‘mediocre’. There was no intention at all of suggesting such a thing and any close reading of Zadie’s statement will show this to be false. Being the best out of 850 entries is no small feat.
In the end, they donated the prize money to Comic Relief.

Still, though, this didn't satisfy the contest entrants. So the WH tried again, this time posting the most delightfully detailed list of DON'TS you're likely to find. It is long, but a really great read, so click the link for all of it... here are just some highlights -- common problems they found in the submitted stories:

2. Overcrowded with characters. Seán Ó Faoláin said a short story is to a novel as a hot air balloon is to a passenger jet. Like a jet the novel takes a long time to get off the ground, carries a lot of people and takes them a long way from where it started. On the other hand, the short story takes off vertically, rises directly to a great height, usually carries only one or two people, and lands not very far from where it took off. So when three, four, five and sometimes even more names are mentioned in the first two pages, it is inevitable that readers will be turned off. They will always suffer from the following problem as well.

3. Undifferentiated characters. A name is not a character. Pinky said this, Perky said that, Blinky said something similar and Pisky said the same, as the old wartime song might have gone. Each character should be a complete person, with their own C.V. if you like, their own history, temperament, habits, weaknesses, plans, objectives etc, though these need not and should not be explicitly listed as such.

4. Solipsism. One miserable person being miserable. This was the most common and depressing failing. Unrelenting monotony of one single, invariably miserable and oppressive viewpoint. No sign of concern or even mention of any other character, nothing other than one person’s dreary moaning. If you are not interested in other characters, at least make it funny.

5. Well-enough written but I just don’t like it. This is the uncongenial protagonist or narrator, arrogant, cruel-minded, usually petty, often attempting gross-out effects, and usually going round in ever-diminishing circles before vanishing in a puff of studied triviality. It leaves a bad taste and invariably evokes the response that it’s well enough written, but I just don’t like it. There is no gun to the reader’s head. People do not read to be grossed out, or to join in somebody else’s squalor or misery. There has to be an element of transcendence, transmutation of the base material into the gold of fiction.

6. Throwaway endings. The story has been going along fairly well, showing signs of life and suddenly the writer must have thought, “Oh I can’t be bothered, I’m just going to put a twist here and finish it.” It’s literally almost impossible to believe sometimes why anybody would ever think of sending in something that is clearly truncated and given up on – what a waste of postage etc.
There are 27 of these, and they're like candy for anyone who's ever taught a creative writing workshop. Amusingly, he lets his full snark out for all 27, then tries to add a sweet little "nice effort kids!" at the end. But it just comes off as a half-hearted attempt to seem a little less true:

P.S. I should add that every single entry was a valiant effort. It's a labour of love to read them as it must have been to write them, when most of us have full working days and only the tired few hours remaining to devote to our art. I only wrote the list of points above to be helpful and to open my own thoughts and prejudices to constructive criticism. Speaking only for myself, I think and always think every year, that all of the writers who entered showed talent and potential, and that among the stories there were many "near misses".

You've really got to admire the amount of text they were willing to put behind their decision. When the Yale Younger series (under Merwin I believe) refused to declare a winner, there was a stone wall for the angry decriers. This is art in and of itself.

In the fewer than four weeks since John Edwards bowed out of the presidential race--and yes, it's only been four weeks--I've been going back and forth on whether I lean Clinton or Obama, and generally giving Obama the edge based on one thing: foreign policy judgment. The war vote means a lot to me. Clinton has never repudiated that vote the way Edwards did, and Obama is even better on that issue.

But it's more than just that one vote that makes me lean toward Obama. It's his willingness to sit down and talk with people, without preconditions, that matters to me. I'm tired of the US being a belligerent nation, a bully that tells smaller nations what to do and how to do it, that threatens instead of communicates. The US is no longer a hyperpower, assuming it ever was in the first place, and our status as a superpower is dependent, in large part, on whether or not smaller nations are willing to deal with us.

"We need to engage with our allies in Latin America and Europe to encourage Cuba on to the right path. "But we simply cannot legitimize rogue regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good but it doesn't meet the real world test of foreign policy."

That sounds like the sort of thing that John McCain would say, or even George W. Bush (assuming that one has cleaned up the malapropisms), but that's Hillary Clinton. We don't legitimize rogue regimes? Seriously? This nation has a history of not only legitimizing rogue regimes, but putting them into place when we felt it served our interests. And after fifty years in power, Castro's rule is hardly rogue anymore. It's no more illegitimate than that of China (our trading partner) or Pakistan (ally in the "war on terror"), so explain to me again how refusing to talk to Raul Castro "doesn't meet the real world test of foreign policy."

Here's what Obama's campaign said about Cuba in particular:
Obama's campaign said Monday that Clinton "may agree with John McCain in supporting the status quo, but the fact is our Cuba policy has failed to advance American interests or freedom for the Cuban people for 50 years.

"Barack Obama's policy will be guided by the principle of liberty for the Cuban people, and he will pursue that goal through strong and direct diplomacy without preconditions, and unlimited family visitation and remittances to the island."
You know who that sounds like? Bill Clinton--the pragmatist, the man who said in a speech that if you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging, not ask for another shovel. But Hillary Clinton keeps up the same belligerent stance toward nations that, frankly, should be our trading partners and allies by any reasonable definition.

One more thing on this, and then I'll let it go.
Clinton said Monday that if elected, "I will not be penciling in the leaders of Iran or North Korea or Venezuela or Cuba on the presidential calendar without preconditions, until we have assessed through lower-level diplomacy the motivations and intentions of these dictators."
This happens all the time, and it drives me crazy--one of those nations is not like the other. Yes, there are reasons to worry that Hugo Chavez wants to become a dictator, but the facts are these: he was elected in a monitored election, and when his recent reform requests were defeated, he accepted that defeat. He's not a dictator, and it's dishonest to lump him in with the likes of Ahmedinejad or Kim Jong Il.

A personal request

And this is limited really to only those people who live in Louisiana.

About a month ago, an old college friend of mine, Matt Hughes got home from work, and in what seems to be a random act of violence, was shot twice in his front yard. He flatlined twice in the ambulance, and afterward, his wife Jan (also an old college friend) was told he'd probably be a vegetable because of oxygen deprivation. Now, only a month later, Matt is home and rehabbing and doing pretty well, from the limited reports I've gotten. He was apparently a groomsman in a wedding a week ago, and was not only able to walk down the aisle, but dance with Jan at the wedding.

As one might expect, though, what's not doing well are their bank accounts. Health insurance has covered a lot, but not nearly everything, and the bills are continuing to come in, along with the recurring ones for things like physical therapy. But I (and my other old college friends who are doing this) am not asking for monetary donations to help them out. We're asking for blood, specifically, blood donations. If you're in Louisiana and you give at the Blood Center, you can tell them that the donation is for Matthew "Matt" Hughes, and Matt and Jan will receive $15 toward their medical expenses. If you're in the area and you can do this, I'd really appreciate it, and I know Matt and Jan would too.

Why I Barked Half the Blog Away

About 10 days ago we had an unfortunate incident on the blog. One of our former co-bloggers posted an essay which threw me into furious fits of absolutely irrational panic, and gave me an almost manic sense that if they didn't stop it right now there would be a high, high price to pay.

I had already figured out to some extent that whatever walls had been helping me cope with the murder of John Locke, 7 1/2 years ago, were starting to break down. I realized this when there were random public murders in Virginia: the professor in the office adjoining mine at the time stopped in to tell me, and I fell into a fight-or-flight response, walked almost without realizing what I was doing to my car, and just drove away. The next day when a reporter from the Palm Beach Post called my office looking for commentary, I was physically sick. When a particularly hen-pecky student of mine insisted that I should make time to discuss it in my creative writing class, the anxiety that she would bring it up despite my wishes (which she did) kept me up for days.

My best friend, Stacy, had a similar reaction to the events at Trolley Square, where two of her dearest friends in Salt Lake City were shopping the day that a man decided to commit random public murders there. She called me and told me, "I'm beginning to think that we never quite dealt with what happened." I knew right away what she meant. And she was right. How could we? The hinges of our office door were six inches of cement block away from the doorway the killer stared at Brian through, after he shot John Locke, before he slammed the door, the police, the standoff, the suicide... and that doorway, forgive me if I get a fucking maudlin here -- I'm resisting telling a million details that would kill you to hear but, even though my brain is screaming them, kill me worse to say -- that doorway was ground zero for the following year: a sprawling memorial of flowers and candles and handwritten notes -- not to mention video cameras, TV lights, photographers, reporters. People -- real people -- would sit at that door and cry. People would sit at our doorway and cry. But reporters -- reporters I cannot describe without spitting. The vultures, the heartless prying pricks. They harassed us within an inch of our sanity. There were incidents, screaming fights, slammed doors. I don't want to get into it.

The thing that I've only come to realize, now that all these years have passed, is how completely wrong I was at the time about myself and my relationship to life. At the time the murder seemed so -- isolated. It was tragic, but it was separate from me. I've only just noticed the obvious: that my two dearest friendships, strongest and realest friendships, with Brian and with Stacy, were forged through the events of that day, and what we went through after -- to a greater extent than I'm even comfortable saying. In a weird way, the murder of John Locke was my and Brian's first date. (Yes, my heart sinks to my feet to know this, let alone say it.) And there are creepier things that I can't say. The point is, my whole life since then has been defined by the events of that day -- probably in more ways than I'm aware.

I've realized that a lot of the fears and phobias that I developed that Fall (which I have spent years blaming on other things) have a lot to do with this, and the details -- which I kind of want to describe, but can't -- that keep replaying, and getting more, not less, intense with time.

I've already apologized to Bill and Emily, and explained to them that their words seemed like cruel and devious attacks on all that was good and right with the universe -- and that I've realized that was a completely faulty perception, brought about by the reemergence of some serious trauma that I've never dealt with. They have forgiven me. I hope everyone else will too.

When the next inevitable random public murders happen, I hope we can just keep mention of it off this particular blog -- lord knows there will be no lack of "coverage" in the world, or the blogosphere -- out of respect for whoever will play our once held, unwanted role, the ones hiding in their cars or shops or offices, just trying to deal.

Random Reading

Been a while since I did one of these, but since I don't have much to blog about at the moment, and wanting to take advantage of the last few vestiges of the traffic John Cole sent our way, I'd like to present a few cool blog posts you might want to check out.

Edit: I'm a fricking idiot. Part of the reason I did this post was because I wanted to link to Sous Rature over at The Sandwich Machine, and I completely forgot to do it.

Saying Nothing Charmingly has a piece on women being denied pap smears in Canada--on religious grounds.

Orcinus gives some credit to a right-winger for standing up against some of the anti-Obama lunacy out there.

Blast Off! asks about gay Republicans. Well, he asks why.

Little Bang Theory has lots of cool pictures of this weird white shit on the ground that isn't cocaine.

And Teh Portly Dyke puts us in touch with our Deity.

Add anything you'd like in the comments. I could use some good reading.

My Students Are Awesome

As a part of my rhetoric class, I've had my students writing letters to the editors of local and national papers. So far, 7 of them have had their letters published. I can't tell you how great it is to teach writing in a context where the students can see an almost instant, non-academic, response to their words and ideas, and can get a taste of the real-world power effective writing can bring. They are an amazing group, and they are doing amazing things with the ancient tools of classical rhetoric. You can check out their argumentative genius on the blog they use to post and comment on each other's letters. (Only the students can comment, sorry.) The published letters are linked at the top-post.

Here's a sample from the Sun Sentinel:

February 19, 2008

As someone who works with young people, I found the brevity of the Feb. 14 article about the teenager killed in a drive-by shooting disturbing. I wanted to learn something about the life that was so tragically taken, such as was he still in school or had he already graduated, but there was nothing of the sort.

More prominent members of the community would have gotten more ink, and that is understandable. However, Ellis Stroud deserved more than 106 words.

Jesus Flores Jr.
Pompano Beach

Post-racial society, huh?


Update: Princess Sparkle Pony has some alternate ideas for Confederate Heritage license plates.

Maybe coming soon from a redneck near you.

From Think Progress via John Cole, the newest in ideas for Florida license plates, guaranteed to piss off a large percentage of the population as quickly as a pristine Bush/Cheney sticker.

Rep. Donald Brown (R) introduced a bill last week to create a “Confederate Heritage” license plate for the state. Saying “it would give motorists a way to show pride in their heritage,” Brown proposes a $25 charge for motorists to purchase a plate with “a shield displaying the rebel battle flag symbol surrounded by several flags from the Civil War era.” The money would benefit “educational programs run by Sons of Confederate Veterans,” which considers the Civil War to be “the Second American Revolution.”
Mind you, he's suggesting this in a state where racial tension is already an issue, and in a year when the Democratic party frontrunner is African-American and the national Republican party is worried that their avenues of attack on him might be construed as racist (which is not hard to understand, given the asshattery of many of their members). Maybe the Republicans should listen to Melissa McEwan's sage advice on how not to be perceived as racist or sexist. They might start by metaphorically slapping Rep. Brown upside the head for being stupid.

P.S. I'm not advocating any action here. I'm just saying I wouldn't be a bit surprised, assuming this plate actually gets made, to see a sharp uptick in auto vandalism on vehicles carrying it.

Buy This Book!

This is actually going to be a pretty mixed review; nonetheless, I would urge you to buy and read Dear Al-Qaeda (Letters to the World's Most Notorious Terror Organization), by Scott Creney.

This book was part of what I consider in hindsight my most valuable find at the NY AWP bookfair -- four books from Black Ocean Press.

The press is small, and makes quirky (good!) choices for who it publishes. Of the four I bought, this one is definitely the most unusual.

The conceit is that the book is written as a series of letters to Al-Qaeda. The letters are funny, although clearly it is a sort of dark, misanthropic humor. At first the letter-writer lives in Boston, then he and his girlfriend go to Florida to try to earn more/save more money (an odd choice, if that is your goal). Most usually the letter-writer complains about some wretchedly superficial or phony part of American culture, and makes a polite request for Al-Qaeda to blow it up. He makes this suggestion about the bank that holds his student loans (shades of Fight Club), the Thanksgiving Day Parade and a featured float singer who sings, "All I have to do is think of me and I have peace of mind," a "Death Metal" concert ("Show them who the real badasses are"), and various people he serves in his catering job (oddly he requests that Al-Qaeda not blow up the debutantes -- perhaps the author was just trying to throw us a curve). The majority of this is both insightful and funny, especially in the first half of the book.

Then something happens. Around 2/3s of the way through the book, the observations go from insightful and funny to just mean-spirited and narrow minded. The things the letter-writer chooses to pick on become much, shall we say, easier. Okay, I'll just call it what it is: pot-shots at barn-sized targets. He mocks old people giving themselves a formal dance at a retirement home. An old fat lady ordering donuts too slowly. He spends a page describing the horrible pink/turquoise combination often found in Florida on Art Deco buildings, as though he's the first to notice it, and as though the color scheme were ripped off of the opening credits to "Miami Vice" (and not the other way round). The fact that the state of Florida is shaped like a penis comes in for a few two many "cute" quips. The letter-writer proposes a new reality show in which contestants must guess whether the fat people motoring around Wal-Mart on their little scooters are genuinely crippled or just fat and lazy (and he suggests proving it one way or another by coaxing them to their feet with a donut). The letter-writer's lack of humanity starts to take over the stage.

There is art in this, of course: his transformation into a man who fails to see the humanity around him, an analog to Al-Qaeda. Particularly telling for me was his description of his co-workers at one of his jobs as being completely uninteresting, sad, defeated people. I've held close to 40 jobs in my life (including the job he describes here, as an inventory counter), and I've never failed to find something interesting about the people there (and in fact, the inventory counters were some of the wackiest people I'd ever met!). So by my eye, he's just becoming tired of himself, unwilling to live, just sort of droning through his days. As I said, there is art in this.

At the end of the book a predictably traumatic thing happens to him and his girlfriend (no spoilers!), they split up, and the book comes to a stuttering denouement when the final page announces, "Scott Creney no longer lives in Florida." I would urge everyone to read this book, because it's fascinating. But the way the book tries to turn all "Scott's" issues into "Florida" -- as though Florida were the problem -- is kind of stupid. And once again, kind of easy.

The real problem with this book, as I see it, is the 10-letter hyphenated word on the top left corner of the back cover: NON-FICTION. First, I do not believe this is non-fiction. There are too many things in the book that reek of artful artifice -- they are wonderful and enjoyable, but they are not factual. For example, early in the book a letter claims Scott is going to reproduce a conversation he overheard; what follows is several pages of gloriously paced great art, but it isn't an overheard conversation. Even if the author swears up and down every word is true, the conceit itself is fictional. Al-Qaeda did not receive, Scott did not send, Scott did not intend to send, these letters to Al-Qaeda. If the form is fictional, the book is fictional, even if he is including details of his life, and our shared cultural life.

And there's a blowback to the book being labeled NON-FICTION. Because of that word, I am inclined to dislike the author when I begin to dislike the letter-writer. And while I can dislike a narrator or protagonist and still love a book, it becomes a lot harder when the author claims, "this is all true! This is really me!" The book needs to be fiction just so the reader can focus on the story, and not be distracted by a growing distaste for the author.

So in the end, I could suggest that the book would be better if its narrator/author were more sympathetic, or I could just suggest that you will LOVE this book so long as you scratch out the "NON" on the back cover. The first suggestion changes the whole book; the second suggestion changes how the reader perceives it. And I think the problem really is the latter. So long as this is fiction, it is wonderful. It's that word, NON-FICTION, that's fucking everything up.

Where's my sharpie? On my copy, I'm just gonna blot it out.

Cuz fat guys are funny!

Ah, the old pairing of fat guys and hot women rears its predictable head again.

MIAMI - The Florida Marlins are looking for some footloose fat men. The National League team is creating an all-male, plus-size cheerleading squad to be dubbed the Manatees. Tryouts were scheduled for Sunday.

The team hopes to recruit seven to 10 tubby men to dance, cheer and jiggle during Friday and Saturday home games this season.
First of all--baseball cheerleaders? Apparently, the Miami Marlins--gotta get used to that name--already have a female cheerleading squad named the Mermaids. The reporter describes them as "considerably more svelte." Whatever--this is baseball, and I've never heard of cheerleaders in baseball.

Not that I'm a lover of tradition for tradition's sake. I'm cool with interleague play, and while I'd rather see pitchers hit, I don't think the designated hitter is an abomination. I've never seen the big deal about steroid or other drug abuse in the game. But cheerleaders?

And now, the fat guys. The Manatees, for crying out loud.

Look, this is Miami. South Beach. Wilton Manors. So gay the homophobes are campy. Okay, not that gay--but gay enough that maybe the local guys--who, as the article points out rather snarkily, aren't known for showing up at the games--might appreciate a little eye candy of their own. Why not? It's not like they're selling tickets now.

Expand the base, I say--give women and gay men a reason to skip work and go to a getaway game on a Tuesday afternoon.

Pam over at Pandagon has a graphic she pulls out for these kinds of stories--a human hand with the world's smallest violin sitting in it.

It hasn't been easy getting people excited about celebrating the 200th birthday of that tall, gaunt, bearded, Kentucky-bred president who was born in a log cabin and went on to lead his people through a bloody civil war....

"The response to date has been timid," acknowledges Bertram Hayes-Davis, head of the Davis Family Association and great-great grandson of the only president of the short-lived Confederate States of America. "Nobody has said no. Many haven't said yes."

Because Davis was a former secretary of war, Hayes-Davis wrote to the Department of Defense to see if it was interested in participating in some activity "to educate the public about the real Jefferson Davis." The agency didn't even reply.

I can't often say I'm proud of the Department of Defense, but I am here. Jefferson Davis was a piece of crap of a human being, who led half a nation to war to defend the right to own other human beings. And he never repented or relented from those beliefs. He deserves whatever vilification he gets.

So I'm looking at this piece from Salon's War Room about David Shuster. I'd seen it linked and mentioned in passing elsewhere, but I hadn't actually read it myself. The nugget seemed to be that Shuster said, aloud, that he knew that the hammer came down on him for more than what he said about Chelsea Clinton, that he was being punished for the sins of other, bigger game at MSNBC that weren't going to be touched (read: Chris Matthews).

But then I read it, and to Alex Koppelman at the War Room, I don't know that you can really call this an apology of sorts from Shuster, because it seems to me he still doesn't get it.

"I have the responsibility to make my point precisely and aggressively, without using coarse language," Shuster says. "Clearly, it was inappropriate for a lot of viewers. I made a horrible mistake by allowing people to be distracted by some words rather than focus on the story."

It was more than the words. The very idea that there was something unseemly about Chelsea Clinton doing what adult children of presidential candidates have been doing for decades was also a big part of the problem. It's the Clinton rules in full effect.

So let's make it clear--there was no story in the first place, Mr. Shuster. What Chelsea Clinton was doing was no different than what Mitt Romney's sons were doing, or what the Bush daughters and Kerry's step-kids did in 2004. That her last name is Clinton doesn't make it suddenly unseemly. That's the lesson you needed to take away from this, and it seems you didn't. Try again.

I'm not saying that either Obama or Clinton are messianic saviors who will rid the earth of evil. Nor am I saying that they're going to lay down their lives so that all who believe in them may be saved. I'm not even saying (as some particularly foolish talking heads have), that either is a cult leader. But both are like Jesus in one way.

They both seem to be personally likable, and at heart, believe that they have the answers for a number of the problems facing the nation. They're both good people in a lot of ways.

But their followers, that's another story.

Let me be clear here--I'm not talking about the majority of Democrats who, according to most polls, say they have no problem if either is the nominee. Count me in that group. I lean a little more toward Obama, but that's over matters of style more than substance. Neither was my first choice, and I see little substantive difference between them.

Nor am I talking about the people who have been calling out the various campaigns for sexist or racist or anti-gay dog whistles, because they're doing what needs to be done--challenging candidates while we're in the primary stage and demanding that they not be used as fodder to appeal to bigoted and closed-minded voters.

No, I'm talking about those supporters who are as fundamentalist in their support of their candidate as any Young Earth Creationist, who claim that if their person is not the nominee, they will forgo the election in November, if not cross the aisle to vote for John McCain. I'm talking about some of these people, or a number of the commenters here, and in many various other parts of the left blogosphere. I'm talking about people so sold on their candidate that they refuse to acknowledge that either one is, from any reasonably liberal or progressive perspective, two fuckloads better than John McCain on any issue you care to name. Nope, it's their person or nothing, and damn the consequences.

Hopefully, there won't be any this time around. I really do think that most of the Democratic party and Independents who are leaning that way are enough to overwhelm whatever few internet fundamentalists are planning to sit it out if their messiah doesn't make the cut. I find it hard to believe that either Obama or Clinton will have much trouble dispatching John McCain in November. And I also believe that many, if not most of the people who are expressing such outrage against one or the other will put that aside when the fury of this primary season is done--I never thought I'd be glad my candidate was done early in the process, but after watching this train wreck, it certainly doesn't hurt as badly.

After all, even with the huge turnouts at the primaries and the great interest in this historic election season, most of the country isn't tuned in yet, especially not at the blog-ular level. I think that sometimes we bloggers get an inflamed sense of ourselves, of how much we matter to the debate at large. We're tuned in, so we expect most others are as well, but really, right now more people are interested in the next season of American Idol than are interested in the presidential campaign, and it's a tiny minority who can cite the minutiae of the campaign squabbles.

So I encourage everyone to take a breath, let it out, and acknowledge that your candidate really isn't a savior, nor is his or her opponent the devil, at least not until after the convention. Then it's on.

What's it going to take?

This isn't a joke. It isn't cute. It isn't funny.

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. - A South Florida student who wrote an article about Black History Month said she found a noose hanging near her lunch table. Moremi Akinde, a student at Somerset Academy in Pembroke Pines, wrote an article for a community newspaper and then became the victim of a hate crime, she said....

"On Wednesday, she heard a joke that was going around on campus which was, 'What do an apple and a black man have in common?'" said mother Adeyela Bennett. "The answer is, 'They both look best hanging from a tree.'"
Nooses, racist jokes--and a headmaster who's unwilling to do anything of substance about it.
Moremi said that five boys, of different ethnicities, told her and the school's headmaster that hanging the noose was a joke.

However, Adeyela and Bradley Bennett said the school's lack of reaction to the incident was no laughing matter. "He said, 'There's nothing I can do. The students involved are the best, brightest honor students at our school,'" Adeyela Bennett said.

It sounds to me like the headmaster knows who did this, even though the statement he released makes it sound like it's still up in the air. But vague statements about tolerance and respect aren't enough here. The headmaster Bernardo Montero didn't even acknowledge that there's an underlying problem at the school in his statement--he said "Administrators will also work to determine if underlying issues exist." Here's a hint--if you have teens hanging nooses at your school and telling racist jokes openly, there's an underlying problem, The question is one of severity, not of existence.

A True Feminist Hero

Via Amanda. (And no, it's not Ann Coulter--just watch the thing.)


Mawwiage

Salon has a weird story up about same-sex marriage. Why, it asks, now that people can be married without regard to the sex of the partners, aren't more gay people getting married!? It goes on to explore the reasons why. But its very premise is supported by facts like this:

MA: roughly 30,000 gay couples living in the state; 9,695 gay marriages so far.

CA: roughly 108,734 gay households; 40,663 registered "domestic partners" so far.

NJ: 21,405 gay households; 2,069 civil unions so far.

CT: 9,540 gay households; 1,750 civil unions so far.

VT: 2,886 same-sex households; 8,598 civil unions so far.

In every case (especially VT's), it's clear that people are coming in from out of state to get married, unioned, or partnered, so it's not like you can really say "one third of gay couples in MA have gotten married!" -- but these numbers don't strike me as low.

The article argues that they are low, and gives all the reasons people give for not getting government rules slapped all over their coupling more often (the biggest one being, "I'm holding out for marriage, as opposed to civil union or domestic partnership"). That's fine. But, are these numbers really all that low? I mean, the article presumes that any couple living together must want to get married.

I got news for you.

This whole country is full, from sea to shining sea, of different-sex couples who have had the right to wed since they were of age (which isn't that old, in some states), and who choose not to. Me, for example. I don't want to get married. What if we break up? Man, if we were married, that would make it such a hassle. Also, I don't want to wake up each day and look at the person I'm stuck with or that I've chosen (past tense) -- I want to look at the person and love him and want him new every day.

Not everyone digs what I just described. Groovy. And a lot of people are into marriage. Cool, baby, I dig it. It's kind of like being into bondage. Sometimes you want your nuts crushed, or whatnot. Not for me, but I totally respect that. And I totally respect those same-sex couples who get married (although I would not want to do as they do) -- that's what they're into and more power to 'em.

But to suggest that we should somehow be herding more people toward the altar just because they can get married? Anyone who agress with that, c'mere... (this is for you): Fuck you. The very suggestion makes you no better than those righty types who call my chosen way of life "living in sin." The fact that you're trying to tell gay people to "sanctify" their private lives according to what you see as "right" instead of saying it to straight people changes nothing.

Quit hassling people and go run your own love life.

Not the strongest argument and the Random Ten

Consumer Man over at MSNBC.com has a really good article this morning about some pending federal legislation that wold help rein in the credit card industry, which needs some reining in for its own good. I mean, when you have a judgment against a guy, it's probably not a good idea to send him a pre-approval for a car loan up to $30K, and yet that happened to me just this past week.

Anyway, it's Rep. Carolyn Maloney who has put this bill forward and it has some good stuff in it, mainly dealing with quick rate increases and unfair fees. Obviously, the banking industry doesn't like the bill, but I found it funny the reason why.

The banking industry says it is committed to consumer protection and responsible lending, yet it opposes many of the provisions in the bill. In a statement, Edward Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association, says he has “serious concerns” that certain aspects of this legislation “would have unintended consequences such as more expensive and less accessible credit.”
Mr. Yingling, Ed, if I may, I'm no economist, but from what I hear, a large part of the massive shitstorm we're being splattered with economically speaking is because of cheap and easily-accessible credit. And it's not like this is a secret--it's been on the news a lot lately. We had a housing bubble because of cheap and easily-accessible credit, and credit card companies are seeing record defaults because of it, and you're worried that certain aspects of this legislation might cause an end to it. You're not exactly in the strongest position here, Ed.

Anyway, go read the piece. It's a long way from becoming law, and there will be bipartisan opposition to it, because financial institutions love to play both sides of the fence, so Rep. Maloney can use all the help she can get pushing this through, and even then it might take a Democratic President to make it actually happen. Still, no reason to wait. Let's get after it.

Here's the Random Ten--turn on the Party Shuffle and post the next ten songs, no matter how embarrassing. We've seen you doing the Funky Cold Medina in your underwear anyway--it was that time you tried to prove that tequila makes you drunker than vodka. Here we go.
1. What'd I Say--Ray Charles
2. King of Comedy--R.E.M.
3. Three Little Words--Milt Jackson and John Coltrane
4. Wrapped Around Your Finger--The Police
5. Heroin--The Velvet Underground
6. The Thrill is Gone--B. B. King
7. Paperback Writer--The Beatles
8. Took Out the Trash and Never Came Back--Mojo Nixon
9. Helplessly Hoping--Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
10. Junco Partner--Professor Longhair

I can't quite tell if this list is classic, or simply pedestrian. Help me out in the comments.

Sometimes I just don't know

A Florida legislator from Miami, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, has introduced a bill in the state house that would make hanging a noose to intimidate others illegal. It's being pushed in response to, among other things, the incident last year in Jena, LA, which I and my co-bloggers wrote about here.

The devil is, of course, in the details.

The bill, filed last week, would prohibit a person from placing a noose in a public place, on the property of another without written permission of the owner or in an exhibit of any kind with the intention of intimidating another person.
It's the first and third part that worries me, both as an artist and as an advocate of free speech, even hateful, potentially threatening speech.

I have no problems with the second condition, by the way. Most cases of this would constitute making a work environment hostile to a certain class of people, and I've got no problem telling business owners that if they're going to allow their employees to hang nooses, then they're going to put their names on them as well.

I'm torn on the public spaces one, frankly. I don't like groups like the Klan, but they do serve a purpose. They remind us--in case we live in a privileged position and forget--that hatred still exists out there, and that ignoring it is not an option. And Klanspeople do have the right to speak in public just like everyone else--just like we have the right to speak back and try to drown them out. If a noose is part of their symbolism, I'm loathe to deny them that, because that sort of law could just as easily be turned around on me someday. Freedom of speech is important, but it isn't easy.

But the hard one is the third one, because it asks for law enforcement people, and then later, a jury, one assumes, to determine intent, and that's a hazy question at times. For instance, what about this exhibit?
It's from an art installation in Tallahassee I wrote about last March called "The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag," and the Sons of Confederate Veterans hated it. Now say, instead, they complained to the local authorities that they felt threatened by that noose, that they felt it was an incitement to violence against people who "honored their southern heritage" by hating African-Americans? And don't think that it wouldn't happen--these are people who have been claiming for generations that the slaves were happy on the plantation and that the Civil War wasn't about that anyway. And in some parts of the country, that argument would fly.

One of the reasons I think it's a bad idea to shut down speech, even hate speech, is that if you force it underground, you allow the purveyors of that hatred an argument that they're being martyred for political reasons. I think it's better that they be allowed out to speak, and be mocked for it. Let them try to sell their ideas in the market of public opinion--they will go home just as bankrupt as they came in.

Let me say, however, that I wouldn't object if this law passes. My hesitation is theoretical, but the threat to African-Americans is real, and it seems to be on the uptick lately. I'll be very surprised if the Presidential election goes forward without at least one overt attempt on Barack Obama's life. Dave Neiwert has pointed out that the Klan wants Obama dead, and Bill O'Reilly's comments about not sending a lynching party after Michelle Obama for her remarks about her pride in the country unless she really meant them (at which point, one assumes, BillO would be carrying the rope). In the face of that, are my concerns about the limited potential for the misuse of a law against an art installation valid? (In case you haven't figured this out yet, I'm sort of working through this as I write.) They're probably valid, but I don't think they warrant an objection to this law. Some things are, after all, more important.

Asking permission

When it comes to making major purchases, Amy and I generally talk it out, as in, we look at each other, one says "you want to?" and the other says "why not? There's room on the credit card." I'm a bad influence, admittedly.

But apparently, we're an oddity, especially when it comes to electronics. I mean, that's what I have to take away from Rob Enderle, who was talking about Toshiba's retreat from the hi-def DVD wars.

There are good reasons to wait. Among them are the cost of the players, which range between $400 and $500 and are expected to remain at that level in the months ahead, said Rob Enderle, president of The Enderle Group research firm.

Even at $400, that’s about twice the price most consumers are comfortable with — the “I-don’t-have-to-ask-my-wife’s-permission” number of around $200, said Enderle.
I guess in most households, wives are stingy bitches who are constantly screwing up the guys' ability to spend their hard-earned money on important stuff they want by stomping their hopes and dreams for a Blu-Ray player into little DVD shards, which they then insert in their vaginas so as to emasculate them the next time they have sex, which won't be for a year if they buy the Blu-Ray without getting permission.

Okay, that's a bit much. The women don't really insert the shards into their vaginas. They just use the sharp edges to de-nut the men in their sleep. Makes me glad I'm not married.

Of course, Rob Enderle could just be another clueless guy who thinks women aren't interested in consumer electronics, who don't care about things like flat-screen televisions or iPhones. I readily cop to being a gadget freak, but I'm too cheap to buy anything on my own. Our small flat screen television was Amy's idea. The iPhone? Amy's--I got the iPod Touch instead. And Amy's next computer will probably be an Air. And neither of us will grant the other permission--we'll look at each other, say "you want to?" and reply "what's another two years of credit card bills?"

And no one gets dismissed as a lesser for it.

Refusing to be denied

Amanda has a terrific post up about young people in Texas who decided to bring attention to the biased and racist decision of where to put polling places for the primary. Approxiately 2,000 students and supporters from Prairie View A &M, a historically black college, marched seven and a half miles to vote, two at a time, until they all vote, or until the county gives them more machines. She has pictures up, and they are inspiring. Go look.

Si, Se Puede

One of my students turned me on to this. No matter what you think about Obama with your head, every other part of your body is going to think this is really cool. (And your head is going to dig the artistry, if nothing else.)


Miami Marlins?

I'd be really surprised if the Miami city commission doesn't vote to help the Marlins build a new stadium--I seem to be in the minority of people who think it's a bad idea to use public money to make rich people richer, but I can deal I guess. At least the state's not kicking in any green--that would piss me off, seeing as FAU may have to turn away students because of budget cuts. All the public money is coming from the city and county, and while it's a sizable chunk of change, at least it's not coming from a pie I have a huge interest in. Selfish, I know, but I'm trying to be an optimist here.

And I guess the name change makes sense as well, though it'll feel odd. Miami is paying for the stadium, not Florida, so Miami Marlins it is.

Unexpected Sunshine

Someone left the sun in a tree near the university parking garage I use.

John McCain, Literary* Figure

From Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love:

But a reform politician has no such lodestone. His devotion is to the welfare of all the people--an abstraction of very high order and therefore, capable of endless definitions. If indeed it can be meaningful terms. In consequence, your utterly sincere, and incorruptible reform politician is capable of breaking his word three times before breakfast--not from personal dishonesty, as he sincerely regrets the necessity and will tell you so--but from unswerving devotion to his ideal.

All it takes to get him to break his word is for somebody to get his ear and convince him that it is necessary for the greater good of all the peepul. He'll geek.

After he gets hardened to this , he's capable of cheating at solitaire.


Senator John McCain from todays NY Times:
Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

Mr. McCain promised, for example, never to fly directly from Washington to Phoenix, his hometown, to avoid the impression of self-interest because he sponsored a law that opened the route nearly a decade ago. But like other lawmakers, he often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, Ms. Iseman’s client. (Last year he voted to end the practice.)

Mr. McCain helped found a nonprofit group to promote his personal battle for tighter campaign finance rules. But he later resigned as its chairman after news reports disclosed that the group was tapping the same kinds of unlimited corporate contributions he opposed, including those from companies seeking his favor. He has criticized the cozy ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, but is relying on corporate lobbyists to donate their time running his presidential race and recently hired a lobbyist to run his Senate office.

“He is essentially an honorable person,” said William P. Cheshire, a friend of Mr. McCain who as editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic defended him during the Keating Five scandal. “But he can be imprudent.”

The sexy part of the article involves the idea that McCain may have been having an affair with a lobbyist at one point, but I really don't care about that. Sex scandals are so blasé, after all. This is a lot more fun to me.

*I use the term "literary" very loosely at times.

As appropriate now as it was then

Via TPM.

Clinton surrogate and Machinists union President Tom Buffenbarger: "Give me a break! I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius- driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter."


Amy's reply to a similar attack on liberals from 2004:


Okay, so it's not a perfect analog. Clinton is far from being George W. Bush.

And what's wrong with being a poet anyway?

Freshman Study Abroad

Or, "pre-freshman," really, since these students will not be earning college credit:

Princeton is working to create a program to send a tenth or more of its newly admitted students to a year of social service work in a foreign country before they set foot on campus as freshmen.
Why?
...such a program would give students a more international perspective, add to their maturity and give them a break from academic pressures. [Princeton's president] called it a year of “cleansing the palate of high school, giving them a year to regroup.” ... Princeton would not charge tuition for the year abroad, and would even offer financial assistance to those who needed it.
At this point you're probably thinking, like I am, that this sounds like a great thing: an awesome life-changing experience for a teenager who's never seen another part of the world, in many cases, even if it is more of just a lark for the high-achieving well-traveled set. Nonetheless, one must admit the upperest crust U's seem to be getting more meritocratic, lately, what with everything Harvard (and now other Ivy league schools) are doing to diversify their students by income, etc.

Growing numbers of high school students have opted to take a “gap year” before entering college, and many colleges offer one-year deferrals to students they admit. A small industry has developed to place some of them in work or travel experiences in other countries that often cost thousands of dollars. But experts say they believe that Princeton will be the first university to formalize such a program for entering freshmen, though many institutions offer study-abroad programs for students already on campus.

Proponents of the year off say it allows students to discover themselves and the world before they enter college.

“People are too young when they start college,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “This way, they would have a year to mature, and they can do something constructive.”

That's when it hit me: people entering college are 18 years old. My parents were married with kids at 18 years old. My grandparents too. Job-holders. Tax-payers. Mortgagees. Draftees. There's nothing about the age that makes you immature. It's the life-choices you made. Couldn't Princeton create more of an effect by just admitting more non-traditional (different-life-choice) students?

Instead, they're going to be accepting the same babies, then trying to mature them themselves with this program. And since these experiences won't be of their own doing, but will be part of a Princeton "program," and since they won't be surrounded by different people, but rather by other Princeton "program" members, won't this just backfire into extended summer camp and another way to delay growing up?

Maybe if, instead, applicants knew that another year of age or a year of work would "look good on the college ap," and maybe put their application above the rest, that would change the choices they make, in the same way college aps make skinny nerds take up sports, the unmusical take up clarinet, and the generally mediocre take years of test prep classes. If they knew they had to compete with single mothers, war veterans, and recovering drug addicts, maybe then they'd get out there, start families, start wars... oh wait, this is a bad idea, isn't it?

Nevermind. ;-)

This is why Social Security is so important

Dry subject, I know, but the inordinate amount of interest I continue to see from the right wing, especially among young people, in privatizing Social Security concerns me, because it's clear that these young people don't really understand the purpose of the program.

The common objections to the Social Security program is that, compared to other investments, you don't get a good return on your dollar, and that's true. But Social Security gives you something else as a tradeoff--security. You'll have a defined benefit at the end, when you retire, or if you're disabled. You get security and you sacrifice a little money.

"But," these young people say, "I'm not concerned about safety, because over time, I'll do better on my own." Maybe you will, I reply. Or maybe you'll wind up like these people.

Trent Charlton knew the risks when he borrowed $10,000 from his 401(k) and cut his retirement savings in half.

But Charlton, a 40-year-old account executive at an Irvine, Calif., trucking company, said he had little choice because he and his wife could not keep up with monthly expenses after American Express reduced the limits on three credit cards.

As home prices fall and banks tighten lending standards, more people are doing the same thing: raiding their retirement savings just to get by and spending their nest eggs to gas up SUVs, pay mortgages or put food on the table.

That's right--more and more people are tapping into, not their savings (they don't have any of that any more), but their retirement accounts. They're burning their futures now, and betting on the idea that they'll get to make it up later. And the guy in that story doesn't have much of one to begin with--$20K in a 401(k) at age 40 isn't much, and it certainly isn't enough to be borrowing from at this point.

Now take this guy, and take away his Social Security backup. Now he's looking at working until he's dead, because he's eating his retirement now and there's no way he can make it up later.

That's why the first real defeat the Congressional Democrats handed King George the Lesser way back in 2005 over Social Security was so important--because it protected that safety net that will catch people like Trent Charlton if he's never able to repay his 401(K), or worse, never able to start contributing again. He'll have something--it might not be enough to maintain the lifestyle he's accustomed to, but it'll be something.

Here's the reason why any real privatization of Social Security has to fail. We're going to spend that money anyway. We've decided, as a nation, that it's a good thing to make sure seniors and disabled people don't starve to death on the street, so we provide a pension for them. It might not be enough, but it's something. So even if we privatize, when those people who made bad choices or who had the market collapse at the wrong time for them or who just had shit-bad luck are no longer able to work and the choices are let them starve or help them out, we'll help them out. We're going to pay it, one way or another. At least this way, everyone shares the burden.

Did we just win one?

I think we did.

Florida's State Board of Education has voted to use the term "scientific theory of evolution" in new science standards, the first time the word "evolution" has been included.

Florida's current standards require the teaching of evolution using code words like "change over time."

Adding the term "scientific theory" before the term "evolution" was a modified proposal at least one board member called a compromise, not standards proposed originally to the committee. The option to include "scientific theory" was made late last week.
Hat tip to MisterOpus1.

As I said in that diary, this still isn't great, but it is better than it was, and it's way better than I ever hoped for, as I said this morning. One commenter at the Kos diary worries about the insertion of the word theory, because he sees it as a way for Creationists to denigrate evolution. I disagree. For starters, evolution is a theory, and putting that tag on it will allow a teacher to explain what a scientific theory is--like gravitational theory or the theory of relativity--thus undercutting the attempt at minimizing evolution.

Regardless, there will be no more hedging in the Florida schools, and that's a good thing all the way around.

Brian's Poetic Genius

Congratulations to Brian on his poem US Route 50 appearing in Story South (a really quality web journal) today.

Some yummy:

We stopped in Middlegate, Nevada,
to add your shoes to the roadside tree
that held what seemed like thousands.
Shoelaces tied together, old black Reeboks
became a bolo slung through iced air,
but they never hooked a branch.
Few houses, fewer towns, and what
we called towns were a bar, maybe
a gas station, a pale blue tin building
with plywood sign: Lucido Diesel Mech.

I resisted quoting the best part, so go to Story South and read the rest!

The Reebok and the Hwy 50 Shoe Tree

Come On Florida, Don't Embarrass Me

Please don't turn us into Kansas. I mean, we're close as it is, what with your insistence on calling evolution "biological changes over time." But here's your chance to make it right, to stand for fact over superstition. Seriously, if you fail on this, you're giving this person credibility.

Laura Lopez, a mother of three from West Palm Beach who spoke at last month's hearing in Miramar, said last week that to her dismay, she expects the new standards to be adopted.

"Evolution is just another one of Satan's lies to get people to believe there is no god," the devout Christian said. Lopez is not worried about exposing her children to the theory of evolution, though, saying, "my kids know the truth; I just don't say it's not true, I show them proof."
Satan's lies--that's what she called it. This isn't a serious discussion--we're talking about a debate between provable, observable fact and mythology. As for me, I'm with the educators, who sent a letter to the Board of Education.

"Yielding to these pressures would be a real disservice to Florida because it would not only seriously impede the education of our children, but also create the image of a backward state," said a letter last week from educators who wrote the standards to the state Board of Education.
Indeed.

Heartbreaking

This is hardly new ground for Bob Herbert, having written extensively about the sex trade for quite some time. But this column really underscores how messed up our system is.

But law enforcement does not always respond in a positive or constructive way. It is common across the country for under-age girls engaged in prostitution to be arrested, which is bizarre when you consider that it is a serious crime — statutory rape — for an adult to have sex with a minor.

If no money is involved, the youngster is considered a victim. But if the man pays for the sex — even if the money is going to the pimp, which is so often the case — the child is considered a prostitute and thus subject in many venues to arrest and incarceration.

Messed up doesn't even begin to describe this. It's a national disgrace that victims would be charged in a situation like this instead of treated and given shelter. And the excuse that prosecutors give--that without the threat of jail, these victims won't testify against their pimps and johns--is disgusting. If you don't offer these victims some better options--treatment, safety, security--then they're going to look out for themselves first, and since they're likely to run into these people on the streets again, of course they're not going to testify. They didn't survive by being stupid. You have to offer them a path away from the streets, and you have to get them to trust you--promising to imprison them for being raped isn't the way to build that trust.

Fidel

Lilia heard the churn of the limo's big gringo engine as it stopped in front of her house. She dropped the guitar and rose to her feet, drawn up by some unseen force. Outside, the sunroof of the limo slid open and he sprang through, like a jack-in-the-box, like a God lit up by a shaft of moonlight, and at the exact same time, the candle she was burning to Ochun flared.

Lilia felt her feet start to move before she could even think, and she was out the door, in the street, and she entered and he was there, her love was there and beautiful and the years had been kind to him and she could hardly breathe as he said, "I told you I would come and get you in a giant white chariot." Then somehow her nightgown melted off her body, the feathers detaching and fluttering around her. The only thing she could do was say his name, the most beautiful word in the world to her, "Fidelito!" Her whole body trembled as he brought his lips to hers and took her in his arms. And then, nothing. Something was wrong. No taste of caramel. She stroked his hair, started to cry for their lost youth. As she cried, she reached out to touch his left ear, then to caress it. It was smooth, whole, unscarred.

Lilia jerked up wildly, shoving with animal fury, shrinking from him as if he had opened his mouth and revealed a serpent's tongue.

When she finally found her voice she screamed, "Fraud! Where's my Fidel!"

~ from Naked Came the Manatee (Antoni)
My thoughts: 1) this will make no Miami Cubans happy. They want him dead, maybe deposed on a bad day, but not voluntarily stepping down; 2) many believe he's been dead for years and this is simply his last body double; 3) he's probably going to retire to South Beach; 4) end the embargo, already! I want to go hiking in Cuba!

As Long As We're Pulling Theories Out of Our Asses

[What you gon' do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?
I'm a guess, guess, guess, guess, at stuff,
Guess at stuff -- I don't know what.]



Interesting factoids courtesy of Le Nouveau Yorque Times:

...the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group. (All figures are adjusted for population.)

For women 45 to 54, the rate leapt 31 percent. ...the suicide rate for 15-to-19-year-olds increased less than 2 percent during that five-year period — and decreased among people 65 and older.
...
For men 45 to 54, the five-year rate increase was 15.6 percent.
The rest of the story is a nice sampling of anecdote and opinion: the anecdotes of course emphasizing the completely individual nature of the suicides, the opinion of course casting wide nets to try to find "an explanation" for this startling statistical turn.
At the moment, the prime suspect is the skyrocketing use — and abuse — of prescription drugs. During the same five-year period included in the study, there was a staggering increase in the total number of drug overdoses, both intentional and accidental, like the one that recently killed the 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger. Illicit drugs also increase risky behaviors, C.D.C. officials point out, noting that users’ rates of suicide can be 15 to 25 times as great as the general population.
...
Looking at the puzzling 28.8 percent rise in the suicide rate among women ages 50 to 54, Andrew C. Leon, a professor of biostatistics in psychiatry at Cornell, suggested that a drop in the use of hormone replacement therapy after 2002 might be implicated. It may be that without the therapy, more women fell into depression, Dr. Leon said, but he cautioned this was just speculation.
...
In the last five years, Dr. Katz said, the [Veteran's] agency has noticed that the highest suicide rates have been among middle-aged men and women. Those most affected are not returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, but those who served in Vietnam or right after, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer force began.
...
Myrna M. Weissman, the chief of the department in Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute, concluded...a susceptibility to depression among the affluent and healthy baby boom generation two decades ago, in a 1989 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. One possible reason she offered was the growing pressures of modern life, like the changing shape of families and more frequent moves away from friends and relatives that have frayed social support networks.

So:
Legal Drugs
Illegal Drugs
Less Use of HRT
Military Volunteerism (plus 30 years incubation)
Being Rich and Baby Boom
"Modern Life"
and
Frequent Moves Away from Family & Friends; Frayed Social Networks

That's not a bad sampling of opinions for one little reporter to dig up! We should have a vote! Of course, there could be additional reasons (a soul-crushing working world, a crappy economy, pollution from food and water imitating hormones in our bodies, drugs and medical-grade hormones in the meat and milk supply, desensitization to violence, um, Bush...), and of course there could just be a surfeit of reasons all working in concert to make the Bush years (yes, I'll give this one to him) particularly suicide-prone, but I read a book recently that was all about death and destruction and suicide (and simply dying) in the natural world (The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom), in which he gives examples of animals literally curling up and dying when cut off from their packs, pods, and clans (not cut off by man, but for social reasons cast out), sponge cells, completely capable (biologically) of thriving alone dying when removed from the sponge colony, and even death rates as high as 90% in orphanages where the babies were born healthy and received excellent care -- but no love. His argument is essentially towards the super-organism, that we are so enmeshed in the societies that we are part of that, when we feel disconnected, we are like a cell removed from a living organ that dies alone. Looking at not just suicide but also untimely deaths, he notes a curious consistency in how people die when they no longer feel needed: widowers' likelihood of death in the months after the death of their wives is startling, career men who drop dead immediately upon retirement (as my grandfather did), people who die right after a major family disruption, a divorce, a move... it's just speculation but better supported speculation than any of the above. Perhaps many middle-aged people no longer feel useful enough. This is simply a restating and expansion of the last in the New York Times' list: frequent moves; frayed social networks. I'm just adding to this Bloom's general principle of feeling needed. (In less depressing news, he points out that people who tend to live into the triple digits tend to also keep very busy, have wide social networks, and numerous obligations -- they are needed. Is this helping keep them alive? Well, it ain't killing them.)

If we are not daily surrounded by people who need and love us, people who value our contribution, it is possible we are more likely to, one way or another, by our hands or our hearts, die.

Go Be Useful!

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