I sing Amtrak’s praises.

Thursday morning, the snow started falling in Denver. Again. And for a bunch of people for whom snow is an oddity if not a nuisance, that meant frustration and delay and the real potential of sleeping in the Denver airport.

Everyone, that is, except us, the intrepid three who took The City of New Orleans and the California Zephyr.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our difficulties. The California Zephyr was supposed to leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., and when we arrived at the station, it had already been delayed four and a half hours. But not to worry, the agents said—you have a five+ hour layover in Chicago, and we can usually make up an hour on that leg of the trip. That delay extended another four and a half hours, thanks to a snow slide in Winter Park Colorado, and we didn’t board the Zephyr until 4:00 a.m., far beyond our layover period. We wound up losing two more hours between Denver and Chicago due to weather and traffic congestion, so we spent 21 hours total on the train, plus six in the Denver station.

So what did Amtrak do for us? They put an agent on the train at Omaha who arranged hotels, cab fare, and money for food (generously, too—no skimping) so we knew what was happening even before we got near to Chicago. We stayed at the Swissotel, a very nicely appointed place on East Wacker (although they charge for internet usage, which is why this post is so dated), they held our bags for us the next day while we went sightseeing—the Art Institute of Chicago is beyond incredible—and they basically went to every length to make certain we were comfortable even though we are now a day later getting back than we’d originally planned.

And we didn’t have to beg, plead, or threaten anyone to get this—they were proactive. They even threw in a free meal on the train itself. It wasn’t the greatest food, but free is free. And the porters and conductors, some of whom had been on the entire trip from San Francisco to Chicago, were the best. They took care of us poor folk in the Coach section, making sure we had whatever they could offer.

I’ve never had that level of commitment from an airline. If anything, my experience with airlines in the past has been a polar opposite, and I don’t understand why, since airlines have competitors and should ideally be doing everything they can to please their customers. If anything, you’d figure the Congressionally subsidized Amtrak would be the first to raise the single finger salute of “we don’t give a shit—who else are you going to go with?” to people who don’t like to fly and who have precious few options otherwise.

So Amtrak, thank you. And thanks to Debbie and Antonio and the guy down in the lounge car who kept the railroad coffee hot. Y’all deserve raises.

The wedding was today

And video will be forthcoming. Soon. And will be hilarious.

Just as a side note, this was the best wedding I've ever been to, bar none. It was more a merging of families than a wedding, and the dancing afterwards was a sight to behold.


Is cold right now. There's tons of snow everywhere, but the home is warm, with families coming together and meeting and being loud as they should be. The kids are the center of attention, as they should be, and it's looking like most everyone will be heading outside to create what we hope will be a very Calvin-esque scene.

I highly recommend train travel, by the way. It takes longer than driving, but you don't have the stress of dealing with traffic. We had a five hour layover in Chicago, which we spent doing some ice-skating and looking at the giant silver bean and having lunch at Giordano's pizza place. On our return trip, we hope to spend at least part of the layover at the Art Institute. Amy will no doubt post pictures and perhaps Youtube some footage of Monkey and me on the rink.

Another good thing about the train--lots of time to read. Amy gave me a copy of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and I'm almost finished with it already. Fascinating read, though it's closing a little weakly I believe. I'll get more into it when I've had more of a chance to digest it.

Back in New Orleans

I only got an hour or two of sleep last night, and spent 14 hours in a pickup so if I'm a little incoherent, please forgive me.

You can't tell much from a moving car, at night, out of your mind with fatigue, but there is a difference in the way New Orleans East looks from I-10 anyway. There are lights in neighborhoods that were dark in September, and it looks like some businesses have either returned or sprung up. That's the good news. It's still depressing to see the Lake Forest Mall dark, weeds covering the parking lots, and I'm sure that I'll find other things to be upset about when we get back in a week, but it feels good to see progress, no matter how small.

We're staying in the Hilton near the Superdome tonight--posh digs compared to the hotels I used to stay in before Amy and I got together--and we'll catch the train to Chicago and eventually Denver tomorrow afternoon. When I rambled down to the lobby in search of some liquid tranquilizer, the manager gave me 4 Abita Ambers--two gratis and two at a substantially reduced price. He said, more than once, that he was just glad to have us in the hotel. We're glad to be here too.

Amy has more observations (more interesting and more coherent) over at her place.

Vacation and the Random Ten

We hit the road in the morning, leaving Wally and Eliot in the care of Amy's cousin Matt. We are leaving the balmy climes of south Florida to venture into the scary northern world of snow and frigidity. I understand that people enjoy that weather, and I fully support that, as it allows for a little more room down here in the land of two seasons--the summer and not-summer.

We're heading to Denver for the wedding of Amy's brother Bobby and his fiancee Kristie, so this random ten is for them--not that the songs will have any particular significance.

1. The Sporting Life--The Decemberists
2. Please Do Not Go--Violent Femmes
3. Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)--Robert Johnson
4. 672--The Dresden Dolls
5. Alternative Girlfriend--Barenaked Ladies
6. Thelogians--Wilco
7. Dry the Rain--The Beta Band
8. Die, Dead, Die--Big Smith
9. From Four Until Late--Eric Clapton
10. Ghetto Manifesto--The Coup

Man, am I glad these are random--Bobby and Kristie might take some exception to the idea that I'd chosen these songs just for them. So what's on your lists this week?

Losing my illusions

Star Trek, the original series, is on TV Land now, and I'm really starting to wish it weren't. I didn't get to watch it as a child, except on rare occasions when the weekend reruns would be on. It ended its run not long after I was born, but I was, in a sense, of the original Star Trek generation. Some of my friends had phasers and communicators they would bring to school, and the action figures were on the shelves at times. I was very excited when the film version of the show was announced, as I felt like I'd have the chance to see what had intrigued me in the past.

As I got older, I saw most, if not all the episodes in rerun. This was the early days of cable in my neighborhood, and while I never had it, friends did, and I spent a good it of time parked in front of their televisions. I was a Sci-Fi geek--I read it constantly, everything from old pulps to the latest novels the library stocked, at times even standing in bookstores for hours, cramming down Piers Anthony or Poul Anderson or Harry Harrison or Harlan Ellison.

And then, of course, came the Next Generation, along with all the arguments over which show was better, which captain was better, all that crap. Well, I've come to a conclusion, and it's not even close.

The only way to argue that the original series is better is to look at it through that misty-eye lens that the cameraman used whenever one of Kirk's love-interests appears onscreen, because with a handful of exceptions, those episodes are crap. I watch them now and wonder how the series managed to stay afloat for three whole seasons. The episodes range from the slightly watchable to the ludicrous, and whoever came up with the idea of using the music they chose to move from scene to scene should be slapped. It's really that bad.

So here's my advice to anyone who has fond memories of the original series but hasn't seen them in a while--don't watch them. Keep them, fuzzy and vague, in your romantic memory, and in your geekier moments, wonder if Kirk or Picard was the better captain. But don't ever actually put it to the test. It's a painful realization--especially if you see the episode named "The Archons." God, that one was bad.

Truly Terrifying

Yes, I am a dancing elf.

Will Ferrell and the Random Ten

I love A Confederacy of Dunces. I read it when I was in junior high school and didn't quite get it all, but knew, as a teenager growing up in south Louisiana, that Toole had gotten the voices and descriptions absolutely right. It's one of those books that may never get made into a film, and I have to disagree with Robert Farley's suggestion that Will Ferrell has the talent to pull off Ignatius Reilly. Maybe I'm wrong--I haven't seen Stranger Than Fiction, and it's possible that Ferrell has learned to act as opposed to being a goober, but I'm not holding my breath. My personal casting choice for Ignatius would be a younger version of Stephen Root.

I do, however, wholly support the casting of Mos Def as Jonesey.

Here's the random ten. Put the iTunes on Party Shuffle and post the next ten songs that pop up. No fair dumping songs that make you look cool.

1. Put a Lid On It--Squirrel Nut Zippers
2. My Favorite Mutiny--The Coup featuring Black Thought and Talib Kweli
3. Heart of Glass--Nouvelle Vague
4. Laugh to Keep From Cryin'--Kenny Brown
5. Cannonball--The Breeders
6. Get Out the Map--Indigo Girls
7. Caroline Keikki Mingus--Charles Mingus
8. Take It Slow--Boozoo Bajou
9. Punk Rock Girl--Dead Milkmen
10. Believe--Ozomatli

Different question this week, since no one is commenting anymore--who would be your Ignatius Reilly, or, if you don't know the book, what book do you love so much you fear what a film version would do to it?

This has been bugging me for a bit

Let me begin by saying that I hate television commercials. Hate them. The only reason we got satellite was because we got the DVR which allows us to skip past them--otherwise, I'd have been hard-pressed to have bothered. (Amy hates them even more than I do.)

But sometimes a commercial grabs my attention in a very unwanted way. The following is just such a commercial.

It's hard to say what bugs me most about the commercial--the utter soullessness of the premise, or the fact that everyone sneers so disdainfully at the customer who dares to use cash instead of the fucking Visa card, and thus mucks up the system. I rebel at this. I spit at it. It's bad enough that we are constantly prodded and poked and told not to be different or to get out of line, but for it to come to this just irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.

And yet, more and more, I find myself carrying less cash these days. The stigma I had against using a check card for small purchases (such as for lunch at what passes for food on campus) has largely disappeared--I don't think twice about pulling out the debit card for a three dollar purchase anymore.

Science fiction authors have long imagined a future where cash was solely used by the underground, criminal class, because it was untraceable, unlike electronic funds. It's been the subject of numerous conspiracy theorists--the web of international financiers who track our every movement by tracing where and how we use our cards. And the potential has always been real.

But I wonder if the youth of today will wind up in a cash-less world? Already, my students use their cards to purchase individual cups of coffee because they don't generally have cash, unless they are living completely independently (i.e. have jobs). Their parents put money in the bank, but it can only be accessed for purchases--no getting a twenty out of the ATM for them. And the soda machines on campus will gladly debit their accounts, so the talent of flattening out a distressed dollar bill--an art only recently necessary--is quickly disappearing.

It bothers me because I enjoy the tactile nature of money. I have, as my absolutely last resort fund, a small cup with Kennedy half-dollars and Eisenhower dollars in it (about thirty bucks worth, I'd guess), and every once in a while, I like to take the coins out and handle them. They're massive pieces, by coin standards, the kind that would cause your pants to hang a bit off kilter if they were in your pocket. They clank in my hands in a way that a debit card could never hope to. They're real. They're more than numbers that seem to magically appear in an account every couple of weeks. They represent, in a way that cards can never replicate, the principle of monetary exchange--I will give you this thing and in return you will give me that thing.

There's a connection lost with a card transaction--the money's just not real in the same way. The fumbling for change, the extra half-second at the register while the cashier decides whether to pull a penny off the side and give you two quarters instead of a quarter, two dimes and four pennies, the chance for asides or unimportant observations seems to disappear when the cashier is just waiting for the receipt to print so he or she can get onto the next cog in the machine, the slob behind you waiting with his or her card out.

Did I mention Brian got me a new digital camera for xmas?

It's not only awesome - it's RED.

So what does this mean for you?

Well, you'll obviously be seeing much more of my babies, Eliot and Wallace, lovingly clasping paws at left.


Ahh, Friday

If the last few days have been any indication, this will be a fruitful Christmas break in terms of writing. My writing has been haphazard over the last few months, but in the last week, I've done one completely new draft of a poem and begun two more. The contest entries continue apace, with the Dorset going out no later than Monday, and I think I'm going to send to the Florida Poetry Series run by Anhinga Press (publishers of Sandy Longhorn's marvelous book). I don't think of myself as a Florida poet except that I live here and write here, but that's apparently the only requirement and there's no reading fee, so...

Anyway, here's the random ten for this week, begining with a little Latin flavor:

1. Guajira (I Love You Too Much)--Yerba Buena
2. Human Fly--Bande A Part
3. Chattanooga Choo Choo--Glenn Miller
4. Futurama Theme--Beastie Boys
5. Chickee Le Pas--Dr. John
6. Cuando Cuando--Ozomatli
7. Dancing in the Dark--Bruce Springsteen
8. Lay Your Hands On Me--Thompson Twins
9. No Rest For the Wicked--Cypress Hill
10. So Whatcha Want--Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys twice, huh? I can live with that. So what are you listening to, as this fine holiday season approaches?


Our daily search for satisfaction
joylessly repeated;
we fill ourselves to bursting, but
are never satiated.
Kink has replaced quality; we want apple-smoked
with jalepenos soaked in ranch
over breast of pullet
on a bun
with fries
to compensate
for that inscrutable something
from the farm: no farmer
runs his thick hands down the feathered
back before the hatchet,
or extends a pat
for the good pig's snout.
We grow larger,
like our portions,
not knowing that we test
each bite we taste
for the one who ran -- who had to be corralled
through muddy yards and guttered streets
mothers squealing at
this pink prisoner,
like a banner for his feces
being for one moment free,
the world filling his porcine eyes
with love and terror
to match his wonder
the same thing that we hunger for.

My name is Wally. I'm looking for someone to love - someone to look up to. I lost my mom when I was little, went very hungry and had ear mites, and I think that made me kind of shy. I'm not real ambitious, either... but I'm full of love for you!

I like dry cat food - and lots of it! Although I do love a good spoonful of tuna now and again - who doesn't??!! I'm a big guy and I've got some intenstinal issues... what I need is a big brother who'll eat all the tuna before I can get to it, and save me the belches and burps!

Mainly, though, I'm looking for a safe, dark corner to sleep in, a pile of dirty laundry to rub my face in, a place to poop, and a cat to love. Are you that cat? Cause I'll love you forever. Like a dog.

Hi! My name is Eliot. I'm 5 years old, from California, enjoy Artemis (chicken ONLY!) and light chuck tuna in water, as well as light tussles on the rug after some fine Hawaiian catnip.

I'm looking for a special someone - could it be you? - with whom to while lazy days, resting in sunbeams, napping on couches, snatching butterflies from the air and chasing cockroaches under the sink.

As you can see from photo, I am an intellectual cat. Enjoy jazz, long car trips cross country, the New Yorker. Am NOT into trips to Disney and all-night-catting-around.

Do we sound like a match? If so, let me know. Oh, and I'm neutered. No spraying or midnight howling. You should be too.

Who is your inner bombshell?

Va-Va-Voom! You're inner Bombshell is Mae West. You've definitly got a lot of wit, a lot of smarts, and you know how to use people to your advantage. Ever heard the phrase "doesn't take any crap from anybody"? Well that's you! Just like Mae you never want to settle down, and can't imagine being with just one man for the rest of your life. You don't care about conventions and have no filter from your brain to you mouth. Check out the movie "She Done Him Wrong" to see your inner bombshell in all her voluptuous glory!
Take this quiz!

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In honor of our friend Heather's 30th birthday last week, I did my best impression of the following video. The people in her party searched in vain for a lighter, but alas, there was none to be found.

I'm hanging that act up forever now. I've got to find a new karaoke parody.

Cat blogging and the Random Ten

I don't generally cat blog, but I'm feeling a little dry for material right now--hangover, no doubt, from the huge number of papers I cleared out yesterday. Now it's nothing but revisions and calculations the rest of the way. That's Eliot and Wally reclining comfortably on the sofa. They've got a tough life.

Here's the random ten for this week. iTunes set on party shuffle, next ten songs that pop up, no cheating to make yourself look dorkier than need be. (I'm going for an anti-cool position this week, I guess.) Here we go.

1. Combat Rock--Sleater-Kinney
2. They're Red Hot--Robert Johnson
3. Treat Me--Boozoo Bajou
4. Never There--Cake
5. Crowded--Jeannie Ortega featuring Papoose
6. Fallen for You--Sheila Nicholls
7. Stonehenge--Spinal Tap
8. Come Together--The Beatles
9. Shack Up--Nouvelle Vague
10. Vivrant Thing--A Tribe Called Quest

So what are you listening to?

Noted without (much) comment

These are the stories you run across when you're taking five minutes from the last crush of grading. And I would imagine they're the kind of ledes that journalists only dream of one day being able to write:

LAKELAND -- A man who was attacked by an alligator this morning was naked and smoking crack at the time, Polk County deputies who rescued him said today.

And later in the story:
[Polk County Sheriff] Judd said Apgar told deputies he was smoking crack-cocaine at the adjacent park, but it was unclear why he was naked or why he was attacked by the alligator.

Back to poetry papers.

The best show on television

This show is why Amy and I pay an extra fifteen bucks a month for HBO. I can count on the fingers of one hand the movies we've watched on HBO--this is the seller, right here. Rome is good, Deadwood was watchable, but The Wire is the best shit on tv, bar none.

A late Thanksgiving and Random Ten

Amy's mom got sick Wednesday, so we postponed family Thanksgiving for a day and spent all today cooking and talking and generally not grading papers--tomorrow is going to suck so bad--but that meant we got two Thanksgiving dinners thanks to John and Emily. So that's why I'm late with the random ten today. Here we go--the next ten songs on iTunes party shuffle. Don't laugh.

1. Modern Moonlight--The Dresden Dolls
2. Break Your Heart--Barenaked Ladies
3. Stop Drop and Roll--Squirrel Nut Zippers
4. Cool Breeze--Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker
5. Days of Wine and Roses--Dexter Gordon
6. Ijuswannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou--The Coup
7. King of Comedy--R.E.M.
8. Hey You--Pink Floyd
9. Rosalita--Bruce Springsteen
10. Don't Look Back--Luscious Jackson

Again with The Coup--that song ends on the line "I said, we're in bed together like George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein," and immediately jumps into the next song, which has a woman's voice singing "Bush and Hussein together in bed, giving H-E-A-D head. Y'all motherfuckers heard what we said. Billions made and millions dead." Funny stuff.

Email from an old friend
David Roderick, author of the fine tome you see to the left, dropped me a group email, and since I don't forward emails as a general rule, I figured I'd do this to give him as much public dispersal as I can. Here's the email:

Friends and family,

This Thursday (on Thanksgiving) I'm slated to appear on the radio program "Here and Now," a syndicated radio program from NPR's Boston affiliate (WBUR). The show begins at noon (eastern time), and I've been told my interview and reading will be an 8 minute slot sometime near the end of the show. If you're out of range or if your NPR station doesn't carry "Here and Now," you can listen to the show via streaming audio (http://www.wbur.org/) or listen to an abbreviated version via podcast next week.

I hope you enjoy some tasty turkey (or tofurkey) this week, with all the fixings!

Warm wishes,

David, if I can get the stream at my in-laws while I'm cooking my potato soup for Thanksgiving, I'll be all over it. And if I miss it, hopefully there will be an archive. In the meantime, get yourself a website so's I can link to you. Even a Myspace page. Damn.

Congratulations star lurker Sandy Longhorn, not just on her book's publication, but on the completion of her publicity tour, which ended down here with a reading at the Miami book fair.

Her book Blood Almanac is exquisite in my opinion (and I am the ultimate authority on poetic quality, thank you), and Sandy is among the few poets whose success never inspires a momentary dark thought, for she does not merely have a vivid imaginative life, she does not merely put that life in strong and beautiful language, but she's also a genuinely good human being, which I personally hold a higher talent than the rest.

The literary world, after all, suffers not at all from want of jackasses. ;-)

Applause, Sandy Longhorn! It was great seeing you again. Now reply to this, will ya?

The Home Stretch and the Random Ten

In ten minutes, I'll officially meet my Creative Writing class for the last time this term. They've been some good students, and some have made some real strides. I hope they sign up for the next semester. I've got six now, and will probably need half that again to make sure the class runs. I'm putting together a reading for them in a couple of weeks, an end of the semester celebration of sorts, very low key, friends and faculty. It should be nice.

Here's the random ten--iTunes on party shuffle and list the next ten songs that pop up. Here we go.

1. Coin Operated Boy--Dresden Dolls
2. Poor Poor Pitiful Me--Warren Zevon
3. Brown Skin lady--Black Star
4. Tangerine--Dexter Gordon
5. For Dancers Only--Jimmie Lanceford
6. Friday I'm In Love--The Cure
7. Money for Nothing--Dire Straits
8. So Long Eric--Charles Mingus
9. Cruise Your New Baby Fly Self--Girls Against Boys
10. Treat Me--Boozoo Bajou

So, whatcha listening to?

I have to wonder

Back when I was in grad school, I used to see odd stories and remark "there's a poem in there." Usually, there wasn't. There probably isn't a poem in this story either, but it's a funny one all the same.

AP) WICHITA, Kan. A botched kidnapping ended with one of the assailants shooting himself in the groin, Wichita police said. The man had just stuck the gun back into his waistband when it fired, shooting him in the left testicle.

He cringed, causing the gun to fire again and strike him in the left calf.

I'll bet he did more than cringe.

The one time I seriously tried to write a poem about a news story involved a NY Times article from 1936 about police uprooting a marijuana field that a flock of goats had been living on. According to the story, the gypsies (who claimed no knowledge of the field) who owned the goats had shown no ill effects from drinking the goats' milk. I wrote the poem in the voice of one of the goats.

Okay, seriously is a bit of a stretch.

Ah, kids
This term, I'm teaching one section of Freshperson Composition. As freshpeople go, they're not half bad. Since I force them to relate their personal lives to the essays we read, I've learned some interesting things about them--some have led pretty violent lives, some have had issues with drugs, one is openly gay, one is into fetish parties, a couple are fairly conservative christians who are nonetheless very accepting of those around them (they do the religion proud).

Last week, one of those asshole preachers came to the campus--the kind who are out to start a fight in hopes that they can sue the university. We had one at Arkansas when we were there--he was such a prick that the christian student groups lobbied to have him thrown off campus because he was making them look bad.

Well, thanks to Youtube, you get to watch him--and watch how my students responded to him. Enjoy.

It's been a good week and the Random Ten
My thirty-eighth birthday was a lot less stressful than my thirty-second, though the sleep I lost haunted me the rest of week. But I have today off to catch up on some work in a lower stress environment, and the political worry that has consumed me for the last six months has been replaced with the more mundane worry of getting book manuscripts in under deadline. I'll gladly take the trade.

Here's the random ten for this week--put the iTunes on Party Shuffle and post the next ten songs you have. No skipping songs you think will make you look like a dumbass.

1. In the Night--Katherine Whalen
2. Oro, Incienso Y Mirra--Dizzy Gillespie & Machito
3. Who Got It--Talib Kweli
4. One Up One Down--John Coltrane
5. Do What? Squirrel Nut Zippers
6. You Don't Love Me--Matthew Sweet
7. Uber Legitimate--Mates of State
8. Destroy All Lawyers--Mojo Nixon
9. The Devil's Chasing Me--Reverend Horton Heat
10. When You Dream--Barenaked Ladies

Bonus Track: Overkill--Laszlo Bane It's a cover of the Men at Work original that brings in Colin Haye for the last verse. Reminds me why that band was a hit in the 80s--such an odd voice.

So what's in your list this week? Seems I've got a heavier layer of jazz than normal, but I'll take it.

Ah. Sweet, sweet cake.

Okay so she isn't coming out of a cake, but I'll take it all the same. Speaker Pelosi. Damn, that sounds good.

I didn't get all the icing I wanted. Klein won, as did Mahoney--that was good. Lamont and Davis lost--that was more like licorice. But as I go to bed, a self-described Socialist is the new Senator from Vermont, and of the remaining three undecided Senate races, Democrats have leads in all of them. And it looks like Speaker Pelosi will have a bigger majority than her predecessor had. I can't wait for January 20, 2007.

Update: a diary of mine is currently atop the rec list over at Daily Kos.

Because it's my birthday

I'm gonna post a little politics here instead of poetry.

In the universe of stupid things Rush Limbaugh has ever said, which is a massive set from which to make any sort of selection, this has to be top 5 at least.

RUSH: I have been suspicious of polls for a long time in the sense that I believe news organizations use them to make news that reflects their editorial pages, and the same with the editorial opinion of broadcast network people, and like the Pew poll internals show massive shifts in 30 days of public opinion. One of the things in the Pew poll is that the Democrats have lost all white voters. They've lost women and they've lost --

Huh? Are the Dems poised to win only 12% of the population's votes, a subgroup of which a significant percentage has been systematically disenfranchised thanks to biased law enforcement? I mean, it's bad enough that the media has bought into the idea that people who hate Bush also hate religion, but now white equals Republican? Come on. I'm no republican, and I'm pretty honky by most standards.

Of course, this is Limbaugh we're talking about, and stupid things come out of his mouth as often as he exhales, and he was talking to Tony Snow, who took umbrage at the fact that Kerry questioned his objectivity as White House Press Secretary. Hey Tony--you spin for the White House. It's in the job description. Of course you're not objective--no one expects you to be--so quit acting like it's an insult when someone calls you on it.

So between now and when the results start rolling in I have to finish grading a class's worth of papers and email them back to my students. Amy's taking me to a birthday lunch and that'll pretty much be the extent of the celebration tonight. And tomorrow, I hope to wake to the news of a Speaker Pelosi. Majority Leader Reid would be nice, as would Senator Lamont and Governor Davis, but like I said yesterday I'll take what I can get.

And next on the agenda--finding a way to change the system so we stop thinking of a year when fewer than 10% of the seats in the House change hands as a landslide.

A Birthday Request

I was born two days after Richard Nixon won his first presidential term in 1968. he won his second term on my 4th birthday. I spent my 32nd birthday thinking Gore had won Florida, only to have that stolen away from me over the ensuing weeks. (That's probably part of the reason I felt some sense of payback in voting against Katherine Harris two weeks ago.)

I didn't start celebrating my birthday until about a dozen years ago (and I'll spend this one in the classroom and stressing, no doubt), but it's always so close to election day that I feel some sense of being tied up with the electoral system. Looking ahead in my perpetual calendar, it seems like this will be the last time for a while that I'll fall directly on a major election year (a presidential or midterm year).

So do me a favor, okay? Make this one better than the 2000 elections, if you can. All I'm really asking for is one House of Congress. More is better, of course, but I'm not greedy. Jim Davis as Governor would be sweet icing for the electoral birthday cake, but as long as Speaker Nancy Pelosi is jumping out of it, I'm set.

And yes, I realize that's a somewhat frightening visual. Deal with it. Imagine Denny Hastert eating his way out of a cake to offset it, if you must. That's what Limbaugh is dreaming of in his oxycontin-induced haze.

The New Addams Family?

As an advisor in the English Department, I get to meet all sorts of interesting people, and almost all of them are English majors. But this week I had an early morning appointment with a "civilian" - the type that comes up from time to time... We'll call her Cici.

Cici already had all of her degrees... and the job of her dreams, working in the advertising division of a national home improvement store. So why was she in the office of the English advisor at 9am? Because her boss told her she has to get her writing together, or get lost.

"Even my emails," she told me, "my boss says they're terrible... I don't use the right there/their/they're - I write like I talk, and it's not clear." Apparently at first she took flak from her co-workers, but thought they were just razzing her over "no big deal" - but then the boss came along and had the sit-down with her: people are talking; you can't write; you have to be able to write to work here.

I told Cici about a class I taught in Arkansas, "Advanced Comp" - a business writing class thrust upon any student who did not get at least an A & B in Freshman Comp, or could not test out on a writing test. The first assignment in that class, I told her, was for the students to find people who have the jobs they want, and then interview those people about how much writing is a part of their job.

"Pft," students would say. "No writing where I'm going. Shortest interview ever!"

Then they'd return from their interviews: "Holy crap! I'm going to have to do so much writing I don't know what to do - I'm trapped in hell - I can't do this - I'm scared to death! - help help help!" Constant internal email memos. Typing up impromptu contracts. Composing brochures. Updating websites. Describing products. Corresponding with customers. On and on.

And so at the 11th hour some small fraction of America's soon-to-be-workforce would actually begin to care enough to learn how to write.

The New York Times did a story on this issue a few years ago, and I included the reading of that story as an assignment in ELEMENTS of ENC 3213, the companion book I wrote with Barclay Barrios for FAU's Writing for Management course. I don't know how many instructors at FAU have actually had their students read that article and answer the questions, but it would probably snap a few heads to. American companies are spending billions on remedial writing classes for employees at all levels: the companies are aggravated, the employees are embarrassed, and the bottom line is affected.

I explained to Cici how, in English departments, we spend a lot of time trying to warn students that these are skills that will affect their lives, and we mostly get rolling eyes. Cici nodded her head furiously: "that was me," she said. "I totally blew off my English classes. I didn't realize...!"

And so now, here she is: a walking warning to all! A professional woman re-enrolling with the undergrads to learn her there/their/they're and how to compose a logical sentence. To all of ye who think you can write like you talk and NOT be thought of as a mental 4-year-old, BEHOLD: it is not so.

The good news is, those few English majors whose focus is writing, teaching writing, grammar, etc., can expect opportunities for employment to continue to grow!

Please tell me this gets easier

It's book contest time again, with the deadlines for the Yale and the Whitman in less than two weeks, the Tupelo in less than a month, and I'm certain there are at least a dozen others out there I'm not even remembering. I missed the APR/Honickman already (which my friend David Roderick won last year) because my head's been up my ass about this, both because of work and because of the agony that is manuscript manufacturing. I don't even know enough about the various judges to know if I'm pissing my entry fees away, but send them I shall, because that's how you get a book in this biz.

I heard Mark Scroggins give a reading tonight, from his new stuff (which was fabulous), and when we asked when the new book was coming out, he said "when I can find someone to publish it." That wasn't all that heartening, although it did get me going on my own compilation again.

I'd imagine the publishing side doesn't get any easier, but I'd like to think the agonizing over ordering your poems does. Or maybe it just doesn't matter as much anymore once you've done it a while. Anyone want to help me out with this? Anyone?

Sex Scandals Galore and the Random Ten

Just a couple of weeks ago, the happiest person in politics was George Allen, and the saddest was anyone remotely connected to Mark Foley. Two days ago, the saddest was John Kerry, and the happiest was anyone connected to Mark Foley (or Iraq, or the Republicans in general). Today, the happiest person in politics is John Kerry, and the saddest is anyone connected to Ted Haggard, meth-addicted and self-loathing gay evangelist. Sex always trumps any other scandal, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how, despite the GOP attempts to make this and Foley an anti-gay screed, the media has kept the story one of hypocrisy, not sexuality.

Here's the random ten: iTunes on party shuffle and the next ten songs--and as I proved a couple of weeks ago, no cheating by skipping horrendous songs, no matter what poor justification you use to explain their appearance. Here we go.

1. You're Gonna Miss Me--13th Floor Elevators
2. Sting Me--The Black Crowes
3. Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth--Primitive Radio Gods
4. May I Have a Talk With You--Stevie Ray Vaughan
5. Equal Rights--Peter Tosh
6. It's Over--Squirrel Nut Zippers
7. Galileo--Indigo Girls (Go ahead Amy. Give me some shit for this one. :) )
8. Superman--Lazlo Bane
9. Truckin'--Grateful Dead
10. Meet Me By the Fire--Katherine Whalen (former female lead singer for Squirrel Nut Zippers)

Special Bonus Track: Ass Breath Killers--The Coup. Terrific Song.

So what are you listening to? (Like anyone will answer.)

Slow going
I'm under a pile of grading that, while it wouldn't kill a normal man, makes it inconvenient to try to come up with something pithy to say. I'll see what I can do about that in the next day or so.

Friday Random Ten

We're on the downhill side of the semester, and man am I glad. Too much crap to do, both at work and in my own writing, and I'll be glad when I can just concentrate on the latter for a bit.

Here's the random ten, hopefully better than last week's.

1. Appalachian Stomp--Alison Krause & Union Station
2. Anthems for a 17 Year Old Girl--Broken Social Scene
3. Light Up My Room--Barenaked Ladies
4. O Maria--Beck
5. Georgia on my Mind--Dave Brubeck
6. Zero Zero UFO--The Ramones
7. Combat Rock--Sleater-Kinney
8. Delilah--The Dresden Dolls
9. Guitar--Cake
10. Astronomy Domine--Pink Floyd
Yeah, I don't feel bad about that list at all. What's on yours?

An Issue With History

It's scary how little history my students know. I'm a largely self-taught dilettante, but I think I must come off as some sort of history god the way I have to explain context to these kids. For instance, in class today, while covering 3 poems in 80 minutes (and I had to push it a bit), I went from the Easter uprising in Ireland, 1916 to the socialist movement in the US in the 1930s to Vietnam--Yeats, Cummings and Levertov and mostly I got blank stares. And these were poems the students had read in advance (supposedly).

Now for the first, Yeats's "Easter, 1916", I had to do a bit or work myself. My knowledge of the period is largely informed by the film Michael Collins, which I remember as being fairly interesting, but have no idea as to its accuracy. I suspect any bio-pic and this one was no different, but even a rudimentary google search found enough to inform the poem on a basic level, especially the closing lines:

And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Yeats is of course speaking of the execution of these four men (among sixteen total) and how that turned them into martyrs which served as a rallying point for the Irish republicans and swung political power toward them and away from the nationalists.

Of course, this received blank stares.

So I guess it should be no surprise that my students had no clue that a Socialist had run for President and had won as much as 6% of the vote, or had ever considered that for Denise Levertov's adult life, her nation was almost perpetually at war (thus the title of her poem).

That's the bad part of the story. The good part was that they were sufficiently moved by the poems themselves to be bothered by them, especially the images of Olaf being sodomized with heated bayonets or Levertov's mothers whose breasts are broken open, milk spilling onto their breathing yet unborn fetuses.

You take what you can get some days.

Six Years
It's our anniversary. Amy and I first got together six years ago tonight--or at least we think it was six years ago tonight. We're a little hazy on the date, to be quite frank about it. But this is the night we've chosen as ours, and so we're putting on the sorta-good clothes, and we're off to dinner. It's been the best six years of my life, and Amy tells me that the same is true for her. Here's hoping for another six thousand at least.

Literature and Politics

Let me preface this post by saying this: no matter what lit snobs might think of Stephen King, he's a hell of a writer, and he will be talked about long after a lot of these literary fiction snobs are out of print and forgotten.

There's a link on the sidebar for LitPAC, which is a PAC where lit folks get together, do readings and raise money for progressive candidates, and writers have a long history of getting involved in politics. My poetry classes for the next two weeks will be reading war and political poetry, as a matter of fact.

But Stephen King, as he's the biggest, baddest motherfucker in fiction, is a bit more high profile than that, which is why he's sending out emails for Moveon.

I like the move. There's no other writer who dominated my generation like King. Carrie. The Shining. Firestarter. Christine. And that's just what I can name off the top of my head. So there's a whole group of people who'll see his name and give him a shot--people who don't generally read for pleasure, but who were carrying around dogeared, beat to shit copies of The Stand in high school and were raving about it. And if he can pull in even one percent of those people to this side, it'll be a happy day on November 7.

Mid Term Break and the Random Ten

I'm burnt. It happens every fall term right around this time. I'd really love it if our university administration would consider starting us a week earlier or running a week later into December and give us a mid-term week off in early October. I just want to sleep.

Here's the random ten: iTunes is on Party Shuffle and I'm going to take a nap. Here are the next ten songs.

1. I Believe I'll Dust My Broom--Robert Johnson
2. Locomotive Breath--Jethro Tull
3. The Reflex (dance mix)--Duran Duran
4. Turn You Inside-Out--R.E.M.
5. You and I Both--Jason Mraz
6. Susanne--Weezer
7. A--Barenaked Ladies
8. Darktown Strutter's Ball--Dave Brubeck
9. A Beautiful Morning--The Rascals
10. Walk Like An Egyptian--The Bangles

Damn. I expect I'll catch some shit for this list.

Big News at Wal-Mart

I know--politics over at Stephen's place and poetry here, but this is an issue near and dear to my heart, as Amy and I did grad school a stone's throw from Wal-Mart's world headquarters, and this occurred not too far from where we live now.

Now, as Wal-Mart rolls out a new round of workplace restrictions, employees at a Wal-Mart Super Center in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., are taking matters into their own hands. On Oct. 16, workers on the morning shift walked out in protest against the new policies and rallied outside the store, shouting "We want justice" and criticizing the company's recent policies as "inhuman." Workers said the number of participants was about 200, or nearly all of the people on the shift.

It's the first time that Wal-Mart has faced a worker-led revolt of such scale, according to both employees and the company. Just as surprising, the company quickly said it would change at least one of the practices that had sparked the protest. Late in the day on Oct. 16, there was some disagreement over which of the new policies would be put on hold.

And considering the new rules that Wal-Mart is trying to put in place to gut their business of long term, higher wage employees, I think we can expect to see more of this type of thing. Wal-Mart's going to have its hands full if it's going to stay union-free for the long term.

Man, can I relate.

Just found this gem of a quote from E. E. Cummings: "I'm living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart."

And payday was yesterday!

Blogger is acting all bloggered again, but hopefully this will publish and I'll be able to welcome my former partner in crime to the sidebar--GrimCity. Grim is an old college friend of mine. We drank lots of tequila together--at work. Fortunately it was a bar so we never paid for any of it. He first got me interested in this whole interweb thingy, and he's gone and made a career of it now. He was the person who inspired me to write the world-famous poem "Pukey the Armadillo," and I've never forgiven him for that.

Friday Random Ten

The end of another long week, and the papers are still coming in. I'm not starting them until next week, though--giving myself a break.

Here's the random ten, which I believe cranks up where the last one left off--I listened more to my iPod than my computer last week. It's on Party shuffle and here are the next ten songs.

1. What Has Happened? --Big Smith
2. Plane--Jason Mraz (This song is a horrible earworm for me. I'll be humming it all day now.)
3. Tropicalia--Beck
4. Bang and Blame--R.E.M.
5. Rusty Old String--The Amy Garland Band
6. Intergalactic--Beastie Boys
7. Nettie Moore--Bob Dylan
8. Red Beans--Professor Longhair
9. Low Down Man--Squirrel Nut Zippers
10. Sympathy for the Devil--Rolling Stones

By the way, if you ever really want to know what your students think about you, have them guess what's on your iPod. Apparently I stoped listening to new music thirty years ago--when I was 7.

So what's on your lists?

Poem O' The Day

I imagine I'm really late to the party on this one, since it's been anthologized and everything, but I came across it in the text I'm using for my Creative Writing class this term and I laughed like crazy at it. I showed it to them just to prove to them that you can write about anything. Enjoy.

The Pope's Penis

It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver sweaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat--and at night
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.

Sharon Olds

Teaching a friend's book

Today I began discussing Gabrielle Calvocoressi's The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart in my LIT classes. I've discovered something about my reading of poetry--I don't really get a poem until I teach it, I think, and the same goes for collections. And I've noticed something going on in this book that I didn't get before.

From the first poem, "Pastoral," Calvocoressi is telling the reader that she's going to blur the lines between poetry and prose, and she does so in more than one way. "Pastoral" is a prose poem that deals with the Ohio landscape and the rescue of a dog that falls through pond ice, and the Ohio landscape comes back again and again in the poem, most notably in the poem "Suite Billy Strayhorn."

But her blurring of the lines comes most notably in her long poems, which make up the majority of the book. The title poem is ten sections long. "Suite Billy Strayhorn" is five. "From the Adult Drive In" is nine sections and is split up throughout the book. And the longest of all, at 23 pages, a third of the book, is "After the Circus Fire." But while these long poems carry their own narrative threads, there is no question but that these are poems, fully contained and realized in their own rights.

In the title poem, each section is written in a different voice, and Calvocoressi alternates the voices between Earhart's fans (for lack of a better term) and those personally close to her, ending with a poem written in the voice of her husband after her disappearance. Section III, subtitled "Diane McGinty, St. Mary's Home for Wayward Girls," does the impressive job of being both about Earhart and not about her at the same time. After describing the lot in life for a resident of the home, McGinty says

I don't think she meant for it to happen.
She probably just lost control
and before she knew,

everything had changed.
I bet she was scared all along
but couldn't tell anyone

because they'd just say
she got herself into this mess
and had better get herself out.
Take this poem out of the context of Earhart's life and it still works on the level of the life of an unmarried pregnant woman in an earlier time. But surrounded by the narrative of Earhart's last flight, it becomes a voice looking for a way to relate to one of the most famous women of her time.

I'm looking forward to the next week and a half, and seeing what else I discover in this book of poems.

Pelosi's plan and the random ten

I've just put up a post over at Stephen's place that talks about this WaPo article that details Nancy Pelosi's plans for her first hundred hours as Speaker should the Dems win the House. Let's just say it doesn't involve instant messaging. One addition I'd like to see t her list--outlawing Presidential signing statements.

Here's the random ten--iTunes on party shuffle and here we go.

1. Dis, Dat or D'Udda--Dr. John
2. Rockafella Skank--Fatboy Slim
3. Half Jack--Dresden Dolls
4. Keep Talking--Pink Floyd
5. Pretty Mary K--Elliot Smith
6. Sick of Myself--Matthew Sweet
7. Fool in the Rain--Led Zeppelin
8. At Last--Neko Case
9. Supreme, Supreme--Talib Kweli featuring Mos Def
10. Bedlam Ballroom--Squirrel Nut Zippers

Special Bonus Track: All the Umbrellas in London--The Magnetic Fields. It's really sort of a dumb song, but they remind me of the Crash Test Dummies, and I always had a soft spot for them.

So what's your favorite bit of Pelosi's plan?

An Addition to the Sidebar

She doesn't know it yet, but I've just added Papatya Bucak, one of our colleagues, to the blogroll. Her site is called Reading for Writers, and it's an interesting read most days. Stop by and tell her hi.

Trying something new. Again.

And it probably won't get very many comments (of course, that's not unusual these days), but this is the sort of thing I had in mind when I started this blog damn near three years ago. I planned on writing about all sorts of stuff, from politics to poetry to photography and everything in between. Well, the poetry got left behind time and again, and since I'm writing about politics more over at Stephen's place, I want to shift the focus here back to the more liberal arts. So the following is an explication of a poem by one of my old teachers, Miller Williams. I wrote it this afternoon as an example for my students, though I'm now afraid to give it to them in case they freak and think I'll expect this of them. Hope you like it.

In “Love in the Cathedral,” Miller Williams recasts John Donne’s persona from Holy Sonnet XIV as a stalker, a man who is begging for a woman he loves from afar to make him whole by ravishing him, much as Donne begged God to do in the original.

The speaker in the poem is actually unable to speak, he claims, “not because the words wouldn’t come. It was because they might” (2-3). His fear is based on the likelihood of the rejection of his beloved—he knows, at some level, that he has no relationship with this woman, but that doesn’t stop him from fantasizing about the possibilities.

It is in stanza 5 where Williams reveals the creepier nature of this speaker. The speaker has already made contact with this woman, and recognizes there is no true love between them—saying “Love ought to come / in recognizable clothes” (21-22)—but now says “You have bumped into me / by accident, I have bumped into you / on purpose where talk of love / is inappropriate” (25-28). The only way for to bump into someone on purpose is to study their movements beforehand, to know that person’s habits well enough so as to make a planned encounter seem like chance.

In Donne’s poem, which provides Williams’s epigram (“except you ravish me”), the speaker is crying out openly to God to take him away from that which holds him prisoner, his betrothed, God’s enemy, but Williams’s speaker asks for a different release. He says:

give me this: that all this time I stood here
ignored to death and loved you while you let
every chance go; say your glances at me
suggested almost anything but love;

The idea that he might have missed his chance with his beloved is more than he can bear. He can live with his unrequited status, but not with the possibility of hope.
“Love in the Cathedral” is also a fine example of a sestina where the end words work to further a rhetorical argument. In the penultimate stanza, where the speaker is crying out for denial, the end words read “come here let me love you.” This word order works in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the stanza itself, and heightens the tension Williams has slowly built to this point.

This is important because it adds a sinister air to the envoi, a potentially deadly meaning to the words “You know that I am here / to let you loose” (37-8). Loose from what? From the bonds of their one-sided relationship? From her bonds to this life? What will happen the next time he bumps into her “on purpose on the street where talk of love is inappropriate” (28-29)? The closing of the poem offers no answers, no solace, no promise that everything will turn out right, and it’s that unease which makes this such a wonderful poem.

The temperature at which irony burns....

A Caney Creek High School dad is fired up because the Conroe Independent School District uses the book "Fahrenheit 451" as classroom reading material.

Alton Verm, of Conroe, objects to the language and content in the book. His 15-year-old daughter Diana, a CCHS sophomore, came to him Sept. 21 with her reservations about reading the book because of its language.

"The book had a bunch of very bad language in it," Diana Verm said. "It shouldn't be in there because it's offending people. ... If they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all."
Alton Verm's request to ban "Fahrenheit 451" came during the 25th annual Banned Books Week. He and Hines said the request to ban "Fahrenheit 451," a book about book burning, during Banned Books Weeks is a coincidence.

"Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read" is observed during the last week of September each year, according to the American Library Association Web site, www.ala.org.
It burns, it buuuuuuurns...

Some Good Po News (for me)

Perigee, an online journal that published a poem of mine earlier this year--the first in a long dry spell, I might add--has just nominated me for a Pushcart Prize. It's the first time I've been nominated for a Pushcart, and needless to say, I'm quite excited about it. The poem I was nominated for is titled "Buffalo River, 2002" and it'll be reposted at the Perigee Blog on October 3.

Make your own board

Via Pandagon, you can make your very own On Notice Board

Have fun.

On a side note, I've been invited to do some blogging over at Stephen Elliott's place, so you can check me out over there as well.

Once I have something to say, that is.

The Random Ten

I'll admit I was tempted to do an "End of the Republic" edition or a "See you in the gulag" edition, but instead I think I'm going to sit back and be glad I live near the ocean. I'm not quite ready to see if that trip across the Florida Straits is as difficult going toward Cuba as it is coming this way, but I'll admit to taking a greater interest in sailboats of late.

Anyway, here's the random ten for this week. Not much time for ruminating--papers, papers, papers to grade. Here we go.

1. Under Your Skin--Luscious Jackson (what happened to them? They're awesome.)
2. Hey Hey What Can I Do--Led Zeppelin (I'm not ashamed to say I like Hootie's cover of this better. Maybe I should be.)
3. Say Yes--Elliot Smith
4. Born to Run--Bruce Springsteen (Seems oddly appropriate today.)
5. Stonehenge--Spinal Tap ('Undreds of years before the dawn of history.)
6. Angel from Montgomery--Susan Tedeschi
7. Prove My Love--Violent Femmes
8. Wouldn't it be Nice--Beach Boys (I can come up with some alternative lyrics, I'm sure.)
9. Little Bottles--Alejandro Escovedo
10. 32-20 Blues--Robert Johnson
And for my bonus track, I'll just go along with Michael.

I'm pissed.

And I wrote the following to Senator Bill Nelson after I learned of his yes vote on the torture bill.

Senator Nelson,
I can't begin to tell you how upset I am at your vote to allow torture and suspend habeas corpus rights for detainees and anyone this or a future President might consider an enemy combatant. This is an outrage to me, because you have no excuse for voting this way.

Make no mistake about it--this bill goes against one of the foundations of a justice system that predates the United States, the right to require a government to explain why you are being held--and if history has proven anything, it has proven that power that can be abused, will be abused, even if the abuser has the best of intentions.

And we have seen over the last six years that this President most certainly does not have the best of intentions.

There are those of your fellow Democratic Senators who are locked in difficult re-election races who might have tried to reason that a vote against this bill or a filibuster of it would damage their re-election chances, and that they can do more good by remaining in the Senate. That's a poor excuse, but at least it's an arguable one.

You have no such excuse. The only question in this race is whether you will defeat Catherine Harris by ten points or twenty. You could have stood up for the American system of justice, and you didn't, and I am ashamed.

I'll still put my mark next to your name on November 7. It's my birthday, and I wouldn't deny myself the chance to vote against Catherine Harris, who foisted this useless President upon us nearly six years ago. But it won't be a vote for you, not anymore.

And in six years, should you decide to run again, I'll be out there busting my ass to find someone to beat you in a primary. Of course, that's assuming I haven't been declared an enemy combatant for speaking out against the standing government.

Who knew?

Apparently I'm a grassroots Republican activist. From an email I received today from Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (who I do not heart, by the way):

If we fail to implement our aggressive Get-Out-The-Vote strategy of identifying,
contacting and turning out GOP voters to help elect more Republicans, we run the
risk of losing control of Congress to the Democrats -- who are poised to roll back
our accomplishments we've achieved over the past six years.

I am asking you -- a dedicated grassroots leader who knows what it takes to win
tough elections -- to please make an urgent online contribution of $35, $50 or $100
to the RNC to help ensure we have the resources to kick our Get-Out-The-Vote program
into high gear.

Apparently my name is Dick, too--that or the mook who signed me up for these emails had a particularly juvenile sense of humor.

It's funny, too, that the RNC email doesn't say anything about Republican accomplishments over the last six years--it just claims that the Democrats have no plan other than to bring "phony impeachment charges against President Bush." Hmmm.

The one thing you can count on--and Orcinus on the sidebar there talks about this all the time these days--is that if the right-wing is accusing people of something, you can bet the family silver that they're neck deep in it themselves.

They've got no plan for anything.

Send them home.

Whoever heard of Narratology?

I've got a couple of complaints about my graduate education, but I suppose that's normal. Still, you gotta wonder when you spend 4 years studying fiction, and you never once encounter the word narratology.

Since I've been teaching fiction, I've discovered that I seem to have an interest in aspects of the genre that other people take for granted (the plot for example); since most of my fellow instructors have advanced degrees in Literature rather than fiction or poetry or drama, this doesn't surprise me. The study of Literature is a wholly different thing from the study of creative writing. The word Literature sounds a bit like Scripture, and the treatment of the subject is similar, if sometimes with the antagonism that comes with reading someone else's scripture, instead of one's own. Works are treated as inevitable, and authors as either characters or stars, personages, not persons. Theme is held up over all else, because that's what you can write papers about. "Details" (like characterization or symbolism) are important only inasmuch as they help support an argument about the theme. This is the study of literature, and it's a worthy pursuit.

But the study of fiction, or any genre, has to be interested in other areas. After all, very few good plots have been built while the author obesessed over his theme. Very few convincing characters have been born from a theme's loins. (Best case, you'll get piggies ala Animal Farm.) There is the foremost question of choice: every story is a sequence of decisions made by someone, and his number of possibilities was more or less determined by him, based on the rules of the world he invented. There is the manipulation of interest: I once asked my class, if we know from the first sentence how this story will end, why do we keep reading? To which a helpful student replied, because you're making us. But his flippancy represents something real: how much of the study of literature is done under duress? And is that why we ignore enitrely that aspect of fiction which snares us so that we cannot put down the story or book until completion? I mean, why should a made-up story interest us at all?

I'd assumed that only creative writers consider these subjects, and that it was a vague and unarticulated field of thought. And then, rambling through some wikis, I came across the word "narratology," which sounds like one of those stone-age psuedo-sciences, like phrenology, or astrology, or psychology, but is actually the study of the structure of storytelling, and not just in fiction, either.

About 2/3 of what I've read in the field so far (online) is bullshit, but it's interesting bullshit. And it's clear and well-articulated bullshit, on a subject that interests me. So I'm hooked, and I feel like I may actually begin to make quicker progress in a field of thought that I'd been groping through on my own, reinventing the spoon and the loom if you will, now that I have some other people's ideas to bounce around, some terminology to consider.

But I still want to know why I'm knee-deep in debt after four years of graduate school that included courses (obstensibly) on "form and theory" (which were sort of group grope-in-the-dark experiments, I think), and I never once so much as heard the word "narratology"?


A note to the proprietors of echeat.com: Although your motto may say "it's not cheating it's collaborating," it's cheating. And if your clients were smart, they'd sue your asses for false advertising. Of course, if your clients were smart, they wouldn't be turning in your papers in my classes either, so you may be safe.

Getting a Jump on the Random Ten

I'm up late, but it's technically Friday, so here it is. Sorry for the lightish posting, by the way. This is paper grading week, and will be for the next week as well. I'll see what I can get in. Set the iTunes on Party shuffle and take it away.

1. Alison--Elvis Costello
2. Epistrophy--Thelonious Monk
3. Way Down--Boozoo Bajou
4. Company in My Back--Wilco
5. Sam Hall--Johnny Cash
6. It's a Raggy Waltz--Dave Brubeck
7. Feelin' Good Again--Robert Earl Keen
8. A Life Less Ordinary--Ash
9. Little Queen of Spades--Robert Johnson
10. Sometimes--Alejandro Escovedo

Special Bonus Track: Pass the Mic--Beastie Boys

I've been in a very hiphop mode lately, and it's been a while for that. Feels kinda cool. What's on your lists?

This seems like a bad idea to me

You know how sometimes you just know you shouldn't click on a story, but you do anyway? Yeah, that's what happened to me here.

Looks like Michael Jackson has taken a shine to the wee folk of Ireland.

The “Thriller” singer, who left the U.S. for the Mideast following his acquittal on sex charges, has been spending time on the Emerald Isle recently, and is looking into buying an estate there — possibly a castle — according to reports.

What’s more, he’s supposedly interested in opening up a leprechaun-inspired theme park.

“Michael is deadly serious about this idea,” a source told Ireland’s Daily Mirror. “He loves the whole idea of leprechauns and the magic and myths of Ireland. It would cost around 500 million Euros [about $635 million] to do. He’s always wanted to open his own theme park and he thinks Ireland is the perfect place and it will all be built around the leprechaun theme.”

I wonder who he'd get to play the leprechauns at his theme park? Hmmmm.

An American Madrassa

This is how it starts, and frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

The Random Ten

I'll be running to teach in a few minutes, so no little story to go along with the random ten today. The iTunes is on party shuffle, and here are the next ten songs up.

1. Just a Friend--Biz Markie
2. Backwater--Big Smith
3. Stardust--John Coltrane
4. Hungry Like the Wolf--Duran Duran
5. Pretty Mary K--Elliot Smith
6. Traveling Riverside Blues--Robert Johnson
7. Inside Game--Royal Trux
8. Bring the Noise--Anthrax and Public Enemy
9. Let It Be--The Beatles
10. Give My Love to Rose--Johnny Cash

No bonus track today because I'm already feeling vulnerable from a couple of songs up there. What are you listening to?

Sometimes, when you're suffering writer's block, you get a little desperate. When that happens, you probably shouldn't show anyone your work. But I'm going to do it anyway. Last night, I wrote this little homage to a poem written by this guy named John Donne. Hope you get a snicker out of it.

Batter my arteries, trans-fatty globules,
you lock, clog, make me cry and wheeze
my way up stairs. I stand on worn out knees
to work to pay to mend me, make me new.
Reason should command me, tell me “quit
eating those french fries, burgers, tater tots.”
But dearly I love you, cannot bring a stop
to turning whenever I see a drive-in.
You’ve captured me, hydrogenated oil,
even though cholesterol’s my enemy.
My body you have ravaged, looted, spoiled;
called prisoner my gastric cavity.
Should I despise my saviour, poor Olean?
Ah! Never! I’ll always relish thee.

I'll be here all week. Try the chicken. Remember to tip your servers--they're working hard for you.

Ah, Stephen

My friend and C-SPAN cohort Stephen Elliott has announced his most recent book release party, celebrating My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up. And where in all of the city of San Francisco is said party?

Good Vibrations of course. I don't even want to know what the hors d'ouevres table is going to look like.

Couldn't just leave it at thanks?

My first impression, when I saw the headline for this story was "wow, Syrian forces had our back. Cool." Because come on--it's not like we've done anything to endear ourselves to the Syrian government in the last five years or anything. It's been open secret number 1 that if Iraq had gone the way Cheney wanted it to, Syria was either next or second on the list of places we conquer next. (I'm sure we'd have done just as good a job as we did in Iraq.)

So the fact that the Syrian military beat back by four men armed with machine guns and hand grenades. losing oen of their own in the process, ought to qualify for an unqualified attaboy.

But that ain't the way Bush rolls.

The White House praised Syria’s security forces for their professional response to the attack, but then called on the country to play a constructive role in fighting terrorism.

“Stop harboring terrorist groups, stop being an agent in fomenting terror, and work with us to fight against terror, as Libya has done — that’s the next step for Syria,” the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said today at a news briefing....

In response to the Syrian embassy statement, a State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, said that the United States had been in the “forefront of trying to bring peace to the Middle East, certainly to try and help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”

He added: “And if we’re looking for Syria to take actions, or looking for Syria to do an evaluation of its policies, I’d again ask them to consider changing their behavior before they start talking about having us do so.”

Hey guys--you know the old saying about catching more flies with sugar? That's called diplomacy. And when the security forces of a country you've been talking shit about for years actually defend your embassy instead of allowing it to be overrun and saying "oops--couldn't get to it," maybe you just say thanks and leave it at that, instead of opening your mouths and showing the entire middle east that you're exactly the bunch of ingrates they imagine you to be.

9/11 thoughts

Waving the bloody shirt has been a part of politics since the first clan chief boasted of the number of opponents he killed to his clan when challenged by a young upstart. But BushCo has taken it to a whole new level in the last five years, and it has gotten to the point where I just don't care anymore.

Yep. I've officially reached the "it's just another day" point.

I mean, it doesn't even bother me very much when I look in the email I recieve from GOPUSA (which I suspect some reader long ago signed me up for as a joke or in a misguided attempt to have me "see the light") and see that today's missive includes such columns as "The Dangers Of A Democrat Senate" by Doug Patton and "New Survey: Challenge for GOP Leaders is Motivating the Base" by Bobby Eberle. Sure, I'd like it if both sides took a day off from the usual campaign rhetoric for the anniversary of 9/11, but hey, it's not like you can waste a day when fear hangs in the balance.

Oh wait. Someone did take the day off. Here's the DNC email I got today. Notice what's missing:

Dear Brian,

Today we remember many things.

We remember where we were. We remember the scenes on television.

We remember the victims who were murdered. We remember the families and loved ones they left behind.

We remember the heroes who charged into danger to save lives.

We remember a moment of unity at home and around the world, where people rallied around a single mission and a common sense of justice that must be done.

Today we face many challenges at home and abroad. And too often it's too easy to be distracted by the politics, the pundits, and the posturing.

We must always remember that the dangers we face know no political party, and the solutions and leadership we need now go beyond ideology.

We must meet these challenges head-on -- remembering to stand together in action as we live together under threat. We are all Americans.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

We will not be silent.

Today we remember many things.

And tomorrow, back on the campaign trail, we will remember to take with us the plain truth and a commitment to true justice for all those whose lives were transformed on this day five years ago.

Thank you.

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.

Sure, it's no hit piece on the opposition, but then again, we're not running on fear. We don't need to.

When Brian and I lived in Arkansas, we had this naughty habit of picking up old books lying around by the grad student Gestetner, an older kind of copier based on disposable carbons - just a notch above those stinky electric-purple mimeograph copies we used to sniff in elementary school.

Well, in this room (just above the old mimeograph, come to think of it) were ancient English texts and some of them were interesting specimens of past pedagogy ie: wow, did they actually used to teach this shit? Some of the books are nothing but old, old essays in the public domain, like the Gettysburg Address. But every now and then you'd find a gem, like the graduation speech by Aldous Huxley on the power of words, or, This Generation (a favorite of mine), a book of essays that includes Churchill's speeches and a description of Hiroshima, after the bomb.

But some of them, though they looked interesting, we never even got around to looking at. Like The American Language in the 1970's, which yesterday I discovered among our books, and cracked (almost literally) open to read.

I'm not sure what I expected from a book of this title. Maybe something playfully examining the use of expressions like, "jive turkey," and "me generation." But instead, I found this:

Women have very little of their own slang. The new words applied to women's clothing, hair styles, homes, kitchen utensils and gadgets are usually created by men. Except when she accompanies her boy friend or husband to his recreation (baseball, hunting, etc.) a woman seldom mingles with other groups. When women do mingle outside of their own neighborhood and family circles, they do not often talk of the outside world of business, politics, or other fields of general interest where new feminine names for objects, concepts, and viewpoints could evolve.
Men also tend to avoid words that sound feminine or weak. Thus there are sexual differences in even the standard vocabularies of men and women. A woman may ask her husband to set the table for dinner, asking him to put out the silver, crystal, and china -- while the man will set the table with knives, forks, spoons, glasses, and dishes. His wife might think the table linen attractive, the husband might think the tablecloth and napkins pretty. A man will buy a pocketbook as a gift for his wife, who will receive a bag. The couple will live under the same roof, the wife in her home, the man in his house. Once outside of their domesticity the man will begin to use slang quicker than the woman. She'll get in the car while he'll get into the jalopy or Chevvie. And so they go: she will learn much of her general slang from him; for any word she associates with her home, her personal belongings, or any female concept, he will continue to use a less descriptive, less personal one.
This sent me running for the table of contents. What moldy hell had I stumbled into? The essay I'd been reading was called, "American Slang," but Section 7 promised to sort it all out for me: THE LANGUAGE OF WOMEN'S LIBERATION. A section with three essays, three authors, one of them a woman. Okay. Let's read 'em. Essay one, by a Mr., "Is It Possible for a Woman to Manhandle the King's English": this scornful work of sarcasm introduces the laughable concept of the word "Ms.," informing us parenthetically that it is "pronounced ms," and asks such important questions as, what would we do with a female governor? We certainly couldn't call her a governess!

Essay two by Mr. number two, "Sispeak: A Misguided Attempt to Change History," essentially compares feminists' language use to Big Brother (Sister) from 1984: the title "Ms." in particular is called "newspeak." Don't worry, the word "herstrionics" was substituted in his essay for "histrionics" thus negating any reference to the uterus.

Okay, so, essay number three? The woman in the batch? C'mon, lady: you're outnumbered, but give us a counter-argument with which we can go out with a bang! ... Essay three's title? "A Women's Lib Expose of Male Villainy" - a narrative in which she meets a characature of a "women's libber" for cocktails and barely suffers her "friend's" annoyance at being called a "dish" and a "tomato" by strange men on her way there. The author makes comments about how she WISHES she could be called more names by strange men, implying over and over again that there's something dreadfully wrong with this un-girlie who doesn't like to be objectified, and reveals that she was once called a "knockout" by some construction worker, "and never forgot it." When her friend assumes she was displeased with being assessed by strange workmen on the street, she says her rabid characature of a "friend" was "missing my point entirely."

I looked at the book's copyright: 1974. I thanked freaking God I was born too late for the world when this sort of crap would make it's way into a college textbook.

But curiousity got the best of me. There was a section on THE LANGUAGE OF BLACKS as well, and I thought I should see if they got the shaft as much as women did. Two essays, one by a woman (does it matter? -out of 40 essayists, only three women writers made the book) one by a man. Our lady writes, "New Peak for Newspeak": in short, Black English should be an accepted form of English, at least for teaching purposes, to facilitate teaching black students standard English. Our man? "The Language of White Racism": a helpful essay in which the author advises the reader to please not refer to black men as "nigger" and "boy," because they do not like it, and to please not refer to black women as "negresses," as they may take offense.

Well, at least he knew his audience.

Football season? and the Random Ten

I've been everything from a rabid, fantasy-league starting NFL fan to a casual observer of the game, but never has a prospective season given me such meh as this one has. I think I'm just done with it. Maybe it has something to do with the recent report on the report on the valuation of NFL teams, and the reiteration of the fact that NFL owners are getting richer on the backs of people-not-fans. It's tax money they're sucking up, in the form of new stadiums, and they're returning precious little in terms of economic growth or good jobs.

The real straw for me was last year when Tom Benson of my hometown Saints graciously allowed the state to defer their payment to him in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in return for which he wouldn't move the team away right away. That was the point where I told them to go to LA or any other city who would have them, because Louisiana taxpayers have more important things to spend their money on than football.

So the season opener came and went last night and meh. Here's the random ten. Put the iTunes on party shuffle and let her rip.

1. Wordplay--Jason Mraz
2. Christmas Card form a Hooker in Minneapolis--Tom Waits
3. Cans and Brahms--Yes
4. Sympathy for the Devil--The Rolling Stones
5. Die, Dead, Die--Big Smith
6. Heated Pool and Bar--John Vanderslice
7. The River--Bruce Springsteen
8. When the Saints Go Marching In--Dr. John (ironic, no?)
9. The Authority Song--Jimmy Eat World
10. Jive at Five--Count Basie

Bonus Michael-inspired track: Allegro Con Brio, Symphony No. 3 in Eb, Op. 55, Eroica--Ludwig Van Beethoven

So who's your picks for the Corporate Bowl this year?

I really don't get

why this story hasn't garnered more outrage.

COLUMBUS - An Ohio legislative panel yesterday rubber-stamped an unprecedented process that would allow sex offenders to be publicly identified and tracked even if they've never been charged with a crime.

No one in attendance voiced opposition to rules submitted by Attorney General Jim Petro's office to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, consisting of members of the Ohio House and Senate.

The committee's decision not to interfere with the rules puts Ohio in a position to become the first state to test a "civil registry."

The concept was offered by Roman Catholic bishops as an alternative to opening a one-time window for the filing of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse that occurred as long as 35 years ago.

A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio's so-called Megan's Law.

The person's name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where he could live.

A civilly declared offender, however, could petition the court to have the person's name removed from the new list after six years if there have been no new problems and the judge believes the person is unlikely to abuse again.

So you can beat charges in court, beat a lawsuit in civil court, and a DA or a judge with a hard-on for you can still screw you over by sticking your name on a sex offender registry? I know it's not popular to defend kiddy-diddlers, but jeez, we're talking about people who haven't been convicted or lost a civil suit where the guilty requirement is even lower.

I mean, I don't even like the fact that convicted child molesters can be held in hospitals after their prison term is up--if you've done your time, then you get a new start. That's the idea behind the system. If you think kiddy-diddlers are getting off light, then change the penalties to stick them in jail for life.

But this is outrageous. These are people who have not been convicted, and their lives can still be destroyed.

Put one in the win column

As expected, Katherine Harris won her primary tonight for the right to get shellacked by Senator Bill Nelson. The only question now is whether Harris will break 40% in the general election.

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