Y: The Last Man

One of my students gave me the first three volumes of Y: The Last Man (I believe he had duplicates), and now that I've had time to read it, I need to spread the good word:

Buy Y. It's cool.

It's your basic post-apocalyptic fantasy, but with a wicked sense of humor, and a shamelessly deadpan sense of irony. Basically, every mammal with a Y chromosome on planet earth simultaneously drops dead, except for Yorick (his father's an English professor) "&" his pet monkey Ampersand. Why or how this happens, and why or how Yorick and Ampersand survive are mysteries not cleared up at least in the first three volumes, but so far, at least, it really doesn't matter. This is good stuff. Not PC by any means, and that's why it's funny.

For example, there are gangs of women who lop of their left breasts and call themselves Amazons who believe that this is some kind of sign from the Goddess, and they take it on themselves to destroy and deface every last vestige of the vanquished oppressors... like sperm banks and The Washington Monument. Even worse than them is the gang of insane Republican "wives" that want to take over Washington now that their husbands are dead (the fact that only women remain means that congress just became not just much smaller but also overwhelmingly Democratic). There is also a gang of Israeli soldiers who have been tipped off to the existence of the Last Man, and are determined to snap him up before the Arabs do.

Alas, poor Yorick is trapped in this Hell, Horatio. And, this is the best part, he's still in love with his girlfriend, who is in Australia, and he's remaining faithful. Yeah, that's right. He's the last man on Earth and he's (like the Briassacsons) savin' it.

Needless to say, I'm ordering the next six volumes, and I highly recommend: let me know if you want borrowies!

Quote of the day, indeed

Via Election Central, this gem from former GOP candidate Tommy Thompson, when asked if he would want to serve in the next President's cabinet.

"I don't think Hillary will have me."

Now, readers of this site will know that I'm not exactly the biggest Hillary Clinton fan--she's about 4th on my list of candidates (which, frighteningly enough, was Kerry's high point on my list in 2003-4) on any given day, at times edging up as high as third, but nowhere near the top. She's more centrist than I like, and too willing to give more power to corporate America than I like. She's light-years ahead of any Republican running, even on her worst day, though, which is why I like Thompson's quote--he's a moderate Republican, and he's saying, whether joking or not, that his party is going down to defeat next year, even if Hillary Clinton is the candidate. And that makes my heart glad.

This is All Over the Internet Today...

But I figured, "Hey, let's put it up here too." From last night's Saturday Night Live-- normally, Adam Levine is almost as insufferable as James Blunt, but this effort with Andy Samberg has elevated him to... well, the same level that Justin Timberlake achieved when he teamed up with Samberg to produce "Dick in a Box."

Good news, but...

I was one of many, in 2006, who voted and had no confidence that his vote was recorded accurately. Sure, the races I voted in and had followed closely turned out the way I expected--Bill Nelson handily defeated Cruella DeVil, Charlie Crist beat Garfield's owner, and my Representative won because no one challenged her--but I had no real confidence in the black box system I used to cast my vote. So it was with some gladness that I read yesterday that Broward County took delivery of their new optical scan voting machines. We won't get to use them until local elections in August of 2008, but at least we'll have them.

But I don't want to make this sound as though the problem is suddenly solved, and that we'll automatically have clean counts of ballots now. It isn't that easy. The real problem with the ATM style machines, especially those with no paper trail, was that they didn't fail well. Forget the issues with tampering--yes, they are legion, but there are far more effective ways to rig an election than by getting into the electronics of a system--problems with hardware were far more disconcerting. How do you count electronic votes if the system crashes, if you get the equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death on a voting machine? What if the power goes out? Can the system function in the worst of all possible conditions? The simple answer to the ATM version is no, on all counts.

Optical scan has the primary advantage of a hard copy of the ballot marked by the individual voter, which is saved and can be used to both recount by hand and audit the system. But the key word there is "can." The best optical scan machines in the world won't be worth a damn if the auditors don't audit the system, or if the audit is rigged which has happened before. So when I say this is good news, it's only half the story. The machines are better, but we still have to make sure the people running the machines are doing their jobs honestly.

I Don't Like Thomas Friedman

Why? Well, he's the wealthiest journalist in America, and I am hopelessly biased against the rich. I also think his "happy globalizer" shtick is insulting and harmful. (Example: he argues that globalization creates joy-joy economic diplomacy, that trade is a language. But he neglects to mention that "fuck you!" is also a kind of language, and that globalization swears like a sailor.)

So it is absolutely amazing that I am recommending his column today. Which starts by quoting a piece from The Onion, and then parlays that into:

Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but there’s no rule against saying who will not get my vote: I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

From there it gets even better.

The New York Times Magazine has its college issue this weekend.

Go read.

I have some thoughts about what's there, but I think I'll keep them to myself.

Actually, no I have comments about the fashion section. Bradley's right. The 90s are coming back -- at least that layered shirt thing is back as high fashion. And leggings. Just as long as babydoll dresses don't come back, I'm okay.

Iowans are usually so helpful

University Diaries links to a particularly distressing story this morning.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports that a young woman from Scott County Iowa has filed a lawsuit against the University of Northern Iowa.

(Scott County is directly across the Mississippi River from where I went to college, so I have an affinity for the region)

If the allegations of the lawsuit are true, then UNI is not a safe place for women. The backstory:

A Scott County woman who was sexually assaulted in her dorm room at the University of Northern Iowa has sued the school, accusing leaders of improper recruitment and supervision of athletes and botching how they handled the incident's aftermath.

The woman, who was an 18-year-old freshman at the time of the November 2004 assault, filed the lawsuit in Scott County District Court after the state denied her claim for $1 million in damages. ...

Panther football players Baylen Bernard Laury and Joseph Roy Thomas, both of Texas, were charged in connection with the November 2004 rape of the woman. Laury entered an Alford plea of guilty in October 2005 to an assault with intent to inflict serious injury, an aggravated misdemeanor, after three hung jury trials. Thomas pleaded guilty to third-degree sex assault and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

So, this young woman was raped in her dorm room; two football players were charged. So there's no question that a sexual assault happened.

But ... here's the thing. While the campus police helped the young woman, the administration of the campus apparently dropped the ball. When the woman tried to get help from the campus administration (including people whose job it seems to be to help women in this situation), they apparently didn't really help. Or show much compassion:
She eventually dropped out of school, the lawsuit states. The school sent her tuition bill to a collection agency, she said, and the dean of students told her he was "disappointed in her because she didn't tough it out."

This is not a good attitude. Nor is it the part of the claims that I find most alarming. Even though she asked for help from the dean of students -- she need accomdations, like a new dorm room and academic assistance -- she ended up having to speak to individual professors about it, rather than have support from the dean's office.

That's not even the most galling. This is:
After the assault, the college's sex assault counselor told her she "could not help with the situation" and that the woman should go to the student health service

Yes, indeed. The student felt abandoned by the sex assault counselor, after she's been sexually assaulted.

(Apparently, she also recieved harrassing phone calls and was so anxious about her own safety that she would push a dresser in front of her door before she would go to sleep at night).

Wow. Just Wow

I saw this on CNN today. I have nothing to say. You can just go see it.

I mean, wow. Just wow.

I'm Usually Against Torture or "Extraordinary Rendition"...

... but in James Blunt's case, I'd gladly make an exception. His 2005 debut single "Beautiful" is a crime against humanity-- insipid, sentimental shlock the likes of which would make even Billy Joel nauseous. There is no question in my mind that "Beautiful" is the worst song ever recorded-- it makes "MacArthur Park" and "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" sound like... like... like songs that don't absolutely suck.

See? I can't even be clever when I'm talking about James Blunt. That's how angry I am at the fact that this ass-clown has a recording contract. Normally, I'm quite content to just shrug with indifference when I don't like a song or musician-- you're a Garth Brooks fan? Whatever. You're into Justin Timberlake? Go on with your bad self. But I can't sit idly by while James Blunt releases a second album-- he's poisoning our collective unconscious with his "soulful" drivel-- something must be done!

Anyway-- I loved this quote from the Guardian's review of his latest "musical" effort:

"Elsewhere, songs ruminate about celebrity, among them the deeply peculiar Annie, on which the titular heroine's failure to achieve fame is bemoaned -"Did it all come tumbling down?" - and Blunt, gallant to the last, offers her the opportunity to fellate him as a kind of consolation prize: "Will you go down on me?" More bizarre still, he offers her the opportunity to fellate him in the kind of voice normally associated with the terminally ill asking a doctor how long they've got left: tremulous, replete with pregnant pauses, suggestive of brimming eyes, etc. The overall effect is so bizarre that it overshadows anything Blunt may have to say about the fickle nature of fame. You come away convinced that the song's underlying message is: give me a blow job or I'll cry."

Somebody stop him! This is why the terrorists hate us! I'm certain!

I've got to calm down. I teach in an hour and a half.

It's That Time of Year and a Random Ten

Earlier this week, I asked the grad students in my workshop if any of them had any work under consideration at any magazines or journals right now. I asked for a specific reason-- we're getting close to the end of September. Most magazines that have designated reading periods start reading between August 15th and September 1st. So, I figured, the rejection letters should start coming in any day now. "I predict," I told my grad students, "that I'll receive a rejection letter either this week or next week."

I've become pretty laidback about rejection letters, and by "pretty laidback" I mean I no longer crumple them out and shout, "I guess I'm in the wrong field. Let's get packing, honey-- I'm going to have to go to work for my dad." I guess I'd say I feel more confident now-- since I know that some people have published me before, it stands to reason that some people will want to publish me again. Someday. And I know enough about literary magazines to not take a rejection personally-- many literary magazines that accept creative nonfiction are after a very specific type of nonfiction (usually, memoir that reads like a short story), or don't want to consider certain themes (sex or politics, perhaps), or otherwise have some type of aesthetic quirk that could make any given manuscript unacceptable, despite the quality of writing (some people don't like the phrase "fuckin' what the fuck," which I try to incorporate into everything I write).

I've published eight essays; I've probably received around 100 rejection letters. Some are quite nice (Creative Nonfiction and Gulf Coast are the two best magazines for rejections, I've found-- I've received personal letters from both magazines for the same essay wherein they explained that they almost took the piece, but in the end couldn't for the following reasons...), and others are just the irritating card that says, "Not interested, but would you like to subscribe to our piece of shit magazine, edited by morons who wouldn't know a decent essay if it came up and punched them in the throat?"

As I said, I'm pretty laidback. Honest. At the beginning of the school year, I mailed out three different essays, and I feel confident that at least one will be accepted somewhere this year, and that the other two will get accepted somewhere eventually. And in the meantime, I'll hope for nice rejection letters. Like the one I got from Alaska Quarterly Review yesterday, which expressed its editors' generic, form-letter disappointment that they couldn't accept the essay, but also featured a hand-written note at the bottom asking me to send them more stuff to look at. So the first rejection letter of the season was quite nice; I think it's going to be a good year.

Check out my Random Ten y'all. Hells yeah.

Reel Big Fish-- "A Little Doubt Goes a Long Way"
The Velvet Underground-- "Venus in Furs"
Tom Waits-- "Hang Down Your Head"
Bob Dylan-- "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
Prince-- "Irresistable Bitch"
Elvis Costello-- "Big Tears"
Lou Reed-- "Coney Island Baby"
Shania Twain-- "No One Needs To Know"
Moby-- "Raining Again"
John Cale-- "Movement 3 -- From Kiss"

Just in case you haven't been paying attention

to what's happening in Myanmar (formerly Burma), check out yesterday's story at the NY Times as well as their slide show of pictures documenting the events of the past several days.

I'm particularly struck by the picture that opens the article -- the abandoned sandals in the alleyway is unsettling.

In the slideshow, the aerial shot of the protestors is also amazing -- thousands of people in the streets. And in the center of the street, that long ribbon of saffron colored robes.

The Big Three and the Random Ten

Watching C-SPAN this morning, and the question, for Democrats only, is "what do you think about the big three Democratic candidates statement at the debate that they wouldn't guarantee that we'd be out of Iraq by 2013?" And my only answer is "what did Chris Dodd say?" I don't know that answer yet, but I'm going to find out.

Look, I understand the danger of saying "the world will be this way in five years," and they've certainly learned the lessons of Poppy Bush's "read my lips" moment, but for fuck's sake, people, the country wants out of the war, and out of it now. How hard is that to understand? I've said before that the winner of the 2008 election will be the person who says "we'll start withdrawing on Jan. 20, 2009," and I hope that's still the case. I fear it won't be.

The overwhelming tone of the Democrats calling in, by the way, varies from loathing to disgust.

Here's the Random Ten. Take the first ten songs to pop up on your computer's media player's random setting. It's too early for me to be witty on the rest of this. Here we go.

1. Go to the Mardi Gras--Professor Longhair
2. Hampmotized--Susan Tedeschi
3. Driva'man--Max Roach
4. Ghost of Stephen Foster--Squirrel Nut Zippers
5. Head Wide Shut--Public Enemy
6. Owner of a Lonely Heart--Yes
7. Time Marches On--Dr. John
8. Heroin--Velvet Underground
9. Good Ties Bad Times--Cracker
10. Static/Diamond Bollocks--Beck

So what's on your lists? Or will you change your candidate based on the answer the big three gave to the question above?

You bet your ass I'm saving the date

And as soon as I find out how to get tickets, I'm all up in this thing.

Two nationally televised presidential debates will be held at Florida Atlantic University's Boca Raton campus before the state's presidential primary, the local NBC affiliate is reporting.

NBC will broadcast debates on Jan. 23 and Jan. 25, leading into the state's new Jan. 29 primary, according to WPTV, which is the Sun-Sentinel's news partner.

Now, it's entirely possible this will all fall through--a lot of it depends on what has happened in Iowa and New Hampshire by then, and whether the DNC has backed off on its threat to disenfranchise Florida Dems of their delegates. I'd imagine that for the moment, the major candidates at the very least will hesitate to agree to come, but that they'll accept the invitation as the date approaches. If Clinton has won Iowa and New Hampshire (and whatever other states have jumped their primaries and caucuses forward), the Florida could be a last-ditch chance for the anti-Clinton to make a stand. If Clinton stumbles in one of those early states, though, Florida is a good place for her to rebound--she's got a lot of support around here, especially down south.

Of these two scenarios, by the way, I expect there's a better chance of the latter than the former. The scenario I see most right now is that Clinton rolls the early states and Florida is one of the final nails in the coffin for the other candidates. But this is September, and four months is a lifetime in a presidential campaign.

I also expect that the first candidate to decline the invitation will be John Edwards, largely because he's counting on an Iowa win to rejuvenate his candidacy. I also imagine he'll be first in line to accept after Iowa, whether he wins or loses.

Regardless, I want to be there, hopefully as a blogger, but as a spectator regardless. And if I'm feeling up for doing some mockery, maybe for the Republicans as well. I can't even begin to imagine what that freakshow is going to look like by late January.

Cause we can't have a three way on a twin bed

Sheesh. I just found this article (via nobody sasses a girl in glasses, which I found reading University Diaries).

Some universities are now offering double beds in dorms.

Because the students "who come from bigger beds" don't like the extra-long twin beds that are staples of dorm life.

I can't even do this justice. Just read this:

"It's amazing," 20-year-old AU sophomore Matt Valdivia, used to sleeping in twins at home in Seattle and at school, said of his new double bed. "Now I can be alive and fit on the bed in every direction. . . . And it is easier to fit multiple people."

At AU, the move toward double beds came after complaints by students that the twins were too small and too childish, said Rick Treter, director of residence life. When a dorm designed with suites of larger single bedrooms was built, the double beds were the ticket. They went to about 115 upperclassmen through a room lottery. Whenever renovation and new construction allow, more double beds will be ordered.

"Our students are constantly giving feedback about having to sleep on a single bed," Treter said. "Many of them are not coming from single beds. Many come from doubles and queens, so they have to readjust to living on the single bed."

Bradley and I keep talking about the ways that we're starting to sound like our parents. That whole "in my day" kind of thing.

At this moment, I think it's actually justified.

Well, if I'm desperate and have limited options

Via Sadly, No, who I should really read more often, a reason to drink Miller Beer. They're sponsoring the Folsom Street Fair, billed as the world's largest leather event. But just in case that wasn't enough of a reason, they've done one better. They've pissed off Michelle Malkin, and anyone who does that is tops in my book. Their offense? The fair put together this poster:

How horrible. I mean, who in their right minds would dare parody

Leonardo's great


Oh. So does that make all these other people rabid anti-Catholics as well?

Perhaps some people skills would help?

This morning on my way to work, I heard this story on NPR. Basically, the reporter went to a village in the Diyala province of Iraq to interview the soldiers she'd spoken with some months earlier.

Progress in the village is taking quite some time, and the people of the village -- or at least the people who are left -- aren't particularly pleased with the US forces. One of the things that the military did was to shut down the village's bridge to motorized traffic. This has caused economic hardships for many of the storeowners. Most of them have shut up shop.

The reporter follows one solider (an officer) around town as he talks to locals. The officer speaks with one shop-owner who is leaving the village for good. When asked if he's leaving for good and why he's leaving, the shopowner explains that he will not come back, because the Americans have made it too difficult for him to run his shop.

(It's interesting that the reporter notes that this man does not look at the soldier.)

How does the American respond to this? (Remember that the Americans shut down the bridge, and despite suggesting that they'd open it to vehicular traffic again, they have yet to do it).

He responds with condescension and sarcasm. When he asks this shop-keeper about Al-Qaeda and the insurgency, the man doesn't have anything to say about them, because they don't hurt his business. But the closed bridge does. The soldier, obviously annoyed, says something to the effect of "so it's better to kidnap people and behead them?"

He also insists to the shop-keeper that it's unfair for him (the shop keeper) to describe the village (where he lives) as "his own," when he's not doing anything to get rid of the insurgents, but the American troops (and the Iraqis they're training) are trying to get rid of the insurgency (that has only grown more powerful in these provinces as the surge has pushed them out of Baghdad).


That's some good people skills. That's going to win over the hearts and minds of the people of Iraq.

(I understand that the Americans have not reopened the bridge because the road leading away from it passes by the base of operations for the US and Iraqi forces, but still ... perhaps it would have been a good idea to move that somewhere else?)

(Okay, okay. I admit that I didn't listen to the entire story, because this particular soldier's tone made me so incredibly uncomfortable.)

Gah! Gross! Ugh!

There was a dead squirrel in the pool just now!

Let me back up...

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my routine is to run in the morning, quickly rinse off, then swim a few laps in the pool (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when I'm more pressed for time, I just swim). Anyway, my goal for today was to swim ten laps. I got through the first two, then happened to glance to my left...

Dead fucking squirrel!

I'm so grossed out right now. Can you get anything from swimming with a dead squirrel? E coli? Lyme disease? Rabies? Probably not... people swim in lakes and rivers all the time. There's gotta be some dead squirrels in them. But still... did I open my mouth at all while underwater? I doubt it. Why would I do that? But still.

Gah! I'm going to go spend the rest of the day in the shower. And if I don't make it... Emily, I love you. Let Murph have my comic book collection, and make sure none of my enemies try to crash my funeral with their melodramatic "fake grief."


Students Say the Darndest Things

One of my students was "comparing/contrasting" 18th Century life to 21st Century life (NOT what I assigned, I should hasten to say, but c'est la teach...) and wrote this:

"In the 18th Century people were ruled by kings. In the 21st Century people are ruled by the president. That makes life much better for people unless they live in a Communist country."

Ruled by the president is terrifying but not surprising from someone who was not yet in puberty when the Unitary Asshole took unprecedented liberties with our liberties and unmade what was left of the mid-20th-Century esprit-d'egalitarianism. But Communist?

I felt like asking her if her grandpa helped her write this.

Gail Collins and Florida Presidential Politics

I have to say, I agree with the general conclusion Collins comes to in her NY Times Op-Ed piece today, but I think she misses one important point. First on what I think she has right.

Florida politics are messed up, and I say that coming from a state where Edwin Edwards was elected to the governorship four times. Okay, the last time was probably due more to the fact that he was running against David Duke than because of his own political ability, but that doesn't excuse the other three. But I digress. Here's part of what Collins gets right:

In election years, Florida rules the universe. The major presidential candidates spend half their waking hours riding back and forth between Tampa and Daytona Beach. Because all politicians quiver in terror of Florida, we have a completely loony policy toward Cuba and ridiculously high sugar tariffs. And now, Florida has moved its presidential primary up because it feels that it has not been getting enough attention.

The Cuba stuff she's exactly right on, as well as the sugar tariffs. But she doesn't tell the whole story as to why politicians spend so much time here during election years. They're not always campaigning--in fact, they're generally not campaigning--they're raising money. They're in Tampa and Boca and Miami because there are lots of deep pockets. That this was a swing state in 2000 was happenstance. Politicians come here for the same reason Democrats go to Houston and Republicans go to L.A.--money.

And Floridians, as well as Michiganders, Californians, and other states with large, multi-ethnic populations, have a real reason to bitch about the current nominating situation. Iowa and New Hampshire may be lovely places--I've never been to either--but they're not exactly representative of the Democratic party these days. So the states that want to move up, want to do so because they feel--rightfully so--that they're not getting a real chance to help select the nominee, what with the collapsed primary system and the horse race coverage the media puts on this story.

Here's where Collins is really right, though:
All this is happening to protect a primary schedule that’s not worth saving. If Florida moves, the argument goes, the first four will move, too, and you’ll have the Iowa caucus in December instead of January. Big deal. Iowa in the winter is Iowa in the winter.

One thing that will almost certainly come out of the 2008 nominating process will be an overhaul of the system, because the states not named Iowa and New Hampshire are tired of the current one, and frankly, so am I. But I think she overstates the effect that the sanctions the DNC promises to level against Florida will have. (I've talked about this some over at the Florida Progressive Coalition.)

See, the media will likely cover the Florida primary in one of two ways once the votes are tallied. They'll either simply report that Candidate X "won Florida" and add the delegates to the total on their magic tote boards of electability, or they'll add the totals in with an asterisk, and hint around at the "will they count/ won't they count" controversy. But by the time the convention rolls around, the chances that we won't have a chosen nominee are about as good as Alan Keyes's chances in the Mississippi Republican primary.

The media will want a person out front, and if Florida's numbers help move a candidate toward that steamrollerish position on the path to the nomination, they'll push those numbers. By the time the convention rolls around, Florida's delegates will be quietly seated, especially if the winner of the nomination won Florida's delegates, and even more especially if not seating them would result in a potential for a brokered convention. Remember--conventions are stage-managed fairylands where the party looks competent and unified before anything else. You don't want a floor fight if you're Howard Dean, so there won't be one.

Atheist or Believer...

... one thing we can all agree on is that this article from The Onion is awesome.

While We All Wait for Vests to Come Back

I got tired of working and watched a couple of Friends reruns the other night-- the episodes where Joey moves out and Chandler's new roommate, Eddie, turns out to be a psychopath who keeps a goldfish cracker in the fish tank and who gleefully, aggressively dries all of the fruit in the apartment. "It's a tomato! Heh heh heh heh...!" Good stuff. Took me right back to college, man. All that was missing was the tragically bad skin and the utter certainty that everyone else in the house was having way more sex than me.

Anyway... I missed this the first time around, but apparently Arianna Huffington's feeling nostalgic for the 90s too. And while you're checking that out, you can go down to the "pit" and "mosh" or "skank" or whatever it is you 90s kids liked to do:

And what were you doing in the summer of '97, when the Mighty Mighty Bosstones played on some radio station an average of, like, every minute and a half or so? I was working as a newsroom intern/ underpaid reporter, living in an apartment that I suspect would later give me my lymphoma (the landlord who lived downstairs got the same cancer at the same time-- what are the odds of that?), slowly breaking up with my girlfriend, and-- of course-- dancing around with my arms and legs flailing about, like the gentlemen in the video I've posted above. God... back then Arianna Huffington was a Republican divorcing a gay guy. Amazing, how much has changed.

But I still dance like that.

One Reason I Don't Feel Guilty

This is just the most recent, though probably the most egregious reason I don't have the slightest trace of guilt about going through bankruptcy. The thing that drove me to it, as opposed to simply waiting out the seven years of credit hell and unending calls from collection agencies that traditionally follows defaulting on credit cards, was the fact that I was sued by Capitol One and had a judgment entered against me. I figured that I might as well do the bankruptcy and wipe the slate clean and start over--a judgment wouldn't disappear after 7 years the way a repossession will.

So what do I get in the mail two days ago? Not a credit card application from Capitol One--that would be funny. No, an offer for a car loan. A pre-approved car loan application for anywhere from $10K to $30K, from the same company that sued me fewer than six months ago and currently has a judgment against me.

Look, I'm up for all the criticism that can come at me for my current bankruptcy--I took on more debt than I could handle when I wasn't making much money, and a medical issue caused me to default on it. Bad teeth are an unbearable bitch, and they're expensive, insurance or no, and I was no. So criticize me if you wish. But let's not leave out the credit companies who are willing to extend credit to people--like me--who shouldn't even qualify for a Wimpy-esque loan till Tuesday for a hamburger today. And let's certainly not bail them out when people other than me who are willing to take them up on their offers default on them.

From the way you're rolling your eyes, I can tell you're annoyed

What the hell? So O'Reilly has this body language expert, Tonya Reiman, come on the show once a week and "decode" the meaning of people's body language. (apparently, Reiman has appeared on a whole host of programs and in various glossy magazines)

This week, she decoded Hillary Clinton's body language during the massive weekend talk-show whirlwind. Clinton, Reiman explains, has an "evil laugh."

Look, I know that it's pretty clear that some of Clinton's laughter during these appearances is insincere (and she's not the only one who gives the "polite chuckle").

But really, evil laugh? Is this Mr. Burns? Dr. Evil? (Gah. My pop culture references are already outdated ... I don't have time to learn new ones)

In the question and answers section of her website (go check her out here or here), she admits that "Bottom line - body language is not a real language and has no definitions, therefore, readings are interpretations of clustered gestures and context is very important."

As that one cable "news" station would tell you, I just report. You decide.

Simply Repugnant

Rudy Giuliani and his supporters are once again exploiting the deaths of 2,974 people-- this time by hosting a $9.11 per person party for the Giuliani campaign.

What a fucking pig. That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter.

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Hey, did you guys know that the president of Iran was in New York yesterday? Crazy but true. I know, I know-- you'd think it would have gotten more press coverage. But you know who was looking out for us? You guessed it-- Bill O'Reilly. In order to bring you the "fair and balanced" side of this story, I'm now sitting down, swallowing that little bit of vomit that rises in my throat everytime I think of Bill O'Reilly, and am offering commentary on his commentary from last night's Talking Points Memo. You're welcome.

Okay. First, a commercial for the University of Phoenix featuring what looks like a naked (or at least topless) woman, lying on her stomach. Uh... 'kay.

Okay! Here we go!

"A terrorist killer was given a forum by that ultra-liberal university today."


"Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia denounced [surprise/emphasis O'Reilly's] him and his country. Bollinger cited human rights abuses committed by Iran as well as Ahmadinejad's fascist ideology."

Well... that sounds sensible. Ahmadinejad's a bad guy, after all. I bet Bill O'Reilly's going to compliment Bollinger for standing up to the guy and calling him a jerk to his face, right?

"Bollinger did this because he knows he's in trouble."


"That many Americans believe that Bollinger himself is a villain."

Who? How many people even know who Lee Bollinger is, really?

"That's because the president touts freedom of speech, but took weak action against the Columbia students who threatened the leader of the Minutemen, you may remember that."

Oh, Christ. That again.

"And Bollinger has supported the banning of ROTC on campus. Does that sound like freedom of speech to you?"

Well... no. But it also doesn't sound like an ice cream scoop, a chicken salad sandwich, or a Noel Coward song. These things aren't really related; a better comparison would be if you tried to say that Bollinger tried to ban all mention of the military on campus.

"When Ahmadinejad took the stage he denied any and all wrongdoing-- as he always does-- blaming all terrorism... on the U.S.A. All in all a tremendous academic experience, right?"

Get it? Because "intellectuals" (which, along with "academic," is a pejorative in O'Reilly-land) hate America and think that Norman Rockwell and Abraham Lincoln are responsible for all of the evil in the world.

"On the fascist website DailyKos..."

Again, Bill-- leftwingers can be Communists, but not fascists. We can-- and should-- criticize some of the people who post to the DailyKos, but you can't just change the definition of the word fascist the way you can change the definition of the words academic and intellectual. And by "can't," I mean of course you're gonna, 'cause you're an idiot and your viewers are idiots who will nod their heads and mutely agree with the nonsense you spew out, despite the fact that you're demonstrably wrong.

[Edit-- okay, yeah-- George Orwell says-- correctly-- that the word "fascist" is now practically meaningless, which would suggest that O'Reilly's free to use it however he would like. Although I want to point out that using meaningless words is a pretty poor rhetorical strategy, and that O'Reilly's still an idiot]

"... there's a poll asking 'Who is a better president-- Bush or the Iranian?' About 40% of the Kos loons picked Ahmadinejad."

While I think that Bush is probably a better president than Ahmadinejad (in the sense that, I guess, denying the Holocaust is probably worse than denying global warming, evolution, the effects of a disasterous economic policy, and ones own culpability in the illegal attack and occupation of a sovereign nation), I can understand why some Kos readers might disagree with me. Bush has been a disaster for the United States; most Kos readers are from the United States. They feel the impact of Bush's presidency more profoundly than they do Ahmadinejad's, so he seems like the worse president. I'm sure if Ahmadinejad had played a role in the administration's non-response to Hurricane Katrina, his poll numbers over at the DailyKos would be way down.

You can watch the whole thing here. Perhaps what's most amazing about O'Reilly's coverage of this story, though, is that he missed out on the big news coming out of this speech-- Iran doesn't have gay people! For real, yo. Ahmadinejad actually said that. Go to the link and watch the video. And pay close attention to the derisive laughter that greets this claim.

Bollinger and Columbia university were right to allow Ahmadinejad on campus to speak. As the AAUP says: "Revulsion at ideas or fear of them is understandable, but ideas are best answered with thought and conversation, not with censorship. That is nowhere more true than at a college or university. Education will not be well served if only bland speakers with uncontroversial views are invited to campus. The costs—to education, to academic freedom, to the social good—are virtually always higher when an invited speaker is silenced rather than allowed to speak."

And, what's more, Ahmadinejad's claim about "no gays in Iran" allows the world to see just what a fool he is-- frankly, this is more powerful than any heartfelt attempt at discrediting or censoring him could ever be. As E.B. White famously wrote, "People are, if anything, more touchy about being thought silly than they are about being thought unjust." I suspect that Columbia's commitment to free speech and academic freedom will be much more effective in making the world a better place than O'Reilly's call for censorship and silence.

And by the way... did anybody else get the idea last night that, if Iran doesn't have gay people, maybe the anti-gay people in our country could just move there? I mean, that would be kinda awesome, right? They could have their country, we'd have ours. I know, I know... Iran is a Muslim country, and American hatemongers identify themselves as Christian. But since they don't really identify themselves with Christ's message of peace and love for their neighbors, I should think switching to another religion would be pretty easy. And, look-- on the offhand chance that there is a gay Iranian hiding out in a closet in downtown Tehran... Make you deal. If Iran takes Jim Naugle, then that gay Iranian can come and sleep on our futon until he can get himself settled in the U.S.


Is stressful. Even "good stress": routines get shattered, the body goes haywire, the personality goes berserker.

You can't imagine it until you live it: stress sucks.

No, Jena's not a racist town

Whatever gave you that idea?

Then the leader of a white supremacist group in Mississippi published interviews that he conducted with the mayor of Jena and the white teenager who was attacked and beaten, allegedly by the six black youths. In those interviews, the mayor, Murphy McMillin, praised efforts by pro-white groups to organize counterdemonstrations; the teenager, Justin Barker, urged white readers to "realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind."

Oh, that.

It's been clear from the beginning of this sad story that Jena has major race issues--the very fact that there was a "whites-only" tree was proof of that--so the claims by residents that Jena wasn't a racist town rang hollower than King George the Lesser's head on your average Tuesday. But the fact that David Duke, among others, has crawled out of the woodwork and hasn't been slapped down by the Jena town leadership just amplifies the empty echo of those claims.

Make no mistake--this is about race, and it always has been. Lots of people--white liberals in some cases--have claimed that the real way to bring about justice in this case would be to haul the white kids before the law and treat them the same way the Jena 6 have been, as if that's even possible. In other words, don't let the black kids go; just prosecute the white kids who were involved. Even if that could be done, it shouldn't be, and here's why.

This situation in Jena got as bad as it did because when white kids made a defiant, racist statement, the city backed them in it. Any escalation that results from that decision has to be laid at the feet of the original enablers--in short, the Jena 6 didn't beat that kid's ass. The people of Jena who didn't tell those white kids that racism is unacceptable beat his ass. That fight doesn't happen without the tacit acceptance of the original racist act, and if the white kids who started and later escalated the fight get to either walk or get charged with misdemeanors, then that's what should happen to the Jena 6. That's the fair thing to do--not try to incarcerate white teens who were acting out the biases and hatred of their community. The time for that is past. Jena had its chance, and didn't take it.

So free the Jena 6. Let them go. Nobody goes to jail for this one--it's not an unheard of concept, after all. People get away with shit all the time. And maybe next time some smart-ass teenager gets a notion to hang a noose from a whites-only tree, or do some other equally stupid thing, the city of Jena will stop it before it escalates.

But with this Mayor and D.A., I'm not holding my breath.

Original article via Atrios

The Incertus College Football Update

When will this crazy ride end? Probably next week, when FAU meets the Kentucky Wildcats who unceremoniously dumped the Arkansas Razorbacks on their asses this weekend. But until then, FAU will enjoy its highest (to my limited knowledge) ranking ever in the CBS Top 120 coming in at 75 this week. Here's hoping Kentucky is celebrating hard after being in the top 25 for the first time in my memory after sending the Razorbacks down to 37th.

But Missouri is the powerhouse of the bunch, coming in at 21 this week after stomping Illinois State. Perhaps we can get a fight song out of the Missouri contingent. As long as I don't have to call the hogs.

On Torture and Pornography and Torture Pornography

Amanda Marcotte has (as usual) written a really thoughtful, reflective post that's at least partially inspired by this article, which-- if you ask me-- wasn't nearly as nuanced and sophisticated as Marcotte's response. People smarter and more passionate about the subject than I am have been discussing this both on AlterNet and Pandagon, so I'm not going to go into too much detail regarding the debate about pornography and misogyny, except to say that I share the concerns articulated by people on both threads that a lot of the porn to be found on the web is really disturbing, and not the sort of thing I can imagine anybody being aroused by. Much of what passes for erotic imagery seems merely sadistic-- rape simulations, "throat fucking", images of women crying while having sex, really rough S & M stuff, group cum shots... Basically, it seems to me, any degrading act you can imagine is probably represented on a website that offers up free samples.

So, I agree that this is disgusting and potentially destructive-- particularly since so many kids are getting initiated into the world of adult sexuality through the Internet (don't forget-- it was only a month or so ago that a group of young people flooded our comments section with the warped argument that a woman who deprives her son of pornography was guilty of "abuse"). But I have no idea what's to be done about this-- education and outreach? Censorship? Stricter regulations to make sure kids aren't exposed to this stuff? I could definitely get behind this last idea, but I'm afraid it doesn't do much to address the fact that there's apparently a very sizable adult audience with disposable income earmarked for "anal fisting images." And then there's the fact that I'm not exactly sure that-- even with the best of intentions-- I want to try to legislate what other people get off to. I am concerned about a slippery slope effect-- if I work to ban images that I find disgusting and degrading, how can I in good conscience argue against the people who want to ban, say, gay porn, which I don't find inherently disgusting and degrading?

Anyway... all this is to say that I haven't even come close to figuring out the issue for myself, so I'm not inclined to stake out and defend a position on the matter. But I was struck by some of the comments in the Pandagon thread about mainstream "torture porn" horror films, and their relationship to this type of degrading pornography found on the web. Frankly, though I don't like the recent "torture" trend in horror movies, I don't think the connections between these films and exploitive pornography are as clear as some people think-- except that both illustrate that Americans seem to be profoundly interested in (and excited by) images of brutality.

"Torture Porn" is a vague term used to describe a certain type of recent horror movie where the gore is over-the-top, yet biologically and psychologically "realistic" (a movie like Nightmare on Elm Street Part V: The Dream Child-- for all it's over-the-top gore-- doesn't qualify, as the audience doesn't get to hear the bones crunching, the victim weeping and gurgling on his own blood, and stuff like that). According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by critic David Edelstein to describe Eli Roth's Hostel, though it was retroactively applied to the movie Saw and its sequels, as well as Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects and the films of Japanese director Takashi Miike. More recent examples of the form have included Captivity and Turistas. Some also lump the Robert Rodriguez/ Quentin Tarantino double-feature Grindhouse in with these others.

Interestingly enough, the earlier, most commercially successful examples of this sub-genre dealt almost exclusively with men torturing other men-- the original Saw and Hostel were each primarily focused on two men being held captive by sadists. Yes, women died in both movies, but the real on-screen brutality happened to men (also, it should be noted that Miike's utterly gruesome The Audition featured a woman torturing a man-- for what that's worth). This sets the early torture porn movies apart from other types of horror movies, where the victims are typically women. If I had to guess, I would imagine that the filmmakers knew they were pushing the envelope with these more graphic depictions of torture and suffering, but didn't think the audience was quite ready to accept the idea of entertainment based around men torturing women in such ways (earlier, in 1998, Dee Snyder made the torture-based horror movie Strangeland, where a sadist torments young women and men alike, but the relative lack of gory detail makes the film seem positively quaint in a post-Eli Roth world).

I haven't seen the more recent examples of torture porn-- frankly, I felt like the first Hostel and the three Saw films pretty much told me everything I need to know about this form-- but I understand that the films shifted their focus away from men torturing men to men torturing women (what horror movie fan can forget the controversy surrounding the release of Captivity, and the generally tasteless advertising that landed the filmmakers in hot water with the MPAA?)-- presumably, in a further attempt to "push the envelope." "You've seen us sawing through the bones of men, but are you ready to see us do the same thing to women?" these films seem to ask. Frankly... yeah. Once you're chopping off extremities slowly and giving me the sounds of flesh squishing and saws scraping against bone, then it seems to me that-- for normal people-- the gender of the victim is irrelevant.

I don't doubt that there are some men who get some type of thrill out of seeing this type of brutal violence directed against beautiful, "uppity" women, but I think it's worth noting that this genre's decline in popularity began almost simultaneously with this shift towards the victimization of women. It seems to me that this can be explained in a couple of ways: For most of us, the promise of "It's like the last torture movie you saw, only this time with girls!" didn't really seem to promise us anything new-- again, if I've seen one person get an eye gouged out, I'm not really going to be shocked by the same type of violence in the sequel-- even if it's a whole 'nother gender. Also, for many of us, the shift towards victimizing women simply took things too far-- in a world where violence against women is such a serious problem to begin with, the idea of watching a movie that takes a vicarious delight through the depiction of such brutalization is a bit... troubling. Frankly, I suspect that the audience of men who really want to see a woman get tortured isn't nearly as large as the audience that's either disgusted or simply not enthusiastic about the premise.

So... my conclusion? I don't think torture porn is really worth worrying about-- it's dying its own death at the box office as filmmakers are discovering that no one is interested. Brutal pornography is a bigger problem, though I have a feeling that it's not as popular as its presence on the web might make it seem-- someone in the Pandagon thread hypothesized that the average viewer of the really extreme porn is the guy who needs to look at porn on a regular basis-- the causal wanker (i.e., most people who occasionally view pornography) isn't interested in depictions of women being brutalized; I can't quantify it, but that sounds right to me (again, for what that's worth). The bigger concern, for me, is the idea that younger men may view these types of images and come away with the idea that there's something normal about a man trying to gag a woman with his dick. But then again, I'm similarly concerned that people's ideas about sexuality are being warped by Maxim and The Real World, so I'm not sure exactly where to start to rectify this problem. If, indeed, I'm right and this is a "problem" at all.

[EDIT: I was just re-reading what I wrote, and realized that, in the first paragraph, the sentence "People smarter and more passionate about the subject than I am have been discussing this..." had a typo in it; I'd left out the "... I am...", which made it sound like the commenters were smarter than the authors of the original articles. This wasn't what I meant to say; I was trying to be self-deprecating, not insult anyone else. My apologies if I accidentally offended anyone.]

Beautiful. Just freaking beautiful.

It's because of stories like this that I often feel like weeping for my former home. Sen. David Vitter, the guy who owes Larry Craig a big sloppy kiss for taking him out of the spotlight in terms of Republican sex scandals, has done something far more damaging than lie about hookers.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. David Vitter, R-La., earmarked $100,000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties.

The money is included in the labor, health and education financing bill for fiscal 2008 and specifies payment to the Louisiana Family Forum "to develop a plan to promote better science education."

The earmark appears to be the latest salvo in a decades-long battle over science education in Louisiana, in which some Christian groups have opposed the teaching of evolution and, more recently, have pushed to have it prominently labeled as a theory with other alternatives presented. Educators and others have decried the movement as a backdoor effort to inject religious teachings into the classroom.

I was a young man when the state tried changing the science curriculum to include unabashed creationism--we were Kansas before Kansas, in other words--so this move isn't exactly a shock. And being that Louisiana has long boasted the best politicians money can buy, neither is this part of the story.
The group's tax-exempt status prohibits the Louisiana Family Forum from political activity, but Vitter has close ties to the group. Dan Richey, the group's grass-roots coordinator, was paid $17,250 as a consultant in Vitter's 2004 Senate race. Records also show that Vitter's campaign employed Beryl Amedée, the education resource council chairwoman for the Louisiana Family Forum.

And there it is--financial ties. The sad thing about all this is that it's likely to elevate Vitter to legendary status in Louisiana politics--sex and graft and pandering to the religious right all in one man. Edwin Edwards must be seething in his cell right now.

I think I need a life

I find this amusing, since I've spent the day distinctly not having much of a life ... or getting nearly enough grading done. I walked outside in order to take the garbage out. That's it. I spent the rest of the day reading or grading.

You've Experienced 76% of Life

You have all of the life experience that most adults will ever get.
And unless you're already in your 40s, you're probably wise beyond your years.

I don't really understand why the meme has a photo of a married couple ... cause that's necessary for living.

Fuck Profanity

In the wake of the Andrew Meyers tasering incident, the editor of The Rocky Mountain Collegian-- Colorado State University's student newspaper-- has found himself in trouble over a four-word editorial. Those four words? "Taser This: FUCK BUSH."

Okay, so a lot of people have problems with the word "fuck." And they have big problems with the idea of some liberal college punk using that word in association with the commander-in-chief. I don't really care about that-- that's their problem; they should get over it.

Other people will point out-- correctly-- that this particular editorial is actually completely vapid, intellectually bankrupt, completely lacking a point or clearly articulated point-of-view. They make reference to the Andrew Meyers incident-- which involved police officers using weapons against a man at a Democrat's speaking engagement-- in reference to our president, the Republican who beat the aforementioned Democrat in the last election. The tasering has nothing to do with George Bush. I suppose an argument could be made by some that the incident at the Kerry speech was emblematic of Bush's America, where our rights have been severely diminished to the point that we're no longer free to voice opposition to any elected official-- but this editorial doesn't make that point. So, okay-- I'll agree that the editorial was stupid.

So what?

The editor of the paper-- David McShane (who achieved national fame a few years ago when he exposed corruption in a military recruiting office)-- is facing possible termination over this incident. Let that sink in for a moment: The editor of a supposedly "editorially independent" student newsaper could be punished for publishing an editorial that some people found stupid and/ or offensive.

Forgive me for being flippant, but isn't this kind of the point of having a student newspaper? Traditionally, college students are idealistic and excitable, passionate about the issues, and-- let's face it-- prone to the occasional hyperbole and profanity. I imagine plenty of former student journalists look back on things that they've written and groan, "I can't believe I wrote 'Gerald Ford is like Hitler without the fucking mustache'," but that's part of the experience of going to college, right? I'm sometimes embarassed that I took part in a demonstration against the then-president of my alma mater over her decision to eliminate the wrestling program that nobody except for a few students and coaches even knew we had. But, for many of us, that's college-- a time for unbridled, often non-reflective passion over every perceived injustice.

Even when I was at the University of Missouri-- which has what's arguably the best journalism program in the country-- I would occasionally look at the student newspapers and think, "That's dumb." But that doesn't mean that these students should lose their positions (or their First Amendment rights). What it means is that I'm obligated to write a letter to the editor, or talk to other students or faculty members about the article or editorial, or add my voice to the discussion in some other way.

Of course, there are some limits even to First Amendment rights-- the editor of a college newspaper doesn't have the right to print libel; if the editorial had said, "Bush Rapes Kittens," then he'd have to be fired. Similarly, if there is a massive student and advertising boycott of the paper, some disciplinary action may need to be taken to remedy the situation-- the student newspaper's primary role is to inform the student body, afterall. If an editor's decisions make that mission impossible to fulfill, then he may need to be replaced.

But I don't see how either of these issues matter in this case. This editorial wasn't libelous-- it was just aggressive. And while they might lose some advertisers or readers, I imagine they might also gain some more (some people will surely be impressed with the editor's "bravery" or "gumption" in printing this editorial). So this editorial-- while certainly stupid-- harmed no one. Any attempt to punish the editor, on the other hand, could cause serious harm to the First Amendment rights of student journalists everywhere.

I'm Hiding in Honduras/ I'm a Desperate Man

Warren Zevon's been dead for over four years now. I had intended to make a note of the anniversary of his passing on September 7th, his actual death date, but got overwhelmed with other stuff. Still, I didn't want September to end with absolutely no mention of the man. I remember in high school, my friends and I would drive around listening to "Werewolves of London," "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," and "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner." That second album-- Excitable Boy-- is the album most people can agree on, but I actually like a lot of his other songs more. "The French Inhaler" and "Desperadoes Under the Eaves," from the eponymous album, for example. Or, from the eighties, "Reconsider Me" and "Detox Mansion." Later still, towards the end of his career, his songs of gloomy middle aged regret and morbid preoccupation-- "I Was in the House When the House Burned Down," "My Ride's Here," and "My Shit's Fucked Up." And don't even get me started on how he transformed a mediocre Steve Winwood song into something haunting and memorable with his version of "Back in the High Life Again."

Anyhow... I came across this today-- a string quartet tribute to Warren Zevon. It just struck me as profoundly odd-- someone's taken Warren Zevon's songs and turned them into music that sounds like something you hear at a wedding while people are finding their seats. In fact, I want this version of "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" to be played at my funeral, I think (Emily, you getting this down? Good).

Anyway... here are some Warren Zevon videos for you to enjoy-- I particularly recommend the first one, "Werewolves of London," which seems to feature a cameo appearance by one of the Geiko cavemen a good thirty years before that advertising campain began.

Defining Morality, Continued

On Thursday, I wrote about the theory of "moral psychologist" Dr. J. Haidt and his stubatshit desire to extend the accepted categories of moral behavior beyond "do no harm" and "do unto others" to include "loyalty," "respect for authority," and "purity."

You'll recall him saying:

“It is at least possible,” he said, “that conservatives and traditional societies have some moral or sociological insights that secular liberals do not understand.”
And you'll recall me saying (in my letter the SciTimes):
This of course ignores the fact the millions of individual secular liberals were raised with traditional values, and that the Western secular liberal society itself emerged from a traditional society. It ignores the fact that the secular liberal tradition consciously and purposefully limited the importance of these three "traditional" categories for moral, yes, moral, reasons: "loyalty" is also "toadying" and "sycophancy," and it makes people compromise their morality; "respect for authority" is also "cowardice" and the relinquishing of one's personal moral compass -- do we still remember the Milgram experiments?; "purity" is also "prejudice" -- the cause of innumerable purges, massacres, genocides.
Well I thought I was being pretty on-point persuasive, but I wasn't even scratching at the glass of this particular shop of horrors. I realized how far from the nut of this issue I was when I read the story in today's Times Magazine about Zahra al-Azzo, just another rape victim in the Arab world who has been murdered by her brother in an "honor killing" -- as we call it; its Arabic euphemism translates as "washing away the shame," the article tells us, as though the girl herself were the shame.

Just another rape victim who becomes just another honor killing victim -- or she would have been, if she hadn't turned out to be the the Syrian equivalent of JonBenet or Jessica Smart:
Bassam al-Kadi, a women’s advocate, told me that Zahra’s case made an ideal rallying point. “We have hundreds of Zahras,” he said. “But there are some stories that you can campaign with, and others that you can’t.” Zahra, in other words — extremely young, a victim of rape, married at the time she was killed — makes a sympathetic figure for a broad Syrian public in a way that, say, someone older who was killed after being seen with her boyfriend in a cafe might not.
Yes, Syrian society is taking on honor killings. It's going to be a tough fight. There are many leaders who support making it illegal, including popular religious leaders, but this man-on-the-street quote gives some sign of the problem:
“It’s an Islamic law to kill your relative if she errs,” said the man, who gave his name as Ahmed and said that he learned of Zahra’s story on Syrian television. “If the sheik tries to fight this, the people will rise up and slit his throat.”
[Note: these "honor killings" are not, the article makes clear, Islamic law; but most of the population apparently believes they are.] I recommend reading the whole story. It's really interesting. But here's where we get back to our "categories of morality":

Zahra's husband was apparently "undecided" on the issue of "honor" killings until his wife was murdered by her brother:

But Fawaz told me that he didn’t understand his own feelings about honor killing until Zahra’s death, and that he hoped the publicity surrounding her case would help other men to re-evaluate theirs. “In Zahra’s case, the girl was basically kidnapped,” Fawaz said. “If she’d been a bad girl, if she’d decided to run away with a man, I’d say, maybe. It’s a brutal solution, but maybe.”

His father broke in. “Even then! When a girl does something wrong like that, especially a girl that young, I don’t think that she is responsible. The family is responsible. The father is responsible. I don’t want to give anyone excuses for murder.”

Fawaz nodded. “I start thinking about Zahra lying there, dying, and I don’t think I can believe in that set of values any longer.”

Values. Not morals, but values. Conservative, traditional values: "loyalty," "respect for authority," "purity": values which drive men to the most immoral act a person can possibly perform: murder.

So I offer this as a case-in-point to Dr. Haidt: how can your three so-called "morals" survive the fact that they lead to the most immoral possible act? Should you not instead conclude that these are anti-morals, rationalizations for immoral behavior, the enemies of morality?

Syria is apparently having a national conversation right now that will make them more like the secular liberal west, more moral. Should "honor" killings begin to fade into their past, they will be following the universal morality that all humans agree on: "do no harm," and "do unto others -- including your sister after she's been raped -- as you would have them do unto you."

I Do Love Gail Collins

Her op-eds are as good as Krugman's, and her selection of topics gravitates much closer to my own interests. From today:

Daisy Bates had to march with the wives.

When the nation observes the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock school desegregation on Monday, there will undoubtedly be a great deal said about Bates, who was head of the city’s N.A.A.C.P. chapter. She helped recruit nine black teenagers and escorted them through irate mobs of white adults and into their first classes. As a result, she and her husband, Lucius, lost their business. She was jailed, threatened and the Ku Klux Klan burned an 8-foot cross on her lawn.

Bates was invited, of course, to the famous March on Washington in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Rosa Parks was invited, too, and Pauli Murray, the lawyer and feminist who had staged the first sit-in at a Washington restaurant during World War II.

When they got there, they were all assigned to walk with the wives of the male civil rights leaders, far away from the cameras. “Not a single woman was invited to make one of the major speeches or be part of the delegation of leaders who went to the White House. The omission was deliberate,” Murray said later.

Dorothy Height, the head of the National Council of Negro Women, and others begged that at least one woman be included among the speakers. They nominated Diane Nash, the student leader who had been perhaps the one person most responsible for the success of the Freedom Riders in the South. No dice.

“Nothing that women said or did broke the impasse blocking their participation. I’ve never seen a more unmovable force,” Height wrote. The men kept telling her that women already had participation — both Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson were going to sing. In the end, A. Philip Randolph delivered a “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” while the female civil rights legends sat on the stage.

Go read the rest at the NYTimes.

Mr. Popularity

Wow. We got almost five hundred site visits yesterday. I think it's because Emily blogged about college bookstores.

Here's a video clip to help us celebrate. You know how some movies are so bad, they're kinda good? Yeah, well... this movie's so bad, it's really bad. And I should know-- I own the DVD.

Eerie parallels?

Remember the time--of course you do; it's impossible to forget--when Dick Cheney shot a man in the face? And then the victim apologized for what Cheney and his family had to go through?

Well, lookie here. It seems we're seeing history repeat itself, except on a global economic scale.

Mattel, the world’s largest toy maker, apologized in China yesterday for its recalls of nearly 20 million Chinese-made toys this summer.

According to news accounts, Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, apologized to China for harming the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.

Yep. No matter how Mattel tries to spin this, it still smells the same way--China (in the role of Dick Cheney) muscled an apology out of a legitimately aggrieved party. And how did they manage that?

They're China. And American companies need China more than they need us.

I must be doing something wrong

The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Wired Campus" blog notes that The Harvard Coop is unhappy with students who are running a website that encourages other students to comparison shop for their textbooks.

That's not what I found interesting (although I do think it's silly that the Coop is shooing away students "taking too many notes" about the books for their classes. I started doing that as soon as I had a credit card and access to amazon.com ten years ago. But I didn't go to Harvard ...).

What I found interesting was in the comments:

It can’t be long before the sweeheart $$$$ relationships among academic book publishers, college bookstore operating sydicates, college administrators, and college faculty are exposed and begin to smell,

Um ... what am I doing wrong that I'm not aware of some "sweeheart [sic] $$$$ relationships" between the publishers and faculty? Is this commenter talking about the sandwiches that publishers occasionally provide us to entice us to their book fairs? Or the desk copies that they send us when we teach a new course?

Ahh ... to live in "everything must be a conspiracy" land. That must be fun.

On Some Prose of Baldwin and a Random Ten

I'm currently working on a paper for this year's NonfictioNow conference on politics and the personal essay. Ostensibly, I'm reading Adorno right now-- he had a lot to say about both politics and the essay-- but the two books of his I have are resting on my nightstand, unopened since they were brought home from the library. I keep hoping Adorno's wisdom will leap from one of the books and into my head while I'm asleep, but that doesn't seem to have happened yet. I could probably do more to increase my chances, though-- at the moment, one of the books is acting as a coaster, with a Return of the Jedi glass half-filled with water resting on it.

So I haven't been reading Adorno, but I have been reading Baldwin-- even when I don't mean to, it seems. "Notes of a Native Son" is an essay I read a couple of times a year, really-- largely because I teach it at least once a year, but I often like to refer back to it when I'm teaching other works, too, like Native Son or ""Sonny's Blues," or when I'm talking about Marxism and anything-- "Notes..." perfectly expresses the idea that any group under widespread, systematic oppression is eventually going to explode into violence; under certain circumstances, revolution, as Marx knew, is unavoidable.

Anyway, yesterday I hadn't planned on thinking about Baldwin-- I taught him in my grad workshop last week, and am teaching him to the undergrads in a couple of weeks. Instead, I thought I'd read Alix Kates Shulman's memoir Drinking the Rain, which I'm teaching my grad students next week. If you haven't read this Shulman book, you really should. It's got something for everyone (and by everyone, I really mean feminists, environmentalists, and fans of creative nonfiction-- but that's everyone, right?). While the book is very political in the sense that it adopts a progressive point-of-view regarding social issues, Shulman isn't shrill or didactic at all. Frankly, this is the kind of book you want to give to a college-aged woman who says things like, "I don't think women should be oppressed, but I'm not, like, a feminist."

So I'm reading Shulman yesterday, with Baldwin's essay still fresh in my mind, and I come acoss this scene in the book where Shulman herself is reading the same essay that I had just taught, and will be teaching again soon. It's not that surprising, I suppose-- it's a famous essay-- but I found that Shulman herself focused in on the lines that I found most meaningful this time around too, the lines I almost blogged about earlier this week when I mentioned I had been thinking about the difference between anger and hatred:

"... one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which would seem to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength."

So, all we have to do is remember that injustice is always a commonplace, but never accept that injustice is a commonplace. Man, that's not even easily said, let alone done. But Baldwin's right-- in his own life, he saw how injustice turned his father into a bitter, paranoid man whose own hatred (bred out of the oppression he was forced to witness and endure) consumed him-- in a sense, hatred made him hateful. It's important, Baldwin notes, that we not allow hate to transform and pervert our good intentions and essentially just natures.

At the same time, though, an ethical person can't turn a blind eye to injustice; we can't pretend that the world is a perfect place just to protect ourselves from feeling bad. It's tempting-- and even kind of easy-- to do so, of course. You don't have to read about the Jena 6, or Lennox Yearwood, or Megan Williams. You don't have to pay attention to the attrocities being committed in Iraq right now, or consider the possibility that our leaders might be thinking about launching a strike against Iran. In fact, you can make it difficult to even find information about that stuff-- you can watch Entertainment Tonight instead of the evening news, read People instead of Newsweek, and only use the Internet for dancing hamsters and porn (as opposed to what I use it for-- dancing hamsters, porn, and The Huffington Post). But when you do that, you must understand that you are complicit in all of the injustice happening in the world. I've had students tell me, in all seriousness, "I'm just not into politics" as a reason for not having opinions one way or another regarding issues like the Iraq occupation, or abortion, or gay marriage. But the decision to "not be into politics" is a political decision, whether one wants it to be or not-- if you choose to not get involved when injustice is occuring, you are tacitly endorsing that injustice.

William Hazlitt famously wrote an essay titled "On the Pleasures of Hating," where he argues persuasively that hatred can be both rewarding and productive in terms of effecting change. I love that essay, but I think if he were to write that piece in one of my workshops (and here I am, Mr. No Book, presuming to give Hazlitt advice), I would suggest that he change the title to "On the Pleasures of Anger." Because Hazlitt isn't really consumed by hate-- he's just really, really, pissed. And rightfully so-- there's a whole lot to be angry about in this world of ours. But the emotions Hazlitt describes aren't the same emotions that consumed and destroyed Baldwin's father-- it seems imprecise, at the very least, to use the same word to describe both what Hazlitt and what Baldwin's father felt.

It's like what my good friend Alex said to me years ago, as we talked about politics while splitting a pitcher and throwing darts at the Village Pub in Marquette, Michigan: "Look, I know I'm an asshole, but at least I'm not hateful." I didn't quite get the distinction then, but I'm starting to now.

Anyway, here's today's Random Ten. You know what to do-- punch the juke box, but in an angry way, not a hateful way. Record the first ten songs that come up.

1) Natalie Merchant-- "Kind and Generous"
2) Rolling Stones-- "Beast of Burden"
3) Elvis Costello-- "Almost Blue"
4) Low Millions-- "Statue"
5) Tori Amos-- "Silent All These Years"
6) Prince-- "When Doves Cry"
7) Nine Inch Nails-- "Me, I'm Not"
8) Reel Big Fish-- "Story of My Life"
9) John Cale-- "Temper"
10) Regina Spektor-- "Samson"

On abortion in Aurora

I've been following from afar the efforts of Planned Parenthood to open a clinic on the far east side of Aurora, Illinois. In part because I just generally care and because feministe has had good coverage of it. But mostly, it's because I went to middle school and high school in Aurora and my mom and step-dad still live there.

Yesterday, a judge ruled that the clinic cannot open. Steve Trombley, of PP/Chicago Area issued a statement, explaining where the situation stands:

Today’s ruling by Judge Norgle means that Planned Parenthood will be back in court to present additional material, facts and information that substantiate our request for an injunction to open our Aurora Health Center. Unfortunately today’s ruling means that, yet again, we will have to reschedule appointments for our patients. ...

We anticipate being back in court shortly, and as per the judge’s recommendation, we intend to amend our complaint. Judge Norgle’s ruling was very narrow in its scope and he encouraged us to amend our filing and represent our case. In his words, “This case is far from over.”

I am, of course, deeply disappointed. Aurora has been without a clinic that provides abortions (among other services) for a few years since the last OB/GYN who provided them retired. (I went to church with the guy and a number of his staff members. In the 1990s, we saw huge protests around his clinic. I also knew a lot of the people who would escort women through those hostile throngs. There's something rather humbling knowing that people you take communion with have faced angry mobs throwing things at them just to help women get good health care). The last clinic was a private practice, so Aurora's really never had affordable health care in this regard.

Ann at feministing has commented fairly thoroughly on the case and its prospects. She wrote:
At today's hearing the city attorney also said, "The city of Aurora's image is important." Which, I think, is so revealing -- I'm struck by the class angle to all of this. The new clinic is "tucked between a supermarket, a Blockbuster Video, and a cluster of upscale homes" in the suburbs. It's clear that this is not just about opposing abortions in general. It's that some residents don't like the idea of abortion (and contraception) being available down the street from their McMansions. It's the attitude that abortion is an icky thing, best left to the seedy parts of town. I know the serious anti-choice crazies are going to come protest no matter what, but I really wonder if there would be any local opposition to this clinic if it was opening between a liquor store and a Popeye's on a strip in the bad part of town. My guess is no.

Aurora is a strange town. It's the second largest city in Illinois, but it's also a suburb of Chicago. The clinic's location is in the wealthiest area -- certainly, it's got a suburban atmosphere. The location is also near the public high school that we had to drive past to get to the mall -- I had friends who every time we drove past it would shout, "it's a mall ... with desks."

Aurora is also a rather conservative town -- Dennis Hastert is the representative for the area (okay, that just confirms that the district is conservative ... but still). Aurora also has a substantial Catholic population -- and a large push behind the current protests came from the Catholic church near the clinic's location. So, I think that no matter where PP tries to open a clinic in the city, the protests will be huge. But I think Ann's absoltely correct in pointing to the class-dynamics in this situation.

On the one hand, this area of the city is incredibly wealthy -- on the other hand, much of the rest of Aurora has some startling problems with poverty. At one point, in the late 90s, a community in the wealthy area tried to claim that they lived not in Aurora, but in Naperville, the more upscale suburb to the east. The mayor's response was to cut off their water: the community backed off the claim and admitted that they lived in Aurora. I lived on the west side of the city and went Aurora West High School. At cross-country meets, runners from other suburban high schools tended to avoid us. More than one classmate died as a result of gang violence. There are nice neighborhoods throughout the city -- and in most of the places, they tend to coexist with the not-so-nice neighborhoods.

One commenter from feministing has me remembering more than I want to about the city:
I found this amusing: At today's hearing the city attorney also said, "The city of Aurora's image is important."

Isn't Aurora famous for being the home of Wayne's World? Party time. Excellent.

(Or am I just old?)

Ah ... this brings me back to college when everyone asked the same question. Sadly, we did hang out in a friend's basement with great regularity. At least we weren't filming it.

Dangerous Misperceptions and the Random Ten

The headline says it all: La. Protests Hark Back to '50s, '60s. The headline, intentionally or not, casts the story of the Jena 6 as one which is unusual today, as one that echoes a long-past time. It isn't. It's the latest incident in a never-ending series of incidents that have been going on for the last 400 years or so in North America. And to pretend otherwise is to give oneself a really simplistic, and I believe dangerous view of the country we live in, because we can't really do anything about racism in the US until we acknowledge that we're still dealing with it. And when I say we, I mean white people, because African-Americans are painfully aware that racism still exists and is rampant. Mos Def knows:

And he's not alone. I'd really like to be able to legitimately say we live in a society where race isn't a factor in the way we treat each other, but we aren't there, and we won't get there as long as people are saying this kind of stuff:

"I don't mind them demonstrating," said resident Ricky Coleman, 46, who is white. "I believe in people standing up for what they think is right. But this isn't a racist town. It's a small place and we all get along."

Mr. Coleman lives in Jena, and it's that sort of blindness that's a major part of the problem, because there wouldn't have been a protest in his small town if everyone got along. Mr. Coleman, whether he means it consciously or subconsciously, is saying "we all get along as long as everyone knows and stays in their place." Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt and say he's thinking that subconsciously, the fact that he can't seem to see the divisions in his own small community speaks to the larger problem of race in this country. The problem in Jena is a problem for us all, and it's not going away if we continue to treat it as an aberration, as a part of the past that crops up now and again (or that it's limited to certain geographic segments of the country). It isn't. It's everywhere, and we white people need to do a better job of calling out our own who act otherwise.

Here's the Random Ten--put your computer's music player on random and post the next ten songs to pop up. No skipping songs that make you seem overly hip out of a false sense of modesty. Frida's not the only one who knows something's going on.
1. One Thing Leads to Another--The Fixx
2. A Life Less Ordinary--Ash
3. 'Ol Bill Basie--Dave Brubeck
4. Don't You Ever--Big Smith
5. No Dancing--Elvis Costello
6. Flow Mississippi Flow--Chris Thomas King
7. Rehab--Amy Winehouse
8. My Favorite Underwear--Liz Phair
9. Obviously Five Believers--Bob Dylan
10. One Up One Down--John Coltrane

Whatcha listening to?

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