Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Location: United States

Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It never ceases.

Dammit. Twisty's been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Stroll on over there and give her some love, if you're so inclined (and you should be).

Rather predictably, I blame the patriarchy.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Further Meditations on the (First) Conversational Transcript

Thanks to those of you who posted such insightful, funny, and commiserating comments to the previous entry: they cheered me up immensely. I was planning to reply to y'all as yet another comment, but I realized that the comment was rapidly becoming its own post, so here goes:

It's true that, as TGB points out, I could simply use my acquaintance with a "crazy foreign sex criminal who hands out public works contracts" as evidence of how well connected my degree has made me. But I think the effect would fade once people figured out I was talking about Chaucer. Blessed be he, but he is, after all, long dead.

I also think TGB is right when he says that some folks ask grad students what they're doing out of simple curiosity. I am certainly willing to indulge these people at great length about my favorite crazy foreign sex criminal, my favorite uncontrollably weeping mystic, my favorite devil's-ass kicking saint, and others, ad nauseum. And, if they're honestly interested in why I'd do what I do with so little chance of monetary gain to show for it, I'm happy to reveal myself as the grubby little idealist I am and will probably even grin incredulously and shake my head right along with them.

But I'm afraid that not all grad student interrogators are spurred on by such noble impulses as well-meaning curiosity. In fact, I think most people lose a true sense of curiosity about the world* by the age of 12 and that this is one of the ways in which scholars (as differentiated, of course, from pedants) are unlike most people.

I also think many people feel threatened by this scholarly curiosity and boundary-pushing and tend to react badly by doing belligerent and ill-conceived parodies of it. This is precisely what Winter described when she mentioned the type of inquisition that's meant to "knock us down a peg." These people's questions are meant to beat us at our own game: to demonstrate the supreme majesty of the supposedly "real world" Zelda mentioned merely by asking a few supposedly well placed questions.

"The real world" is, by the way, one of my least favorite phrases ever. It goes straight to the heart of what the people who utter it are trying to do, which is nothing less than to deny the acutality of lives that aren't like theirs. The world of honest scholarly pursuit is every bit as real as the one these smarmy jackasses inhabit, and their patronizing bullshit chaps the exquisitely supple Wiseass hide until she must seek out the emotional equivalent of Vermont's Original Bag Balm.

After all, the world of ideas is as real as any other we know and is, in fact, largely indistingishable from the world of practicalities. Ideas make things happen. The way we think about the world sets events in motion just as surely as forklifts and nuclear warheads and taxi cabs do. Why else would there be such things as psyops, advertising campaigns, and "talking points"?

Furthermore, I submit that denials of the reality of graduate students' work, in particular, have become a matter of social justice. This is precisely the kind of mindfuck the Academic Corporatists use to defend their shameless exploitation of postgraduate labor: "Well, yes, they may be teaching 85% of the undergraduate classes, but it's part of their training. It's not real work, is it?" The more self-interested members of the professoriate (who may or may not be Academic Corporatists themselves) are contented to add: "And, anyway, teaching a load of brats how to write a decent sentence is beneath us."

This type of thinking enables several different species of complacent professorial jerks to oppose unionization for graduate students; to chortle indulgently at the financial, personal, or medical troubles of their advisees; to consider us as unpaid event-planners, ghost-writers, eye-candy, or car-washers; and to--yes, my friends--actually refer to us as "children" in their hearing, regardless of whether we're over the age of 25. They have battened themselves on this idea of our essential unreality-before-degree, and they expect us to choke it down until we believe it, too.

I'm not interested in denying the reality or usefulness of either a cab driver's or a professor's existence, because I regard such endeavors as a losing proposition. What bewilders me is that there are so many people from so many different walks of life who don't hesitate to deny the reality or usefulness of mine.

And yes, TF, I agree with you. It may sound dubious to some people, but it is true that job candidates who know how to think on their feet, produce documents that actually communicate, speak well to diverse audiences, and process complex information well are infinitely preferable to the many candidates who have "industry-specific" experience but cannot do those things. And smart employers know that. I am, therefore, not worried that I am fully capable of providing for myself and other people who might end up counting on me, even if I may well have to consider leaving academia to do it.


*By "a true sense of curiosity about the world," I mean something that extends beyond a desire to know what certain people look like in (or, more pointedly, out of) their knickers, who's getting to see each other in (or out of) their knickers and probably shouldn't be, what the insides of celebrities' houses are like, and so on. Not that I'm not curious about all those things, myself.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Friendly Warning, Preceded by a Conversational Transcript

Russian cab driver: So, you study here at the university?

: Yes.

Cab driver:
What is it you study?

(Knowing that this sort of conversation generally does not go well, trying desperately to deflect him with generalities.) I'm working toward a degree in English.

Cab driver:
Tell me, you are American?

(A bit suspicious, because I suspect the answer to that question is pretty clear) Well, yes.

Cab driver:
So why you are studying English? You know it already, right?

(Exasperated and trying to camouflage it by sounding overly chipper.) Yes, but I'm studying the literature, rather than the language.

(Long pause, during which the driver's smirk is clearly perceptible in the rear-view mirror.)

Cab driver:
(Triumphantly, confidently--he's reached his punch line now.) Tell me, where you are going to work with this degree?

(Really, really glad we're pulling up to the curb where he'll let me out, and really, really pissed off that I don't have smaller bills so I can avoid tipping him.) I'm going to be a professor. I will work at a university. I'm not sure which one yet; I have to see who's hiring when I've finished my degree.

Cab driver:
Hmpfh. (Long pause.) Well, good luck with that.

(Exiting the cab, having given him my $20) Yeah, good luck to you, too . . . (under breath as car door slams and I walk away) . . . Asshole.


Dear readers, I caution you to avoid such exchanges at all costs, less you cause your graduate-student interlocutor to instantly pass through all stages of her Threat Advisory and immediately reach her Wide Berth/Code Red Level. Also please remember that it is not inconceivable that you will one day encounter a graduate student who is also a black belt in Jiu-jitsu. Or at least one who's had enough conversations to convince her to start taking lessons.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Just in case there were any doubts . . .

Yes, I really am a big ol' pinko:

You are a Social Liberal
(80% permissive)
and an Economic Liberal
(10% permissive)
You are best described as a:
Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

The end of the quiz allows you to issue one Fantasy Unbreakable Law, "enforceable by goons." Mine was "I would dictate that... the Bush family would be barred from American politics unless they collectively spent three years living in inner-city government housing, using public transit, and earning less than $30,000 per year."

Mouse hates paper.

Mouse does not like paper. Here's what he started doing this past week to a photocopy of the Old English Alexander's Letter to Aristotle I'd annotated.

I tried to hide the document behind some books to prevent further damage, but to no avail. This is what I found upon entering the living room this morning:

I've decided to turn his aggression toward wood pulp products to good use. Here he is, contemplating the continued destruction of an unsolicited credit card application:

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hey, Lurkers: It's All About You!

Chris Clarke had yet another brilliant idea (and he does have lots of them): "Lurker Day," a day on which all lurkers on any given blog are given the opportunity to show themselves and say howdy. Other people liked this idea and declared it "Lurker Week." I'm jumping on the bandwagon a bit late, partially because I've been feeling poorly of late and partially because I'm afraid that nobody will reply.

But what the hell? Even though I don't have a counter on this site, the numbers that kept ratcheting up on my old blog seemed to indicate at least a couple of lurkers. So I'll embrace my inner Evil Knevil and take a risk. Anybody out there who's reading and hasn't yet found a reason to leave me a comment, feel free to do that here. And I'll cheat a little and expand the invitation to anybody who's commented in the past but hasn't for a while.

C'mon, y'all. Reward my curiosity and make my day, all at once! Tell me a little something about yourselves and how you stumbled across my little patch of e-real estate.

Monday, September 19, 2005

You have reached the Wiseass's blog . . . .

. . . She's not in right now, because, now that class presentations for the Nameless Summer Program are complete, she's got so much grading to do and so many varied and panic-inducing errands / projects / deadlines / emails / phone calls to look after before the new school year begins that she is alternating between states of panic, exhaustion, and blinkered concentration. This effect is particularly pronounced because she suspects she may be coming down with another bout of a narsty sumpin'-er-other and is therefore trying to get most of her work done done before the viral varmint asserts itself. If she was supposed to call or email you sometime in the not-too-distant past, she deeply apologizes and fervently hopes that she will manage to catch up with you soon. She wishes to assure you that it isn't because she doesn't love you.

In the meantime, here are three propositions culled and adapted from Those Who Dwell in the Grad Lounge as being potentially blogworthy:

1) There should be more anti-Dr. Phil websites. Perhaps even a blog named "I Blame Dr. Phil?" (Although perhaps Dr. Phil-blaming is really just a subset of patriarchy-blaming?)

2) Canadian literature does, in fact, exist apart from Margaret Atwood.

3) "Superbowl 40" (known to the Romans among us as "Superbowl XL") should, instead, be advertised as "Superbowl Extra-Large."

Feel free to discuss these propositions amongst yourselves. I expect the Canadians among you could be particularly helpful concerning item #2.

The Wiseass will check in with you later on this week.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Winding down (at last)

So, I just worked my last day at the archiving job, at least until after the next term, when I plan to come back after I complete the teaching gig I'd agreed to. It was a bit of an odd send-off, since my boss had forgotten it was my last day, but I nonetheless managed to get things into some sort of shape so that the two people who'll begin working on the project in about a week will be able to figure out what's going on.

Now I still have to write another paper abstract, find a way to fax a form over to some folks as an addendum to the first abstract, and grade my students' group work. As you can guess, I wasn't able to stay up for very long after I wrote my post last night, and I was right in my prediction that I'd never get up early enough to complete the work I needed to do. So I'm behind, and I'm determined to get these two things off my plate tonight. But afterward, I'm going straight to bed and staying there until I feel like getting out of it, which will probably be sometime early tomorrow afternoon.

Today was officially the last day for my Nameless Summer Program class, but most of the students still have a formal debate project due on Monday and then there will be the grading to wrestle with. So I'm not out of the woods on that one yet, but I'm getting there.

Thank God. I really don't know if I could have done this for much longer.


UPDATE: It's now 7pm, and the second abstract is on its merry way through cyberspace. Now I'm off to find some food, a Kinko's, and a bus home. My game plan is to be home by 8:30, grading in bed with a tumbler of whiskey on the rocks nearby.

12:22am, and no end in sight

I know the Unmasticatable Summer is coming to a close soon. In fact, all that's left is tomorrow (work at the library and the last day of class for the Nameless Summer Program) and Monday before my work-for-pay duties are finally discharged.


It's 12:22am. I have done the following things today:
  • Taught a two-hour class
  • Made various crisis interventions involving students' group projects and some truly bizarre interpersonal fallout (One student followed me and apologetically ran me to ground while I was trying to escape into a quiet corner to eat lunch. She was right: it was important, it was urgent, and I'm glad she caught me. But sheesh!)
  • Agreed to have an extra meeting tomorrow morning to help coach two groups through their final project, because we didn't get to them in class today
  • Given a ballad talk to some Wealthy People on behalf of the library
  • Written K'zoo conference paper abstract (I got it in a bit after the 5pm deadline due to the student crises and the Wealthy People talk having run over; I so desperately hope it'll still be accepted. If it isn't, maybe I'll just have to gate-crash? There are lots of panels I need to see there this year.)
  • Sent numerous complicated emails--some of them painstaking PSYOPS-type things meant to defuse above-mentioned student crises--regarding a smorgasbord of course-related issues.
  • Figured out what I'm going to wear tomorrow (a major task when 3/4 of your wardrobe is either in the laundry or needs ironing).
I have the following things yet to do:
  • Write another conference abstract
  • Grade a set of group presentations and type up comments on said presentations (I promised the class I'd do it, and I also really do need to ensure that I don't have to grade two papers and a group presentation over the weekend)
I am bone-tired. I keep having to stop to look at a blog or walk around a bit or pet Mousie or type up this crap, because I just can't stay focused for very long. The logical thing would be to go to bed. But I don't want to go to bed, because I won't wake up until 7:30 again, and then I'll be screwed. I may just have to give up, anyway. No longer Le Chicken de Spring, I simply cannot manage to pull all-nighters when I've averaged less than 6 hours' sleep per weeknight for nearly six weeks.

I keep telling myself that it'll be over soon, that I can try to tackle my neglected truck, my neglected finances, and/or my neglected dissertation prospectus soon. And maybe even eat a couple-three vegetables and sleep a little. But then Reason kicks in to remind me that I'll still have final course grading to do. And then there are all the required meetings that are suddenly popping up for next week. I'm about two milimeters from telling every person proposing these meetings to do something deeply inappropriate with them, but I can't: none of these meetings are unwarranted, I can't play hooky, and I'm not in a position to angle for re-scheduling.

It's beginning to get depressing. Motivating myself by thinking about the light at the end of the tunnel, only to get to the end of that tunnel and find another one? Definitely starting to grate on the nerves a bit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This Apology Which Is Not One

Bush has apologized for Katrinagate at last. Well, kinda:

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
"And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong," said Bush.

Before I begin noting in how this apology is carefully couched so as to allow plenty of "wiggle room," I would simply like to note that it's perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain cell* that the difference between this statement and last week's shamelessly clueless "What didn't go right?" comment to Nancy Pelosi can be found in the new polls.

Now, for the "wiggle room." Let us do a bit of what we call in the classroom "close reading."

  • Bush takes responsibility "to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right." Okay. So that means he only takes responsibility to a certain and nonspecified extent. Which he won't talk about right now, because it might actually force him into some kind of real admission about what's happened.
  • Bush once again utters what has become such a mantra that I'm starting to wonder whether the handlers have the phrase constantly chanted at him through an aural implant: He wants to learn "what went right and what went wrong." This phrase has been chapping my hide for more than a week now, because--hey, notice that?--Dubya is not-so-subtly trying to convince us that something "went right" here. Damned if I can figure out what it was. Dubya's not sure what it is, either, but he's the Action President, and he's going to figure it out for us. And when he does figure it out, you'd better believe he'll never shut up about it: "Dead people? What dead people? We did something right, dammit! Support our troops! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
This is an apology? A strategically deployed bit of dodge-and-weave that attempts to reprogram our memories of what just went down in the Gulf Coast at least as much as it half-heartedly responds to our national anger? I don't think so. This is the equivalent of that bullshit "Honey,-I'm-sorry-for-whatever-I-did,-even-though-I-don't-know-what-it-was-and-don't-really-think-I-did-it-at-all.-Now,-will-you-just-come-to-bed" apology none of us would accept from our sweethearts.

I really hope we won't accept this crap from the President, either. Dick Morris thinks we will; I so very much hope he's wrong, but experience tells me otherwise.

Meanwhile, in honor of Dubya's handlers' inimitable sense of style and phrasing, I'd like to brainstorm, together, some of the things that "went right." To wit:
  • Our last two elections "went Right," and then a whole lotta things went wrong.
  • After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans "went right" to hell in a handbasket while Cabinet members "went right" on with their vacations.
  • When Dubya finally figured out that he looked like a massive tool last week, he "went right" down to the Gulf Coast and staged a massively ineffectual photo-op.
Your turn!


*Yes, dear readers: I know you have more than the requisite half cell and therefore already knew this. Sorry if I insulted your intelligence, but I felt almost contractually obliged to mention it.

Silly Names and Past Lives: Because yesterday's goofy superhero post wasn't enough.


Wiseass's Aliases

Your movie star name: Cheese Whiz James
Your fashion designer name: Ancrene Edinburgh
Your socialite name is Princess Dublin
Your fly girl / guy name is A Wis
Your detective name is Cat Reynolds
Your barfly name is Chex Mix Whiskey
Your soap opera name is Tracy Beverly
Your rock star name is Sweet Tarts Shinkansen
Your star wars name is Ancmou Wisjon
Your punk rock band name is The Scattered Whiffle Bat

Just to prove my complete lack of originality today, I've ripped this off from Morgan, too.

(I really, really like my Rock Star Name a whole lot. The Movie Star Name ain't bad, either, though I think it sounds more like a parody of a blues singer's nickname.)
I struck out on my own to take this quiz, though:
In a Past Life...
You Were: An Obese Beekeeper.
Where You Lived: Australia.
How You Died: Dysentery.

Prairie Home Crank?

I've listened to more "Prairie Home Companion" shows than I'd really care to admit, and I've never been entirely sure why. I've never been entirely sure, that is, either why I listen to the shows or why I'd rather not admit to it.

I guess the upshot is that I've generally been pretty ambivalent about Garrison Keillor: on the one hand, some of his stories really are sweet, albeit in a rather provincially self-satisfied way. And his annual Joke Show is a virtual mine of the kind of bad, corny jokes I love most. He's also a good writer who's written taken a satisfyingly scathing stand against dunderheaded neocons: a rather principled stand, too, since it's lost him some of his fan base.

But . . . he also does have a rather annoyingly arch way about him, and his show is so determinedly folksy that it just kinda goes down the wrong way: it often seems as though he's making an anxiety-ridden effort to demonstrate that he never got "above his raisin'," while at the same time taking rather ill-tempered potshots at the people he grew up with under cover of the "But I'm One of You, So It's Okay!" defense. Sometimes he manages to make even that funny, because he seems to be aware of it himself and to self-satirize. All too often, though, he doesn't, and the effect is pretty unattractive: petulant and paternalistic in turns.

But this story, brought to my attention by Morgan, really tips the scales against him. Keillor is suing Rex Sorgatz of the Twin Cities blog MNSpeak because he made up some goofball "Prairie Ho Companion" t-shirts and sold a few of them (at very little profit) to support the site. A letter from Keillor's lawyer claims that the phrase "creates a likelihood that the public will be confused as to the sponsorship of the T-shirt and our client's services and products," which really seems pretty preposterous: this particular brand of cheekiness just ain't Keillor's bag. Anybody who knows anything about Keillor's show at all will know better.

So why is Keillor really suing this lone blogger? Well, some folks over at MNSpeak have commented that it may have to do with the "dilution of the brand:" that Sorgatz's t-shirt will create negative associations with his work and therefore decrease the value of the PHC trademark. But this seems rather unlikely, too. Is one guy selling a few t-shirts that satirize a hometown media phenomenon to underground-hipster types really going to cause significant damage to the (now rather formidable) Keillor Media Machine? Probably not. In fact, Sorgatz had pretty much sold out his small stock of shirts and wasn't planning to make any more. Pete Sholtes, at another Twin Cities blog, CityPages, says "frankly, we didn't even remember the stupid shirts" before Keillor's cease and desist order became news.

Sorgatz warned Keillor's lawyer that "this is going to make your client look extremely out of touch," and he's right. Some other MNSpeak commenters have labeled Keillor "humorless" and a "cranky old man." I'd add that this kind of behavior really seems pretty damn hypocritical in a man who's made a living off of satirizing (however gently) cracker-barrel radio shows and small-town mores. If anybody's doing damage to the Keillor name, it's not Sorgatz; it's Keillor, who's choosing to prosecute a petty vendetta against a flavor-of-the-week novelty t-shirt.

And now I think I'm starting to have a much better sense of why I'm a little shamefaced about my PHC listening. Keillor pretends to be Everybody's Favorite Uncle, but scratch the surface and he starts looking pretty self-important and mean-spirited.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina and Divinity

Over at Twisty's place, Winter of Mind the Gap posted a comment which I think provides pretty much the best possible riposte to the mindlessly self-righteous jackasses who've been preaching that Hurricane Katrina was the result of God's wrath at our "unholy" national values (and no, they're not referring to our current president's foreign policy), at the "decadence" of New Orleans, or at least an instane of "His severe mercy" or the "withholding of His blessings":

I never have been able to figure out why so many people want to believe in a God who seems to be little more than a stupid, but clearly dangerous, psychopath. But, I guess it all comes back to that old adage "People make God in their own image." It tells us nothing about God and everything we need to know about the people who create him - people who believe thousands of poor black people should be drowned because of homosexuality and abortion.

Amen, sister.

And I also think the best proof that God does not go around vengefully smiting people is that the Rev. Fred Phelps and other similar jerkwads--who blaspheme divinity daily by asserting that it's made in the image of their own unbelievably stunted mindsets--are not currently a tiny, greasy patch of smoking earth. That, my friends, is evidence of divine mercy.

Bits and pieces from a strange few days

1) Exit the scapegoat: "Brownie" has resigned. Also in the same AP story:

White and black Americans view the federal response in starkly different ways, with more blacks viewing race as a factor, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.
The poll found that six in 10 blacks interviewed said the federal government was slow in rescuing those stranded in New Orleans because many of the people were black. But only about one in eight white respondents shared that view.

I reckon DuBois's "color line" still hasn't left us.

2) Cat Scratch Fever: Mouse went nuts this morning, running around the apartment like mad, sometimes in circles, and attacking my foot from beneath the bed so that he left me with a a huge pair of scratches that bled for some time. Made me wonder whether something was up (impending natural disaster? strange substances in the water?), but maybe it's just my own jumpiness from the past couple of weeks wearing off on him.

3) They won't watch a movie?: My students royally pissed me off today when in-class group meetings revealed that some of them hadn't even watched the films they were supposed to be presenting on tomorrow morning, much less come up with an analysis of them. I felt forced to grant an extension--lest we all have to watch supremely crappy and demoralizing presentations for two hours--and rearranged the entire week's schedule to do so. But I let them sweat it out for the entire class thinking I'd be holding them to the deadline and then gave them a stern talking-to, along the lines of "since I'm granting this extension and going to some inconvenience, these presentations had better be good." I mean, Lord-a-mercy, I know they're tired and have a lot to do; I'm completely exhausted and overwhelmed myself. But that's just damn ridiculous, particularly since this really is a pretty fun and lightweight assignment. I really am pretty deeply disappointed in them, and I'm worried about how well they're going to finish out the term.

4) Song and Dance: I began working on a presentation for Big Cheese Donor-Types at the library today: some folks are coming at the end of the week to see what the program I'm working for is up to, and my project's been picked as one of the ones to "show and tell" in an attempt to convince them to part with some cash. I'm having a great time at it: I do love the ballads, and I'm looking forward to talking about them. I don't mind being a salesperson when I believe in the product, after all.

5) Glasses Regained: On Friday evening, my friend on the night sanitation crew--who thought he was doing me a favor by retrieving them from the grad lounge and hanging on to them for me--returned my glasses. In actuality, all he did was keep me from being reunited with them for an extra 12 hours, but it's the thought that counts, I guess.

6) Samurai and Yakuza: I went to a weekend double-feature with Geek Boy of two movies produced in Japan in 1964: Ansatsu (Assassination)--which appeared to be a kind of allegory, through the central character, of a Japanese love-hate relationship with the old Imperial order that died with the forced "opening" of the country under Commodore Perry--and Ôkami to buta to ningen (Wolves, Pigs, and People)--which is about a small-time gangster who recruits his younger brother into a plot to rob drugs and money from a yakuza gang that includes his older brother. This one included some really wacky and rather incongruous scenes (especially because the rest of the movie was pretty intensely gritty) in which Japanese slum teenagers re-enacted some bizarre version of Beach Blanket Bingo combined with the nutty beatnik parties of The Swinger--only set against the bleak backdrop of an industrial canal and featuring scenes in which they chase down junkyard dogs to boil for dinner.

Both films were very challenging: they were definitely made by Japanese people for Japanese people, and it was sometimes difficult to get all the cultural nuances, but I liked them both very much. Ansatsu, in particular, had some really gorgeous scenes.

Geek Boy was less impressed than I was, though, and I have to admit there were some pacing issues. I also have to admit that I seem almost polymorphously perverse when it comes to movies: I'll watch just about anything, and I always seem to find something about whatever I'm watching interesting, even if I know it's awful. Maybe especially if I know it's awful. Case in point:

7) Knight Riders: A movie screened at Morgan and Bellwether's place that actually chased away four spectators. Now this was most definitely a crappy, crappy movie. And yet, I was sorta charmed by the goofy sincerity of it. George Romero, taking a break from zombie flicks in 1981, makes a movie about a biker-gang-cum-SCA-troupe-cum-hippie-commune who're trying to revive the dream of Camelot. It stars Ed Harris, who manages to:

(a) get naked a lot;
(b) end up with a silent, Native-American sidekick in the closing scenes; and
(c) yell his way through loads of bad dialogue, including "I'm not tryina' be a hero! I'm just tryina' fight the dragon!"

But, then, I guess that's part of my m.o. Joe Bob Briggs' separated-at-birth nerd sister, I'm just a B-movie / broadside ballad / Easy Cheese / doggerel romance-lovin' chick.

"Ain't nothin' passe 'bout the declasse:" that's my motto.

And now, for something completely goofy

Your Superhero Profile
Your Superhero Name is The Techni KidYour Superpower is Artificial IntelligenceYour Weakness is SnakesYour Weapon is Your Radiation SaberYour Mode of Transportation is Phone Booth
Superhero Identity Generator discovered via Badger.
I really like the idea of traveling in a phone booth, not least of all because it would sorta connect me with Dr. Who and the TARDIS. I'm not sure how artificial intelligence works as a superpower, exactly. I guess it means I get to be a cyborg? A cyborg who's afraid of snakes? Hmm. Well, I guess I can just use the radiation saber on 'em when I see them.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

9/11 and Katrina: Degrees of Separation

Like many people, I’ve been thinking, today, about 9/11. I’ve been remembering how I learned what was going on while poking around in a shop in Dublin’s Temple Bar; that I thought the radio broadcast I heard was a particularly vivid movie trailer for the first five minutes; that when realization finally dawned, I stumbled out into the street and into a nearby pub to watch SkyNews replay footage of what had already, by then, happened in Manhattan.

I remember being stranded in Ireland as U.S. airspace was shut down, beginning to run out of money, not having internet or phone access so I could check in with friends and family at home, and being alone on a deserted university campus. I remember thinking that World War III had just broken out and that maybe I wouldn’t get to come home for months or even years.

Later, once I’d managed to make contact, I remember worrying about my parrot, Cyrano, locked up in his cage with only the food and water my roommate had left him as she fled in terror from the helicopters hovering our neighborhood, which was all too close to bomb-worthy Big City landmarks. I remember wondering whether I’d see some of my friends again, since Big City was reportedly one of the terrorists’ favored targets. I remember thinking I was probably safer than everyone at home, and I remember how horrible that felt; I wanted to share both the grief and the danger with my own people.

I remember standing inside Newgrange the next day, looking at the huge stone basins that used to hold the remains of the honored dead and weeping in the dark. I remember crying like a child on the train down to Cork when every vehicle in Ireland paused to observe five minutes’ silence for the victims of New York, Washington, and Flight 93.

I remember feeling helpless and heartbroken. I remember feeling like a refugee.

As I’ve looked at pictures of Katrina victims during the last week, I’ve been reminded of my post-9/11 pseudo-refugee status and of how much more fortunate I was than many of these true refugees have been. I might not have been able to go home for a while, and I might have been frightened about what I would find when I did. But I had a place to stay. I had food and water. I could get clean. I only had to confront images of death and destruction, not the reeking, smoldering, floating reality of it.

I feel as though I’ve spent the last week traumatized, as though my snappishness can’t just be chalked up to my intense workload, as though my inability to focus has something to do with how I’ve been mourning over Katrina and what it means that, once again, we failed to protect our own.

I’m not the only person who’s been drawing parallels:

1) "It took a day or two after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast to understand that it could affect our feelings about what happened at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania. After all, the people who died on Sept. 11 were murdered by other human beings. Katrina's malevolence was only a metaphor, no matter how damaging its winds. But by the time the hurricane died down and the floodwaters stopped rising, it became clear that this hurricane would force us to revise 9/11, which, until now, had defined the limits of tragedy in America." (New York Times editorial)

2) "The government's response to Katrina—like the failure to anticipate that terrorists would fly into buildings on 9/11—was a failure of magination." (Newsweek, in a long article titled “How Bush Blew It.”)

3) Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.: [After Katrina, as on 9/11] "we once again find ourselves asking, 'How could this have happened?' The answer is painful, but it must be acknowledged: we simply were unprepared."

4) Howard Fineman: "History doesn’t repeat itself, but there are political echoes of 9/11 sounding loudly all over the Gulf Coast, and, for the most part, the comparisons between catastrophes in two iconic cities — New York and New Orleans — aren’t likely to help boost public regard for the presidency of George W. Bush."

5) Dave Pollard: What do 9/11 and Katrina have in common, and what is that doing to our heads?

--They were both preventable, but the cost and challenge of prevention were (and are) massive, almost overwhelming
--Unlike the tsunami, both 9/11 and Katrina represented or brought out the worst in humanity, and raised serious questions about human nature (negligence to prevent a predictable disaster, incompetence in dealing with it, and exploitation of the misery afterwards)

. . . .

Lakoff has explained how hard it is for us to understand and process anything that doesn't fit with our 'frames', and how desperately we tend to cling to our personal worldviews. Events like these, I would suggest, come dangerously close to shattering our frames and destroying our worldviews, and to some extent make us, at least temporarily, slightly insane. To the progressive, giving up on the view that most people are good, caring, honest, and fair is sickening. To the conservative, giving up on the possibility that if you live a diligent, moral life you have a chance of being safe and secure, is equally sickening. These worldviews are our levees, and when they break, the result is profound and destructive."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Another Katrina Compendium

1) "Brownie" has been sent back to his desk in Washington so somebody who's actually qualified (Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard) can take over on the ground. This ABC News article indicates that he's likely to be fired soon.

2) This doesn't signal an end to BushCo's (TM) shameless cronyism, though. Both a Halliburton subsidiary and Shaw Group have gotten storm-cleanup contracts.

3) The federal government has stopped banning members of the media from body-retrieval efforts, thanks to the threat of a lawsuit from CNN.

4) Proving once again that he has huge balls, but a tiny brain, Dubya has called for "the spirit of 9/11" in confronting the Katrina disaster, apparently hoping against hope that his rhetoric won't remind us that his own idiotic foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 is part of why Katrinagate happened.

5) Even Wal-Mart, which I generally consider to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Evil Incarnate, managed to do a better job of being both humane and organized than the federal government did: the company got aid into affected areas well ahead of FEMA. I guess this pretty much proves that the neocon agenda of strengthening corporations and weakening federal government has worked.

6) More insensitivity from the Party of the Rich:

7) If that's not enough asshattery for you, here, via Geek Boy, is a collection of 25 more mind-numbingly stupid quotes about Katrina.

8) University of Pennsylvania historian Steven Hahn on how the mass migration of 500,000 predominantly African-American people from Katrina-affected areas may change America.

9) Chris Clarke's brilliant satire on the Democratic Party's accountability is a must-read. My favorite excerpt:

Vice President Dick Cheney echoed Secretary Rice's remarks. Speaking to CRN from a fortified pro shop at the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club, he said "Their opposition to anything we do is so ineffective and weak-willed, that for two years I've had to tell myself to go fuck myself. If you ask me, that's not the America I know."
There's more where that came from here.

10) Thank God, amid all the horrific stories emerging from this nightmare, there are some good ones, too. Just a few heroes:

Things I have lost during the past two weeks

  • A watch (returned)
  • My jump drive (eventually found again)
  • My glasses
  • My nice orange water-bottle
  • A lot of sleep
  • Portions of my sanity
  • Focus
Right now, I'm missing the glasses the most. Trying to read tiny broadside ballad text on little sleep is bad enough. Trying to read it on little sleep and without glasses is awful.

The worst thing about how unbelievably hectic my schedule is right now is not that it's forcing me into the kind of absent-mindedness that produces lost items. It is that I don't even have time to stop and look for things when I notice they're missing. I just have to hope that they get returned to me or turn up, one way or another.

Okay, yeah, I really do miss having cable these days.

And I wouldn't be using it to watch Girl- and Boy-Paris, no matter how flippant I try to pretend I am. I'm too busy being obsessed with Katrinagate and trying to figure out whether it really does mean the end of America.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but I mean it seriously. In theory, this is not a Third World country. In theory, in fact, we're the wealthiest nation on earth. And yet, people are still dying in Louisiana and Mississippi for lack of aid from a government that just can't get its shit together. Fishermen and others who've been impressed into service because most of our military is fighting in Iraq to preserve BushCo oil interests / family honor / testosterone levels are discovering the bloated bodies of people who were abandoned to drown in their beds in New Orleans hospitals and Jefferson Parish nursing homes. Children may have been raped and murdered among the filth of a squalid refugee camp. There are reports that, while criminals hampered relief efforts, law enforcement officials taking food and water out of the hands of survivors who'd managed to gather them and refusing help to women who wouldn't offer expose their breasts on demand. New Orleans is a burning lake of fire. Can anybody else out there even recall a situation like this? A situation in which a national government allowed a major city--a major port--to become a vast cauldron of toxic waste in which the citizens (and especially the poorest, sickest, and oldest citizens) were left to the tender mercies of criminals and opportunists because somebody else was supposed to take care of it?

Even though the generally all-too-complacent mainstream media (including even Fox News commentators) is lathered up into a righteous fury, even though it's become appallingly clear that this government not only isn't making the world "a safer place for Americans," but can't save Americans from dying by the thousands in their own neighborhoods because of simple incompetence, we're still hearing that "pointing fingers" is the "wrong" thing to do: that it is not honorable. We're still hearing that "this is not the time for politics" and that nobody should play the "blame game"--unless, of course, we're blaming the victims. Bush told Nancy Pelosi he can't imagine why he'd need to fire FEMA Asshat-in-Chief Mike Brown, because, hey, "what went wrong last week?" And there are at least a few polls out there indicating that the Orwellian fabrications of the neocon Spin Machine are actually working: According to one, 63% of respondents agree with Bush and don't think anyone should lose his job over this.

At this point, if we let these idiotic and frankly callous jackasses of the hook, if we let them chuckle over how much better off the "disadvantaged" are now that "Corinna" has allowed them to move out of "that part of the world" otherwise known as the "city of Louisiana," if we let them boot out the media which were somehow able to get to places government officials apparently couldn't even pinpoint on a map last week, just as it might be possible to get an accurate count of how many people they pushed toward their deaths . . . . Well, folks, honestly, if we let that happen, I'm not sure we even deserve to be called a civilization any longer.

There's a reason why lots of left-leaning politicians and commentators are suddenly using the language of the End Times, and I don't think it's just a crass (or savvy, depending on your viewpoint) attempt to manipulate the reactions of more conservative swing voters. It's because there truly is a very real sense in which we may be looking down the business end of the administration that ushers in the end of America as we know it.


Clips I'm watching and gathering in the absence of cable service, thanks to Crooks and Liars:

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Beyond NOLA

I'd been wondering about all the areas other than NOLA hit by Katrina: Nearly all I've seen are a few scattered mentions that the damage extends over much of Louisiana and Mississippi along the coastline, Trent Lott seeking federal help for Mississippians, and the heartwrenching testimony of Aaron Broussard from Jefferson Parish. But, even though I looked, I couldn't seem to find much about the other victims of Katrina and her governmental aiders and abetters.

But now, news from those other areas is starting to trickle in. And it's not good. CNN's featuring an AP story from Chalmette, Louisiana that, I suspect, mirrors the situation in many of the smaller towns. A couple of excerpts:

If you dropped a bomb on this place, it couldn't be any worse than this," said Ron Silva, a district fire chief in St. Bernard Parish. "It's Day 8, guys. Everything was diverted first to New Orleans, we understand that. But do you realize we got 18 to 20 feet of water from the storm, and we've still got 7 to 8 feet of water?"

. . . .

As relief efforts sputtered in the days after the storm, Verlyn Davis Jr., an out-of-work electrician, took charge. He transformed his parents' bar and seafood restaurant, Lehrmann's, into a shelter where he dispatches people to clear roads, hook up generators and help in the disaster relief process.

About 20 people have been staying there these days. On a boarded-up window out front is a blue spray-painted sign: "ABOUT TIME BUSH!"

"The governor and the president let thousands of people die and they let them die on their roofs and they let them die in the water," said Davis, 45. "We got left. They didn't care."

Help has begun to pour in -- the sound of the military helicopters overhead interrupts the silence. Search teams in boats pound on rooftops. They shout, "Anybody home?" But they know the answer.

I don't think it's pessimistic to say that we'll keep hearing stories like this for days--and maybe even weeks--to come; it's realistic.

And, as usual these days, the reality is just about unbearable.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Why I love Ed Helms

Via Crooks and Liars, here's last night's Daily Show report from Ed Helms. This is nearly as good as the Keith Olbermann piece I posted yesterday.

Helms: "The president . . . will end up building a billion-dollar dam in Arkansas . . . His plan will be to fight the water there so we don't have to fight it here."

Stewart: "So no one's going to be held accountable for any of this."
Helms: "Uh, no. In fact, if history is any indication, they'll be hard-pressed finding enough medals to pin on these guys. My sources tell me the head of FEMA may actually be dipped in bronze and turned into an award which will then be given to other officials."

And the alphabetical listings of Bush Administration Crises is high-larious.

As a follow-up, Lauren at Feministe has set up a Bush Talking Points Mad Libs post. Awesome.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fear of a Blog Planet, Part 2

I (and also you, dear reader, if you are so inclined) have Quod She to thank for snapping me out of my continuous posts about the Murder of New Orleans. I may write one more mega-post that's simmering in the back of my mind, but it's not ready just yet, and I need to let it be for a couple of days, at least.

So what has the inimitable QS said that got my attention?

Well, it seems that our favorite anti-blogger has returned to the pages of the Chronicle. That's right: "Ivan Tribble" is back for more. As QS herself said, "he didn’t get enough abusin’ by the blogosphere the first time around?"

You can read "Fear of a Blog Planet, Part 2" here if you're in the mood.

What really gets my goat about this installation is the closer, which reads:

"As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don't 'get it.' That's right, I don't. Many in the tenured generation don't, and they'll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

If that's bad news, I'm sorry. But would it really be better if no one bothered to mention it? Shooting the messenger may make some feel better, but heeding the warning might help them get jobs. "

Two things strike me about this:

1) The absolutely mind-boggling sense of self-justifying entitlement. "Yeah, that's right. I'm an Old Fart who doesn't understand what You Crazy Kids are up to. I recognize that what you're doing may have some positive applications, but I'm too scared and/or lazy to figure out how to separate the blog wheat from the blog chaff. And hell, I don't have to! 'Cause I'm tenured and I'm on the hiring committee, and you're not. So nah nah nah nah boo boo."

2) He's reneging on his earlier empty rhetoric about how people should "be themselves" during job interviews if they want to find a truly agreeable work situation. Why do I say that? Well, because he's telling his readers that they shouldn't run the risk of exposing professors of the Saurian persuasion (who supposedly have a lock on hiring committees) to New Ideas or New Media, which might frighten them.

And, may I just ask: What the hell kind of attitude is this in somebody who's supposed to be a lover of ideas? ("Ewww. That's a new idea. Not only that, but it hasn't been vetted by a committee of Tenured People. I don't like that sort of idea. It might be . . . contagious or accessible or even something I didn't think of. Make it go away!")

Yeah, Dr. Tribble, you don't "get it." But you don't "get it" about a whole hell of a lot more than just weblogs.

Why I love Twisty Faster: Part 1,987

I'm not sure I 100% agree with Twisty's analysis of the situation, but she's always so righteously funny and angry and smart that I don't really care. And I mostly agree with her, anyway.

Plus, damned if she doesn't have the most amazing use of vocabulary and the best portmanteau word inventions I've seen in the blogosphere (which is saying a lot, 'cause there are some bloggers with some serious writing chops out there).

And she's got graphic design skillz, too! I don't imagine you're going to see a better political cartoon anywhere than that one, right there.

I guess Dubya comes by it honestly?

Barbara Bush on the evacuees:

Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality."

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Partial audio link here, so you can decide for yourself whether it's just a rather blase former First Lady chuckling or the sound of the First Seal breaking.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Blegging for the animals

North Shore Animal League America

The disaster has killed and stranded many animals, too. North Shore Animal League America, among other groups, is leading rescue efforts for the critters. If you want to help, you can send money, but they also need homes for displaced and abandoned pets.


UPDATE: The ASPCA is on the job, too, and has a page full of pet disaster preparedness suggestions. I'm planning to work on some of these things during the next week. Having realized that both Mouse and I would have some difficulty getting out of here in the event of a disaster is motivating me to get to work on several fronts.

Mary Landrieu wants to punch Bush, and so do I

Boy Roomie and I don't really have any television coverage to speak of: no cable and really spotty local reception. So I'm learning about Katrina mostly online. Here's some of what I'm seeing:


NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- On his arrival here, Bush went to the Bethany World Prayer Center, a huge hall half covered with pallets and half filled with dining tables. Several people ran up to meet him as he and first lady Laura Bush wandered around the room. But just as many hung back and just looked on.

"I'm not star-struck. I need answers," said Mildred Brown, who has been there since Tuesday with her husband, mother-in-law and cousin. "I'm not interested in hand-shaking. I'm not interested in photo ops. This is going to take a lot of money."

Full story here.

This also links to a video of Bush's apperance, in which (to me, at least) he looks alternately nervous and defiant, works his jaw and repeats himself a lot, and keeps commenting about how the national response of "churches, synagogues, and mosques" has been outstanding.

In the midst of all this, he's still pushing that "Thousand Points of Light" crap about how we're supposed to depend upon faith-based organizations to handle all our social problems? He's still trying to pretend that his Small Government Doctrine makes sense when it's precisely that kind of thinking which led to the disrepair of the levees and the abandonment of the people of New Orleans to the care of local goverments disabled by the storm fallout?

I knew he was a moron; apparently, he also has no shame.


NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- There may be no better way to explain the desperation on the city's ravaged streets than this: In the past few days, two police officers took their own lives and dozens have turned in their badges.

New Orleans Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley on Sunday identified two officers who committed suicide as Sgt. Paul Accardo, the department's spokesman, and Patrolman Lawrence Celestine. He called both "outstanding cops" and friends.

"Both of them," he said, shaking his head slowly. "Used their own guns."

Full story here.


NEW ORLEANS (BBC) -- The Superintendent of the New Orleans police department, Eddie Compass, has warned people remaining in the city to leave.

"Our officers are basically telling people there is absolutely no reason to stay here... We advise people that this city has been destroyed."

. . . The president's suggestion over the weekend that local officials made mistakes has led one Louisiana Senator, Mary Landrieu, to threaten to punch him if he says it again.

Full story here.

On Katrina and Accountability

Everybody else with a blog is writing about this too, and I generally accept the fact that other bloggers handle current events with far more savvy than I ever could and therefore keep my mouth shut. But the Katrina aftermath is different, I think. It's obsessing me: I can't stop reading about it, no matter how much work I have to do and no matter how much it hurts to keep reading. I think this is telling us something about who we are. And some of what it's telling us is positive (the heroics of people like Jabbar Gibson come to mind), but a lot of what it's tellling us is not just negative--it's terrifying.

So I'm going to be even more self-indulgent than usual by adapting a comment I made over at Bitch.Ph.D into a full-grown post here, not because others haven't already done it better, but because I feel it's my responsibility to say something, somewhere.


I'm in complete agreement with those who've already said that figuring out who's responsible and why things went so horrifically wrong is part of our national responsibility--and, by extension, part of our individual responsibility as concerned members of a democracy. It's not only the best way to keep this kind of thing from happening again: it's the best thing we can possibly do to honor the dead in the weeks and months to come.

I have a hard time believing that Bush actually wants to prove a political point or wipe out an undesirable portion of the constituency by denying aid to areas hit by Katrina. I can't imagine how, even in his little pea-sized brain, he'd think that the fallout would be worth making the point, even if he genuinely didn't care about thousands of people's lives. And there are other people in the Bush Administration who have more functional gray matter than he does and would surely be able to foresee the PR disaster such behavior would induce, even if they didn't have an ounce of compassion.

I do hear what folks have said elsewhere about how recent disaster relief efforts in Florida moved so much more quickly and smoothly, and I'll admit that I wonder whether there wasn't a certain--ah--callous indifference at play in the slow response to NOLA's plight. But I really think a lot more of what happened was about plain old incompetence, nepotism, and stupidity.

I think this is what happens when a nation allows itself to elect a total idiot as its leader, then buys into the cynical manipulations of his handlers by allowing him to convert the horror of a terrorist attack into dedicating vast portions of the nation's resources to a war that's really a family vendetta, meanwhile hiring unqualified family friends to run major branches of the government and slowly strangling social programs and public safety services to death in the name of States' Rights and private enterprise.

Here's the thing: If we'd been more aware, less frightened, and more on the ball as a citizenry before, I don't think the NOLA nightmare would've happened in the first place.

Remember the rallying cry of "Don't let the terrorists win?" Well, honestly, I think they won this round. They scared us into re-electing a dangerous incompetent during our time of need because he looks convincing in a flight suit and can reduce complex issues to the comforting, easy dichotomies of melodrama. What happened in NOLA is only part of the fallout.

We can't afford not to pay attention to what this government is doing anymore. It hasn't proven itself worthy of our trust, and we need to hold it to account. Because we're accountable, too: we elected it.

Don't have cash? How about sending some old clothes, shoes, or blankets?

Via Lauren at Feministe, I've just found out that the Houston Bar Association is taking "hard" donation items that could be useful to Katrina victims. Here's where to mail it, if you've got it:

Houston Bar Association Office
1001 Fannin
Suite 1300
Houston, TX 77002.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Aaron Broussard on "Meet the Press"

This is not right. It's just not right. Something has gone desperately, fatally wrong here.

It is a NEARLY A WEEK since the levees broke, and this is what's still happening in Louisana. Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, was on "Meet the Press" today, talking about FEMA officials inexplicably refusing truckloads of donated water and cutting emergency communication lines. He broke down while explaining that people in a nursing home drowned on Friday night.

What, seriously WHAT, in the name of all that's holy is going on here? Honestly, even I never expected this level of incompetence from the Bush administration.

How can this possibly be real?


P.S. Meanwhile, Haliburton's been hired to conduct storm cleanup.

Words really do fail me in the presence of such shameless obscenity.

P.P.S. Conservative commentators are getting pissed off, too. See the Washington Times editorial from Friday and David Brooks's comments from the Lehrer NewsHour. Michelle Malkin doesn't blame Bush, but does at least argue that he needs to fire David "Brownie" Brown, who was blaming Katrina victims for not having evacuated (regardless of whether they actually had transportation or were--oh, I dunno--TRAPPED IN A NURSING HOME) as late as this past Thursday.

Friday, September 02, 2005

That's it. He really is a jackass.

The more I read about Bush's reaction to Katrina, the angrier I get, and the more inadequate I feel my understated comment in the entry below was. So let me just say:

He stayed on vacation for the first day of the disaster? He didn't even make a speech (and a real humdinger of a lame-ass one, at that) until 48 hours after the levees broke? He's making comments about how he's going to sit on the porch of Trent Lott's re-built home? Dude! We're not worried about Trent Lott's ass being able to re-build his stupid house, which was probably an obscene, plantation-style eyesore anyway. We're worried about all the thousands of people who never owned a house in the first damn place and, in fact, didn't even own a goddamn car and therefore were unable to evacuate when all hell broke loose. Where the hell are your priorities, you idiot? We're talking about an entire major city lying in ruins, here! A city that will never be the same again; that it'll take years--maybe even decades--to rebuild. We don't give a shit about Trent Lott's house, and neither should you. We really don't give a damn whether you and your cronies have a place to drink your mint juleps in the near future.

Honestly, I've never been so shocked or terrified that this is the guy who runs our country. And that's saying a lot.

This is a very good idea: Offer housing to Hurricane Katrina victims

I know many of my readers aren't anywhere near Louisiana, but some of you are; maybe more than I know. If you do live nearby, please consider offering a place to stay to victims of Hurricane Katrina. You can click here to find out more.

You can also send monetary donations through America's Second Harvest if the Red Cross site is down (as it was when I tried it).

A thousand other bloggers with a thousand times more savvy than me have written thousands of words about this already, and I won't make any attempts at punditry. But one thing is perfectly clear: a whole lot of people who should have been able to keep New Orleans from devolving into something straight out of the Book of Revelations have utterly failed. And a lot of people, especially those who are poor and disenfranchised already, are in dire and probably unnecessary danger.

Offerings from Ariana Huffington, Will Bunch, The New York Times, David Corn, John Nichols, and Molly Ivins point fingers at President Bush (who really has managed to seem both insincere and inept in a way that surprises even me), Louisiana state officials, and the oil companies for various aspects of the crisis.

And, probably like most everybody reading this, I'm really wishing there were more I could do than think about who's to blame and send a little money.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

David Horowitz probably still wouldn't be satisfied . . .

. . . but I actually ended up being an apologist for Bush in class the other day. Or, at least, I did what I think was probably a pretty convincing job of presenting both sides of the case and contextualizing his viewpoint in a reasonably neutral way.

See, we've been talking, off and on, about how the events of the Crusades might shed some light on what's been going on in the Middle East ever since and how some of the attitudes and ideas we're encountering seem to parallel those in operation now. So I've been working very hard to make sure that I present balanced points of view and don't let any one political opinion appear to be the "orthodox" one. I think my students have been a bit surprised not to hear me parroting a party line back at them and instantly rewarding a liberal viewpoint with the verbal equivalent of high-fives. I'm not instantly congratulating students for condemning Bush or ranting about the war: I'm challenging them to justify their ideas and think about counter-arguments. And I actually came down a bit on a student today who was being anti-military to the extent of criticizing soldiers for "complaining" about the rigors of service. A few jaws dropped.

I'm mostly motivated by a sense of fairness and a desire for a real exchange of ideas. But it's also just kinda fun to mess with people's heads, especially when they clearly think they've got you figured out.

Some things about the recent discussion problems seem to have straightened themselves out a bit today, probably thanks in large part to my forcing the students to ask me questions via the LiveJournal discussion board I set up for them. This class has been more reluctant to ask for clarification than any I can remember: they'll just sit there and smile at me like so many Mona Lisas when I ask for questions, and then they'll bitch to the tutor or other instructors or each other that they don't know what's going on. Soooo frustrating.

So I told them that their LiveJournal assignment this week was to ask me a question, and the floodgates opened. I guess they're more comfortable typing in their questions when they can't actually see me for some reason, 'cause there sure were a lot of questions on the board when I checked it last night. I stayed up late composing very thorough replies, which apparently cleared many things up for them and convinced them that I wasn't nuts and I really did think about their reading assignments and essay prompts before I made them. They also seemed to understand better that (1) I don't expect them to have it "all figured out" when they come to class, (2) that discussion is meant for hashing out ideas, and (3) that I won't regard questions as a challenge to my authority. So there was much more animated conversation today, which was a real improvement.

I am still, however, having some difficulties with people (especially one little fraternity of guys) who want to have side conversations in class, regardless of whether I'm talking or there's a group discussion underway. I started calling them on it a bit more assertively today; if it doesn't stop tomorrow, I intend to get downright confrontational. But I figured tackling one set of discussion issues at a time was enough for one day.

I still feel jumpy and over-sensitive: as if my skin's been put on backward somehow. This makes it really hard to be patient with a room full of students who're tired, cranky, and almost hopelessly distracted by the promise of a three-day weekend.

When I came in today, one of the early arrivals had drawn a mural of drunken partying--complete with names of people in the class written in over various figures--covering the blackboards on one entire side of the classroom and the label "SPRING BREAK" across the top. I guess that was meant to be a presage of things to come: they've apparently decided that Labor Day Weekend is going to be their chance to really break in the college partying lifestyle. I had to bite back a desire to wag my finger at their immaturity and tell them that they really can't afford to party all weekend, with so many deadlines looming next week. But then I decided they'd figure it out for themselves down the line, anyway. Vomiting into a toilet bowl at 4am and trying to write a paper draft during a raging hangover will probably teach them the lesson better than any schoolmarmish lectures from me would.