Thursday, September 30, 2004


I just saw Andrew Sullivan's first comment on the debate--precious!


Personally, I think Kerry pussed out way too much. Mention more recent cases of misleading by the Bush Administration when asked directly by Lehrer--don't simply restate the same old shit about pre-war stuff. BUT, the important (alas) developments occur AFTER the debate, and watching MSNBC, PBS, FOX News, etc., I must say I'm happy. Brokaw and Russert score it for Kerry, as do Joe Scarborough(!) and Ron Reagan. Andrea Mitchell is not as vociferous but thinks Kerry did well. Fox: Kondrake and Bill Kristol and Brit Hume seem really worried and are saying Kerry did what he had to do, while the always gung-ho Fred Barnes is raising questions about Kerry's performance. On PBS Mark Shields says Kerry won barely, and David Brooks (who's usually more sensible) thinks it was a 'draw.' Tommy Franks thinks Kerry did well, and Wes Clark says he kicked ass. Joe Biden really racked up some good points on MSNBC, but I missed John Edwards on ABC.

All in all, a good night. Many of the pundits are talking about Bush sighing, looking pissed, acting spoiled, and appearing less than presidential--including the Fox panel. This is really, really important--it's what cost Gore heavily in 2000. We'll see what happens after the spin kicks in this weekend.
I'm going to recommend

with the caveat that I watched it after being awake for more than 24 hours straight. I didn't see it for so long because of its abysmal reviews, but it was really enjoyable, particularly because I love a lot of Gilliam's previous work and here he nails some scenes. Depp's transformation into Hunter S. Thompson is remarkable--he gets the mumbly incoherent speech of an aged junky and gonzo journalist just right, and even nails Thompson's propensity to explode into occasional verbal violence. Benicio del Torro is excellent as well, and there are great cameos by Christina Ricci, Gary Bussey, and Lyle Lovett (not to mention an appearance by Thompson himself). Sure, there's a lot of drugged-up ridiculousness, but Gilliam manages to accent the liberating and destructive aspects of the counterculture. The film climaxes with Neil Young's achingly plaintive and beautiful Buffalo Springfield ballad "Expecting to Fly." I enjoyed every second of it.

I'm waiting for the Presidential debate--can't watch it here at the Library, but I'm going to do the forbidden and listen to the live webcast on while sitting at the desk. Why do I care? I know for whom I'm voting, after all. I suppose I need to know myself who "wins," instead of who the blathering stuffed shirts and pinup pundits tell us wins afterward.

Play along at Home

Here's a first draft of the Pop Quiz I made up for tomorrow. (I must admit I'm troubled that I have so much fun writing these).

English 263 Quiz #2
Answer four of the following questions using a separate sheet of paper and citing textual evidence when possible. You may use your text.

1. Kafka toys with the notion of being “satisfied.� How is it that the hunger artist can “be the sole completely satisfied spectator of his own fast� while also being “never satisfied�? What do you believe Kafka wants us to understand about the protagonist, and is there some lesson here that we all need to learn?

2. Fasting has religious, political and cultural significance—for what reasons do people fast? Does thinking about real-life examples of fasting (or similar behaviors) help us understand what Kafka is trying to say?

3. Kafka calls his character an “artist� for a reason. What, if anything, does his story have to say about artists/performers and their relationship to their work and to their audiences?

4. “A Hunger Artist� was written decades ago, long before the advent of our overarching media culture. The story harks back to old traditions of carnival sideshows and exhibitions of “freaks,� unfortunates, exotic specimens, accidents of nature, etc. Does Kafka’s story have any relevance to today’s mass media? …to audience tastes and behavior? Use specific examples.

5. Explain the significance of the Hunger Artist’s last words, including the entire exchange on p. 924 (beginning with “Forgive me, everybody,� and ending with “…because I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.�).

6. The panther in the last paragraph is obviously contrasted with the Hunger Artist. What does Kafka intend us to learn via this odd comparison?

A Cautionary Tale

While trolling blogs, I came across this one:

I started this website in February 2001. A year later I was fired from my job for this website because I had written stories that included people in my workplace. My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID. Never write about work on the internet unless your boss knows and sanctions the fact that YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT WORK ON THE INTERNET. If you are the boss, however, please don’t be a bitch and talk with your hands. And when you order Prada online, please don’t talk about it out loud, you rotten whore.

D'oh. Hers wasn't a State job, however...
U.S. Effort Aims to Improve Opinions About Iraq Conflict
By Dana Milbank and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page A20

The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls "good news" about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

The unusual public-relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development comes as details have emerged showing the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush's reelection campaign had been heavily involved in drafting the speech given to Congress last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Combined, they indicate that the federal government is working assiduously to improve Americans' opinions about the Iraq conflict -- a key element of Bush's reelection message.

Emphasis mine. Want more?

Antonin Scalia...Swinger?

“I even take the position that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged,� Scalia said.

More Unconventionally Hateful Satire

Blame Bush! is another site that is not what it first seems to be; read it carelessly and you'd think this guy's an actual progressive with Karl Rove's gutter instincts; you know, what the Left needs! But spend any time there and the illusion drops away--he's satiring Lefties and progressives and all his links are to hard-core right-wing screeds.

That said, I think it's funny anyway, despite some rather loathesome politics. I particularly enjoy the Borders-bashing.
This is far and away the best search engine request that brought someone to this site.

Time to Smoke

I'd begun, foolishly, to think my insomnia was a thing of the past. I hadn’t suffered an attack since August, and that wasn’t really insomnia, it was jet lag. Last night I was particularly tired and felt shagged out after grading 8 papers in an hour and watching Kyle MacGlaughlin mime jacking off into the sink on Sex and the City. I hit the sack at midnight, fell asleep immediately and woke up perhaps five minutes later with agitated thoughts leaping each other across the hemispheres of my brain. My ego, a captain overthrown by mutinous hoards, rolled back and forth across the empty hull of my rudderless skull in a veritable tumult of discharging dendrites.

I knew without checking that the moon was a waning gibbous—when I get screaming insomnia it’s always just past the full moon, and as a result I never look up at night lest seeing Astarte in her full glowing glory will fulfill my self-fulfillable prophecies. “Fucking jackoff,� you’ll say. “We’re a few centuries past the Enlightenment and you think the moon controls your sleep cycle?� I don’t know that it does, I simply point out that I get hammered more often than not as the moon begins its decline. And if the moon can pull the seething deeps of the oceans landward it surely can stir my tiny soul! I lay, eyes dry, too tired to read, watch a movie, or think straight, praying for sleep. Cha came to bed an hour later and I turned my internal rage against her, but internally only—she blasted open the door and thumped rudely down on her side of the bed. Joining the chorus of mournful voices in my head was a new plaint: she knows I’m a light sleeper—if I were actually asleep she would’ve woken me with that bullshit. I want a divorce. Surly, guilty at such stupid maudlin thoughts, I pretended to be asleep so she wouldn’t ask if I had insomnia and further agitate me with her useless concern. Soon she was snoring and I was reminded of a commercial for some sleep aid where a dried up waif stares at the ceiling in bed, wide awake, as her spouse tosses and turns. She bashes him with a skillet. That commercial is not funny to me the way amusing caricatures of drunks are not funny to the children of alcoholics.

I remember vividly looking at the clock at 2, 2:43, 3:18, 4:22. How can I be so tired that I can’t focus on New Yorker cartoons, and yet I’m not tired enough to sleep? The body needs it, the brain don’t care. Too many thoughts, too many narratives at once: I’m stuck on a bridge over the Danang river with Duras, who at age 15 is wearing a men’s felt hat and high heels and trying to explain why she did so at a far-removed future time. I’m also waiting for a train to Dumbledore with H. Potter, and studying the attempts at Anglo-German co-operation at the turn of the last century, continually advanced due to a potentially destabilizing Russo-French relationship, but always failing because Germany covets England’s vast colonial holdings—things come to a head in China, in Morocco, in Egypt, and the Boer War don’t help atall, no indeedy. Kafka seethes in my brain because I taught The Metamorphosis and discussed the unanchored angst rampant amongst intellectuals at that time, diminished by Darwin, addled by Freud, agitated by Marx. At one point I had to summarize Oedipus Rex because I discussed Gregor Samsa’s icky problem in terms of the Oedipal Complex, and got blank stares, and got further blank stares when I described it in a nutshell because no one had heard of the story (I have I believe 7 English majors, and three Psych majors in that class. Most of them are juniors and seniors. What the fuck ARE they reading?). Imagine mimicking Oedipus, in despair, blinding himself with broaches from his mommy's bosom--that's me at 9:14am yesterday. No wonder I can't sleep ever again. Gregor’s sister feeds him after he becomes a cockroach, and he hides himself under a sheet in order to not scare her, but a tiny erect piece of him always manages to protrude nonetheless; he leaves a “sticky substance� all over his room that she finds distasteful, and his father, whenever he moves in his locked room, is always shouting “What is he up to in there?� I tell my students this is nothing more than the original dessert most recently served up as a heapin' slice o'American Pie . As Gregor is diminished, the father is rejuvenated—Freud all the way baby. Alienation from labor? Marx! Transformation into a new mutant beast? Darwin. There are six students who read everything and who participate constantly in our discussions—the other 16 are rather silent, and aren’t reading. Friday, my dears, you get a pop quiz! I punish you for not reading by making sure your grade will suffer if you don’t. I hereby turn my class into a Skinner Box.

Too, too many different stories, too much info, I’m stuffing my head and then I wonder why I stay awake all night. My students’ essays! Oh, God—the woefully insipid inanities: “The event that changed my life was when I learned how to ride my bike without training wheels.� Stop. Could there be a more enveloping banality? I’m in a vortex of ingenuousness. “My most important experience was tasting Applebee’s Triple Decker Club for the first time. Now, I get one at least once a week…� 3 pages about a sandwich created by an assembly line out of bagged ingredients. Worse are the actual horrors some kids have gone through—the student whose cousins live with her because their parents and older sister were on TWA 800; The young man whose father was a crack dealer and was knifed in prison and died; The Alzheimer’s; The friend who drove drunk and died; The breast cancer.

After teaching this morning I tried again to sleep, but the bed was unwelcoming and no matter what measures I took there was too much light creeping in around the black-out curtains. What better time to have received from Netflix

I watched it before work—a perfect film for the agitated neurotic, questioning his own sanity. Now I want to call some old contacts I met someplace some time ago, “Hey man, it’s me.�

“Get the fuck out dog! I ain’t heard from y’all in ages byieatch.� Suspicious to hear from me, alert. I can hear it in his voice.

“You know what I need.�

And I get it and there’s movement in the rug and on the wall and in the fibers of my shirt. No, can’t go back to that, tho a fingernail of fine resin handrolled in Morocco from sticky sticky good greenies? Oh, yeah, lipsmacking lungsfull of mellow fetid choke, opening the vaulted arches of my cathedral brain to introspective reveries—and two bags of chips! No, can’t do that. Buy a pack of Camels

Excuse this little interlude but some heavily tatooed dude was instantly drawn to me in the liquor store where I bought my cigarettes and started to tell me his luck with Lotto and then about his girlfriend. I often get latched onto by tough rednecky guys who start telling me their life story. WTF!

Oh, and another interlude, NK was just down here and winked conspiratorially and said "M's not here today--we can all be in our own little worlds." Actually, I typically am anyhow, down here in the offwhite dungeon with a funeral home's beige lighting.

and some dreadful thick caffeinated thing from Starbucks instead. Get through tonight (I’ll be missing the debates, sitting at the desk—probably good if I want TO FUCKING SLEEP later anyway), hand out a quiz tomorrow, and it’s the weekend. Yippeee. It won’t matter if I can’t sleep because I’ve got more Netflix, a Fellini-not-yet-seeny:

And he’s like my new guy, like The Guy now for me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

See Dick Change Mind

Saw this on Sullivan today, and Kos--a Cheney speech justifying the decision NOT to topple Saddam the first time around:

And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq... All of a sudden you've got a battle you're fighting in a major built-up city, a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques. Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney, 1992.

Flip-flopper? Big time!

Of course, during the first Gulf War Dick didn't own any Halliburton shares.

Dwight Eisenhower's boy switches teams!


Today pity posted this story (if you're not a registered Sun user, you can logon using gel44 as the Username and dottie as the Password). My reaction was to picture some Oliver Stone scenario with made guys and freelance hackers and CIA-trained anti-Castro Cubans all conspiring to pull the guts out of these machines and reverse-engineer them to automatically vote W. in every precinct. Once they've figured out their fiendish plan they chuck the machines out the back of a seedy Chevy van near some backalley dive in Charm City before heading down to Fort Meade for a victory celebration at NSA headquarters.

I love the fact you can "buy one on Ebay." Holy fucking shit. As if it weren't bad enough that Diebold is financially tied into the Bush syndicate and the big cheese of the company loves him some W.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I find your lack of faith disturbing...

I rather like this Star Wars spoof; thanks to Crow, whose presence in Germany explains why I'm getting hits over there (presumably).

Student Writing Samples

I don't know if "Fair Use" Doctrine applies here, but I'm going to sample for your reading pleasure (or academic interest) some un-attributed student essay samples from my current batch:

Sample One

...I touched that hard, sullen wooden box, felt the vibrations from the woman inside and the torrent of water let loose from my eyes, the daggers of odium stung at my already raw, bleeding heart. A part of my soul slept in that box, that wretched container!

This is a "My Grandmother's Funeral" essay, and it gets better!

I have dreams about her sometimes, late at night. I wake in a cold sweat to see her in various stages of decay walking towards me and begging to be rescued. I sometimes wonder why it is that I still see her, haunting my dreams, why it is that I am still afraid to walk into her house. I hear her voice, resounding, forever trapped within the walls of that dank, empty residence...

This was actually a really strong paper--at least it was interesting, which is exceedingly rare.

Sample Two

I was very excited because I was running the 800-meter dash along with Deneka and Udara. Deneka was a senior at Kennedy who had been running the 800-meter dash since middle school. Unlike Deneka, Udara was just like me, except she was a freshman. Therefore I figured Deneka would help our school's rank if Udara and I messed up, since we were first-time runners. I was also running the 4 by 4 relay.

I know what the 800 meter "dash" is, but the "4 by 4" relay has to be the most ridiculous race ever. By the time you take a step you're in the baton exchange zone!

Sample Three

From another surprisingly good paper, again about Grandma:

In 1991 my grandmother whom we all call Mommon came to visit my family in Germany with her sister. The night before they were coming back to Maryland Mommon and her sister got into a huge argument about where their plane tickets were and who had them last. My grandmother's sister kept telling Mommon that she had the tickets and that she had given them to her when they first arrived. Finally the argument was over and hours later Mommon found the tickets in her sock. They were there all along because her sister had given them to her and she put them away for safe keeping.

Sample Four

And another:

My mother's strenghts were her supreme intelligence and unwavering sense of life's priorities. Her only fear in life was that of a painful, undignified death. Her fate would be to confront this singular fear without the benefit of these strengths.

I'm three quarters done this pile and they've been much better than many batches of first essays at TU.


One great way to kill time is to look at the sites that referred people here. Today I found this blog doing just that, and a funny message the writer had received:

"I'm an innocent as far as the internet is concerned. I
don't even know what is. Better raise the
question with others.

Noam Chomsky"

There's also this blog, full of HAs and booty pix. And another--I think that's Indonesian, but I can't be sure. Most definitely some South Pacific tongue (reminiscent of Tagalog).[edit--the language is Malaysian. Helps to look at the Location field on the site-duh]

More strange Google searches which brought people here:


Hey now!

Same guy?

"God's Little Harbingers of Joy"--Messiaen on birds

I’m on a bit of a mind trip, listening to

Messiaen’s transcription of a variety of species’ birdsong for solo piano is dark, rhythmically arresting, and mysterious. Strange colorful bass patterns, somber and steady, are suddenly occluded and derailed by sharp eruptions at the top of the keyboard. At times the natural logic of these “compositions� appears irrefutable, but a sudden slashing swath of descending scales crashes any possible reasonable appreciation—we’re left unable to apprehend these little musical creations, evolved over millions of years, cries of agitation, angst, desire, and hope?

Of course, because there’s so much silence in these pieces, I can hear the student assistant’s headphones blasting “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.� A bit distracting.

Self-sabotage as wake-up call

This morning I was trying to decide whether my life is a story by Henry James, by James Joyce, or by Franz Kafka (dorky? yes, but these little sorts of brainstorming exercises help me transition my lit class from one author/style/movement to another). Many James stories feature characters who realize only when it's too late to do anything that they haven't truly lived their fullest potential lives; often these folks are successful and seem content, but somehow they missed out on love or emotional attachment or true depth of feeling. Joyce's stories of course feature an epiphany, or a moment of supreme clarity and self-awareness, in which the character involved sees all of his faults and comes to understand his life is a fraud and his persona is completely manufactured and his motives false and corrupt. The ego is left vulnerable at such moments, and is capable of redemption. Kafka, on the other hand, creates (at least in "The Metamorphosis" and "The Hunger Artist") central characters who are so alienated, so distanced from themselves, their culture, their true passion, and removed by a decaying culture from true labor and regligious significance and actual emotion as to become less than human beings. Gregor Samsa--trapped in a false job for a false wage for false reasons and at the command of false duties--is incapable of questioning his role in the world, even while he chafes under the yoke of capitalist brutalization. As a result his repressed hopes and fears and angst erupt in a bizarre outward manifestation as some sort of insect. The only clues we get to his hopes and dreams? A small wooden frame he carved himself (and into which he puts an advertisement clipped from a magazine), and his secret desire to save enough money to send his sister to violin lessons, thus giving her a form of creative expression his lot in life has denied him.

I took a brief nap today before coming to work, falling into a disturbed and feverish dream because of these thoughts. I slept for at most 10 minutes before waking with a start. I'm not in a James story, I've already had numerous epiphanies, and I've yet to outwardly manifest the failure to find my true work in a monstrous transformation (though my readings of Tibetan Buddhists tell me that having skin cancer is often exactly that--a wake-up call that some hidden discontent is festering within).

So what the fuck?

Ferocity gestured frantically at me, hissing and waving and ducking behind her Dell monitor shortly after I arrived at work. I'd crept upstairs to see if there were any packages for me, had dropped off a received item, only to hear "pssst! psst" and notice this urgent attempt to get my attention.

Must be good gossip, I thought, but no. Apparently Nick had told her to caution me because I left my 'blog up on the ILL terminal. Very strange, given that I'm extremely cautious about such things, but my PC was off the 'net briefly yesterday and in order to read Em's journal and search some stuff on Amazon I'd had to work on the ILL machine for a while. Nick was all like "he's lucky to have me to close that window out..."

Freud teaches us that we do this type of thing purposefully; there's a pre-conscious or un-conscious element of the psyche which wanted to sabotage me. Some part of me wanted this website to be left up on that PC so others could find it, either to alert me to focus on what I'd typed yesterday, or in the hopes I'd get in trouble. At first I thought "Oh my God, what if Y. or M. had seen that and all the shit I say on here about how I have nothing to do, and how goofy I think this place can be, and--even worse--what if Eskimo saw it and was hurt or pissed or both?" These thoughts vanished immediately. The fact is, I don't care. I was very fortunate that E. called out today--she and some students are the only ones who ever use that computer anyway. I was very fortunate that a supervisor or nosey Nellie of some sort didn't see it and report me. But so what if that had happened? Good! It would force my true feelings into the open, and allow more honest interaction, and possibly (if I were fired) cause me to DO something with my life.


Julio rang last night and we chatted awhile about houses, family troubles, teaching and Aldous Huxley. This morning I had my best 102 meeting of the semester. We discussed "Looking at Women" by Scott Russell Sanders, and I went off the deep-end by deconstructing the marketing of Brittney Spears as a series of male pornographic fantasies--innocent school girl waiting to be taught many naughty things, virginal abstinence advocate who gets her boobs enlarged and says "I'm waiting until marriage," then who does a strip tease shortly thereafter with a snake. Virgin/whore--great stuff. Get the girls to beg daddy to buy all the products, and make sure daddy's perversions are stoked enough that he'll not only hand over the credit card, but will gladly take a carload of screaming 12-year olds to the concerts. Once daddy's in that cycle, he'll of course be unable to prevent young girls from dressing like Brittney, and they'll have to buy new clothes as well. So cynical, and yet so brilliant.

Now, I'm back at "work," alienated from labor that I don't even HAVE at this time. I'm listening to my Champs-Elysees french exercise CDs and blogging. Next I'll read other people's blogs. Then I'll read a bunch of news sites. Then tonight on the desk I'll grade papers and read Kafka for tomorrow morning, and L'Amant for class. It would be fucking GREAT if my boss read this!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Klein in Baghdad

A couple weeks back I stronly recommended an article from Harper's by Naomi Klein: it's now online!

An appetizer:

Iraq was to the neocons what Afghanistan was to the Taliban: the one place on Earth where they could force everyone to live by the most literal, unyielding interpretation of their sacred texts. One would think that the bloody results of this experiment would inspire a crisis of faith: in the country where they had absolute free reign, where there was no local government to blame, where economic reforms were introduced at their most shocking and most perfect, they created, instead of a model free market, a failed state no right-thinking investor would touch. And yet the Green Zone neocons and their masters in Washington are no more likely to reexamine their core beliefs than the Taliban mullahs were inclined to search their souls when their Islamic state slid into a debauched Hades of opium and sex slavery. When facts threaten true believers, they simply close their eyes and pray harder.

Mass Comm Majors

I remember an episode of The Simpsons during which the kicker for the Springfield college football team gets his leg severed by Homer. I believe Homer ran over the kicker in some sort of half-time float while drunk. Dr. Hibbert tells the kicker that he can always fall back on his academic training, because he'll never play football again, but is horrified and dismayed to find out the kicker is a Mass Comm major.

"I know, I know!" exlaims the distraught kicker. "'Tis a phony major!" He makes some further self-deprecating comments about "not being bright."

I've asked several of the Mass Comm majors in my 102 and 317 classes how they feel about this stereotype, only to get blank stares--and occasional drooling--in reply. When I took this job at Cook Library, I noted immediately the stack of Broadcasting and Cable magazines kept at the info desk, and when I asked Ferocity what was up with them she told me that several Mass Comm classes send their students in for it, and that the kids in those programs weren't particularly swift, so to make life easier for everyone involved the most recent issues are simply piled there for easy access. After helping about 100 of these students so far this semester, I'm convinced of the aptness of this particular stereotype.

First off, I can spot these characters a mile away. They often have moon faces, with glazed unfocused eyes and open-mouthed expressions. Their attempts to ask for the magazine are heavily weighted toward the monosyllabic, as in:

Uh, I'm looking for the thing with TV stuff?


Is there a TV show thing about cable here?


Have you ever heard of some articles about airwaves and TV shows?


The guy in front of my TV class says come here for some thing?

It's extraordinarily rare that a Mass Comm student will actually look for the magazine first, and it's even more rare that the student will know the title s/he is supposed to find. Getting them to fill in the Periodical Request Slip is often an adventure--I always tell them up front: "You only need to fill in the Title, your Name, and Today's Date," and I'll put a check mark next to these items so they can see clearly the fields I'm referring to. Inevitably they'll fill in the Title line and then ask "What's a VOL?" "I don't need that--just Title, Name, and Today's Date." "What's a snun?" "A what?" "A snun?" "I don't need your SSN! Fill in the DATE and your NAME." Vacant stare, pencil held in fist like a Kindergartner, the student loses his or herself in a labyrinth of information, and can longer compute. "I'll also need your ID." This causes trouble as well. "Can I keep my ID while I look at the magazine?" "No. I have to keep your ID here while you have the magazine." Lots of fumbling through pockets, and wrestling with zippers, and aggrieved flipping through of papers later, I'm offered .25 cents off Oreos coupons, short bus tickets, gum wrappers, cardboard coasters, joint rolling papers, individually wrapped Velveeta slices--but rarely an actual ID on the first try.

They have to copy an article out of the most recent issue, which makes for good fun. Ever torment a dog by hiding a ball behind your back, or pretending to throw a ball and watching the dog stare blankly into the distance, confused? That's these students in a nutshell when confronted with the enormous complexity of a copying machine. Too many buttons, too many lights, too many steps. Explaining a CopiCo card, and 10 cents a page, and how many dimes are in a dollar becomes exasperating after a while. One Mass Comm major yesterday--a young lady with her shirt buttoned incorrectly and half of her hair dyed and the other half not (she perhaps thinks ALL mirrors are sideview, and forgot to turn around)--after I laboriously explained how to use a vending machine to get the card needed, and helped her take the card out of the machine, and showed her the copier and the card reader, and demonstrated physically how to situate the page to be copied on the glass surface of the copier--after ten minutes of attempting to bring her up to speed on what is the simplest fucking goddam procedure she's going ever to have to do in life--she put the goddam CopiCo card on the glass and closed the copier over it and then stood back and stared, waiting for the machine to turn on.

There were a rash of these George Romero cast-offs shambling in here tonight, not one of them able to get through the requisite steps without substantial assistance. How do they get to their classrooms? How do they set their alarm clocks? Who feeds them? Christ--do they drive?

I'll betcha...

The Earl of Pembroke emailed me a couple weeks back that there was something fishy about the entire fishiness of the CBS Memogate thang. I agreed, and had been thinking along those lines myself. Rove has a history of releasing a lot of truth with a tiny lie in the middle in order to discredit the truth part--and the fact that the White House released the CBS docs to reporters the day CBS aired its segment--just a bit strange, no?

Now I see that 60 Minutes has decided not to air its report on the faulty Administration reasoning that led up to the war--until after the election. Is Rather conspiring with his good buddy and business partner Don Rumsfeld?

You would think, especially after Saddam's capture, that Rumsfeld could pack it in, go out on top and settle down in that ranch in Taos, N.M., that he co-owns with, among others, Dan Rather, TIME reports.

Time for class...

I am so bored at work that it's driving me mad. At least after my break, when everyone has gone home, I can stop pretending to be doing work and can grade papers or read. I don't know how much longer I can stand this--I'll have to ask for some cataloging or else go off the deep-end.

I don't like being bored at work; the sinecure is not my cup of tea, though I guess I could find a way to adjust at least for a little while. I'm used to getting a new job and targeting the promotion I want and getting it (usually quickly). Here, there's no advancement of that sort; it's a State job. There's a bunch of stuff I could do right now, and it needs to be done, but I might piss someone off so I'm not allowed to do any of it (in fact I was told specifically by higher ups NOT to do anything about backed-up shelving, or to innovate any type of possible solutions). So at our meeting with Y. and M. next week, when Y. slyly suggests that none of us have anything to do, I'm going to say "you're right! I don't have a goddam thing to do." The tedium is getting so bad that when I saw on the front page of The Jeffersonian that Borders was opening a store in the old Caldor building in Linthicum, I thought "hmmmm, $50k would sure be nice again."

Oh, God, no.

Cha is dropping hints that she's not happy with my schedule. Yesterday she went to the Renaissance Festival and said when I came home "it sure would have been nice if you were with me." My response was "Well, even if I were off, I wouldn't have gone--I prefer the one in Mt Hope PA, and we went there ten years in a row and I'm pretty much done with the whole thing."

"But we could have done something else if you were off."

True. But I can't go back to the part-time teaching/part-time something else thing. I mean I could, but I'd prefer not to. Bah!

Time to head to French class for George Sand.

How odd...

that the "liberal media" aren't running with this.

Some dude on CSPAN this morning piqued my interest, discussing his new book

Harper's has an analysis of the 9/11 Commission Report as well this month, and calls it a "whitewash." An example? The Commission has the August 6th daily briefing which warns of an imminent Al-Qaeda attack, and yet when Bush and Rice try to say the report was "Historical," the Commission don't go after them for spouting obvious bullshit. There's a ton of blame and accountability to go around, and in their attempt to blame no one, they avoid reaching inconvenient conclusions.

An encouraging sign...

It's just too bad that their ballots are so easy to intercept and fuck with.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

At last...

I knew someone would put the Vanity Fair article about the 2000 election debacle online eventually:

Part One


Part Two

Mmmmm, that's GOOD Satire

The best thing about this site is the phenomenal stupidity of the liberals AND conservatives who write in.

Neither, apparently, can understand satire, and the worst aspects of both sides end up regurgitated in "Jake Michaels'" mailbags.

Thanks to Faulty Landscape for the link; I've been chuckling for a good ten minutes.


Good Newsweek link via MSNBC, and another at the Guardian.
How quickly the weekend slips away. A night out at Mick O'Shea's broke the two-day hiatus in half and sank it like a doomed cruise ship straight to the bottom; now I'm back at work on Sunday wondering where Friday and Saturday went.

Had Netflix yesterday:

I liked Anderson's previous work, most particularly

which I've seen about 8 times. His other

I thought was OK--one time was enough for me.

Punch-Drunk Love took me over a year to get around to; I must admit it was the Adam Sandler factor. I've never been able to sit through a film with Sandler before (tho I liked him on SNL sometimes). His performance here is damn good, and better than all the "sensitive" and "sophisticated" and "remarkable" Jim Carrey performances by far. The script is taut, poignant, and builds up its strange tensions and surreal effects quickly and beautifully--perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film is that it's half the length of Anderson's other work. He's pared down the narrative twists and Charlie Kaufmannesque strangeness to the bare minimum required; as Sandler's Barry Eagen character tries to form a human connection with a phonesex scam artist, I found myself squirming in discomfort for the poor guy, and dreading what was to come. The film has the same sort of implied critique of the strip-mall/product-placement/wage-slave world of other recent films

[for example


but with a romantic rather than a melancholic twist. One Hour Photo was hopeless in its angst, this film is grim and melancholy, but some semblance of spirit and dignity survive.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Stanley Fish

has a piece on the Times editorial page today that you might like:

Remember, if you're not a registered user, you can get free access without signing up at

Corn on the Cobb

When I got home last night, all the Greens had departed except for the Presidential Candidate himself. He was on my laptop in my study talking on his cell phone with his shirt off. Seems a nice enough sort, a kind of lispy soft-spoken Texan. He asked if I was an adjunct, and when I admitted I was, he said I was a member of the wage-slave class. I said, yeah, well, not really, because I also have a FT job and I'm only teaching because I'm a weirdo who decided he wanted to keep doing it a bit longer.

At least Cobb agrees with me that Nader's Quixotic behavior (see Alterman's "Liberal Media" column in the current The Nation, which is a bit shrill and hysterical and full of bombast, but does mention the fact that all Nader's major past supporters--Mike Moore, Susan Sarandon, Jim Hightower, Noam Fucking Chomsky--have signed a letter asking him to quit the race) is almost as ideologically narrow-minded as Bush's. Cobb only wants to build the Greens locally. If they don't stand a candidate for President, they lose their ballot access, so hard-fought the last cycle, so his nomination is only to prevent that--he wants folks to vote for Kerry. Therefore, he's not campaigning for president, but only making appearances in support of local Greens running for Congress or State House or school boards or whatever.

That said, the Open Debates PAC has had some success lately in getting the corporation which controls the debates to open up; they've had to release some of their papers, and will have more than one moderator at this year's debates, and are looking into the current rules for 3rd party participation, so Ralph's push is perhaps having some good impact for future elections. I still hope he wins his battles in time to announce in October that he wants all his supporters to vote Kerry--they will if he asks them to. Many of the die-hards will not vote for a Democrat if Nader isn't on the ballot, unless he specifically advises it. It's going to be a razor-thin margin again, and as much as I disagree with John F. Kerry, I'd rather eat a slice of white bread that's 60% sawdust than eat pure sawdust.

Rummy's back!

So refreshing, after weeks of getting distorted, conflicting messages about the situation in Iraq, to see Rumsfeld on CSPAN yesterday testifying before a Senate Committe and clarifyng it all for us. The post-Abu Ghraib, contrite, humble Rummy was gone, burst like a cocoon to reveal the new and improved old rock-n-roll Clint Eastwood spaghetti-western scowlin' agitated Defense Secretary RoboCop Hal 9000. Ted Kennedy asked him how he could think elections could take place in Iraq--legitimate elections--given what by all non-Administration accounts was a deteriorating security situation. Rumsfeld's answer was something like:

Is there violence in Iraq? Sure there is! Were 200 people killed in Washington DC without their names being splashed all over the news last year, and every year? I don't know. There might be violence in Iraq in January, it might be worse, it might be the same, it might be better.

Kennedy: Do you need more troops.

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I can't predict the situation in January, I don't have a plan.


How is the number of murders in DC last year even remotely comparable to the situation in Iraq, where 200 people are dying a week in terrorist bombings? What kind of lame ass red herring is that, anyway? The guy is insane, and desperate, and Sen. Warner shamelessly and abruptly tried to bail him out with some hagiography for PM Allawi, in effect smacking Teddy to the curb for daring to ask pointed questions.

Alas, I missed McCain's questioning. Hopefully they'll replay it today.

Senator Reed asked Rummy about a Pentagon panel study that says clearly the US needs more troops; Rumsfeld praised the report as "an excellent piece of work" but said the portion Sen. Reed read wasn't representative of the whole piece. Then he declined to give any information about conclusions of the study that might have suggested there were sufficient troops for Iraq and other potential missions. (See today's Times A12 for more vague and conflicting obscurities on this exchange).

What this means? There will be a DRAFT immediately after Bush is re-elected (and possibly if Kerry wins). It's decided. If we're staying in Iraq, there will be a draft. My students will be slogging through dust with 50 lbs on their backs, dreaming of being able to not read Faulkner and sit in my tedious class. I'm going to go cry now.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

In lieu of work...

I really should be doing something; I've done next to nothing here at the Library for 3 DAYS. I'll have to ask Ferocity if she had long periods with no work, because this week I've been going over a stack of hard-to-find orders left over from last year OVER AND OVER AND OVER again (actually, I found many of them, and I found weird resources for finding used books that I'd never seen before--I even found 3 titles that had been searched by others here and not found and which Y. had asked be given to me for a final check).

I've had no cataloging for weeks, no discards, no whatever-the-hell-it-is mystery job M. keeps telling me I'm going to get but won't tell me what it is. I did have a ton of ILL Sunday and Monday, but that's more fun than work. I have a stack of essays I could grade but my stomach did flip-flops when I read the first paragraph of the very first one; I'll save them for Sunday.

Speaking of Ferocity, I told her that Conniption asked me about her boobs the other night when he dropped by. He read on her 'blog that they were bigger than ever and of course he's curious. In response, she explained to me J357's new aesthetic appreciation of her ass. Too funny!

Ah, my weekend commences in about 1 hour and 50 minutes. I do have to teach Joyce tomorrow, but that's not work; I can let the Robot do that while I daydream. The Robot can regurgitate in entertaining Shock Jock fasion all the necessary info: the shift from Realism to Modernism, Joyce's aesthetic ("Aesthetic Arrest" {integritas-consonantia-claritas via Augustine} and "Epiphany" {neither drawn toward [pornography]nor pushed away [didacticism] but frozen in a sort of trance of contemplation}) and the Big Five who not only catalogued their cultures/civilizations but had a hand in inventing them [Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare] and Joyce's

I just helped a patron whose perfume was so potent that it sent me reeling into an immediate and painful sneezing jag. Poor K., my lovely and reserved Japanese student assistant, was also impacted negatively by the odor of pine-scented rearview-mirror car freshener blended with burnt cork and OFF! mosquito repellent. Christ, then I had to reshelve the five journals the patron was reading which reeked so powerfully I was sneezing my ass off in the back room. Ease up on that shit sister! The guy at the PC next to the exit sneezed as she walked by as well.

Every night poor K. gets set upon by three or four ravenous young men who hope to win her favors. They buy her snacks, offer to walk her home, bring her coffee unsolicitedly. She's absolutely pleasant to them all, and completely aloof.

lofty assumption of this role for Ireland (I go now to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscious of my race), and his patternings and borrowings and stacked allusions to Homer (Odyssey) and Virgil (Aeneid) and Dante (La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy) and Shakespeare (everything), not to mention somehow every fucking goddam story ever written and every myth ever recorded and every language ever spoken and every religion ever practised and every beer ever drunk and every tart ever tupped and every Sears catalog ever scraped along a gooey arsehole and every content of every chest-o'-drawers ever noted and every stream (o' conscious) ever swum and then of course there's that Vico dude with his cycles and his Giamboreeattista goddam Scienza Nuova

cronologica spone in comparsa il mondo delle nazioni antiche

and the puns and the Huck Finn reference right there up front in Finnegans Wake and the filth and the banishment and the Dedalus and the Molly Leopold Stephen Dubliners all and the fried kidney, etc. I can pull that shit with my eyes closed and then on the midterm we'll see what they absorbed

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howarth Castle and Environs

Get it? Vicus/Vico? HA! How about Howarth Castle Environs--HCE--Here Comes Everybody? 'nuff to bust a gut fer, ya nubbin' landlubber. Fortunately I also have a DVD of Joe soup in a Can who can explain like no other the pippen fees and mythomagneticreligiosynopsises requisite to our discussion which of course has yet to take place though it's happening now and will again tomorrow. Get it? Finn AGAIN? Hardee-har.

I'll have to pay a bit of attention when we talk about "Araby" but I can snooze through a discussion of that without trouble. For "The Dead" Monday, however, I'll need all resources fully marshalled and on point--for Kafka Wednesday and Friday as well.

Today after a pretty good 102 class I lifted weights, ran, and then went to Belvedere Square where I bought veggies, fresh bread, homemade pasta, and a case of red wine. I wonder if David Cobb is at our place yet? I'm thinking of walking up to Angel's Grotto after work and grading essays instead of going home; I don't really want to stay up late talking politics this evening.

Eskimo has been in a really upbeat mood since the cold wintry cavern of her ILL meeting outburst. Now she's taken to hanging out at the service desk again, yakking to whomever happens to be trapped there. Last night and this evening she stayed more than two hours past her scheduled time of departure. We talked about meditation/religion/her son/politics/history/students/GOD/JESUS and A., our very prim and quiet Jesus Freak turned suddenly wishy-washy Lutheran who thinks "That Buddha, the more I read, has lots of interesting things to say..." was trashing Bush (!) along with us after having defended him all summer and I've found I enjoy provoking Eskimo and I try purposefully now to find ways to disagree with her but I think she likes it and that's why she's hanging out late again. When Eskimo is in her Bad Place she pulls her hair back until she looks like Anthony Perkins in drag and those big H. Potter frames turn her eyes into glinting pools of dismay. Now, she's in her Happy Place and she's styling her hair and letting it down and she takes her glasses off a lot and smiles and laughs and I'd like to fix her up with BroJ; if they could get their manias in 'Sync they'd make a fucking fantastic couple, what with his mysterious rants about artwork that resembles his big curved manhood and conspiracies involving Essex Comm Coll students fucking with the brakes on his truck and her martyrdom complex they'd hit it off smashingly.

I have in one corner of my 102 class a Fine Filippina, a Kute Korean, a Sizzlin' Sista, and a Tasty bit 'o Trailer Park. It's my favorite flavas all in one buffet o' delights, alas with no spitguard. Today I played those poor saps a bunch of freaked out tunes and made them try and find metaphoric language with which to harness verbally the incommunicable nature of music. They laughed when I switched from Satie to NWA to Carl Stalling to Woody Guthrie to Penderecki but I didn't think it was funny at all. One told me the Satie was like a cat sneaking along the keyboard, another thought Woody was from the Civil War, a third called NWA "cheesy white boy rap"(?!) and a fourth said Penderecki was The Music of Eric Zahn. The latter I ordered into a triangular cube I keep for just dissimilar occasions, whence he'll be unable to escape sans the formless shapeless unmentionable unutterable 43rd edition of the long-awaited English translation of that ol' Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred's famed and much-maligned Magnum, PI Opus: I can't say it.

Last night I watched some show on PBS that I really liked parts of, those parts being the ones which recreated with lavish sets and actors the thoughts and opinions and reasonings of Sigmund and C.S. concerning God. I must admit being distracted by the fact that in the guise of C.S. Lewis was the actor who portrayed Arthur Dent in the BBC version of

(I kept wanting to say "Hey, C.S., you're a kneebiter!")

Not so good were the segments where a buncha innalectuals debated the ideas contained therein. I haven't experienced that much hot air since I walked three miles from Manila's Coconut Palace down to Intramuros.

Um, not exactly...

But still worth a peep:

Joyce's Ulysses For Dummies!

Banana Republicans

The Dazzling Urbanite sent this, and I almost choked on the mint I was nursing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Tomorrow in 102 I get my first batch of student papers--wheee! And Cha just called to tell me Green Party presidential candidate Peter Cobb is spending the night Thursday and we're having houseguests for dinner.

Fucking bullshit! You know, I am all for building third parties and what-not, but I'm also for not supporting Cobb or Nader in this election. Hopefully Cobb is here to help out some of the actually good local candidates for Congress--I don't want to hear a peep about voting for third parties in the presidential election. I'm going to have to hide upstairs in my own house in order to not argue with the Green idealists.

Well, maybe there'll be a bourbon drinker or two in the bunch. Maybe one of the Greens will have some greens! I'm off Friday except for my 9am lit class, and I can teach Joyce with a raging drunk going. It'll help my inflection when I read a page from Finnegan's Wake aloud.

Christ, I've gone from Cockburn to Alterman and the idea makes me want to puke. But it's W.--so what can I do? Hold my nose and vote for Kerry.

Speaking of Kerry, he's trying to do Dean, and it's better than before, but still way too wooden. I think this guy out-Gores Gore. He guy can't relax. I've purposefully missed his recent TV appearances: Letterman, Regis, Dr. Phil. I caught his motorcycle entrance to the Leno show in January and that was perhaps the worst thing I'd ever seen. I saw some footage of him windsurfing the other day and I swear he looked like a cigar store Indian drifting across the Bay on a surfboard; same with the clips of his Colorado ski vacation, where Kerry resembled Treebeard sliding down the slopes; even his attempts to jam on rock guitar look awkward. Somebody needs to 'emergency makeover' this guy, or get his Harley on "Pimp my Ride." Does it suck that image matters? Yes. Does it suck that a woefully large portion of the electorate base their voting decisions on who they'd rather have over for a BBQ? Yes. But them's the breaks. Kerry can't get "genuine" down, and it won't matter that Bush's version of "genuine" is absolutely disingenuous so long as he appears more "genuine" than Kerry.

Frat Row

There are twelve townhomes running south from Burke Ave along York Road in Towson. When Cha and I bought #2 our entire row of six units, and half of the other row, were owned by the same folks who lived in them. Now there are only three of us homeowners left, because each time one of these houses goes up for sale an "investment firm" based in "Ohio" snaps it up and turns it into a rental property. As a result the neighborhood is going to fucking hell because each of these once-lovely four-bedroom townhomes has 8 TU students crammed into it. Every Sunday our "neighbors" have some sort of competition to see who can play the worst music loudest and for the longest time. The bruthas in #5 (our pitbull buddies) play shitty hip-hop (JayZ or however you spell it? Never worked for me. Nor .50 Cent [though I do like the line "I love you/like the fat kid love cake"]). The honkies in # 7, mostly hippies, play Led Zep and Pink Floyd and The Doors--OVER AND OVER AGAIN. The preps in #6 (who hung a big blue Bud Light banner on the front of their house two weeks ago--it's still there) play really lame easy-listening "rock" like DMB or Hootie and Blowfish, and when they decide to rock out it's to Creed. The TU women's dance team lives in #1; how can I complain, you ask? They play the worst music of all: Brittney, and what's-her-name the blond TV show/lame movie/Go-Go's cover "singing" vacuous nitwit all the 12-year olds love to death, and John Mayer. I'm actually glad I work Sundays so I can escape this dread cacaphony and get some reading done.

Even worse, no one trims their ivy or tends to their property fronts along York Road anymore (even the two homeowners in #1 and #3 ignore theirs). Because of this, there's a fucking rat-infested jungle of four-foot weeds growing along the brick wall, and because there's a bus stop there, all the people who wait for the bus have now taken to throwing their trash into the weeds and stairwells because it already looks like hell, so why not? My poor 15-foot length of brick wall is kept clear, but I'm beginning to think "What's the point?"

Last Friday evening I was driving down the alley trying to get out and there were the dancers, showing their tits to passing cars, leaning on each other in the middle of Burke Ave, one young lady holding another's hair as her friend puked in the gutter. A pickup truck of frat boys was PARKED on Burke and the driver was out of the truck dancing with one of the dancers who had her shirt up over her breasts. I honked, honked again, and then got out of my car and started yelling gibberish like some sort of madman. The light at Burke was green and other cars were honking as well because they were trying to drive east and were blocked by these morons. This is the third straight weekend I've seen this behavior.

I love my house, and don't really want to sell it because it's convenient, but something's gotta give here. I'm going to be teaching class with bandaged knuckles soon because my patience has run out. Saturday there were two SUVs and a Lexus parked in the alley and I couldn't get IN. I banged on three doors before one of the bruthas told me the preps in #4 owned the Lexus. "What about the SUV's?" I asked. "They ain't blockin' nuthin'" was his reply. "Uh, yes they are. The Lexus is blocking one side, the SUV's are blocking the other. Next time I see ANY cars parked here, I'm calling the police immediately." I banged on the door of #4 for ten minutes (it was open, and there were three kegs on the porch) before realizing no one was even home--they'd parked illegally and walked to the pub or something. Two years ago a neighbor had a confrontation with some girls who blocked the alley--the next day they put a lit can of Sterno under his car's gas tank and Cha discovered it before the car went up, but his tire caught fire. He sold his house and now it's--you guessed it--a rental property. I'm worried that people will try some funky shit with us if I keep complaining. Somebody stole our recycling bins last weekend and threw a bunch of trash in my flower bed.

Did I party and raise some hell when I was a youngster? Hell yes, but I never ever did so without respecting other people and their rights. Keep the noise down, don't block traffic, don't ruin other people's shit, and have some respect for those around you. Jesus.

So Secure

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm glad Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft are dedicating Homeland Security resources to dangerous criminal masterminds like Tommy Chong and Cat Stevens. Those pipes Tommy was selling online? Definitely bad news. Potheads are known to be really troublesome and potentially violent individuals, after all. And as for Yusef Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), I know violence could result if I were ever to hear "Peace Train" again, so we better burn his CDs as well as send him packing.

Meanwhile, every day, thousands of tractor-trailer size shipping crates are unloaded in Baltimore, Louisianna, Seattle, California, New York, Detroit--none of which have ever been peeped in by anyone except those who packed them.

About Fucking Time

It only took him six months, but The Dazzling Urbanite is posting again. He must have actual work to do at work, unlike the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

And Another...

(R) Senator "flipping" the bird at Bush.

Why I Love LL

A sampling of Lewis Lapham's Notebook column, entitled "Crowd Control," From Harper's, October 2004, p.10:

Free-speech zones (I and XIV):
Cages or fenced-off spaces in which citizens remain free to voice objections or display signs critical of a government official or policy. Anybody who expresses a contrary or insulting opinion beyond the designated perimeter is subject to arrest on charges of "disorderly conduct."

Whenever President Bush travels around the country to praise the freedoms for which America presumably is famous, the Secret Service sends advance scouts to set up the protest pens at a sufficient distance from the presidential speech or motorcade to preclude the possibility of the disturbance being seen or heard. At a Labor Day event in Pittsburgh in 2002, a retired steel worker was arrested for walking around outside the free-speech zone with a sign saying "The Bush Family Must Surely Love the Poor, They Made so Many of Us." So also a man in Columbia, South Carolina, that same year found in the wrong place with a sign saying, "No War for Oil."

Prior to the Democratic National Convention last July in Boston, the National Lawyers Guild filed suit arguing that the free speech zone (a wire cage draped in black mesh) resembled "an internment camp." The presiding judge agreed that he couldn't conceive of a space that was "more of an affront to the idea of free expression," but, fearing for the safety of the convention delegates, he declined to shift or enlarge the venue.

Winston Smith is cowering in his corner in our near future.

I've seen these "free-speech zones" more and more of late. I first encountered them in NYC during Clinton's 50th birthday shin-dig at Radio City Music Hall, when tens of thousands of protesters were kept penned up blocks away from Bill and Hill and their adoring fans (not to mention away from the sensational media coverage). The Mall in DC is criss-crossed with these pens, so it's difficult to have a mass protest without everyone becoming compartmentalized. Fucking bullshit. Note that this erosion has been continual since the '70s, and Clinton accelerated it post-McVeigh. Now Bush is ramping it up even further.

If you don't have a lot of time, buy the new Harper's and read Lapham's elegant summary of the findings of the National Lawyer's Guild report entitled The Assault on Free Spech, Public Assembly, and Dissent. If you want the Full Monty, you can read it here.

Sorry to Plague You Again

I've revised (a bit) my new take on The Turn of the Screw based on the following passage from Chapter III:

I learned something -- at first, certainly -- that had not been one of the teachings of my small, smothered life; learned to be amused, and even amusing, and not to think for the morrow. It was the first time, in a manner, that I had known space and air and freedom, all the music of summer and all the mystery of nature. And then there was consideration -- and consideration was sweet. Oh, it was a trap -- not designed, but deep -- to my imagination, to my delicacy, perhaps to my vanity; to whatever, in me, was most excitable. The best way to picture it all is to say that I was off my guard.

and this passage from Chapter XI:

I had wondered -- oh, how I had wondered! -- if he were groping about in his little mind for something plausible and not too grotesque. It would tax his invention, certainly, and I felt, this time, over his real embarrassment, a curious thrill of triumph. It was a sharp trap for the inscrutable! He couldn't play any longer at innocence; so how the deuce would he get out of it? There beat in me indeed, with the passionate throb of this question, an equal dumb appeal as to how the deuce I should. I was confronted at last, as never yet, with all the risk attached even now to sounding my own horrid note. I remember in fact that as we pushed into his little chamber, where the bed had not been slept in at all and the window, uncovered to the moonlight, made the place so clear that there was no need of striking a match -- I remember how I suddenly dropped, sank upon the edge of the bed from the force of the idea that he must know how he really, as they say, "had" me. He could do what he liked, with all his cleverness to help him, so long as I should continue to defer to the old tradition of the criminality of those caretakers of the young who minister to superstitions and fears. He "had" me indeed, and in a cleft stick; for who would ever absolve me, who would consent that I should go unhung, if, by the faintest tremor of an overture, I were the first to introduce into our perfect intercourse an element so dire?

and again, from Chapter XI, the Governess thinks:

It was I who fell into the trap!

The novel is not only a crafty representation of an author filling in gaps with a corrupt sort of intuition--it's a particularly devious sort of literary Rorschach blotch upon which James invites us to spew our own filthy thoughts. He's caught us in his net, much as the Governess feels herself trapped into leaping to astonishing conclusions about her situation, the reader of Turn is forced to create details because of what James doesn't say.

E-texts, by the way, make for really easy finding of vaguely remembered details which occur to one long after they've been overlooked: Full Text.
Nick burned Radiohead's

for me. I think it's pretty ok, but I'm mostly done with this type of trippy, pseudo-psychedelic, post-punk prog rock. King Crimson and Pink Floyd--two bands I really liked at one time but which make me cringe when I hear them now (ok, I still like some Crimson stuff) mined this vein to its conclusion. Radiohead has better technology, and some tecno/trance updates are appealing, but I'm not really blown away by it. It's pretty listenable, and catchy, but I'm not particularly enthused. There are mind-trips here worth checking out, but I can't see myself listening to this avidly in the future. It'll likely disappear into my stack of burned CDs. Plus, (imagine this in a "Get offa my lawn" type Old Fogey Voice): I can't understand a goddam word out of the dude's mouth! If I want to listen to rock n roll, I'll pick up '70s Black Sabbath or ZZ Top instead.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Conniption just dropped by--on a break from his Art class. Apparently, he can't draw. That means he needs to take an Art class. Before Statistics, he probably couldn't do Statistics either.

Apparently the pornos Double Engine picked up the other night were no good. I could've told them that--they'd already borrowed the only good one I have on DVD and ended up with little M. because of it. Sex and Zen is simply painfully bad, even for a cult film, but it has its charms nonetheless.

Mondays are great because my student assistant wants to know everything, and wants to help EVERY patron. She's diametrically opposed to the Moron I work with Sundays and Tuesdays. Not only is he a Moron, but he's Lazy to boot.

The (R)s Speak Up


The Master

Typically when I "teach" I avoid lecturing--I prefer to ask questions and try and engage students with the material at hand. When it comes to big unpleasant and overly academic writers like Henry James and James Joyce, however, I do lecture for most of a class period before we discuss the text, spending more than the usual 50 minutes on these two dead white dudes. Despite the fact that no one outside of academia reads these guys anymore, and very few of those who do read J. and J. read them for pleasure, their importance in the canon is such that we can't ignore them in Tradition and Form in Western Fiction. So today I lectured for about 25 minutes straight on James, his biography, his aesthetic, and his major themes and works. I actually felt professorial and completely confortable with my material, which is rare these days. I used "The Art of Fiction" to discuss James' elevation of the novel from mere "entertainment" to an art form (...there was a feeling abroad that a novel is a novel, as a pudding is a pudding, and that our only business with it could be to swallow it.), and his concern with Truth, and representing the world as it is and not as it ideally should be, and how he hoped to erase from the text all authorial intrusion, leading to dramatic innovations with POV--but above all he was concerned with recreating in fiction the effects of consciousness. Getting a roomful of teens to care about this at 9am is hard enough, but getting them to understand it entails further difficulties. I used Van Gogh as an example--his paintings reflect the world as he SAW it, filtered through the lens of his epilepsy and madness; each of us has a unique experience of the world, and only shabby, imperfect tools (words) to try and compare our experience to others. The world we experience, while based on perceptions of external reality, is wholly subjective, and even perceiving the classroom in which we were trapped during my lecture, I said, was tricky to describe as process. The classroom we inhabit is NOT reality, but a reflection recreated within our skulls after a variety of input has been accepted, processed, and filtered--and we typically blend in emotional and judgmental responses in that recreation at a pre-conscious level.

James himself: Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threats suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every particle in its tissue. It is the very atmosphere of the mind...

Old Henry was concerned with crafting fiction in which the characters all had consciousness which grew truthfully out of their personal experience--and the latter certainly helps form the former, complicating things further.

Of course, often his theoretical and aesthetic concerns resulted in the absence of STORY and PLOT and an over-emphasis on technique and character. This, however is a matter of taste, and in looking at the evolution of fictional form in the Western tradition, we can't focus on taste; we have to look at representative examples of changes and innovations and cover as many trends and major figures as we can in 14 weeks. And I told the students frankly that it's ok to hate James--most readers do, and they avoid his work in droves. But his effect trickles down through everything done since, whether or not he was or is liked.

So we have The Turn of the Screw, which is a good example of James playing elaborate games with POV: the story is narrated by a nameless gentleman who first heard the tale told at a fireside by his acquaintance Douglass, who was in possession of a handwritten manuscript given him by the woman who experienced first hand the events in the story. There are shells and layers and onionskins of narrative here, in effect distancing us from the events numerous times. In discussing the tale, we must ask why James decided to use this structure; what does it mean that the Governess wrote the story later and ommitted certain details that Douglass tells the narrator second-hand? There are two schools of criticism about this novella (and more has been written about this story than any other), one claiming that it is an actual haunting, the other claiming that the ghosts are hallucinations of a disordered mind. I asked them to consider these options as they finish the story for Wednesday, and then showed them a part of The Innocents, an early 60s film adaptation penned by Truman Capote, who used the latter critical trend in his adoptation, focusing on the perverse and the Freudian elements (which James stringently disavowed).

My latest take on the story is that James is giving us, in his Governess, a portrait of the hyperanalytic, intuitive, author he so tried to be--but gone completely off the deep end. In his "The Art of Fiction," James argues that writers should not stick to "what they know," but should be free to write of any subject or type they desire, using their imagination and consciousness and experience of the world as a guide in filling in the gaps. "...the artist is a much greater source of strength than any accident of residence or of place in the social scale..."(keep in mind the Governess's humble beginnings as the daughter of a poor country parson, and her ambiguous "troubles" at home, and her resultant over-stimulation in the grand expanse and lavish situation at Bly)"The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern, the condition of feeling life in general so completely that you are well on your way to knowing any particular corner of it--this cluster of gifts may almost be said to constitute experience, and they occur in country and in town, and in the most differing stages of education." He goes on to lambast those who think "experience consists of impressions," because, as far as James is concerned, "impressions are experience."

A very democratic view of fiction; liberating the country bumpkin with authorial aspirations to write about the city, and vice-versa. James counters the old adage "Write from experience and experience only" with his own advice: "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost."

In the Governess, however, James confronts us with an author who reaches too far, whose consciousness is perhaps skewed or even diseased, and her "guess," her attempt to "trace" implications, and to "judge" the whole from the pattern lead to horrid delusion and finally woeful tragedy. James had wisdom enough to see his own aesthetic theory had need of limits, and The Turn of the Screw and The Sacred Fount certainly demonstrate this concern. James is also perhaps judging himself and his morbid proclivities in these tales of obsessive characters who read into the smallest actions volumes of hidden material.

So after The Master I'll deliver the knock-out blow Friday with my James Joyce lecture. Poor students. Then we'll read "Araby" and "The Dead."

Here is someone's doctoral thesis outlining the history of criticism on Turn of the Screw. I may be on the right track, if I ever get the gumption to write a thesis.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Holy Flurking Snit

Ok, I knew the situation in Iraq was dire, but if the Brits are pulling boots off the ground in the South, Bush's idyllic dreams and rosey scenarios are truly kaput.

Sunday Number Two

My second Sunday back at work is rather similar to the first--but with more patrons. I had to do ILL shit this morning (I even came in a half-hour early to concentrate on it before opening) and it was a shitload of headaches from start to finish. 40 requests! I got them all searched and was ready to print them out and the printer was off the network, so I saved them to disc and took them upstairs to see if I could print them there and no go so I came back downstairs and the printer was spitting out gibberish and then it printed 10 copies of everything I needed.

No big deal--I still got a bunch of receiving tidied up and sent off some articles via Ariel and via fax, and got much of my Monday work done on Sunday in about 2 hours. Then I spent 3 hours at the desk reading The Turn of the Screw in between patrons. Again, I'm like--"Why did I assign this? I know the students are going to hate it." Perhaps that's exactly why I assigned it. At any rate, I think I've got a revolutionary take on the story, one I've not encountered in the criticism, and it's based on my readings of other James stories like "The Figure in the Carpet" and "Greville Fane" and his totally bizarre novel

What's going on in "The Turn of the Screw" is a Hamlet play-within-a-play device mirroring authorial consciousness. I'll leave it at that for now. If I ever get the foolish and costly idea to go back to school for a PhD, perhaps I'll write this down.

Yesterday was Yahtzee's semi-annual Poker Night, and for the first time I didn't go. Cha and I were supposed to go to OC for one of her teacher conferences this weekend, but the conference got cancelled. She worked at Hamden Fest with Damnyelli all day yesterday while I read at home. I was in a sort of existential funk all day, and didn't go to Poker Night because I felt not simply unsocial but anti-social last night. I'm turning into a recluse. The Hulk called me Friday and left a series of desperate messages on the answering machine. I called him Saturday morn and we talked for an hour; his girlfriend dumped him. Then he called back three more times Saturday, but I screened the calls and didn't pick up. One message was about giving up alcohol, another was about our Halloween party, and another was him telling me he was bringing over all his alcohol to drop off at my place FOR our Halloween party. He showed up around 5:30 when I was taking a nap and dumped a couple bottles of tequila, a huge jug of Maker's Mark, some awful Schnapps, and several canned pisswater beverages on the deck. Perhaps he's feeling guilt for all the times he's stiffed me on tabs?

Or, maybe he's trying to get his shit together and I'm simply being a prick.

Cha got home around 8:30, just as I was thinking of heading out to Poker Night, but I decided we should have some *ahem* quality time before her Friends from Cleveland join us. After, we watched a couple episodes of Season 3 of Sex and the City.

As for the anti-social feelings, I can't explain them. Friday we met Klezma and Kwa'ali and Pierrot Lunaire for dinner and I was exceptionally gregarious (and filthy-mouthed too). I was a double-entendre-in' like mad. We ate at Kawasaki and it was better than usual, tho my expectations are typically so low when I go there that it might have only been OK. The sake was nice and warm and I had a big ass Sapporo to boot. Pierrot is now dating a guy, but claims he's not gay, he's just too abashed to tell this nice guy who asked him out that he's straight. I suppose he'll wait until some comfy post-coital moment to be honest and straightforward. Freak.

Most Edifying Indeed

Hearing Senator Dick Lugar (R) on This Week today, in response to a question from George Stephanopoulis, say: "Well it's just the incompetence of this Administration," while Joe Biden nodded vigorously. The topic? The growing disaster in Iraq and the failure to allocate rebuilding funds. For more on this see Galbraith's article in this month's NY Review of Books (he points out all the nepotism in the Iraq CPA, and then quotes one official [I believe it was Ari Fleischer's brother, who only got the job because he was Ari Fleischer's brother] who says "there's too much cronyism in Iraqi society").

Also pleasing to this tortured newshound is this. I'm certainly not referring to the grim news out of Iraq--but to the editorials in the military trade papers, with which I concur.

Kerry got some help from Lugar's comments today, and also from Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (whose comments I heard on CSPAN a couple days ago):

"We've gotta be honest with ourselves ... the worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we're winning. Right now we're not winning. Things are getting worse. Measure that by any measurement you want. More casualties, more deaths, more oil pipeline sabotage, I mean you pick the measurement standard -- and it's worse than where it was six months ago or 12 months ago."

Joe Biden on This Week today laid out what Kerry should say to focus his policy on Iraq, and it was very elegant and precise and would work, but unfortunately I can't find a transcript yet.

Discussing the Killing of a President Was Never so Funny

I read it yesterday afternoon and thought it was great. Writing a book in which a character is seriously contemplating killing the President is controversial, and to pull it off without getting Ashcrofted, Nicholson Baker sets the tone at a precise level of cranky goofiness, but somehow without blunting some serious political criticisms. Baker energetically re-creates the level of political dis (cord) course in 21st century America; his obsessive lone-nut would-be W. whacker is mostly harmless and yet passionately disturbed by recent events. Named "Jay," he discusses his plans and his reasons with "Ben," and we get only their dialogue in a sort of primitive script format. I would call this a parody if it weren't actually a work of pure elegant mimesis. Post-modern America is self-parodic, art doesn't need to do the legwork anymore. Jay's descriptions of Administration figures are hilarious and I laughed out loud at several points, and the depth of his horror at Administration bungling and epic stupidity and treacherous killing is poignant and moving. At points I was taken back to bookstore discussions with Conniption or the Earl of Pembroke. The book doesn't spare lefties and liberals and Clintonites; it focuses primarily on W. as the summit of bureacratic evil and corrupt malfeasance, but situates him in a long line of distasteful imperialists. If you have an hour to kill pick it up--hell, lounge around at B&N or Borders and read it in the store, occasionally looking up at the yahoos around you and saying "Christ, I'm reading these people's thoughts here." Baker has had some success with this format before, notably in

which is less serious than Checkpoint.

Another master of the bitter, short, potent narrative rant is John Hawkes--though you won't find so much humor here:

dramatizes an unimaginably fierce situation: the driver of a car going extremely fast is telling his passenger exactly why he's going to crash the car, killing them both.


is one of the greatest short books I've read. Very vivid language, very funny and mysterious all at once.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I love dogs, but...

Three houses down our row of townhomes is #5 York Road. About two years ago an out-of-towner bought it for his son and his son's cousins to live in while they attend TU and play football. The guys are relatively quiet (especially compared to the jerkasses who've moved into the other rental properties this year), though they do have a propensity to clutter up the alley with five illegally parked cars from time to time. Aside from the five guys in the house are four pit-bulls. Whenever I run past their house the pitbulls are in the garage and they freak out, banging on the garage door and raising all kinds of hell. Two of them in particular seem full of rage--a black and white bull moose of a dog, and a rather petite fawn female. Another of the four is a really nice dog; I've tussled with him several times since he was a small puppy. Another is a female who's ok, but a bit skittish--never a good thing in a pitbull. Sometimes they let these dogs out off the leash, which is a bit risky to say the least. This morning before class I walked to my car to check on something, and as I came back I saw the two pitbulls who get really furious when I walk by unattended in the alley. Immediately they howled in rage, their hackles went up, and they charged at me barking. I heard someone on the porch at 5 York say "Oh, fuck" and start screaming at the dogs, which almost certainly is the worst thing to do in such a situation. At any rate I quelled the instinctual response--FLEE AT ALL COSTS--and crouched down and made the universally irrestible to dogs kissy-face noises I use in such situations. It worked, and instead of getting mauled I got jumped on and lathered with happy spit.

The problem here is what if someone RUNS when these dogs go into a fit and charge? What if it's a child who's scared, or the mailman, or another dog in the neighborhood? I really don't think it's a good idea for these animals, which are seriously fucking strong, to be out without a lead. Whenever I say so to the guys in #5 they treat me like I'm The Man giving them a hard time. I hope the guys in #5 graduate sometime in the near future and take their menagerie with them.
After an hour and a half of fiddling around this morning, and an hour last night at work, I've come to the conclusion it's just not worth the hassle of trying to post this blog to my own server space anymore--I'm turing it over to Blogger completely. Sorry to keep jumping around the last few months, but the juggling should be at an end now.