Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back in the Saddle

Summer I takes up today, to my mixed feelings.

I'm glad to have work, and you know I love my job. OTOH, I just got the plot snags in Book IV shaken out, and have been writing nine and eleven hours a day now that the kid has been shipped off to her grandparents (o bliss) and there goes that...

Oh, well.

I'm teaching History of the English Language -- HEL, as we call it, a joke we never tire of -- and the first half of Freshman Comp. Twelve students in the latter, seventeen in the former. All in five weeks. Eck. HEL in five weeks. I have never done this before. I am not yet convinced it can be done. Usually I teach HEL in 16 weeks, and even then I end up leaving something out at the end of the semester -- there I am in the last week saying, "Oh, well, the Purist movement, you don't need to know that...sexist language...uh...I suppose we can skip that, this is Arkansas, after all...the English Only Movement...you don't want to...let's go straight to semiotics, shall we?"

Can't wait to see what doing it all in five weeks will be like.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Now For Good News....

I've been reading a fine book lately -- thought I'd pass it on: Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, by Maureen Corrigan, who does the book reviews for NPR. It's half memoir and half about books, and exactly the antidote to that stupid column and the stupid Betsy Hart worldview that I needed. I picked it up just about a half hour after I read Hart's column, as a matter of fact. Somewhere in Corrigon's book (Corrigon's a kind of an Irish Catholic) she makes a half-earnest claim that we are sent the books we need when we need them. Hah.

I also went out on a date with mr. delagar last night -- we saw Spike Lee's new film, Inside Man. This was also surprisingly good, not so much for the plot, which is very holey -- shut off your logic, folks -- as for the margins. I do love margins. It has brilliant margins. Lovely bits of dialogue. Excellent local color. And can that Spike Lee direct? He's -- well, shit, he's an artist, isn't he? It's just a beautiful film.

Sound track, too. What a sound track. I could hardly bear to leave the theater, the sound track was so cool. And I ain't even into music, not the way mr. delagar is.


I just heard from the third student (out of 15 students) in my summer HEL class who wants to let me know that he or she is going to miss about a week (this one is missing four days) of a five week class.

This one is "on vacation." I'm on vacation, this student tells me, cheerily, and I expect missing four days of class not to hurt my grade in any way. (The first four days of class, btw.)

The other two students are missing class for like reasons -- one is going to youth camp for her church and has to miss the last week of class; the other is getting married and going on her honeymoon in the middle of the session and will miss three days. That one at least did beg me nicely and say she would accept any appropriate penalty. She didn't sternly tell me, as the other two did, that she expected this to have no effect on her grade.

What is it with these students? Education is something they do in their spare time?

It's hard enough to teach History of the English Language in five weeks in the first place -- if they plan to miss a fifth of the class to go to Disney Fucking World, it's gone to be flat impossible.

Which I can't even tell them that, of course, because I need them to stay in the class, because I need the money.

Thank you, Mr. Bush.

(I blame Bush for everything.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Good Family Values

Betsy Hart, one of these smug Conservatives raising her children the Right way (with a switch in one hand and the Bible in the other), pontificated in our local paper yesterday:

I admit that I am, generally speaking, a pop-culture snob. I haven't read "The Da Vinci Code" - not for religious reasons, but because I refuse on principle to read current fiction. I'm sure some of it's fine, but none of it can compare to the classics, so I just don't think it's worthy of my time. That kind of thing.

Oh all right then. No Richard Russo for Mrs. Hart. No Octavia Butler. No Rushdie. No A.S. Byatt or Kingsolver or Charles Johnson or Beth Gutcheon. All a waste of her time. Whatever.

What's she doing with her time instead, pray tell?

....this is truly family entertainment. I can watch "American Idol" with my four young kids, and not worry. There is no vulgarity. There is no sexual content or even innuendo. Outside of a few kindly traded "insults" between host Ryan Seacrest and the acerbic Cowell, there is no cynicism. (Unless you count the inevitable conspiracy theories about the voting.) There is no violence. There is no foul language. There is zero risk of any "wardrobe malfunctions." Moreover, there are no "morality plays," no pretentious lessons on the value of recycling by people who in real life drive nothing but limousines - and no political content.


This column, frankly, illustrates perfectly the problem with the Religious Right sector of the Conservative movement: (1) they are proud of their ignorance: I don't read current fiction, because it can't compare with "the classics" -- as if she reads "the classics" either. (2) They are more interested in avoiding "naughty" words or "naughty" sights than they are in paying attention to actual content. Has she noticed, even in passing, that American Idol is about nothing? No, she has only noticed that it is about nothing objectionable. And she decides this makes it wonderful family fare.

Yes, this is what you should feed your children on, woman. Pap. That will make them fine American citizens. The food of ignorance. That is what we should feed Americans on. That's what American need to eat.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Oh, well...

Driving to Harp's last night...

mr. delagar: "You know what Tuesday was, don't you?"

me: "Um..."

mr. delagar: (giving a hint): "23rd of May?"

me: (clueless): "Some revolution somewhere?"

mr. delagar: "Our wedding anniversary?"

me: "Oh. Heh. Did we miss it again?"

It's his job to keep track of that pesky thing, see. And give me plenty of warning...

We've been married 13 years now. Happy us!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Modern World

So mr. delagar is sitting in on this poetry workshop up the hill -- you know, at the real university.

It's a graduate level workshop. You know, for real students.

A poem comes up on the worksheet today. It's a bit complex. It has big words in it, and allusions. Although it is a fine poem (it is a fine poem -- mr. delagar showed it to me) it is not well received by the workshop.


It makes me feel dumb, one of the students says.

It makes me work too hard, another says.

I just don't see what these images are trying to say, says another. This fox. These grapes. And what is this part here, about the broken vines? Or this whale?

It's elitist, is the most common charge. The vocabulary is outside the realm that your common reader might be expected to know, see, and so --

I am gibbering like a lunatic by the time mr. delagar gets to this point.

These are poets! They are writers! They are students of the language! And they don't know words like gibbet? They don't know what pule means? They don't recognize an allusion to Jonah?

I wanted to drive right up the hill and start ranting.

Because, you know, I've got these socialist leanings. I do. The voice of the people and yap yap yap.

But these young idiots want to be writers and they can't bother to read? Or learn their language?

It's your job to know the words! It's your job to read the texts! Read! Read! Read everything! Read widely and deeply! The Bible! All of it! Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Ovid, Catullus, Homer, Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad-Gita, mystery novels, Jane Austen, Aesop's fables, Marie de France, Octavia Butler, both the Eliots, both the Brownings, everything, everything you can find, and never stop reading, and while you're at it read the OED for fuck's sake, read that monster every day, it's your JOB, these are your tools, if you're going to be a writer it's what you have to do, it's the bare minimum you do, you've got no business picking up a pen if you aren't doing that, did someone tell you writing was easy? HAH!

The poem made you feel dumb?

The poem did?

I got some news for you, son.

Poem ain't the dumb thing in that room...

All right. I'm going for a walk now.


So mr. delagar said it. He actually said it.

I'm off this week -- he's not. He's started summer school, and is teaching a class and taking a class and sitting in on another class, so he's gone all day, from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon, working hard, poor son.

Me? I'm drinking coffee and writing away at book four. (I'm putting a plot in. After mr. delagar read it for me, he pointed out that it was missing a plot from page 184 onwards, which, he claimed, was something of a handicap. Curses. But he was right, and a plot is helping things considerably.)

Anyway: he asked me MONDAY to reschedule his medical appointment, which was for today.

Only I didn't. He asked me on Tuesday to do it also. Which I didn't. And yesterday.

Yesterday night he says: "Did you reschedule that appointment?"

"No. Fuck. I forgot."

"It's for tomorrow!"

"Well, why can't you reschedule it? You have a phone."

(He does. A cell phone. It works and everything.)

"Because I'm working! I'm in class!"

"Not all day. It takes two minutes. It's your appointment, not mine. Why should I have to reschedule your appointments? Am I your fucking secretary?"

Then he said it: "You're just sitting around here all day doing nothing --"

Ah. The patriarchy.

Dean Dad

Dean Dad makes a point:

For all of the hatred, slander, and self-righteous fury we progressives get thrown at us, there’s something redeeming in asserting our dignity unapologetically. After all, for all that we aren’t believed, we’re still right.

We were right about the Iraq war. Nobody seriously disputes that anymore. We were right about the Bush tax cuts being irresponsible. The deficit explosion under the Bush administration has pretty much settled that question. We were right (as far back as the seventies!) about the need for alternative energy sources; now even conservative Republicans working for think tanks drive Priuses. (Archival research indicates that it was a Democratic President, one “Jimmy Carter,” who first called attention to this.) We were right about the consequences of staffing the government with anti-government ideologues and cronies; after Katrina, this is no longer an arguable point. We were right about the growing wealth gap, about the state of our health care system, about the dangers to our civil liberties (Gitmo, tapping telephones of reporters, Abu Gharib), about the utter harmlessness of gay marriage (do you know what happened in Massachusetts? Nothing, really.), and the incredible harm to our standing in the world that results from an arrogant cowboy approach to diplomacy. All of these are beyond reasonable dispute.Yet, for all that, we’re still on the outs.


There's more. Go see.

(BTW? Deans, like departmental chairs? Vastly underappreciated. Not to mention overworked.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

So -- good news

My Summer I classes made -- yay! -- both of them.

Summer II classes haven't yet. But one can hope.

At least I won't have to try to live through the summer on 1/4 of a paycheck.

I was told recently that professors didn't go into the field to make money. We went into the field because we loved the work.

And you know this is true. I do love the work.

But holy hamburger, Batman.

It's Them Mexicans!

I've been trying to stay away from Townhall, since, really, what's the point? Like shooting fish in a bucket.

And Sowell, who passes for an intellectual among the Wingers (just as Coulter does -- they love to talk about how "brilliant" Coulter is, and how "funny," as if that woman ever said anything either witty or intelligent) -- he's the worst of the lot, because he thinks he's clever. At least Dr. Mike knows he's a berk.

Here's Sowell, pontificating on the immigration reform issue:

Why are people who are so gung ho for punishing employers so utterly silent about needing to punish government officials who openly and deliberately violate federal laws?
Employers, after all, are not in the business of law enforcement.

If some guy who runs a hardware store or a dry cleaning business hires someone who shows some forged documents, why should the employer be fined for not being able to tell the difference, when government officials who can tell the difference are not doing anything -- or are even actively obstructing federal laws?


As if those who hire illegal immigrants do so innocently.

As if those who hire illegal immigrants are not hiring them because they can hire illegal immigrants more cheaply than they can hire legal labor.

As if that is not precisely why they hire illegal immigrants -- to undercut legal labor, to save on labor costs, to destroy the American labor force.

Who does Sowell think he's fooling?

And yes, these employers should be fined, prosecuted, dealt with. You want to know how to solve the immigration problem? That's how. Make it no longer profitable to use illegal labor. Make the costs prohibitive.

Think that's going to happen? Neither do I. Not when Halliburton can get rich building a stupid fucking wall on the Mexican border instead.

Monday, May 22, 2006


I so want this for my new tagline...

Some blog should appropriate the chorus from The Coup's "Laugh/Love/F***" for their tagline. "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor/and help the damn revolution come quicker."

Unfortunately I am not cool enough.

(Via Ezra Klein: http://ezraklein.typepad.com/blog/)


So what is it with doctors who won't give pain medication?

I had my last wisdom tooth out today. Now I love my dentist. I do. I finally found one (recommended by the Other Liberal Professor) who plays NPR rather than Christian Rock in his waiting room and who is smart and careful and who doesn't treat me like an idiot and on top of that he just graduated his youngest child with a master's in geology, so that's fun to talk about --


He yanks out my wisdom tooth. So Ow, can I say.

It's got a root on it THIS long.


And he says, "You won't need pain medication."

I say, "Uh."

"Tylenol will get you through," he says.

I say, "Well, are you sure? Because I really don't handle pain well."

He says, "Just double Tylenol with Motrin. You'll be fine."

So now I'm home and the Novacaine is wearing off and can I just say OW again?

Doctors. Eesh.

(But this, OTOH, cheered me up to no end:


Via the White Bear:


(And go read this post over at Bear's place, btw: it's fucking brilliant:


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ah, home...

We're back from Memphis, where we visited the museum of Rock& Soul on Beale Street.

(This is mr. delagar's doing. Music is not my thing. I am an musical idiot, due to having been musically deprived as a child. We didn't even own a radio, much less a record player, until I was sixteen or seventeen, and I didn't discover music, at all, until I was in my early twenties, and yes, I'm serious. I still know nothing about it -- to the utter despair of mr. delagar, who composes music and is a music junkie.)

But in ANY case:

If you happen to be in Memphis, the Museum of Rock& Soul is worth the trip, though pricey -- nine dollars a pop. Excellent, though, with little headsets that hook you into music for every step of the museum, and jukeboxes throughout the museum, keyed to these headsets, so you can listen to the music for each era, and famous players guitars, and bits of movies, giving historical background, the roots of rock and soul, it was like being inside the History Channel, only way cooler.

Where was I?

Oh, right: leading to this:

It ends with the Civil Rights Movement, with Martin Luther King Jr getting shot in Memphis during the Sanitation Workers Strike -- that's the last exhibit, how he had asked that saxophone player to play for him, right before he was shot -- and that brings me to this*,

After 34 years of college teaching, I thought I had heard just about every imaginable student complaint. Last week, however, a freshman in my 300-seat US History Since 1865 course came in to discuss her exam with one of the graders and proceeded to work herself into a semi-hissy over the fact that we had spent four class periods(one of them consisting of a visit from Taylor Branch) discussing the civil rights movement.

“I don’t know where he’s getting all of this,” she complained,”we never discussed any of this in high school.” One might have let the matter rest here as simply an example of a high school history teacher’s sins of omission being visited on the hapless old history prof. had the student not informed the TA in an indignant postcript, ” I’m not a Democrat! I don’t think I should have to listen to this stuff!”


Because, see, this was what I liked about the Museum of Rock & Soul, how it tied everything together for me -- showed me how all these bits of history and life came together and reacted and this part of society did that to that part of society and this happened and this part made that part of society do that to that part and man, it was just great.

This young bint -- she wants none of that. Sne wants to know nothing about what happened in her world -- or what might happen; or what could happen; or what any of it could mean.

So -- to echo Diane, over at Dees Diversion (http://thedeesdiversion.blogspot.com/) -- what is she doing at a university?

*[via PZ's site(http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/)]

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oh yes...

We don't have health care for how many Americans?

New Orleans still isn't rebuilt? Not to mention her levees? And when does the hurricane season start again?

We can't afford Pell Grants that would actually pay for the cost of sending students to school?

We're how far into that National Debt thing again?

And this is what those fuckers want to do with our money?


Who put these idiots in charge?


So I've finished grading everything, and have submitted my final grades -- nothing ahead for the next bit but drinking coffee and working on my socialist/bisexual/sf trilogy (which I think now is going to have seven books in it before its done). Since only one of my summer classes has made, I will at least have plenty of time this summer to work on it. Paying the powerbill will be another issue.

mr. delagar has finally downloaded my new Billy Bragg onto my iPod, so I'm listening to Billy while I work. The new Billy isn't exactly new, but I highly recommend it. It's the perfect thing to listen to while you're writing socialist SF, needless to say.

Here's an interview with Billy, btw:


I taught G.B. Shaw's Major Barbara this past semester, in my Comp II class. Speaking of socialism. Got some maddening papers on it from the young turks in the class, mostly from those who hadn't bothered to read it. (Because, you know, it's like 43 pages long -- how could they possibly read something that long?) Anyway, my favorite bits were where they told me they disagreed with Shaw because he was a Communist and Communism, as everyone knows, is Evil.

I would circle that bit, and explain to them they couldn't just make ad hominem attacks. If they disliked Shaw's ideas, fine, attack his ideas. What about Shaw's ideas were evil? What about Communism (if this is Communism, I would add) is evil? Explain. Develop. Support.

I handed the essay back. I made them revise.

This made them nuts. Apparently no teacher before ever made them revise their work.

Most of them did not revise the essay. Most just gave it back to me, unrevised. Those who did revise were nearly incapable of moving past the ad hominem attack.

It was evil because it was communism. Didn't I get that? Because communists had done it, and communists were evil, and it had been practiced in communists countries, and communists didn't believe in freedom, and so it was evil. Obviously.

I showed them the paragraph in Shaw's introduction, where he said what he wanted: minimum wage, social security, and something that sounds more or less like a dole, except that people would be required to work for it -- so, then, more like the CCC.

How about that? I asked. Is that evil? Go write about that.

Most didn't. Most quit on me.

The one student -- and it was just one -- who revised his essay said, and I kid you not, he ignored the dole issue. He said that a minimum wage was more evil communism, because a minumum wage requires everyone to earn the same amount of money (what?); and that social security was evil because it was the government giving people money for doing nothing, and that was more communism.

Unfortunately, that was his final draft -- the semester was over.

Nor am I convinced that any of these seven or eight students ever did read Shaw. They listened to what I said about him, in my conferences with them.

But even so. How depressing is this?


Hey, all y'all who like House as much as I do -- here's a medical blog reviewing it from a medical POV:


Monday, May 15, 2006

The Pain, the pain

Now this is my own fault, and I knew better at the time.


I put this question on my HEL final --

Q: Tell me about some of the efforts to eliminate sexism in language. Are these efforts a good idea?

Ai, my word, the answers I am getting!

This cannot be a controversial question anywhere except in Arkansas. Please tell me it is not. Please. I beg you.

No, of course I know better. I read Townhall and CWA, after all.

But these are my students. I've been teaching them for three years, some of them. And they still can spout things like, "Well, men and women are different, after all, so why shouldn't our language reflect that difference? I don't believe language ought to pretend we're just alike."

And: "Maybe sexist language is a problem but personally I hate political correctness and anyway we have bigger problems to worry about in this world. Anyway, no one's going to make me write that way, no matter what. I'll write what I want."

And: "I don't see what the big deal is. When I see mailman I don't think anything of it or when I see things like 'Mankind have made great advances in science,' that doesn't bother me one way or the other. Men do some things, women do other things. Who cares?"

Yes, indeed. Who does care?

Not my students. That's for sure.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Joys of Motherhood

My post for Mother's Day:

Here's what they don't warn you about during Lamaze Class:

You will be awakened, two on the morning, by a piercing wail:

"Mama! MAMA!"

You'll leap awake, to the worst sound in the world. Vomit spewing.

Hit the light. Too late. Vomit all over the nice white bedsheets. Blankets. Pillows!

Oh, well. Resigned, you take hold of the kid, make soothing noises. "It's all right. Go ahead. It'll stop."

mr. delagar. (mr. delagar panics with vomit, let me insert.) "Oh, my god, is that BLOOD? Is she vomiting BLOOD?"

The kid (still puking): "Ek -- am I? -- ek -- am I vomiting blood?"

Me: "No!" (Glaring at mr. delagar.) "It's beenie weenies, jeez."

The kid (wailing): "Make it stop! Mama, make it stop!"

Which it didn't, btw, all night long. She vomited off and on all night long, until 4.30 a.m.

Motherhood. What bliss.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Light Blogging Ahead

I've got massive grading to do -- grades are due this week, and all my classes have turned in their final papers and taken their final exams, so now I have to read and grade them, and then calculate final grades (eek! math!) and then enter all that into the school's data bank, which is likely the most painful part.

Also, today, this morning, when I have no time at all, I have to invest six hours in a graduation ceremony. I'm ambivalent about this. Can't spare the time. But I do like to see students graduate. But I hate the dull speeches. But it's always good to see students finish. That sort of thing.

And? The kid's birthday party. She's eight. Hard to believe. Didn't we just get her?

Also? Brilliant news -- I called the clerk of court and explained my childcare problem? And I have been excused from jury duty. Not only that, but the clerk was actually very nice about it. So hey! All that fretting? For nothing!

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Culture Wars

According the Harper's Magazine, 2 in 3 Americans is like to use the word "Fuck" in the course of their daily life.

To which I say, "Yay! We's winning!"

(Oh -- and btw? Did you see the latest poll that puts Bush's approval ratings at 29% How low can he go, folks?)

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Or: Why I love my Montessori School

After our P/T conference with the kid's teachers, in which mr. delagar and I and the teachers all actually conferred about what was going on with the kid, and how she might be bored, and that might be why she wasn't doing the work anymore, the teachers have changed the way they are teaching her.

Is this not so cool?

The approach they were using wasn't working. So they changed it.

Now she doesn't have to go through all the language boxes -- just two or three, to show she knows them. Then she can move to the next level.

Now she doesn't have to use the "materials" (I don't know what this means, it's something in the Montessori method) when she's doing math -- she can use the white board. (I don't know what this means either, but it has filled the kid with bliss.

The result? She's doing her work again.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fun and Games in Pork Smith

Excellent giant storm in the Pork last night -- right as House started, to the woe of the kid.

We had to pack up and go to the tornado shelter, about a mile away at the local elementary school. Tornado sirens wailing, trees whipping, rain pelting, everyone carrying children and dogs, it's always exciting. Outside the shelter, which is a fine structure, may I add, pebbled and pretty, with earthen bunkers built around, I guess to provide more shelter from flying debris, folk are standing around scanning the dim clouds (it's eight at night, dark even without the storm), watching for twisters. Inside, small children are running over the gym floor (the shelter doubles as a gym for the school) and parents and grandparents are sitting up against the walls, some in lawn chairs, most on the floor.

I spot a bare bit of wall and poach it eagerly. It's the last bare bit of wall.

The kid immediately informs me she is bored.

I hand her her Pippi book.

"I don't want to read. I want to find daddy."

mr. delagar is out roaming the fields around the school with his dvd camera -- what else? This is a man who won't drive if it is raining. But filming a tornado, well, that is something else entirely.

"Absolutely not," I say. "No way."

She sulks. She wanders away. She comes back. "I have to whiz."

"Well, go whiz. The pisser is over there."

"You come with me."

I look up at her. (I am trying to read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.) "Let me get this straight," I say. "You are willing to go out into the storm alone to look for your daddy. But you won't walk into a pisser by yourself which is two feet away from me."

She scowls.

"If I go with you," I point out, "I will lose my spot against this wall."

She pouts.

"Fucking crap," I say, and get up and go with her.

Later the all clear was announced. However, we were warned that it was still raining "quite heavily," and told we were welcome to stay. But mr. delagar wanted to get home to look at his footage, and the kid was bored, and the people I had ended up sitting among after the pisser incident were smokers -- not smoking in the shelter, you aren't allowed to smoke in the shelter, but they reeked of smoke, and were giving me a migraine just the same, so we went.

"Quite heavily" turned out to be an utter deluge -- water halfway to our knees as we crossed the parking lot, rain so heavy I couldn't keep my eyes open, bits of hail mixed in by the time we reached the car. The kid was gasping and wailing: "Mama! Mama! I'm scared."

"I've got you," I told her. "I'm here."

"This is too much rain!"

"Boy, is it," I agreed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Things That Make Me Say AAAAAiiii!

So I finished reading Grapes of Wrath, as I mentioned.

And I was cruising around the blogosphere, just seeing what other bloggers thought of the thing, since, as I said, I'm thinking I might want to teach it next semester.

Came across this:

President George W. Bush was introduced to the film “The Grapes of Wrath” as a student at the Harvard Business School, where he got admitted on his family’s name. “I wanted to give the class a visual reference for poverty and a sense of historical empathy,” macroeconomics professor Yoshi Tsurumi told a researcher for Kitty Kelley’s book, “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.”

“George Bush came up to me and said, ‘Why are you going to show us that commie movie?’” Tsurumi recalled. “I laughed because I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. After we viewed the film, I called on him to discuss the Depression and how he thought it affected people. [Bush] said, ‘Look, people are poor because they are lazy.’ A number of students pounced on him and demanded that he support his statement with facts and statistics. He quickly backed down because he could not sustain his broadside.”


It's just one of those things that make me go AAAiiiggg!

He's running our country. We've got a FUCKING MORON running the country.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Reading Lists


The kid is reading, these days,

(1) Pippi Longstocking books -- all of them, and she keeps asking for annotations on these, too, and they are even more interesting to annotate than Monty Python was. "What is snuff?" "What are cannibal children?" "Why does Pippi sleep backwards in her bed?"

(2) All of the Dick King-Smith books, one right after the next, and he has written a bazillion books, may I point out.

(3) All the Curious George books, one right after the next. I don't know what's up with this. But at least I don't have to explain them.

(4) Howl's Moving Castle, the novel.

I've been reading The Grapes of Wrath, which I hadn't read since high school. It was lots better than I remembered it. I may use it in my second semester freshman comp next year, despite its garguntuan length -- it's an easy read, the students should like that, and there are many, many easy papers in it: animal imagry and christ imagry, things students could write tidy little papers over, they would like that. And it's heavily socialist, you know, so I would like that.

But I finished it last night, and I finished Howard's End last Friday and now I am out of books again. My, this is dire.

What else can I read? Who has suggestions? I read Howl's Moving Castle in about two hours, so I'm through that one...

Good news, bad news

(1) Driving home from the library yesterday, I saw a guy -- a nice looking guy, sort of scruffy and idle and young -- with a bumper sticker on the back of his car: DELETE BUSH. Yay, says I.

(2) My computer is making this strange noise, whee-wub-whee-wub-whee-wub, over and over, which mr. delagar says, via his extensive years of experience in the tech support field, means the hard drive is failing. Eeek.

(3) We got the results from the kid's standardized test at our p/t conference last Friday. She blew the charts. Reading on the 10 grade 9 month level, but possibly, say the teachers, higher, because that's as high as the test actually can test. (There are 106 questions and she got all 106 right.) Math is her lowest score, and that was 90%.

(4) On the other hand, she has stopped doing any of her work at school, very nearly. They don't know why, and neither does she -- when we ask her why, she says she "feels strange," or "can't think about it." Aargh.

(5) Our school has lowered its summer caps, so my summer school classes *might* make. So I might make rent this summer. Yay!

(6) I still have jury duty, and no child care for the kid during the weeks of jury duty.

(7) Not just one but two sets of my friends have volunteered to drive the kid to my parents, to solve my jury duty situation. Do I not have the best friends on the planet? I'm telling you.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I Didn't Say That

Okay, I'm chiming in on this plagiarism question.

Y'all recall when Little Ben got fired from the Washington Post for plagiarism -- he had turned in reviews of movies he had not written, among other things. One of the defenses posted of him, over on that Red State blog, was (I'm paraphrasing, because I am not wading through that sewage again) "You try saying anything original: check the internet! Everything's already been said!"

Same sort of comment got made over at Bitch Ph. D's site, on one of Dean Dad's posts:

Curiosity question for humanities profs:Do you feel it's harder NOT to plagiarize now?When you are teaching one of the "standards" of your discipline, about which people have been opining and writing for ages, do you ask students to write analysis papers on it? Do you expect their thoughts to be original? Do you think this is harder to do now than it was when you were a prof?Sailorman Homepage 05.04.06 - 2:59 pm #

(Here's the post, if you're curious

So here's my point:

What is up with this?

What is it about folks outside the academy, who apparently think that's what plagiarism is -- just, you know, not being particularly "original" with your ideas?

You have to have a brilliant, bold, original idea or you get slammed by the evil professor? That's what we're kicking up all this fuss about? That's what they think?

No, son. These are students who are copying their papers, word for word for word, off of Wikipedia, and then turning that paper into me.

Because I'm too stupid to find Wikipedia on my favorites menu, I guess.

These are students who copy, word for word, a paper from another student who submitted the same paper to me two semesters ago. And then claim that student must have copied the paper from them. Via a wormhole time-traveling space wizard, I'm guessing.

These are students who tell me, confronted with the evidence that their paper is copied, directly, cut and paste, from an article in Encarta, that it doesn't count, because their girlfriend wrote it for them, so she's the plagiarist.

These are students who, when I show them how their papers are cobbled together out of six different online sources, not a word changed, not a source cited, and explain to them that this is plagiarism, and so they fail, tell me they have turned in the wrong paper, and they would like to give me the right paper now.

Harder not to plagiarize now?

This would be an amusing question, if I were not in the middle of the war zone at the moment.

I'll tell you what's up right now. It's got nothing to do with "how hard it is not to plagiarize." No one has any trouble telling what's plagiarism and what isn't -- no one who makes it their business to find out what plagiarism is, which is anyone who is paying attention.

The fact is, students are gaming the system. Not all of them -- I have excellent students: a few. Students with intellectual pride, intellectual zeal.

I also have a huge body of students that are here because they have been told that a university degree is a path to a larger paycheck and that larger paycheck is all they want.

These students could not care less about intellectual pride. They see no sin in cheating. They read Sparks notes in front of me in class. They quote Sparks notes on their exams. Cheating, plagiarism, sneaking notes into exams, peeking at someone else's paper on a quiz, it's all just fine -- a way to get to that paycheck. If they have to fake a paper to get the paycheck, well, they will. It's not like learning to write is actually important. The paycheck is what's important. Getting the degree is what's important. Everyone says so. Right?

"I'll lose my scholarship," they say when I tell they I'm failing them for cheating. "I'll lose my financial aid."

Not: I'm sorry, I shouldn't have cheated, how could I have done this, crap, I'm so ashamed. No. They're never ashamed.

No. It's -- I'll be penalized if you do this, so -- don't you see? You can't do it!

An Antidote to Lewis

Howl's Moving Castle came from Netflix yesterday.

Needless to say, the kid was deeply excited -- as in bouncing around the room, can I watch it can I watch it can I watch it NOW excited, so, even though she had already had her TV for the day (Monty Python's Holy Grail, natch), I let her watch it.

She's a Hayao Miyazaki (http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/) junkie and, in fact, so am I -- so much so that, even though it was the middle of a working day and I was, in fact, at work (writing, drinking coffee, deep in the draft of book five), I sat down with her to watch.

I never do this. I'll watch TV at, you know, night. When I'm worn out from work and can't possibly work anymore. But during the day? When there's more work to be gotten out of me? Never!

He's so good, Miyazaki. If you haven't watched his movies, go and get them and watch them, all of them. Start now. No kidding. Turn off your frakking computer and go do it.

Not just good stories, although the stories are good, classic archetypal stories, but beautiful artwork too, rich and detailed and such fine colors and I just love his characters and every single one of them is written with love and -- unlike Mr. Lewis? -- he does not lie. He has paid attention to the world, and he shows us what is there.

No, of course not what is factually there. I know we don't in fact have fire demons and folk that change themselves to birds -- but he doesn't lie about how characters would act, how love works and would work, under a given circumstance, in order to make a point he wants to make. Which is the sacred charge of an artist -- to be true to the art. That's moral art.

This story, Howl's Moving Castle, interestingly enough, is, essentially, the same story Lewis is telling in Till We Have Faces, and, if we had more time, I would love to include it in my myth class. Unfortunately, the semester is OVER. Maybe next time.

But it's the story of a girl who is sort of ugly, and who is mistreated by her mother and sisters because of it, though one sister loves her and treats her well.

Then a lovely boy, Howl, who is also a sorcer, carries her off (briefly) in an attempt to hide her from some soldiers who are intent on raping her (the country is torn by war).

An evil witch (old enough to be his mother!) who is in love with Howl (well, she has a thing for beautiful young boys, as she confesses later) is infuriated by Howl's attempt to protect the ugly girl and lays a curse on her, making her both old and ugly.

The age serves, as the girl -- Sophia -- finds, as a kind of a mask. A veil. No one cares, now that she is old, that she is ugly. They only care, now, who she is. (This was something Lewis was also getting at in his book, but less adroitly, I think.)

Sophia is free, now, that is, to be a human being, not an Other, not member of the sex-class. It no longer matters what kind of a commodity she is, or where she walks, or who she walks with. She's not something that can be stolen or used or abused anymore, and, free from status-cares, she no longer has to worry about maintaining her status.

She finds this hugely liberating.

She ends up, via the services of a magic scarecrow who she accidentically helps, who then helps her, in Howl's Moving castle, and lots of other things happen, but the main thing that happens, through the whole text, is that Sophia moves further into the wisdom of love: what it is, why it matters, and what, since we love people, we should do: give them our attention, treat them well -- all of them, mind you, even those we might think of as our enemies, even those who might look a bit odd, even those who get sulky from time to time -- and act right, even under pressure, even when it's difficult.

It was a brilliant, mystical story.

Go. Rent it. Now.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


So the kid has been reading Monty Python's Holy Grail in the back seat over the past few days with the same obessive attention that she was, last winter, giving to the Black Adder scripts -- asking me to explain jokes and define words and annotate cultural references, as we drive around Pork Smith.

(My favorite bit: yesterday, as we're driving home from Aikido, she demands: "What's an epic?" Me: [Startled] "What?" The Kid: "What's an epic?" Me: "Ah...it's a long narrative poem about a cultural hero which espouses the ethos of a society. I can't believe you asked me that. Hot damn. Nine years of graduate school pay off." The kid: "Blah blah blah.")

So imagine her glee when mr. delagar comes home to tell her that Terry Jones -- yes, the Terry Jones -- is speaking tomorrow evening in Fayetteville, on his new book, Barbarians.

"Oh!" she cried in bliss. "Do you think he will sign my copy of The Holy Grail?"

It was as if she had found the Holy Grail.

She and mr. delagar are attending, of course.

(Though she did have an uneasy moment, as I was writing the note to get her out of class early this morning. "I'm not sure you should tell them why, exactly," she said. "Monty Python can get a bit vulgar.")

C.S. Lewis

I finished teaching Till We Have Faces yesterday.

And I did a hella job, I have to say, considering how angry the book made me.

Here's what's wrong with that book: it may be what's wrong with all of Lewis's work. I would have to go back and do a systematic study of Lewis's work to be certain, so I don't know this for a fact, but it is certainly what is at the root of what I have read of Lewis's work while I have been working on Till We have Faces.

It's not badly written, and it contains some nice bits -- nearly all his books do. I liked many parts of Four Loves, for instance, and his autobiographical book, and some of his short stories weren't impossible. But nearly all of them, including the autobiography, are flawed, and with the same flaw: they're dishonest. The Screwtape Letters is most thoroughly flawed this way, but Till We Have Faces has this flaw at its very center.

Lewis has this myth that he wants to believe is fact. Well, I suppose he believes it is fact.

Actually, he has several that he believes is fact. One is the Jesus myth. Another is the women are inferior myth. Another is the homosexuality is selfish myth. Another is that all human love is, at its root, corrupt, myth.

I've got no trouble with him having these myths wrapped up in his worldview. That's his issue. Whatever. The trouble arises when he writes fiction that pretends to represent reality, and then distorts reality to make it match these myths, while representing himself as an authority on how things really are, and tells (Christian) children they should believe him.

Here is how human love actually is, in reality, he says, in Till We Have Faces: It is corrupt, and evil, and selfish, and destructive. If you trust in human love, it will kill you, to keep you from Christ. Only Christ's love is any good at all.

That's the message of the text. Only God's love is any good. Human love is evil.

To present this message, he must, of course, lie about human love -- because of course human love, while sometimes destructive, is also the source of everything decent in the world, as even C.S. Lewis must have, from time to time, noticed, and as even his text notices. He must, that is, be dishonest.

He must present us with a woman who is ruined by an ugly face (as all ugly women are ruined by being ugly, right, I notice that all the time in the real world -- so if you are an ugly woman, Lewis tells all his girl children? Give it up, your life is ruined, it is useless, no one will ever love you, it's hopeless, you are of no value) and a woman who loves her beautiful sister so much that she would rather kill her than see her happy (all right, possible, I admit, but not, as Lewis claims, universally true of human love), and a Greek philosopher who turns from his Greek philosophy to admit the truth of Christianity based on, uh, well...nothing that I saw, exactly....yeah, that will happen. I guess the spirit of Jesus just overcame him. I guess Jesus is just all right with him. Happens all the time to us reality-based people when we get faced with the real power of the Lord, don't you know.

He must, that is, distort the world, to make it match the lie he wants to tell: the myth he wants to be true.

I did my best, as I said, to give the book a fair presentation while I was teaching it, because I see that as my job, and because it was a class in mythology in literature, which Lewis's book was doing, so.

But on the last day I couldn't help sputtering a bit over the "trial" scene, and the misogyny -- not my fault, one of the students brought it up, thinking he had me cornered, insisting a certain passage "proved" Lewis wasn't a misogynist, and I tried to let it go, but he wouldn't, so I had to point out -- as gently as I could, I swear -- how it proved exactly the opposite -- anyway, where was I?

Glad to be done with Lewis, that's where.

This is the guy the Fundies in America love so much.

Monday, May 01, 2006

That Colbert

He is so funny!

Here's the entire text, in case you missed any:


Feeling the Pinch in Pork Smith

Filled up the tank here in Pork Smith -- thirty-three dollars and change.

Paid the bills with my paycheck. Had just over sixty dollars left when I was done. And that's only because I haven't paid the medical bills yet. Once I've put something on those -- I owe the hospital, the dentist, the clinic -- I'll be stony-broke again.

And my summer classes haven't made. Went to a party of university instructors this weekend, everyone was joking -- in a sort of grim way -- about getting work at McDonalds this summer, because hardly anyone's classes are making. Students can't afford tuition, apparently.

And mr. delagar has a summer class, up the hill, which he needs to take. He has a class he's teaching, too, which in theory should cover his expenses for taking the summer class -- but with gas at 3.00 a gallon, I'm having my doubts.

How do you like your lackwit president now, GOP voters?