Friday, June 30, 2006

That Thing You Do

This post from Bardiac

has me thinking about why I read.

I think I might have mentioned before on this blog, just a time or two, that I’m a book junkie. I have to have books – got to have them to read, got to have books in the pipeline, ready and waiting for when the books I’m reading (and I’m always reading at least 2 or 3 books at once) are finished.

And one big reason I married mr. delagar? He loves books as much as I do.

And when I was pregnant for the kid? the first thing we bought her – before anything else, before a crib, or a car seat, or even clothing – was a book. Not the Hippopotamus, by Sandra Boynton. And after that a translation of Aesop’s Fables, which she just this summer got around to reading. Her first piece of furniture was a bookcase. The day we brought her home from the hospital, her daddy read to her from Flaubert. We wanted – more than anything else – for the kid to be a reader. Not that we would have thrown her back if she hadn’t liked books. Probably. I suppose we still would have loved her if she hadn’t loved reading as much as we do. But, ai, I cannot tell you how relieved I was when, in fact, she turned out to love them like we do. The joy that rushed into me – that still runs through me like a river – when I look up and see her huddled in the white chair in our living room, her head bent over a book.

My kid’s a junkie too. Yay!

So I was trying to remember, reading Bardiac’s post, why I read the way I did as a kid; trying to think why I read the way I do now – why I’m driven to read like this. Obviously it’s a pathology. Because I can’t just take it or leave it. Without books I cannot live. I am always either reading books, or writing books, or thinking about books, or talking about books, or engaged in a quest to get books, or writing papers on books, or hunting for books on the net – if this were any other thing on the planet I were this obsessed over, if it were, for instance, marbles, or boots, or stuffed weasels, people would have thrown a net over me by now. Locked me up and medicated me.

Because it’s books, they’ve hired me to teach classes in it at a university. They pay me for it. Hah! Suckers.

Where was I?

Books. And why I read.

Bardiac’s mother read for escape.

I’m been trying to think if I read for escape as a child. If escape has any factor in why I read now. I don’t think it does, or did. I do remember, a few times, using books that way as a kid – when I was crying so hard I could barely focus on the page, and reading, and how after a few pages, I was all right. But these were rare occasions. The books aren’t that direct a drug, usually. It was pure joy I got from them, as a child. Now, mind you, I did read them to discover a world I wasn’t finding around me – I was remembering this reading this post

on One Good Thing the other day, because one of the reasons I loved Beverly Cleary’s books so much was they showed me a family life that was sweet and safe; I read those books over and over for that specific reason. And I knew it at the time, too. It was my first encounter with the notion of Utopian space.

But early on I began to read against the text. Nine or ten or eleven – I don’t remember how young – I began to write revisions of the stories I read. It started around the time that I began to think, well, yes, but what about this? when I was reading. I was still reading for Utopian space, for joy, for affirmation, to find new places and new ideas, but I was now, also, reading for measure, and mismeasure. That’s what you say being a girl is? I said, incredulous, reading science fiction novels. That’s what you say I have to be? That’s the space I have to fit into?

That’s what you say a woman is? I said, reading my mother’s historical romances. That’s what you say I have to be? That’s the space I have to fit into?

That’s what you say human is? I said, reading Norman Mailer, reading Ken Kesey, reading Harlan Ellison. Really?

(When I was fifteen, I read Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. Now that was just too scary. I backed way off from that. But I kept the book forever. I still have it. I became a feminist the day I finished reading the text, though I wouldn’t know it for years.)

When I was twenty, I wrote my own first novel. A really bad one, mind you. But it had a Utopian space in it. Heh. When I was twenty-six, I set up as an instructor of English. I started teaching other folks about books.

Why do I do it?

I remember – one of my earliest memories – my mother reading to me. I remember sitting holding the book afterwards, staring at the page, trying to force meaning to coalesce out of the letters (it wouldn’t – I couldn’t have been more than two or three). I knew meaning was in there, if I could only force it out.

Why do I do it?

Not for escape, though yes, for escape – to escape the locked-in prison of my own skull, my only self.

Books and words, text and narrative, they have built who I am. They’re the code that made my soul. I suppose some of me must be DNA, and fuck knows a lot of me is what happened to me as a kid, but most of me, most of me is what I have read. Which is always why I have read. On some level I have always known that: that books were my salvation.

Did I read to escape? Oh my fucking yes. Because what else was there?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bad Science

Another excellent post from Mark Liberman over on Language Log, looking at problems in another piece of research that claims to prove that that boys' brains work differently than girls and so therefore we need to have separate schools for boys and girls:

This is my favorite part -- it comes near the end, after Liberman had worked through all of Sax's many errors:

Now, there are probably group differences by sex and age in emotional processing. And Sax might be right to argue that single-sex education is a good idea. But in presenting this narrative of males as emotional children, Sax is not telling us about the established conclusions of scientific research, despite his display of powerful authority-symbols ("her associates at Harvard", "sophisticated MRI imaging"). He's projecting his own prejudices onto a small and limited experiment with equivocal results, which disagree in part with other experiments (like the one I surveyed in my earlier post).

Leonard Sax should be ashamed of himself for trying to use such spectacularly overinterpreted science to advance his social agenda. Professors like me should be ashamed for not educating more of our public intellectuals to be able to evaluate such advocacy in a sensible and responsible way -- I'm sorry to say that Sax is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where I teach.

I'm sorry to say most of the public won't read the Language Log. Won't read the blogs. Won't read anything but Ann Coulter and Time Magazine -- if that -- and will get their data from their local news and from Bill O'Reilly and Rush and will continue to believe that boys and girls "really do" think differently and the welfare mothers "really are" having babies just to get bigger checks and that PETA "really is" a terrorist organization and and the ACLU "really does" hate God and hate America and the feminists "really do" hate men and all the rest of it.

Sorry. I watched Good Night, and Good Luck last night. It depressed me unduly.

If you haven't watched it yet, you should, even though it will probably depress you too.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

No Such Thing

Over on White Bear

the Venerable Bear asked a question I don’t actually want to deal with, so I am staying out of her comments, and writing my own post over here.

Bear did raise a question, in passing, that I do want to deal with, which is how we affect our students, and how we know that, and how, if we can’t measure that – which we can’t, can’t measure the important bits – we can know whether we have affected our students: whether we have succeeded at our job, in other words.

Ho, what a can of worms this puppy is. (Metaphor mixed with abandon.)

My first thought was how much I hate this approach to the academic world.

I too have sat through multiple workshops on assessment: true assessment, real-life assessment, workplace assessment, Assess This, Motherfucker: For The Humanities. Assessment is so much a standard of the academic world that it is now one of the goals on my yearly self-evaluation sheet – I have to say how I’m going to assess something about my job. And it has to be a true assessment, mind you, a real world assessment, a workplace assessment.

I understand why this is. I do. Because if we can’t measure what we’re doing, then how do we know if we’re doing anything in the classroom, yap yap yap, blah blah blah, prove to me your students learned anything about Chaucer oh you can’t can you then how do you know they did tastycakes.

So I get it.

But the bit you can measure is, frankly, beside the point.

The bit you can’t measure is the entire point.

And how do I know it’s there? Well, yes. I don’t.

I’m in my HEL class yesterday. We’re talking about Semiotics. (Which students always hate, for the same reason that administration hates it when I say, “Well, I don’t.”) We’re talking about Sapir-Whorf and the whole notion that you can’t think of things unless you have the words to think about them in, and one of my students is objecting, because you have to have the thing in your head before you invent the word for the thing.

“Like a chair,” he says. “Someone made a chair and then called it a chair, right?”

“Interesting point,” I told him. “Plato says that too, sort of. But he claims it’s because we have the concept in our heads before we’re born. That we experience a world of ideals, and come into this world with them, and then just recreate them here. Ideal chairs, ideal democracies, ideal justice. He says he knows this must be true because we see things in this world that aren’t here. Like justice. Justice doesn’t exist in this world. Right?”

They gape at me, astounded.

“Anyone ever see any justice?” I asked. “It’s like a unicorn, in’t it? Any of you ever see a unicorn?”

(I always throw this bit it. It cracks them up.)

“None of you have a unicorn in your backyard, do you?” I ask. “Eating grass in your backyard?”

They laugh.

“None of you have justice in your backyard either?” I ask, looking around like someone might actually have some. “No? But you take two three year olds and you give one a cookie and you don’t give a cookie to the other one and what does the three year old without the cookie say?”

I always have mothers in these classes. About four of them say at once: “It’s not fair!”

“He’s three!” I cry out. “How does he know that? He’s never seen any justice! Justice doesn’t exist! How does he know he’s not getting it?”

Now this is not exactly the speech that Raeburn Miller, my professor at the University of New Orleans, gave to me when I was 20 years old and taking the first half of Classical Literature from him. But bits of it are his. The unicorn eating grass in the back yard is his. The justice not existing is his. The ideal chair is his. (The three year old with the cookie is mine.) The love of teaching is his.

Raeburn Miller is the first professor I ever had who loved books as much as I did. He’s the first professor I ever had who loved teaching, who loved being in the classroom. (He looked a great deal like mr. delagar, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.) The way he taught is, in many respects, like the way I teach today – he used daily reading quizzes, for instance. It’s not a coincidence at all that his field was classical literature and that when I got my doctorate I specialized in classical literature.

But I never spoke to this guy again after I took the two classes with him when I was twenty years old. Classical Lit I and Classical Lit II. If you had tried to assess what effect he had had on me, then, or over the next two or three or five years, the assessment would have showed no effect at all – at twenty-two I was wandering in circles. At twenty-four I was working in a medical library. (Well, a deli first, and then a medical library.) What effect did Raeburn Miller have on me? He had changed the entire course of my life, in fact – but there was no way to assess that, by any outside, “true,” “real-world” measure.

So I’ll keep assessing what I’m doing in the classroom – measuring how many of my students learn to read Middle English compared to how many do not, and how many students in my mythology class can now recognize an allusion in a given literary work, compared to how many could, previous to the class, recognize an allusion in a yap yap yap, but really. Really. Come on. Is that why we’re here?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Come the Revolution --!

Another one off my favorite blog, Overheard in New York:

An ice cream truck is going up the street.

Little girl in a wagon: "Daddy, that truck song is annoying."

Hipster Dad: "Yes, the commodification of your desires is annoying, isn't it?"

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Watched Freedomland on DVD last night while mr. delagar kept falling asleep -- he was the one who rented it from Netflix and who wanted to watch it, but he'd been up since three, working on his French (he has to pass his language comps next week if he's going to progress in his Ph.D. and he has to progress in his Ph.D. if he's going to keep his assistantship and he has to keep his assistantship if we're going to keep paying rent, well, you know how that dance goes, where was I? Right -- watching Freedomland) --anyway, I was meant to be grading papers for my HEL class, but he begged me to watch Freedomland with him because we NEVER do anything together anymore because I am ALWAYS working or writing or doing research (Captives and Cousins came and I am deep in that these days) so anyway, off I went to watch it with him and he promptly fell asleep -- after, mind you, whining for the first fifteen minutes of the movie about how horrible it was going to be. Seems he had been reading reviews. Seems the reviews said it sucked.

"Fuck up, will you?" I told him finally. "I'm actually enjoying it, and I'd like to keep on enjoying it."

I did, too.

I've been cruising around the blogs this morning, and most people who have blogged about the movie also hate it. The reasons they give don't match and don't make sense to me. I Have My Suspicions about the actual reasons people don't like this movie -- I don't think I'll go into them here. I'll just say it's an interesting and lovely movie (which was one of mr. delagar's complaints before he fell asleep, btw -- "I wish they'd spent less time making it pretty and more time making it a movie --" This was like four minutes into the fucking thing, so where he got off with that shit, I would like to know --) and well worth the trip.

Though Jackson did go on a bit now and again. I will admit that. The whole thing he does where he testifies, that also isn't my thing. But hey. Everything doesn't have to be my thing.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More Blogging on Torture

Diane over at Dees blogs on torture here:

But the concept of torture is not confined to war. Remember, during the 90s, how eager so many thousands of Americans were for the young American prisoner in Singapore to be caned? Look at American prisons: Sadistic torture is often the order of the day. Look at many American homes, where children are beaten, whipped, burned, and routinely humiliated by kneeling on rice, sometimes while holding cans of food.


It is time for Americans to take a look at our attitudes about torture. During wartime (even during fake wartime), we consider humiliation, pain, and rape "normal." Many parents consider the humiliation and pain of children to be "normal" because it reflects how they were treated by their own parents.

And millions of the biggest liberals around think nothing of dining on or wearing the products of daily, mass torture that is arguably the cruelest of all. If we are going to stop torture, we need to stop all of it.

Those are only excerpts -- there's more. I put them in because they outline my own path. I always knew torture was wrong; but I didn't always count what had been done to me as a kid as torture. I didn't count what was being done to my little brother -- what I was doing to my little brother (I helped raise him) as torture. No, that was just child-rearing. Hitting a kid with a belt, smacking him in the face, screaming at him, knocking him down, chasing him through the house shrieking you're going to keeping hitting him until he admits he has lied -- that's not abuse! That's not torture! That's, uh...

Well, you see the problem, folks, I'm sure.

I was about 22, 23, I forget exactly how old I was. Attending the University of New Orleans, studying philosophy, reading English, reading Anthropology, learning Latin. Reading all the arguments about the use of force and reading Kant and reading Plato and going to classes taught by feminist professors and scoffing at them, mostly, because, fucking shit, I wasn't oppressed, I had never been abused, not me. But it I remember it was an essay by Ellen Goodman that did it for me. She laid out in calm language how bizarre it was to reasonably believe that hitting a child would make that child act better, and how bizarre it was to classify hitting a child, for any reason, as anything other than abuse, and how, while obviously it made the parent or caretaker feel better to hit the child, made the parent or caretaker feel more empowered, it clearly did nothing for the child --

It was as if a light went off in my head. That, and the time when I was twelve and read about evolution for the first time in my mother's biology textbook, these are the clearest examples of Enlightenment I can give to you.

I am not yet as enlightenment about animal abuse as I'd like to be. I'm trying.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Brooks Update

Mark Liberman over at The Language Log shoots holes in that useless Brooks' column:

My favorite bit:

Is there any conclusion whose empirical and logical foundations are adequately established by Brooks' column? In my opinion, there's at least one: we shouldn't accept any public policy recommendations on the basis of Brooks' understanding of cognitive neuroscience.

But that's not by any means the best bit. It's a thorough and thoughtful examination of what Brooks did such a sloppy job buzzing through. The ending is particularly good. Go on, go see.

Witches & Roaches & Such

Here's a new favorite blog of mine, by Ann, who's going to law school down there in New Orleans where I used to live:

The details about giant roaches and the third-world dirt and eating crawfish and damp and stink and all -- it's enough to make me homesick. Almost. And law school hilarity ensues as well. Not to mention nice writing.

Here's my favorite bit so far:

"There would be less of a population problem if the unwashed masses just got monkeys instead of pregnant, I think."

I'm Writing & Writing

Which is why the blog posts are so NOT political -- sorry -- I've been just not paying enough attention to give you sufficient insight on world events. But hop over to Pandagon, or Twisty, where things are smoking -- the politics of blowjobs, among others things, no less* -- or Diane at Dees, as always, has excellent posts up:

Me, I can only tell you about movies. mr. delagar and I went to the movies again yesterday. This is because the kid is still with her grandparents and if we want to see movies that are not about cartoon fish we can only do that while the kid is visiting the grandparents, so.

We saw the one with Jack Black, Nacho something. I forget. It was a highly forgettable movie. I only went because mr. delagar loves Jack Black to pieces and that sort of movie to pieces and well, it was a movie. Sunday afternoon equals movies in my mind, like Sunday morning equals church in the minds of many.

The bit I started in to blog about, though, was one of the previews: for a movie called Invincible. No exclamation point, though how they restrained themselves I cannot say.

When I first met mr. delagar -- I think I might have mentioned this once or twice already -- he carried a football around in the trunk of his car. All the time. Everywhere he went. After we had been going out for about six months, and it was getting annoying -- that football took up a surprising amount of space -- I asked if we couldn't lose the football.

"No," he said, with perfect seriousness. "Because the Eagles might stop me by the side of the road some day and want me to try out. And I'll need it."

Now, with the preview for this movie Invincible, I see where this, ah, obsession came from.

Apparently, this actually happened (sort of) to a guy one time. When mr. delagar was but a pup. And he has never gotten over it.

We're sitting there in the movie theater yesterday and this preview started running? He gasps. Like someone has stabbed him. "Oh, no," he says. In pain. He watches the preview transfixed. And when we get home? He goes to the website and watches the trailer over and over. It's not opening to August, this movie. He can't wait that long.

And he doesn't even like football, mr. delagar. We don't even watch it.

I am so puzzled.

*My favorite bit from one of Twisty's posts, btw: "I’d forgotten that when it comes to sex, it is the duty of the radical feminist to shut the fuck up."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

mr. delagar and I amuse ourselves

So we're going out today to buy DVRs because mr. delagar needs them desperately, because, and I quote, his computer "is full." Don't ask me how one fills up a computer, especially one with not one but two external hard drives, but mr. delagar can manage it.

Before we can leave I must dig around through the rubble on the floor of mr. delagar's car, looking for Bruce Springsteen's new CD, which is the one I am listening to non-stop these days, it's nearly as splendid as Billy Bragg, but I can't find it, because when mr. delagar finds one of my cds in his cd player he whips it out and flings it across the cars although he claims he does not but, hmm, somehow my cds end up on the floor of the car and his end up in the cd holder, how would that happen otherwise? You make the call.

Anyway, I finally find it, without about sixteen other of my cds, including my very favorite, Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, which came all the way from Essex via Royal Mail, and I put it in the CD player and off we go, driving across Pork Smith in the driving rain.

Soon the CD begins to skip and fade. I swear, mightily, using all the splendid nasty words that I have learned from the main character in my SF trilogy, who really uses the most appalling language.

mr. delagar takes no blame for the bad condition of the cd. It's not his fault. "This is why you shouldn't leave cds in cars," he claims.

"Because I might want to listen to them there?" I say.

"You should download them," he says, "and transfer them to DVRs, and--"

"Except your COMPUTER is FULL, remember?"

"Well, that's why we're buying DVRs," he points out, extracting the cd and polishing it on his shirt and reinserting it. "Basically," he explains to me, "the physical world sucks anyway. We should download everything."

"Except your COMPUTER is FULL. Remember?"

"Download everything, and move it to DVRs, and --"

"Then it would all be physical again. And suck."

"Well, yes. But we could store the original. Then it wouldn't matter if the copy sucked." He gazed cheerily out at the pounding rain.

"My head hurts," I said. "And my knee. Too bad we can't download me."

"And me," he said. "I should be downloaded. I could live in a cube. And have a sixteen inch dick."

"Now what would you need with a sixteen inch dick if you were virtual?"

"A man always needs a sixteen inch dick," he explained.

"With a backup copy," I agreed.

This, if anyone was wondering, was why we were both so amused as we went walking into Office Max on Rogers Ave this afternoon. Had nothing to do with the sale on three-ring binders.

Though that was nice too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Books I've been Reading

Despite my crushing schedule -- and why this should be, I don't know: why is teaching two classes in summer school worse than teaching four or five classes in a winter term? Which is my usual load -- I generally teach five classes in the fall and four in the spring, and that's usually five preps and four preps and they ain't easy classes, either, those are usually things like Chaucer and Lit of Diverse Cultures and Vic Lit, things I actually have to work at, why is it teaching one section of Freshman comp to 14 students and a section of HEL to 17 so much more work in the summer and where was I?

Well, I know why: it's because summer sessions meet every day, each class two hours a day, so that's four hours in the classroom every day -- and then add three hours of office hours per day to that -- that's seven hours gone already, and I can't do prep work in the office, because students keep coming by wanting to know stuff (pesky students!) (just kidding! I am! I like it when students want to know stuff) so then once I get home, after seven hours at the job, I have at least three or four and sometimes five more hours of prep work to do, and on top of that I have been writing away at Book IV, which is nearly done, well, that's why, and where was I?

Oh, right. Despite all this, I've also been reading some. I think this is because the kid is off staying with her grandparents. And not missing me at all, by the way. I call her up each night, she barely has time to speak to me. She loves her grandparents, that child. They've been to the Aquarium, they go swimming, they take her traveling -- today they're in Opelika, next week Disneyworld.

"So what are you doing?" I asked her a few days ago.

"Oh...eating dinner."

"What are you having?"

"Pork chops and corn. Don't tell daddy!"

I snort, amused. "You're not a kosher Jew. You can eat what you like."

"What?" demanded mr. delagar. "What's she eating??"

"I told you not to tell him!" the kid wailed.

"Let me talk to her!"

I hand mr. delagar the phone.

"Hello, sweetie," he says. "I love you. I miss you. What are you doing?"

Not a word about the fracking pork chop. Ai.

Where were we?


I've been reading some excellent books lately.

(1) Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, by Maureen Corrigan. A kind of a memoir, with books. Get it. Read it.

(2) She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. This one I picked up from the remaindered bin at Books-a-Million, where I never even look, because all the books there suck, but it's just excellent. It's that professor who had a sex change and I know, that's what I was thinking too, but it's totally not that book. It's so far from that book -- the righteous militant tract book you might be expecting -- I hardly know how to say how great this book is. I'm trying to find Boylan's other books, but they're not on Amazon. This one is. I need to go look on Powell's and Alibris.

(3) Red Harvest. Dashiell Hammett. I know, I know, I know. I'm lying in bed the other night reading bits of this aloud to mr. delagar and he gives me this incredulous look. "Are you kidding me?" he says. "No, this is great," I say. "Listen to this bit." "You've never read Dashiell Hammett?" Well, what can I say? I was educated in Louisiana. Y'all are lucky I've read anything at all. The Maltese Falcon is also great, by the way. I finished it last night. I hear that Shakespeare fella wrote some real corkers too.

(4) The Great Deluge. Douglas Brinkley. About Katrina. It's getting mixed reviews by folks who were there, but I'm enjoying it a lot. Readable and it seems to me to be doing a good job of laying out what happened. I'm only about a third of the way into it, though, so maybe it gets worse later. He's a professor at Tulane, Brinkley, and lives in the city.

(5) Girl in Landscape, Jonathan Lethem. I just picked this one up yesterday, off a recommendation by White Bear ( -- but I'm halfway through it already. SF, odd, interesting. Go read this one too.

So what are y'all reading these days?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Here, This Here

Is what I've been talking about:

Ann Coulter says, in an interview on her latest screed,

John Hawkins: If you were to pick three concepts, facts, or ideas that most undercut the theory of evolution, what would they be?
Ann Coulter: 1. It's illogical. 2. There's no physical evidence for it. 3. There's physical evidence that directly contradicts it. Apart from those three concerns I'd say it's a pretty solid theory.

P.Z. Myers cites this over there on his blog, Phayngula,

and there is some discourse about whether Coulter means this or is just scamming the public -- pretending she doesn't believe in evolution because she knows this is what her idiot winger readers want to hear.

And you know, I would go for that second explanation if it weren't for the fact that I know plenty of otherwise intelligent folk (no, really, they are!) who buy all this idiocy about evolution not being proven. Usually it's because they know nothing about it -- because they're getting their information from folks like Rush and Coulter and their preachers -- but they are not lying. They mean it. They actually believe that evolution is not based on evidence.

This is what I mean by bugfuck nuts, frankly. How can this happen? How can we be living in the same universe? What do these people think folks like P. Z. Myers are doing with his time? Do they honestly think P. Z. Myers spends years and years studying evidence and then...what? Lies about it? Just so he won't have to admit Mr. Jesus exists?

Not just Myers, either, but thousands of scholars, all over the world? All in cahoots?

And they'll prefer to believe Coulter? Because she's studied biology and genetics and paleontology for...never? And is therefore qualified to examine the evidence why?

But I shouldn't be surprised. These folks won't take my opinion on what movie is worth watching, even though I've spent 20 years studying just that subject. Why would they take P.Z. Myers judgment on where guppies come from?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Literary Theory Explained

Girl: Did you just say “jubble”? That can’t be a real word.
Guy: It’s like silent onomatopoeia
Girl: There’s no such thing as silent onomatopoeia. The very definition of onomatopoeia defies silence.
Guy: Well, it’s like the sound boobs would make if they made a sound. They would go “jubble, jubble, jubble.”
Girl: I’m afraid I’m going to have to smack you now. Seriously.

From one of my favorite blogs, Overheard in New York:

More Blogging Against Torture

Those devious, devious terrorists!

Blog against torture, hear?

Another PSA

I figure all y'all already know this, but in case you don't, here's a link to Science Blogs:

Several of my favorite science bloggers, like P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula, and Orac of Respectful Insolence, blog there now. It's your one-stop shopping for all things cool in science these days.

Go Here

And read this:

When the boys were smaller I made certain assumptions. I assumed they cried and made noise for a reason. I assumed they didn’t know or cared when mommy needed quiet, or a drink. I assumed they didn’t know how to eat at a dinner table unless I helped them and showed them the rules/customs. I assumed they needed to feel good to behave well. I assumed they had not been through the years I have and therefore, didn’t know everything like I do. I assumed I needed to provide guidance, love, and to help them meet boundaries. I assumed they were children.

Somewhere down the line I threw my assumptions into a McDonald’s drive-thru window and started expecting my eleven and ten-year-old sons to act like adults. Naturally, I was irritated that they didn’t automatically meet my expectations out at dinner with friends. I was irritated that they couldn’t anticpate when I would find a particular noise so annoying my nerves would glow an intense red. I was irritated they played with toys, laughed, sang, or ran around the house when I WAS WORKING MY GOD STOP I’M WORKING RIGHT NOW CAN’T YOU SEE I’M WORKING!

There's more!

The Rude One Speaks Again

The Rude Pundit speaks again: brilliant as always, on the Gitmo Suicides:

....for people in an official position to even feel as if they can talk about non-bombing suicide as an act of war means we have reached linguistic depths of redefinition that defy rational thought. Where torture is not torture because someone says they don't define torture that way. Words are meaningless, as the Gitmo detainees, innocent and guilty, know well. All that's left is action.How depraved and hubristic does a nation have to be to not just shut the fuck up when prisoners in its secret concentration camp kill themselves?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Shut up, Bitch

More on that

Via Diane, over at Dees:

More Blogging About Torture

You’ve all seen the bit in the NYTimes, where Admiral Harris says, about the three guys who committed suicide, and I quote: "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed. They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

Harris goes in the same article to say that all three of the men who committed suicide had “participated in hunger strikes at the detention center.”

The article also notes that there have been “41 suicide attempts by 25 detainees since the facility opened.”

Me? When I read this? I grew physically ill.

That my country is doing this to human beings – making them so desperate that they’ll resort to suicide and hunger strikes – and you remember, I’m sure, reading about the restraint chairs that are being used to end these hunger strikes? And the tube feedings? And the rest of it? – that my country, this place that used to be America, is doing this, makes me sick.

Not all of us, though.

Apparently some of us are cool with it.

Some of us say, well, they’re terrorists. They’re the enemy. Or, well, you know, they might be terrorists, and so we can do what we want to them, since they might be terrorists. And we’re at war with people who might be terrorists. Ain’t you get the memo?

And for people who might be terrorists to commit suicide because we’re torturing them is an act of war, folks. How dare they, the pigs? How dare they protest our perfectly reasonable actions against them, because we are right, and they are wrong. They have no business holding a hunger strike, committing suicide, objecting in any fashion to our holding them prisoner – forever – without charging them with anything, questioning them endlessly, torturing them, whatever we want to do to them.

This brings me to my point.

I mean, well, one of my points. Because the whole Torture is Wrong, Dudes, that’s my main point.

But here’s the other point. Here we are, in the country, in America, looking at the same set of data, and seeing two different worlds. How did that happen?

How can some of us – about 33% of us at the moment, if the polls can be trusted – believe that what this woman says is sane?

(This is from a BBC article)

Speaking to the BBC's Newshour programme, Ms Graffy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, said the three men did not value their lives nor the lives of those around them.

Detainees had access to lawyers, received mail and had the ability to write to families, so had other means of making protests, she said, and it was hard to see why the men had not protested about their situation.

My emphasis: but don't you love that?

This is an issue that strikes deep at my heart at the moment, partly because I’m being harassed by a member of my family – I won’t go into details; it has to do with long-standing family matters, none of them very easy to discuss.

It’s this same issue: the ability for two people to look at an event and see the same thing not just differently, but categorically differently: so differently that neither of us can believe the other is from the same planet. So differently each of us is thinking of the other, “You must be bugfuck nuts.”

What happens when this happens? When we interpret the world in a way so radically different from the way in which others are interpreting it? Or the way we are told we should be interpreting it?

Well, if we’re in a very tiny minority – or if we’re very powerless, as we are as children – we’re basically fucked.

We get called crazy. We get told we’re imagining it. We get told our world is the “bizarro-world,” or that we’re just lying.

We get told to shut up. To stop making things up.

Some of us believe this, of course. Especially if we’re in a small enough minority, or we’re powerless enough, or we’re scared enough.

Some of us don’t. Some of us insist on our interpretation: the one we really see.

And we don’t shut up. And we won’t shut up. And we won’t believe it when we’re told that we’re traitors, or liars, or bugfuck nuts, or cunts, or whatever labels gets pasted to us this week.

Because you know what? Torture is wrong. Boys do use lots of colors of crayons. It’s not okay that I got bussed an hour to a separate high school from my brothers. I do have the right to say what I believe. This is America and that does mean something.

Can I get an Amen, sister?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brooks Gets Space at the NYTimes

And why this is, is no mystery to me.

It's because, even though there must be -- Fuck, I don't know, seven HUNDRED women in the nation more qualified than he is to do the job he is currently doing -- that is, write a short, interesting, opinion column for one of the best newspapers in the country -- he gets the space, because he has one magic qualification: a penis.

Which, oddly enough, is what Brooks is writing about this week at the NYTimes:

There are three gender-segregated sections in any airport: the restrooms, the security pat-down area and the bookstore. In the men's sections of the bookstore, there are books describing masterly men conquering evil. In the women's sections there are novels about ... well, I guess feelings and stuff.

And, you know, that's just stupid. Who would want to read about crap like that? Feelings and stuff?

Women, he guesses. Not that he knows. Because who would ever bother to, like, talk to women? It's not like they matter or shit.

He goes on with this brilliant discourse:

Over the past two decades, there has been a steady accumulation of evidence that male and female brains work differently. [Not that he cites any of this evidence, mind you.] Women use both sides of their brain more symmetrically than men. Men and women hear and smell differently (women are much more sensitive). Boys and girls process colors differently (young girls enjoy an array of red, green and orange crayons whereas young boys generally stick to black, gray and blue). Men and women experience risk differently (men enjoy it more).

At this point, does anyone else want to cry bullshit? Girls use color more? Girls use color more? Not that I am not all for yay girls, but tell that to Van Gogh, tell it to Reubens, tell that to my daughter's pre-K class -- has Brooks never met any kids? Who are these boys he knows who color in black, gray, and blue? And are they all depressed because their daddies make them listen to Rush?

It could be, in short, that biological factors influence reading tastes, even after accounting for culture.

It could be indeed. Or it could be that Brooks is an idiot. I don't know: you make the call.

This wouldn't be a problem if we all understood these biological factors and if teachers devised different curriculums to instill an equal love of reading in both boys and girls.

The problem is that even after the recent flurry of attention about why boys are falling behind, there is still intense social pressure not to talk about biological differences between boys and girls (ask Larry Summers). There is still resistance, especially in the educational world, to the findings of brain researchers. Despite some innovations here and there, in most classrooms boys and girls are taught the same books in the same ways...

Here we get to Brooks' point. Separate but equal schools, folks! That's what we need! Segregate them girls! Stick the boys in their own schools!

But don't worry! Because we can trust the school boards! You know we can! Funding will no doubt be equal for the girls! Why, after all, would parents fail to sink as much money into educating their girl children as they do into educating their boys, once they have set up these separate schools? Huh? Huh? Why would they?

I attended a sexually segregated public school system: Jefferson Parish, in Louisiana. The high schools were sexually segregated through the 80's. My brothers attended East Jefferson High School, about 15 minutes from our house, which had classes in Latin and Physcis, which had multiple National Merit Semi-finalists every year.

I attended Riverdale High school -- by the river, and a chemical dump, an hour away from our house by bus. No Latin. Two years of French available. No Physics. Advanced math available, but only one teacher for the entire school, and she was vastly overworked. (I took the class, but failed miserably. Probably would have anyway, to be fair. I lobbied for physcis and, by being VERY ANNOYING, got a class added in my senior year --- but the teacher they hired had taught second grade the previous year, I fucking kid you not. I knew more about physics than she did.)

East Jefferson also had -- ho, of course -- a huge sports program. We didn't even have a gym. We used the parish gym across the road.

You see why I'm the tiniest bit skeptical about Mr. Brooks' plan.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Watching Movies

Now that the kid is visiting her grandparents in New Orleans, mr. delagar and I suddenly have time to watch movies again -- now and then, between the exhausting press of prepping for summer session classes and studying for his comps and French competency exams and me writing Book IV, I mean.

But last night we watched a movie: North Country, which had Sissy Spacek in it, though you barely noticed that, also the woman from Fargo, ditto. Lots more could have been done with both of these fine actors, for my money, but never mind.

The movie did a deal more to raise mr. delagar's consciousness that it did mine. Nothing in it was new to me -- having been raised a woman in the lower American middle class how I was.

As the movie is opening, he's sitting watching it with me. "What's this about?" he demands, grumpily.

"Oh, shut up," I said.

"Why would any woman want to be a miner?" he demands.

I shot him a deeply annoyed look. Like, are you fucking well kidding me? "Mostly," I said, "because she's blown through her trust fund."

After a moment, he laughed. "I'll never understand you poor people," he admitted. "Why can't she just go to law school?"

But as the movie rolled on, and the main character begins to get slammed by not only the men in the mine, but by her own family, his outrage developed. "Excuse me?" he erupted at one point. "What the fuck is this?"

"I put up with that every day of my life," I told him. "That's what junior high was like for me."

He gave me a look. "And no one stopped it? The teachers did nothing?"

"Oh, right. On planet Oz the teachers stopped it. I shouldn't have had tits if I didn't want boys grabbing them in the hallway, should I? I shouldn't have been a girl if I didn't want guys asking me how my cunt smelled."

The only part of North Country which does not ring true for me is the bit where her family and friends finally stand up for her. I know we need that at the end of the movie, and yay hurray I'm glad it's there. And I know the women at the mine did win their lawsuit. I have my doubt that the men at the mine rallied around them, or that their families stood up for them. My family never did. In my experience, your family never will. It's a rare thing when your friends will either.

I'll tell you what the worst part of watching North Country was: realizing I have an eight year old daughter, and knowing that the world has not changed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Torture is Bad

It's hard for me to believe that we need to say that.

It's hard for me to believe that here, in America, we are having, in 2006, a serious debate about whether it's wrong to torture human beings.

This is the nation that was started over 200 years ago as a Utopian space -- and yes, it was. Go back and read the documents. Go back and read the letters and the journals of the people who created this land. It was not a Christian nation they meant to build: it was a utopion nation. What else does "more perfect" mean? What does "all men are created equal" mean? Do you think they actually believed that we were equal? They weren't idiots, those guys. They knew better than that.

No, what they meant by that was that we ought to be equal and that maybe here, in this country, in this space, we could build a place where that might be true -- if we fought for that idea, every day of our lives.

We do have to fight for it. Here and now, and with every move we make, and for every person among us.

What we can't do instead is decide not to fight for it. What we can't do instead is say morally slack rubbish like, "Well, it's okay to torture someone if he's really, really evil," or "It's okay to torture someone if he's the enemy," or"It's okay to torture them because they've done lots worse things to us," or "It's okay to torture them because -- well, look! What if the situation is this! They have a nuclear BOMB! See! And it's in the middle of NEW YORK! and they won't say WHERE! AND --"

It's not okay to torture people because that turns the tortured into objects and the torturer into evil monsters. Because it destroys human relationships and human connections and the human society forever. It makes a breach, a wound in the world, in society, that can not ever be mended. Could you forgive your torturer? I know that I cannot.

This is not rocket science morality. This is really simple morality. This is something anyone can understand -- it's so simple it's right there in the Bill of Rights, under Cruel and Unusual. You can look it up. And it is in the Bill of Rights for a reason -- they didn't just put it there because they needed to round out the list.

June is Torturer Awareness Month.

I'm appalled that we still need one.

Blog against torture, y'all:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

X-Men 3 [Spoilers!]

Our air conditioner went out Sunday afternoon, as it is wont to do in the summers (we live in a slum) and our slum-lord, though she is usually very kind about calling the 24-our AC repair guy (he's genial and 70 and doesn't really fix the AC himself, he calls his son, who lives in Fayetteville, on the cell phone, and his son talks him through the repair), could not get it fixed until Monday. We are living in Arkansas, you will remember.

In June. In Arkansas. Which is why there are 24-hour AC repair guys, of course.

It was soon in the mid-eighties in the house, and getting hotter. I had been writing savagely on Book IV all weekend (really – I’m averaging 40 pages a day these days) and whined amazingly about this, since it is impossible for me to write when it is that hot. mr. delagar scoffed. Did Faulkner let the heat stop him from writing? he demanded to know. Did Tolstoy? Did Hemingway?

I said bad things.

Anyway. It was too hot to write. It was too hot to live. According to the weather forecast, it would cool down when evening came, to a not unbearable 65. But that was hours away. mr. delagar proposed a movie.

Ha. Not a thing was on. Poseidon Adventure. Stick It. Over the Hedge. You need a movie? Pork Smith is showing crap. The only thing we even wanted to see, Inside Man, we had seen the week before.

X-Men 3, mr. delagar proposed. It’s got terrible reviews, I countered. And? he said. You prefer the heat?

So we went.

It wasn’t terrible. I mean, yes, plot holes, and I am sure those fans of the comics were appalled, to read what their blogs are saying, but it moved right along and had some nice moments. As a movie and as a way to suck up some AC, it was nice enough.

On the other hand.

I gave a paper at the CEA, a few years ago, on the first X-Men movie, “From Marlowe to Magneto: The Persistence of the Jewish Villain in Popular Culture,” which argued for a drawing straight line from the medieval blood libel tales to the movie X-Men, released in 2000, with Magneto as the archetypal villain of that blood libel tale – that he is the archetypal Jew who slaughters the Christian innocent (Rogue, in that movie) in order to use its blood (her power) to promote his nefarious way of life.

Magneto persists as the archetypal evil Jew in this sequel –blah blah blah, here’s my mark tastycakes – but our focus, you’ll note, has shifted.

What are we looking at now, folks?

Oh, heavens. It’s the evil woman.

And the evil boy, but never mind him for now.

We open with the bad little girl in her parents’ house. They can’t control her. But they give her to two strong daddies who can. Bless the patriarchy!

Xavier (our archetypal good Christian, with his X symbols everywhere) takes her off to his giant ivy-covered school and controls her – says he’s teaching her to control herself, but it soon becomes clear that he is controlling her himself. He is the patriarch. As he says himself, he must control her. “You have no idea what she can do,” he tells Wolverine.

This is right after she has killed the fella who is, more or less, her true love, her (sort of) husband, Cyclops. Clean-cut Scott. How has she killed him? Why, she gets him to expose his eyes to her! And then, somehow (it’s off screen) she exploits/warps/ explodes him to death through that venue.

I don’t have to tell any of you good psychological critics what eyes equal, do I?

Didn’t think so.

Right soon after this, after Wolverine (her other lover-- Scott's shadow figure) has freed her from the actual physical bonds Xavier has put her in, Jean kills Xavier. Explodes him. Well.

(As mr delagar whispered to me, at this point, in real and slightly horrified astonishment, “Did she just kill Captain Picard?”)

She is taken off to be the partner of the evil Jew Magneto at this point. It’s made clear that she is not his subservient partner, either. She is more powerful than he is, she threatens him at one point – he is coming up with the game plan, but he is not telling what to do. He’s not in control of her. This worries him, but on the other hand he accepts it.

[Magneto, for all his other faults, and as the movie defines him he has many, since he wants a world where anyone who is not a mutant is wiped out, and of course that’s a bad and evil thing, nevertheless Magneto does have this one good thing: anyone who is a mutant, in his world, is an equal (though this doesn’t explain his weird comment during the final battle about “pawns,” as a few blogs have mentioned – that seems very out of character) – well, so long as you haven’t sympathized with the enemy: and even then he regards you as his enemy with reluctance.]

Finally, at the end of the movie, Jean, the powerful woman mutant, gets really annoyed at the soldiers who are trying to destroy her, and begins exploding them forthwith. Wolverine cries out, “I’m the only one who can stop her!” He begins struggling toward her. She begs him to save her. He says he loves her. Then? He saves her. How? Why, by killing her. He rips out her heart with his adamantine claws, and enfolds her in his arms as she dies, crying out in grief. But, you know, just once. (For the record, he cried a lot longer when he saw that Xavier was dead.)

So what have we here, folks?

Why, it’s a lesson from the Patriarchy, I do believe!

Those women! You don’t know what they’re capable of! They must be controlled! And if they can’t be controlled? If their daddies can’t control them? Or their husbands can’t? Or their lovers can’t? You know what’s going to happen then don’t you!

They’ll destroy the world, that’s what!

That’s what this movie is about.

Though mr. delagar claims not. He thinks I might be overreacting a bit.

He would think that, though. Fucking member of the fucking patriarchy, ain’t he.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


You know, on the one hand, I utterly agree with PZ Meyers here:

The problem is faith.

Faith is a hole in your brain. Faith stops critical thinking. Faith is a failure point inculcated into people's minds, an unguarded weak point that allows all kinds of nasty, maggoty, wretched ideas to crawl into their heads and take up occupancy. Supporting faith is like supporting people who refuse to be vaccinated: they're harmless in and of themselves, they may be perfectly healthy right now, but they represent fertile ground for disease, and they represent potential severe damage to the social compact. When you're in a culture that worships Abraham's insanity, you're fostering the nonsense that enables the Son of Sam.

On the other hand, do I not absolutely agree with Mr. Shakespeare, here?

When my love swears that she is made of truth, I do believe her,
though I know she lies --

This is a puzzler, in't it.

Shakespeare's sonnet, as I have always taught it, is about the utter necessity of trust -- to have faith -- in other humans, even though we know they will fail us. (As Will put it: "O, love's best habit is in seeming trust" -- that adjective "seeming" being very important, of course.)

No human is trustworthy. We all fuck up. And yet: who else is there? It's only humanity on this benighted plain. Where else will you put your heart?

So we must love one another or die, as another fine poet put it.

Which means having faith in the faithless, and loving the doomed. It's an incredible and insane thing that many of us, nevertheless, do, all the time and every day. (Why, I still can't tell you, and here I am doing it. Good shit, as I frequently comment, trudging around on Planet Earth.)

So yes. I agree with P.Z. that faith is, on the one hand, the enemy. It is something we want to beat out of our students. Cut that out! Use your critical thinking! Argue with the text! Who says! Who says! Who says! And why should you believe them?

On the other hand....

Good Sites

Two of my new favorite sites:



If I believed in hell -- which as you know I don't -- but if I did:

There would be a special circle for those who are rude to waitresses.

And folks who don't tip? They'd be buried head-down in that circle.

That is all.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Social History

My father has been doing research into his roots, and awhile back he came home with this self-published family history someone had done. While I was looking through it over Christmas -- this was a few years back -- I came across a copy of some papers from the latter part of the 18th century: one of his female ancestors, a widow, who had sold her six children, ranging in age from a female infant, age seven months, up to a son age twelve, as indentured servants, for various periods of time, the infant girl's period being the longest -- she was being sold for 21 years.

I like to tell this story to my students and other folk who start going on about the welfare state, or the how things were better previous to 1960 -- how we had all these intact families, back when women didn't have autonomy or rights and men were forced to hang around and support them.

I keep getting this interesting reaction, from my students, and even from folk who ought to know better. Most of the men in my life are history majors, mind you. And yet: this is what I hear, from my students, and from them: "Huh. Well. You know, people weren't as attached to their children in those days. The concept of loving children as we know it didn't really exist."

My students say that, too, in less sophisticated ways. Where is this myth coming from? Not from the literature published at the time, I'll tell you that -- read Ann Bradstreet's poems to her dying children. Read the journals written at the time. Read Ben Johnson's epitaphs on his dying kids. Read the Roman elegies on their dying children, The Chinese elegies, the ones the Greeks wrote, and then tell me people previous to antibiotics just said, when one of their kids died, "Ah, fuck it, he was always crying anyway, I can always make another."

I suspect it's our way of protecting ourselves. We can't fathom the grief a mother must have felt, to have birthed twelve children and watched five of them die -- or to have birthed six children and then to have been forced, by economic circumstances, to sell them into forced labor. So we pretend that people back then were different. They didn't feel as we did.

I tell all this to my students, I rant it at them, actually, right before I tell them they should get down on their knees and thank whoever invented birth control and the social welfare system: because those are the things that keep them from having to make those choices.

And those are the things -- ha -- that the social conservatives are trying to take away from us.

I always point that out to them, too.

Don't worry about that one.