Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm Back!

We've returned from the New Orleans visit. City looks battered, though it's working hard to rebuild itself. My mother showed us all the places people were living; all the stores that were open again; all the restaurants back in business. It's in much better shape, in that regard, than it was last year, or, God knows, two years ago. But there are still wide stretches of abandoned houses, and still people living in the occasional FEMA trailer. Also a housing crisis no one wanted to talk about. It is apparently impolite in New Orleans to discuss Bad Things. Someone rioting about houses being condemned. But not local people. Outside agitators. This was all I could get.

OTOH, stores do stay open after dark now! That was nice. And many are fully staffed, unlike last year, when the lines snaked around the block -- it was like shopping in Russia, last year.

It was hot when we got there -- hot and sticky -- cold, briefly -- and then hot again. I took the kid for a walk in the park which, when I was little, was the undeveloped wilderness where I used to play. Nutria and chickens and ducks live there now, and, we were delighted to see, a hawk, hunting the chickens.

On the way to New Orleans, we listened to a novel mr. delagar had downloaded onto his iPod Touch, Heinlein's Have Spacesuit Will Travel. The kid did not want to hear this book, because she hated SF, hated it, hated it!

"You will like this one," I promised her, and yikes. She did. She not only liked it, she loved it. All through the holiday, she drew pictures of the Mother Thing, she wanted to know where the Mother Thing's planet was, she wanted to know how the Mother Thing rotated planets, she wanted the Mother Thing to be her new imaginary friend. Now that we are back in Pork Smith, the first thing we have done is go to the library and get two Heinlein books from the library for her to read.

And she is reading them.

One of them is Have Space Suit Will Travel -- she's reading it first. Last night, around midnight, she poked her head in my door and woke me from a sound sleep. "The wormfaces aren't real, right?"

"Right," I said, drowsily.

"And if they were real, the Mother Thing rotated them back in 1959, right?"


"Just checking." She disappeared again.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Of *course* I knew that reading made us smarter (heh, it's essentially all I do, and look how clever I am) but lookit here: it's an essay about why, not to mention scary studies about what's happening to reading as TV and YouTube and PowerPoint descend upon us.

(Links down again. Rats. If you can't get to it, it's by Caleb Crain, called The Twilight of Books, on The New Yorker.)

Here's my favorite bit:

"The antagonism between words and moving images seems to start early. In August, scientists at the University of Washington revealed that babies aged between eight and sixteen months know on average six to eight fewer words for every hour of baby DVDs and videos they watch daily. A 2005 study in Northern California found that a television in the bedroom lowered the standardized-test scores of third graders. And the conflict continues throughout a child’s development. In 2001, after analyzing data on more than a million students around the world, the researcher Micha Razel found “little room for doubt” that television worsened performance in reading, science, and math. The relationship wasn’t a straight line but “an inverted check mark”: a small amount of television seemed to benefit children; more hurt. For nine-year-olds, the optimum was two hours a day; for seventeen-year-olds, half an hour. Razel guessed that the younger children were watching educational shows, and, indeed, researchers have shown that a five-year-old boy who watches “Sesame Street” is likely to have higher grades even in high school. Razel noted, however, that fifty-five per cent of students were exceeding their optimal viewing time by three hours a day, thereby lowering their academic achievement by roughly one grade level.

"The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance. Of course, such synergies may disappear if the Internet continues its YouTube-fuelled evolution away from print and toward television."

Monday, December 17, 2007


Grades are due tomorrow by 9:00 (though, as I tell my colleagues, they only call it the deadline to scare us) and I have been busily grading away, reading exams, reading papers, reckoning quiz averages, until my brainpan aches.

This morning I have to go have a root canal, talking of aches.

And this evening is the writing group.

So I says to mr. delagar, I says, why don't you do the laundry while I'm gone?

Since, you know, he's been done with his grading since Saturday.

What's in it for me, he says.


So (I'll skip the nasty eleven minutes) I leave him doing the laundry.

And this is the funny bit.

I've always handled the laundry -- he helps fold and put it away, but I do bit where it gets sorted and put in the machine and all.

So he's taking one load out of the dryer, putting it in the basket, and he gets all appalled: "What is this?" he demands. "Why aren't we washing the kitchen items separate from the bedroom items? We should sort these categories beforehand! Think how much easier folding and putting away would be if we sorted beforehand! We could -- we could --"

"We could color-code the baskets," I suggest.

"Yes!" He folds pulls out one of the kid's shirts. "And why aren't you turning your clothes right-side in before you put them in the laundry?" he demanded. "Save people some time!"

This, from the dude who won't even put his socks in the basket, mind you.

The kid, eating her morning scone, gave me a sidelong look. I gave her one back. Daddy's getting hysterical again, we communicated.

I fully expect to come home and find six different colors of laundry baskets, all neatly labeled. With rotating dates for when we are meant to wash each.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why You Pick On Us?

More whining from the Right on how they can't get jobs in the Academy b/c it's full of Leftists who discriminate against good white Right Christian males, and also here a smackdown of this utter crap, which, as the post notes, is just the same old whine the right has been whining for years now.

See also LG&M, who shot the bit of shite down as well.

(Via Unfogged)

Whack the Powerless, That Will Teach'em

So this post by Rob is getting some attention in the 'sphere.

He blogs about his students, who, while writing about some other issue, mention the Iraqi attack on us on 9/11.

I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed "the Iraq's" to attack us on 9/11.

Rob's point is that these students believe, as an absolute fact, like gravity sucking, that Iraq was behind the attack on the Twin Towers. Okay, well, half my students believe America was founded as a Christian nation, and that the war on Christmas is real, and white guys are the real victims in this country.

But what's to be done when students put this sort of thing in their essays?

Plenty of comments, at Rob's site and at Crooked Timber, where I first saw the story, argued (well, ranted) for failing the students. "You did fail the students, right?" "Can't university professors fail students?" and like that.

Here's the issue I have with this solution: yes, clearly these students are wrong. On the other hand, (a) they're wrong because our culture has told them, over and over, that this answer is the right answer. Why would they doubt that this thing is true when everyone around them has insisted this thing is true for as long as they can remember?

And (b) how will failing them help?

This is my problem with failing students. Are we here to harm or to help? Yes, the students are wrong. Well, let's make them right. Smacking them with an F will not help anything. What might, then? Saying, hey, you know, I see many of you have a misapprehension here. Why don't we do some research? Why don't we learn to check assumptions before we turn in a paper?

I do this in my Freshman writing class -- I use mistakes I have made as examples. "Here's what I thought the truth was," I say. "Then I did research, and here's what I found out the truth was. Why do we do research?" I ask.

I say, "What do we know?"

I say, "What do we really know?"

I get them to see how little they actually know: I teach them to think about this before they turn in their first papers. But I never grade that first paper, even so, because it will be filled with idiotic things like Iraq attacked us on 9/11 and Jesus wants us to vote for Bush and children should always do what adults say no matter what, and I will have to say to them, really? You really think that's so? You really think a child should do what an adult says? No matter what? So a guy comes up to her on the playground and says come get in the car with me, you want your little girl to obey him, do you?

I'm saying we're in the university (and the universe) to teach our students.

Doing them harm isn't the best way to teach them.

And the angry attitude toward the students -- who are not the ones who caused the problem, who are not the author of the fucking lie, which I think we should remember -- I have to say I find it disturbing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

IQ Says What?

Here's an interesting read.

My students in a number of my classes are always trotting out the epic myth about how IQs have been dropping and test scores are plummeting and kids are getting stupider ever year. I love to slam back at them with, well, dudes, what about the Flynn effect, then?

Huh, what? they say.

Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings—now known as the Flynn effect—for almost twenty-five years. His books consist of a series of plainly stated statistical observations, in support of deceptively modest conclusions, and the evidence in support of his original observation is now so overwhelming that the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact. What remains uncertain is how to make sense of the Flynn effect. If an American born in the nineteen-thirties has an I.Q. of 100, the Flynn effect says that his children will have I.Q.s of 108, and his grandchildren I.Q.s of close to 120—more than a standard deviation higher. If we work in the opposite direction, the typical teen-ager of today, with an I.Q. of 100, would have had grandparents with average I.Q.s of 82—seemingly below the threshold necessary to graduate from high school. And, if we go back even farther, the Flynn effect puts the average I.Q.s of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.

Well, as this essay (and Flynn) go on to say, nu-uh, obviously. Maybe we're getting smarter, a little, who knows. (I've read some explanations for the Flynn effect that argue that exactly.) But more likely (more likely, I mean, that we are that much smarter than our greatgrandparents) is that it's an artifact of the test.

The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests, each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that scores in some of the categories—those measuring general knowledge, say, or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic—have risen only modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that “you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”

“If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents,” Flynn writes. Our great-grandparents may have been perfectly intelligent. But they would have done poorly on I.Q. tests because they did not participate in the twentieth century’s great cognitive revolution, in which we learned to sort experience according to a new set of abstract categories. In Flynn’s phrase, we have now had to put on “scientific spectacles,” which enable us to make sense of the WISC questions about similarities.

To say that Dutch I.Q. scores rose substantially between 1952 and 1982 was another way of saying that the Netherlands in 1982 was, in at least certain respects, much more cognitively demanding than the Netherlands in 1952. An I.Q., in other words, measures not so much how smart we are as how modern we are.

This is a critical distinction. When the children of Southern Italian immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century, for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as Hispanics and blacks did. As you can imagine, there was much concerned talk at the time about the genetic inferiority of Italian stock, of the inadvisability of letting so many second-class immigrants into the United States, and of the squalor that seemed endemic to Italian urban neighborhoods.

Why does this matter? Well, you can see if IQ tests don't work backwards -- if they didn't work then -- maybe they don't work now?

Maybe, then, this vaunted g folks like Charles Murray and the rest are always on about, which (oddly enough) shows rich white guys to be the smart ones in the pack and (oddly enough) poor black folk to be (geez, we can't help this, can we? it's science) irrefutably just dumb, no sense pouring dollars down that rathole, isn't really measuring anything that's actually there?

We already know tests like the SAT don't actually predict how students will do when they get to school. Some evidence exists to show that teachers will teach to how well they think a student will do -- being told a student is gifted, that is, they'll treat him as gifted, and he'll perform as such; told he's stupid, they'll treated him as stupid, and, guess what, he performs as such.

That steady decline [in black children's IQ scores as they grow older], Flynn said, did not resemble the usual pattern of genetic influence. Instead, it was exactly what you would expect, given the disparate cognitive environments that whites and blacks encounter as they grow older. Black children are more likely to be raised in single-parent homes than are white children—and single-parent homes are less cognitively complex than two-parent homes. The average I.Q. of first-grade students in schools that blacks attend is 95, which means that “kids who want to be above average don’t have to aim as high.”

So why does it matter?

It's like justice. Justice doesn't exist; but by acting as though it does, we change the world. Well, whether or not IQ exists, if we act as though it does, that changes the world as well.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Huckster

Of course all politicians play politics: in other news, water is wet, and the sky high.

And I admit Huckabee has done some things that make him, on the surface, appear attractive. His behavior during Katrina beat the holy crap out of George III's, for instance. My father, who has gone to his speeches, speaks highly of his ability to think on his feet. Apparently he has lost weight and believes in exercise. He doesn't smoke. Also, he doesn't dodge: when he is asked a question, he does answer it: so there's that.

On the other hand: his answers reveal what appears to me to be the fundamental flaw in his character.

I've been grading essays from my freshmen this week -- these aren't their papers, which they get to work on all semester, these are in-class essay sets, which they have fifty minutes to write. More revealing, in other words.

I've got half a dozen, um, how will I put it? Spiritually less-evolved students. Not deep thinkers, this lot.

I don't mean conservative, either, because that's not the issue -- I do have conservative students who do think, in this same class, who wrote me good essays.

No, I mean the inability to see where they aren't doing the job. So, for instance, one student is explaining why the student is a Republican: telling me it is because of his education. He took American Government in high school, see, and he was raised in his church. Those two experiences taught him that those on the Left wanted to take away everyone's guns and like abortions. Since he knows abortion kills babies and likes to hunt, he is a Republican.

The other essays were more or less as sophisticated as this gentleman's.

Huckabee's arguments remind me of those put together by these students. He ingests talking points; not only does he ingest them, he seems to believe them. Then he acts as though those talking points aren't just crap propaganda put out by some idiot (cough Rush cough) to knock up his ratings, but in fact some kind of truth about the world.

Well, this wouldn't matter if he were hanging out at the corner bar playing pool, spitting tobacco, spouting this crap to his buds. But he ain't. He's running for president. And coming up hard on the outside, I might add. And this is the sort of thing in his head:

''It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.''

When asked about AIDS research in 1992, Huckabee complained that AIDS research received an unfair share of federal dollars when compared to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Also in the wide-ranging AP questionnaire in 1992, Huckabee said, ''I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk.''

''What people do in the privacy of their own lives as adults is their business,'' Huckabee said. ''If they bring it into the public square and ask me as a taxpayer to support it or to endorse it, then it becomes a matter of public discussion and discourse.''

(In the NYT on Saturday

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oh Ye Infidel!

Had the first latkes of the season last night, and my were they good.

Have I mentioned I make the best latkes on the planet? Well, yes, I do. Here's my recipe for you who might want to emulate me, the latke artist:

Take two potatoes for everyone who wants latkes. I use Yukon Gold, but suit yourself.

Peel, wash, grate by hand -- that's essential, so step away from your evil food processor! Store the grated potato in a deep bowl of icy water while you're grating the rest of the potatoes; when you're done, drain in a colander, and then rinse the grated potato at least three or four times in freezing water, soaking it between times in more icy water. Swish about while it's soaking. What you're doing here is shaking loose the starch. Starch makes soggy latkes.

Finally, put the grated potato into the deep bowl, cover with icy water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for awhile -- maybe an hour.

Drain, really well. Squeeze out as much water as you can.

Mix in some matzoh meal, some onion powder (if you don't have a kid who hates onion, you can grate in some onion here instead), some Kosher salt, some pepper, and two or three nice eggs.

(How much? Eh. A couple three handfuls of the matzoh, some of the rest. By nice eggs, I mean free range, of course. But suit yourself.)

Heat up some good-quality peanut oil in a big iron skillet. Get it hot, but not blazing. Enough so a bit of potato will pop and start to brown in a few seconds.

Form the latkes between your palms. Make them fairly flat. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Drop them in. Have some newspaper covered with paper towels ready for them to drain on. Have a beer or a Snakebit or some rum and coffee to drink while you work. Some friends to talk to -- that's also nice. Frying latkes takes time.

Eat with applesauce or sour cream if you're a traditional Jew. If you're an infidel like me and the kid, we have ketchup with ours. (mr. delagar threatens to make us move out every time we do this.)

Speaking of infidels, I reckon you caught Mitt's speech? The one where he says there's no religious test to be the U.S. President, but if there was it's okay cause he passes it, he believes in Jesus, not like them other guys over there (that would be us on the Left) who only believe in shit like freedom of religion?

Here's the bit of the speech I find most offensive:

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

The NYTimes has this to say about it, which was noble and all, but did not go nearly far enough in my opinion (I did like one of the comments on the NYT piece, a guy who suggested that, rather than posting the 10 commandments in our public places, as the Right keeps yapping that we should, we should post the Bill of Right in all our public arenas -- maybe that would do our public discourse some good. <-- now that is an idea I can get behind, particularly after fifteen years of teaching Freshmen who think the Second Amendment was put in place so that they could go hunting, and haven't the slightest clue what the First Amendment's about.) But the NYT, stern as they were, did not go far enough. See C&L for a more thorough look.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Abstinence-Only Sex-Ed and The Right

Re my post on Wehner a few days back, see also this, from LG&M. It's a post on the recent small rise in teen pregnancy rate, which might well be connected to the Religious Right and its push not to allow sex education of any sort which doesn't teach kids to just say no.

Scott says:

The Heritage Foundation helpfully calls blaming abstinence only education for rising teen pregnancy rates "stupid" (they prefer to blame the women themselves). But it's not stupid. It doesn't take much to be able to see that there might - just might - be a connection between not teaching kids how to use a condom and a rising pregnancy rate.

He's got a nice chart and some links over there too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Is it Fall?

Around fifty degrees today, bright a sunny, leaves all going gold and red -- a bright fall day. Very pretty! Aside from the part about being midway through December, you know, an agreeable bit of weather. I'm enjoying it.

Last night was the first night of Hannukah. We had donuts and potato chips, to fulfill the requirement to eat oily food, and turkey pot-pie, to use up the last of our turkey from TNX. The kid lit the candles and said the blessing. Then she watched the flames dreamily, wondered why fire was so pretty, drew several fine pictures of menorahs, and opened her first present, which was a hardback copy of Blackadder: the Whole Damn Dynasty, which I had gotten off Alibris, and which arrived just in time (in yesterday's mail) and which she loved. She said it was her favorite present ever. (I thought it might be, since she has read the FSPL's copy to shreds.)

Oh yeah, I score big Mama points, me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Look! A Whole Toolkit!

This here, written by a tool employed by our friends, Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, over at the Ethics and Public Policy Center*, and which I have copied and will save in my box-o-essays for my 1213 class next semester, can be profitably studied to see how moderately talented hacks use rhetorical tricks to tell big fucking lies.

You will note how Wehner's claims that the belief, fifteen years ago, that our culture was collapsing, arose from "diverse quarters," is followed by a citation from a leftist source, before he begins citing far-right conservatives -- thus leading his readers to believe that he is using balance in his writing. But Kazin is a moderate, and nearly every other source Wehner cites -- William Bennett, Robert Bork, the Heritage Foundation, James Q. Wilson (now at the American Enterprise Institution) -- is so far to the right, he (I choose the pronoun purposely) is in danger of falling off the edge.

More importantly, though, is what Wehner does not cite: he ignores, he omits every scrap of data that challenges his thesis.

Thus, Wehner:

Crime rates, too, benefited from something of a policy revolution over the course of the 90’s. Applying methods and concepts developed by James Q. Wilson, George L. Kelling, and others, innovators like then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York City and his police chief William Bratton pursued a zero-tolerance approach to crime that quickly became a model for other cities and states. Incarceration rates rose, policing improved, crime data were processed faster, criminal patterns were identified more effectively—all of which furthered the twin goals of intervention and prevention.

First, Wehner cites nothing here. Nothing. Where's his data to show that the "zero-tolerance" approach works? Second, he ignores all that work done by Steven Levitt that suggests this policy was not behind the declining crime rate. Third, he ignores the consequences of these policies he seems to find so charming. I suppose it's very easy for him to write "incarceration rates rose," but how does he think those prisons get funded? Who is staffing those prisons? Who pays the prison guards? And what, Mr. Wehner, of the lives of the prisoners? Or is this just dandy with Mr. Wehner, because they have it coming anyway?

And if we are using the money on prisons (and Iraq, I suppose) what are we not using it on?

Schools, daycares, hospitals, libraries, railroads, national parks?


Finally, notice Wehner selectively choosing his data -- he does not choose "fifteen years ago" accidentally.

Fifteen years ago, for whatever reason, the data spiked. We had a brief surge in drug use, in teen pregnancy, in crime. Who knows why? I blame Reagan, myself, who had came to power just about fifteen years before that, causing a dreadful economic decade in America, and beginning the desctruction of the American ethos, so that we had a generation of Americans growing up with no ethical background, or just terrible role models, but heh, we all have our tiny irrational issues.

That crime would rise, that people would divorce, that other people would do drugs -- this Wehner blames, you will be interested to find, on women. Not directly! Nay, he's no fool. But it's woman at the root. Women have sex and then bastards, see. Wehner cites our old friend Charles Murray, with his "rising tide of illegitimacy" and his famous crack mother on welfare boogeyman.

“Illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time,” he wrote, “more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare, or homelessness because it drives everything else” (emphasis added). Murray’s dictum could still be borne out in the long run; in time, the explosion of illegitimacy might undo the signs of healthy cultural revival we have charted.

Yes, let's keep the good thought, shall we? Shit knows those kids born out of wedlock are doomed! Doomed, I say!

I have to wonder if Murray has ever met any of these kids he writes so dismissively about. I've known -- I have to say, conservatively, (heh -- little pun there) -- dozens of them in my years as a professor. I also have to say when Wehner says it's family that matters, well, d'uh. But I'm thinking someone needs to send both Murray and Wehner a clue.

Why would Murray think the kids I know don't have family? Every kid I know has a family. Murray is a fuckwit if he thinks a kid with grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins and brothers and sisters and neighbors all around her does not have a family. Is Murray blind? Is he fucking stupid? Does he have no idea of what family means?

(The answer there, btw, I'm thinking? That would be (a) Yep.)

So why had America been doing better?

Clinton! We had about ten years of the economy doing okay, and people being all right because of it. That's why, you fucking fuck-up fuckwit.

People tend not to do harm to one another when they're all right, jack.

Why did abortion drop? See above.

Are kids more conservative? In your dreams, son. Talk to some once in awhile. And no, not the ones at your church, either.

What's going to happen now that your action-figure WTF King George III has destroyed the economy?

Shit knows. And FSM help us all.

*That's where Rick Santorum went so he could fight America's enemies! Because, you know, Iraq was too crowded!

Monday, December 03, 2007


So tomorrow starts the Hannukah and while I am not as singularly ill-prepared this year as I usually am (one year I did not even have candles at this point) I am in dire straits. Yesterday the kid and I drove all over Pork Smith (where, as mr. delagar tells us very nearly weekly, you can buy all the pork and all the bibles you want, but good luck finding matzoh) looking for Hannukah gelt, finally deciding we would make do with some chocolate coins we found in the candy store at the mall, also some bubble gum coins mixed in.

This morning I found myself trying to convince her, while we were driving hell-bent for leather down Zero Street, late for school yet again, that really cool people don't care about holidays so much.

"Does this mean my presents aren't going to arrive on time?" she demanded suspiciously.

"It depends," I said.

"On what?"

"The Hannukah elves."

"There are no Hannukah elves. Did you ship overnight or not?"

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Endless Summer

We're into December now and the high each day is still in the mid-sixties. Apparently there will be no winter this year.

Which this is all for the best, I suppose, seeing as, due to the fucked state of the economy, who can afford to turn on the heat, even one time. But still. I do miss snow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Just when you thought the world could not get sicker:

Rape Toys.


This post over on Pandagon, plus an email from my favorite nephew, got my thinking about life online.

Y'all remember life before the net.

Well, maybe you don't.

I do -- when I wrote my dissertation, pre-net, I didn't own my own computer. mr. delagar schlepped his into the duplex up in Fayetteville we were not exactly sharing (we had just gotten married and still weren't living together, a long story) and forced me to learn to write on it: up to that point, I was still writing on an IBM Selectric. It was 1994.

Research? You went to a building called a library, looked up sources in huge tomes known as indices (b/c I was doing classics, mines were often in French -- though just the titles, not the actual index itself) and then -- oh, this was rich -- you had to send away for the actual sources, though this deal called Interlibrary Loan. It took weeks, sometimes, and that was if the source could even be found.

My first computer, one I owned myself, was a second-hand laptop which my father-in-law, of blessed memory, gave me. Family upgrade, we call this. This was in 1996. It did not have internet capability. I am pretty sure we still did not know what an internet was then. I used that laptop for years.

I began hearing rumors about something called e-mail and something called the net -- or a web, was it? -- around 1997. My students in Idaho kept telling me they had sent me something called links, or that they could do searches and find things "like that." Un-huh, I would say. Whatevcr.

In 1998, I got a tenure-track job in North Carolina, and was given an office with a computer in my office which had internet capability -- also, because I was the sole faculty member under fifty, I got assigned to become the internet expert. (Remember, I didn't even known what a fucking internet was. Net? Web? Intertubes? What are these things you speak of?) But I hopped on and built me a webpage and started messing about with chat-lines (remember chatlines?) and never looked back.

Now? Someone asks me a question about the bird's nest soup, or wonders what I think of Obama as a candidate, do I think about libraries or pulling a book off a shelf? Shit no. I open my hotlink to Wikipedia and say, well, let's see.

What was life like before we linked up? I barely remember. And, at home? When my net goes down? Yikes. You don't want to be around me then. I'll do without AC, I'll do without coffee, food is an option, but don't be taking away my highpeed internet connection, and I ain't messing, either.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Apparently it is random day!

So! Random!

(1) This weekend I watched three movies:
Which, considering I've been averaging about a movie every two months, is a remarkable breakthrough for me. I liked Home for the Holidays most, I have to say, though Les Miz had its moments.

(2) I am currently reading five books at once: Wasn't That a Time: Growing Up Radical and Red In America, by Robert Schrank; Chasing Che, by Patrick Symmes; Ease, by Patrick Gale; For Whom the Bell Tolls, by our pal Hemingway; and Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. I got all of these except the last from Paperback Swap

Wasn't That a Time: Growing up Radical by Schrank is enormously readable and highly educational -- it's Schrank's life on the socialist side of America from the 1920's on: being sent to socialist summer camps and day camps as a kid, singing the Red Flag and learning about the evils of capitalism; the onslaught of the depression; life in working class schools; organizing labor unions in the early thirties. It's great.

I'm also enjoying Chasing Che, and Russo's book, though I'm not far into either. Hemingway I am making myself re-read (I haven't read it since I was about fifteen) and it is heavy going I must say. Don't I wish I could go back in time and smack Hemingway in the ear. When he is not taking himself so fucking seriously he is not a bad writer at all. Dude! I want to say. It is just a fucking novel. Calm down!

(3) Cool Links: What folks eat , What Folks Play With, What to Look At AND this link, which you have to go see: all about germs! Guess what! Your bathtub is filthier than your trashcan! Your laundry (yes, after you wash it!) is full of poo! Washing it spreads the poo through your entire laundry! That's right! Won't this link cheer you up! Go see!

The What Folks Eat is also worth a visit, both for a look at the differences in class and consumption and to read the comments stacking up at the sight. (It's interesting that most of the initial comments are on the order of "gee if only Americans were like refugees from Chad maybe we could lose some weight." )

(4) Random event -- The kid came home from school yesterday and told me, her small face furious, "Superman is a pillar of the patriarchy!"

"Ah," I said. "Well, yes."

"We had to listen watch a musical video about him in music today! It was totally patriarchy-oppressed!"

"Ah. And did you make that clear to your music teacher?"

"Yes! And Justin said for me to be quiet, because Superman was real! And he rescues women in trouble! And that's good!" The kid flung her arms out, her entire body outraged.

"Which you said what?" I inquired.

"Woman can carry mace and rescue themselves!" she shouted.

"Excellent," I agreed. "Also? The idea that women are in all this danger and need rescuing all the time? Myth of the patriarchy. Why would the patriarchy tell us that story? That if we go outside, if we walk around by ourselves, we'll get attacked by evil men and need other men to save us? Why would they tell us that story?"

"To scare us," she said. "To keep us from going outside."

"Because Superman isn't real," I agreed, "so if we believe that story, we'll lock ourselves up."

(5) Random Event #2 -- the kid has recently been fined $30.00 by mr. delagar, for telling Miles what the f-word was (a bit of justice I find extreme, given she was only doing what we have always done for her: when a question is asked, we answer it: Miles asked what the f-word was, and she answered; plus, she didn't say it, she only spelled it, so what's the deal, I ask, but I am not interfering) -- anyway, she asked me, "Why can't kids say bad words? That doesn't seem fair. Adults can say them. Why not kids?"

"I have explained this before," I said, because I had.

"Again!" she insisted.

I went through the class issues spiel. I went through the inappropriate/appropriate/code-switching spiel. She was unconvinced.

"But what do they mean?" she asked. "What does the f-word mean? Why do you say it? Why can't I?"

"Well," I said. "Well. The f word means, technically it means sex...but it doesn't mean that, in context, it means you're angry, and you want to hurt the person you're saying it to."

She frowned at me. "What's the b-word mean?"

"That's why I don't want you saying that one," I said, feeling on safer ground. "That one's misogynistic. People use that one to call people women, or to say women are stupid. That one is used to either attack women or to use women as tools to attack people."

She was frowning more. "What about the other b-word? B-I-N-T? What's that one mean?"

"Um..." I could see where this was going. "It's just Arabic for girl. But it's used the same way as bitch. To attack women, to use the idea of being a woman to attck people."

" use that word. If it's misogynistic, why are you always calling people that word?"

"Excellent point," I agreed. She scowled at me. Moving right along, I said, "And other words, like tool, you know, and scmuck, those are words that attack men -- because tool means penis, right? And so does schmuck -- so when I call people tool (which I am also always doing) then I'm saying those people are acting like men, or I'm using the idea of being like a man to attack that person...see," I said, "that's why you shouldn't use bad words. Not because the words themselves are bad, because they aren't, exactly; but because you're using the words to attack people. Which do we want to do that?"

"So why do you do it?"

"Right," I said. "I shouldn't." Fuck, I thought, because how I am supposed to stop? I only just recently managed to stop saying fuckwit and fucktard and Rethuglican, afterall. Now I'm going to try to stop cussing entirely? Oh, that sounds likely.

She rubbed her face against my shoulder. "Thank you," she said.

"What?" I said.

"I like how you explain things to me," she said.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Yay, Holidays

So LAST Thanksgiving, I got appalling drunk on rum and diet Dr. Pepper the night before (I had just been rejected by a really good agent) and spent the day itself drinking Perrier water right from the bottle and wishing for death.

ThisTNX, maybe better. Uncle Charger, the kid's adopted uncle, is coming to visit, with his parents, and I only had a bit of rum in coffee last night, and -- look at this -- something like winter has finally arrived here in AR (37 degrees right now, though the weather guys say it's going to be hitting the 70s again next week) which is making me happier at the moment. mr. delagar is smoking a whole turkey and a turkey breast; he spent all day yesterday cooking -- a pumpkin pie, a banana cream pie, two crusty loaves of bread, one of them rye and one white; corn bread stuffing; turkey neck gravy; I'm making the sweet potato thing with the marshmallows on top today (mr. delagar refuses, b/c it's too low-class), also the grilled asparagus; there will be crudites at the last moment. Uncle Charger is bringing the wine. Uncle Charger is famous for his interesting beers and wines.

Happy TNX, y'all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


mr. delagar came home with an iPod Touch last Friday, which he now refers to as "my penis," as in "come see what my penis can do," and "you aren't admiring my penis enough!"

Given that we are stony-broke, due to the hefty acceleration of gasoline prices, the increase in tuition at the kid's school, and what's been going on with our gas and electic and water bills lately, not to mention the water bills (40% increase in the water bill! The Water Board increased what they're charging by 40% My water bill was $98 last month!), I am not as thrilled by this as I might have been; however, it is a very nice penis.

You can download movies onto it! And music! And surf the net! And get email! Also, download audiobooks, and then later link up to your car stereo and listen while you drive to Tulsa. Is this not so cool? And worth the 300 dollars he claimed it cost? (Which is see from the receipt I found in his jeans pocket while doing the laundry is not precisely true, but oh well. What a penis!)

Fat Girls 2

Re this post of yesterday: see also this, via Bitch PhD.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Watch This

Over here, Ezra has a YouTube Link you need to see.


This is funny

If you can stop saying ow.

(Via Tonks.)

Fat Girls

Or, You're not going to eat that, are you?

Which (the above) got said to me by (a) my father (b) my first serious boyfriend (c) more friends in high school than I can count, about things ranging from bowls of cereal, hamburgers, oatmeal cookies, ice-cream sandwiches, bags of Doritos, boxes of raisins -- and here's the deal: I never was fat. Mind you, I wasn't skinny.

Girls are meant to be skinny: five-feet six, one-hundred and ten pounds, winsome and sweet, that's the goal, if you aren't that in America, well! Does it matter what else you are? I will give you the answer: no, it does not. Brains do not matter. Wit does not matter. Talent? Fuck talent. Slender, sweet, chicletness. That is all.

How clear was this made to me?


Which is why this matters so much to me.

It's yet another study, this one published in JAMA, reporting that being overweight is not, in fact, so bad for you -- and in some circumstances protects you.

The most surprising finding was that being overweight but not obese was associated only with excess mortality from diabetes and kidney disease -- not from cancer or heart disease. Moreover, the researchers found an apparent protective effect against all other causes of death, such as tuberculosis, emphysema, pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease and injuries. An association between excess weight and nearly 16,000 deaths from diabetes and kidney disease was overshadowed by a reduction of as many as 133,000 deaths from all other deaths unrelated to cancer or heart disease. Even moderately obese people appeared less likely to die of those causes.

Why does this matter to me?

Well, because all those folks who are always ragging on young girls, and not so young girls, about how they need to lose that weight, like to pretend it's the girls' health they care about - you're fat! It's a health issue! -- but this is shit, and anyone who listens to the discourse of these folk can see that. It's a class issue, it's a moral issue, it's the patriarchy, it's some form of oppression (which was why that ex-boyfriend of mine was using it to keep me in line) but whatever it is, it is not the girls' health they care about.

Which is why, when these studies showing that it is, in fact, actually healthy to be a bit overweight started showing up, these groups react so rabidly:

It's just rubbish," said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "It's just ludicrous to say there is no increased risk of mortality from being overweight. . . . From a health standpoint, it's definitely undesirable to be overweight."

Or see this: (From our side, I weep to say):

I'm sorry, being fat does NOT make you a minority or victim of discrimination. I'm not saying people don't discriminate against overweight people, but they also discriminate against blondes, bald guys, etc. - calling yourself a minority because you're fat is taking it too far. Unlike your racial status or sexual orientation, you actually CAN control your weight to a very large extent. Yes, genetics plays a part, but most people who are overweight eat too much or exercise too's just a fact. Comparing being fat to being a racial minority demeans the meaning of what it is to be a minority.
How do I know I'm gonna get flamed for saying that?
Posted by: raginfem
November 8, 2007 03:43 PM

I'm not really a pro-weight person (I accept that past a certain level health is affected, and I really think anyone past that point should focus on their health for their own good) but...
children with medical disorders and...parents who overfed their children to the point of diabetes or making them bedridden. I've often thought that continuing to feed someone unhealthy food when they were bedridden from obesity and aren't even able to feed themselves should be considered a crime, a bit like bringing razors to a known cutter just because they asked for them, or inducing vomiting in a bulimic. But any such legislation would have to only apply where there is an obvious, overwhelming issue.
Posted by:
Basiorana November 8, 2007 03:45 PM

Basiorana, show me one incidence of a child being bedridden from obesity, and unable to feed themselves, and their parents continue to stuff them full of junk food. Just one.
Raginfem, if it was possible to change your race or sexual orientation, would that make discriminating against racial minorities and homosexuals suddenly okay? I hate that line of argument, because it totally comes across as: "Well obviously everyone would choose to be a straight white male if they could, but since they can't, it's wrong to insult them."
Posted by: under_zenith
November 8, 2007 03:49 PM

"Is that supposed to be some kind of eugenics program to discourage people who are genetically prone to being overweight from reproducing (or at least living in that state)?"
I'm sorry, but that's an absolutely ridiculous thing to say. In the '70s there were not nearly as many obese children and guess what - those people probably had similar genes to what people today have, even in the same families. Most kids I know who are obese stuff their faces all day with absolute crap and don't exercise. When obesity "runs" in families they've found that shared eating habits contribute just as much if not more to the weight than genetics. I'm guessing if you fed these kids who are "genetically prone to being overweight" healthy food for several weeks and had them play outside for a few hours every day, their excess weight would somehow magically disappear...
Posted by: raginfem

(Others on the thread do go on to settle these two! Yay for us!)

So: diets don't work (there are a billion studies out on that one); and if diets did work, skinny isn't healthy; and if skinny was healthy (which it ain't), being a little overweight ain't so bad and might actually be better (my dad, who is underweight, got pneumonia and lost 12 pounds this winter, hah, how good is that at 69? Ask his doctor!); and what is dangerous, by the way? What? Guess what the studies have shown is really bad for you?


Dieting kills.

Does that crack you up or what?

Also? Guess what makes kids fatter? Telling them they're fat. That makes them feel bad about their bodies, so they hate their bodies, and have bad body images, apparently, and -- hey, get this, start dieting, and get into that binge-eating cycle, and end up fat! Kids who have been told by parents or coaches or doctors that they're fat tend to end up five pounds fatter than kids who get left alone. (Don't ask me where they find kids in America who get left alone on this issue, b/c where those kids would be I would like to know.)

My kid started coming home from school when she was seven asking me if she was fat. (We made a concerted effort never to discuss her weight around her, mr. delagar and I both having had the weight issue visited upon us by our parents.) Apparently, all the girls in her first-grade class were on diets. At six and seven years old!

We don't keep a scale in the house. We don't talk about what anyone weighs. When the kid starts on about whether she's fat, I give the fat is a feminist issue rant, and tell her how diets are used to oppress women, and how she needs to eat to keep her brain working, and how dieting will actually harm her and causes the problems it is meant to solve and how she had better never ever ever diet, did she hear me? Did she?

Also no TV and a deal of hiking and other exercise.

They have hour-long recesses at the Montessori school.

She still starts up with the Am I Fat? questions, though*. It's in the rotten culture. It makes me ill.

*And no, she isn't.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I'm behind a big silver Hummer on the I-540 this morning, and he's got one of those Jesus fish stickers, and he's got one of those kneeling Calvins, piously peering up at a cross (picture Bill Watterson flipping him off), and he's got a red-white-and-blue I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS magnet, with its tail shaped into a tiny cross, and, in case we missed the fucking point, citizens, he's got a giant bumper sticker, not on his bumper, plastered across his cargo door, saying, in big black letters, I PRAY: GET USED TO IT.

From another bumper sticker, I can see he belongs to that fundamentalist mega church I mentioned in the previous post, but this is not my point.

Here is my point: I pray: get used to it?

Because, what?

This is some sort of rebel stance?

I know this is what Christians want to believe, that they are being persecuted in America these days, that they are the victims. That's what this War on Christmas meme of theirs is about, and the revisionist history about the founding fathers, and the fight to get ID taught in the public schools, and all the rest of it.

But please. When someone announces he is a Christian, do we kick the shit out of him in a bar? Do we refuse to employ him at our law firm? Is he not allowed to teach our fifth graders? Coach football?

My point is, the idea that we persecute people for being Christians in this country is a wetdream of the religious right, and one I frankly wish they would confine to the privacy of their own forums.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

O Noes!

The kid is enjoying this 2 much!

Which is good, b/c she keeps getting witnessed to, and it is making me itchy. Her old best friend, who went to the local fundamentalist church, moved to Texas a few years ago; and her best friend after that was not religious (yay!), which is hard to find in these here parts; but that best friend had a mother in Iraq, and when, a few months ago, her mama finally got to come home, the new best friend and the best friend's dad moved, too, to where her mama got stationed, which wasn't here.

So now the kid has another new best friend, and this best friend I like a lot -- she and the kid are very nearly a perfect fit -- except for this religious bit.

The new best friend also goes to the fundamentalist church. (Half of Pork Smith does, it seems to me sometimes.) The new best friend witnesses to the other students, including my kid and the Muslim kids, at recess. My kid knows to get the teachers to tell the best friend to stop, but other students won't, always. And I think sometimes my kid won't, either, because this is her best friend and she won't pick fights.

Now the church is having a membership drive, or whatever the shit it is called, and the new best friend brought invitations to school -- Jesus Invites You to His Party!!1! Food, Fun, Games, Prizes!!

With sparkles.

"Do I have to go?" the Kid asked me.

"Shit, no, you don't have to go." I paused. "Do you want to go?"


"Well, good, because I don't want you to go. What did you tell her?"

"I said my mother was an atheist and my father was Jewish and I'm Jewish and we're not interested in Jesus."

"Good," I said. "Good for you."

"She said that her church said to invite people like me."

"Yes, well, that's their issue. Not ours."

The kid looked doleful.

I sighed. "Look. It's not your friend's fault. Her church is making her do this, they're telling her this stuff. They're allowed to believe what they want. They're not allowed to try to make you believe things. And they certainly shouldn't be making her do it at school. That's wrong."

"I'm sorry," the kid said, even more doleful.

I pulled her in for a hug. "You didn't do anything wrong. You did everything exactly right."

"But I like Caitlin," she said sadly.

"I do, too," I said. "Just let her believe what she wants about religion, and keep telling her you don't want to talk about it. Okay?"

Which -- ai -- if only that worked.

Also, if only we lived somewhere where she wasn't getting slammed over the head by this ten hours a day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


This will cheer us up:

At the ceremony, tears streamed down my face for most of it. One justice of the Illinois supreme court mentioned that in the morning, all around the country, in criminal courts attorneys are presenting and defending against motions to suppress evidence, trying to get the 4th and 5th amendments right. I had to choke back a sob, because getting it right is what I want to try and do.

Read This

Here in the Ozarks, like over there in Kentucky, our students join the Armed Forces -- did and even now some of them still do -- because what else is there? It used to be we had the factories, where a kid from the hill farms could sometimes make a living. Those jobs have gone or are going to Mexico.

So kids joined up, and the Army paid for your university -- well, it was a good enough deal, if a war didn't get you. You took your chances.

All over Fort Smith -- all over the country, after Iraq began, I kept hearing, they knew they were taking that chance when they signed up. Did they think they were getting that college for free?

I kept trying to think how to argue with that, which seemed to me such an obscene thing to say -- that a kid should have to buy his future with his life, or hers, that one kid should, because he happened to be born to poor parents, while another, a block away, because his parents are rich, why, he gets a trip to Yale, and a BMW Hummer, of course he gets his college for free, what do you think this is, socialism? -- I kept thinking, this ain't right.

Well, this ain't right.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Face of the Right

In case you were curious, here is what the right looks like now:



Pro-Domestic Violence.

And big fat liars.

Update: see also this.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


1. Name something you have in common with all your siblings:

All of them? Nothing! With my middle brother, a love of books bordering on mania and a certain contentiousness; with my older brother, a love of rum and a deep paranoia; with my youngest, a fondness for goofy accents and movies – but all of them? We have no characteristic that we all share. Er. We all hate stewed tomatoes – I think.

2. What is the greatest amount of physical pain you have ever endured?

Either the migraines or the time my gall bladder imploded. It’s a toss-up.

3. What number of drinks constitutes your limit?

There’s a limit?

4. Do you fold your underwear?

Underwear folds?

5. Have you fired a gun before?

Yep – shotguns, handguns, rifles. (Hey, this is Arkansas.)

6. What was your favorite childhood toy?

Jimmy. My doll. Shut up.

7. Name a sound that disturbs you?

Birds in the yard, especially crows, but any birds at all, really. God, I hate birds.

8. Name something random that you would never do.

Go on a fucking cruise. Ever. Unless it was around the islands in Greece, and only then because I would get to get off and explore the ruins.

9. Name a person whose diary you would love to read.

Um…Socrates, maybe? OOO, no! Xenophon. He’d be lots more fun.

10. Have you ever had the same dream more than once?


11. Name a song that makes you happy.

“Steve’s Hammer,” by Steve Earle.

13. If you were in an emergency situation and you had to deliver a baby, could you do it?


14. What do you like about being in a committed relationship?

Not having to look for a date every again. God, that’s nice.

15. What do you dislike about being in a committed relationship?

Nothing. The whole deal rocks. Why would anyone ever not want to do this? I’m serious.

16. Name something you have to do tomorrow:

Tomorrow…Friday…we’re going to the bookstore. Yay bookstore!
Oh. Have to do. I have to hold office hours, I guess.

17. Name a movie you are looking forward to watching:

The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It’s on its way from Netflix. I love movies about revolutionaries.

18. Name something you've heard about women that tends to be true:

Oh please.

19. Do you own an iPod?

Yep. It’s blue. I love it.

21. Do any of your friends have children?

Nearly all of my friends have children, I think. No, that’s not true…

22. What CD is currently in your CD player?

What’s a CD player?

23. Do you prefer regular or chocolate milk?

I only drink milk if there’s lots of coffee in it.

29. What movie do you know every line to?

True Grit

30. Where was your last vacation?

What’s a vacation?

32. Are you currently wanting any piercings or tattoos?

I want to pierce my eyebrow. (No, not really!)

35. When was the last time you slept on the floor?

When I visited my parents last.

39. Do you watch the news?

What’s the news? Is that something non-bloggers do?

40. Do you feel alone?

I like alone.

I tag Tonks, Mouse, and Sugared Harpy

Cool Links

So since I'm too behind to do actual blogging (see previous post) here are some cool links for you.

This is Heifer International, which maybe you have heard of, only if you haven't, it's my favorite right now. The kid and I are buying bees and rabbits and chickens and goats. We can't buy pigs because they aren't kosher and other animals she is afraid would get eaten. (I'm not telling her about the chickens and you don't either.) Here's the actual gift page. I found this through a blog a long time ago when I was a brand-new blogger, but once you send someone anything, they'll send you catalogs forever.

Here is Poetry 180, which I just discovered yesterday, via Language Log -- it's a site built by Billy Collins, meant to introduce hS kids to poetry, but I've been having fun with it myself.

And here, you have to visit. I found it looking for links for my HEL class -- it's a site that has recorded 671 sound samples of various British dialects. (Paul the Rat Catcher in London is my hands-down favorite so far.)

And, just for fun: comics! Here, here, here!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Where Have I Been?

(1) Shoulder Injury: Plus great drugs. Need I say more?

(2) That point in the semester. Much grading, many drafts coming in.

(3) My computer had ailments -- well, not my computer per se. My mouse. I have me an Apple at home, you see, and the mouse went wonky, and in Pork Smith, where I abide, a mouse for an Apple is not a thing one can stroll out and buy. Nope. You either have to drive fifty miles to Fayetteville, which I was not in the mood to do, or order the pup online and have it shipped in, waiting a week for it, or paying a ton for next-day or second-day shipping. Yikes. (I picked door number three, and waited three days.)

(4) Family in town and a couple of parties have eaten up any spare time I might have had.

Result: I have missed everything. I didn't know about the writers' strike. Missed the gender/Clinton issue. Missed about six goofy things Huckabee said. I'm totally behind. But I did do a lot of reading -- I finished Kage Baker's new book, ripped through The Last Days of Summer, and started Rough Music, not to mention rereading Middlemarch and Dracula for the Vic Lit class;also, I've got Richard Russo's new book in the stack (yay!).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

War On Halloween

It's Halloween in Arkansas!

But of course we can't celebrate it...not in the schools, anyway: because it's Satan's holiday.

Never mind that at least half of our students aren't fundamentalist Christians and thus do not believe this ahistoric nonsense (that Halloween began as devil worship): still, my child (an Ashkenazi Jew) is kept from her heritage (her civil right! as an American Citizen!) to wear a Halloween costume to school, and to march in a Halloween parade! And throw candy!

Further, the fundamentalist students wore Bible shirts to school and made her feel sad, telling her if she went out dressed in her sword-fighting princess costume, she was doing the devil's work, and would burn in hell for all eternity. Imagine the psycological damage she might have suffered!

Some of these kids also invited the kid to skip trick-or-treating. Come to our church, they wheedled. We'll have games! Prizes! Candy! It's a harvest festival! With Jesus!

Further, it's not just the Christian whacks that are wrecking the holiday -- here in Pork Smith, we've set up a signal system: if you're going to participate in the holiday, you decorate your house, put out a lit jack-o-lantern, and turn on your porch light. Then the kids come to your door. It works all right.


Some parents -- oddly enough, mostly parents who drive SUVs -- don't want little Conner and Meredith to have to walk from door to door. No! Conner and Meredith might get tired! Conner and Meredith can't walk a whole mile in the dark!

So these parents drive Conner and Meredith from block to block, in their giant stinking gleaming Hummers and SUVs -- this is on the same street, mind you, where my kid and dozens of other kids are dashing about from house to house, back and forth across streets, and some of these kids are as young as two and a half. Conner's daddy can't see little Mick (who was a fierce little pirate last night, may I add) from behind the wheel of his SUV, even if Conner's daddy was looking, which I bet he wasn't.)

Also, look over here, on Unfogged, for another morphing of the holiday.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stupid Lies, And Why They Matter

Over here is an article that makes steam shoot from my ears.

You've heard or read about the claims Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett discuss (by which I mean, debunk wholly) in this article: boys are hardwired differently than girls; boys have different brains that girls, so we need to educate boys in some different way than we do girls, boys are good at math and science, girls like words and, you know, fuzzy stuff, like, well, housekeeping, and nursing, and taking care of the little ones, and all that shit we don't actually pay much for.

Half a dozen or really, what is it now, dozens? of writers and pseudo-scientests have been happy to crank out books in the past few years claiming to provide scientific evidence that the male brain is, indeed, in fact, really different from the female brain. Honest!

But their scientific-sounding lingo turns out to be not especially rigorous. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002 found there were no gender differences in the size of the corpus callosum, and recent studies using MRI images agree. Sax's argument that "boys have a brain-based advantage when it comes to learning math" is based on a very small study in which 19 participants looked either at faces or at a small white circle, while the blood flow in their brains was measured by an MRI. The data from the study, however, found so much variation among individuals that it would be meaningless to draw bigger conclusions about boys or girls as a group.

The SAT scores themselves are misleading as well. Though boys outnumber girls among top scorers, they also outnumber girls among the lowest scorers. The average score is nearly identical. And major new research finds that the gap at the top end is narrowing each year.
It's also not clear what very high SAT scores mean in practical terms. An exhaustive 2006 review of major studies, funded by the National Academy of Sciences, indicates no relationship between scoring in the upper tier of ability and eventual success in math or science careers.

Despite these findings, and others that disprove every one of these "studies" (most aren't studies at all; most are wishful thinking dressed up like studies), what's happening, here in the real world?

South Carolina, for instance, aims to have sex-segregated classrooms available in public schools for all children in five years, and gender difference theories are starting to drive curriculum. Teachers are allowing girls to evaluate cosmetics for science projects and assigning action novels for boys to read.

Gurian [one of these tools] has exploited his ideas with great success as an educational consultant, claiming to have trained 30,000 teachers in 1,500 schools. Sax [another one] runs a lobbying group for more single-sex public schools. When we gave a speech at a national teachers meeting, one private-school teacher in the audience stood up to say that his headmaster was revamping the entire curriculum based on Sax's theories of gender difference.

Which are the main aims this sort is after -- changing the curriculum to fit their agenda; and moving to sexual segregation in the schools.

Why would they want these things? Well, take a look at their funding, and who is behind them: right-wing thinktanks, mainly. It's the right-wing and fundamentalists who supoort them. No shock that S. Carolina is embracing them. We'll get sexually segregated classrooms, and do you suppose these will be separate but equal? Do you think girls will be taught math with the same rigor and determination as the boys? Or do you reckon we'll get told that girls can't handle and don't like math anyway, and so they'll just study more poetry instead? And home ec, because that's what girls like anyway, see, and here's studies to prove it?

And, in twenty years, when girls can't get into medical school or become engineers, it will be because, well, they can't do the math. Not the university's fault that's so, is it?

Besides! Girls don't want to be engineers! Girls like taking care of babies! And being wives! Everyone knows that!

Monday, October 29, 2007

How We Die

Hey, y'all, I'm back --

I've been suffering from blackboard shoulder -- anyway, that's my diagnosis. Week before last, my right shoulder started hurting like the dickens, as we say in these here parts, and it kept on hurting worse. Muscles, not the joints, and by Tuesday it was hurting badly enough that I gave in and called my PCP (which I never do and especially not now, given that she's out on maternity leave, meaning I won't get her, I'll get the other guy, who I cannot STAND) and anyway I couldn't get even the other guy, the clinic was too booked up. Go see the doc-in-the-box, they advised me.

Yeah, nothing wrong our health care system.

Well, I was not going to the doc-in-the-box, excuse me, urgent care center at five in the afternoon, since I knew that meant I would be there until eight or nine at night. I waited and went at seven the next morning, which put me second in line (eleven other people were waiting at seven a.m. as well), which meant I was out of the clinic by 8:30, yay, and the doc there told me I had hurt my shoulder "somehow" (No! Ya think?) and that I should take these drugs and the week off.

Good drugs, at least. They helped some.

Anyway, that's where I have been -- zoned out -- and that's why I'm going to steal a link from Unfogged instead of writing a post for you on my own.

It's a cool link, though -- about how Americans die. What I like best is the homicide rate. Look how it rises and falls and then disappears. After 45, it's negligible, apparently. And look at the accidental death rate -- your chances of getting killed through "unintentional injury," that is, by accident, are higher than any other cause of death right up through age 44. Crossing the street or getting into a car or slipping in the tub -- that's what does us in. But what are we worried about? Murderers and pesticides.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yep, Them Founding Fathers, It's Amazing

As The Other Liberal Professor can attest, Huckabee's ignorance here is no shock to any of us here in Arkansas.

We always have to do this interesting tug-of-war with our Far-Right Christian students, here in Arkansas, when we start teaching the first half of American Lit (TOLP teaches it more often than I do, and so endures this dance more often than I). When we hit the part of the course that deals with the literature written by Benjamin Franklin and the other Founders, we have to point out that no, in fact, many of them were not Christians, that, in fact, many were Deists. We have to say what that means. We have to talk about the text of the Declaration and the Constitution as Enlightenment texts. We have to talk about what this means.

We provide evidence.

Many of our students, not having been educated in far-right Christian schools, can understand evidence. They have no trouble with any of this.

Those who come from the local fundamentalist education factories, though -- ai. They've been taught the funamentalist version of history. No fact we present will interfere with what they know to be Truth.

And our facts? Well, they're just opinions.

"You're entitled to your opinion," one of these students kept telling TOLP, one semester.

B/c, you know, all those university professors, who had done all that research, and written their historical texts about the founders? Just guys with opinions. Her preacher? He had the truth.

So we can just shut up.

Monday, October 22, 2007

That Thing We Wrote Finale!!

Hey, Look!

The Kid and I won the Shady Glade Summer Writing Challenge with that thing we wrote.

Needless to say, we're very happy!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bad Week

So here's what has been happening here:

(1) This giant weather front has been bouncing its way across OK/AR and the related areas for, I swear, a solid week -- I think it might actually be about three fronts, one right after the next, who knows -- in any case, all of us who get migraines have had migraines; all of us who suffer from insomnia have had insomnia; all of us whose bones ache at the change of weather, well, it's been rotten. Half my students were missing, and me, I had, I kid you not, a seven day migraine. *None* of my usual meds worked. It truly sucked.

(2) On day five of the wicked migraine, a trooper lying in wait at the interstate off-ramp pulled me over and wondered if I realized my tags had expired last December. "Well, no," I admitted. On the other hand, I was hardly shocked by the news, tags and such not being very high up on my list of things to keep up with. Dude wrote me a ticket. It was a fair cop, so I can't even feel aggrieved.

(3) One of my pet students lost her financial aid. She's going to take two extra jobs to try to finish up -- how she'll study while she does this, that's a fine question. Also, she's not at all sure she can finish: working that much and going to school is no sure thing. But she can't pay tuition any other way. Well, loans -- sure! Take out thousands in student loans, and hope to get a job that will let you pay back those loans? Or here's another idea: drive over the border to Oklahoma and some bingo. Life's a gamble, after all.

(4) About a fourth of my grammar class still can't get phrases. "How do you know that's a gerund phrase?" one asked today, frowning at the sentence I had written on the board. "I can't see why it's not an infintive phrase." What am I doing wrong here?

(5) Ants! We've got ants! Again with the ants!

(6) My little Kafka scholar has taken to drawing Kafka comic strips. For instance: Two giant bugs standing at the foot of a bed staring at each other. One bug says to the other, "Well, now do you think Kafka is realistic?"

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

George III

You remember that story awhile ago, a grad student out of McMaster University did some research and discovered that guys like women who laugh at their jokes, and women like funny guys better. D'oh, we all said, and guess what -- water is wet and the sky is blue.

See, and I thought, first, who needed that research done? And second, what tool could fail to see what's happening there? Guys want women to like them when they're funny, so women get socialized into liking funny guys -- women don't make jokes around or about men, obviously, since men don't generally take it well when we do. It's a power issue, dude. (Do I need to mention that the graduate student doing the research was a guy-type?)

Well, look here what Bush has done.

The World Health Organization recently, you'll remember, said it did not matter whether abortion was legally available in a country or not -- rates of abortion were about the same. Also, they say, the best way to reduce the rate of abortion is not to restrict access to abortion, but to make contraception available.


So. What does that tool Bush do in response?

Appoints a woman who is opposed to contraception to head the federal government's family planning office.

The Department of Health and Human Services appointed Susan Orr — who has spoken out against contraception — to a post responsible for U.S. contraception programs.

This is more than just bizarre -- Susan Orr headed the Family Research Council.

It's like, shit, a pro-slavery person in charge of the Abolitionist arm of your government.

More than just stupid, I'm saying. It's fucking enemy action.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stuff and Book Reviews

It's blog action day, apparently, but I am suffering from the 4th day of a 3-day migraine and in no mood, so there will be no action here today, do you hear? No Action!

Also, I spent the hours I was not sulking under a fierce migraine this weekend, or dealing with the kid's Kafka-induced minor breakdown (why can't I have a kid who is afraid of things under the bed again, someone remind me?) reading Mack Reynold's Lagrange Five, which came in the mail for me from Paperback Swap on Thursday.

I love Paperback swap, which lets me get books in the mail nearly every day these days (it's the only thing I would rather find than money in the mail, books in the mail) and I had been looking for this one, Lagrange Five, for awhile, since it was on China Mieville's list of SF books that every socialist should read, so I sat right down (well, okay, lay right down, I read best lying on my back under my blue quilt) and read it, and my shit did it annoy me.

Not the socialist bit. I liked all the socialist bits. The eugenics bits. The social Darwinists bits. The absolute and openly fuck the lame and the poor bits, because what are they? Losers and trash! bits. One place in the novel right out says that -- the "sparklingly" brilliant and healthy Lagrangists don't want to "burden" their society with the defective genetic trash down on earth -- you know, those losers with asthma, those fuckups with IQs of 123, those scum with anxiety issues or diabetes or the filthy bad sense to be born to poor parents.

These apparently brilliant socialists who have never heard of or read any socialism, by the way. What are they doing with their sharp wits and enormous IQs, I would like to know? Arguing with one another about who is smartest? Not reading any philosophy or ethics, that's apparent.

And then there's the bit where his white male heroes take on the real racist of the book, the black guy - he's the true racist, see, because he's the one who hates people for the color of their skin, the white guys being the ones who are above all that, they just judge people by their acts! -- Our White Heroes, who as the book shows have taken up the White Man's Burden (I kid you not, Reynolds quotes from the poem), prove, by the end of the text, to the black guy, whose name, I also kid you not, is Whip, not only that he is the true racist, but that he should change his ways and think as they think, and -- what else! -- he thanks them for the lesson. Wise black fella!

This book has one woman in it. She is a Brilliant Woman Physicist who acts as a secretary to the Brilliant (white male) scientist, and is actually in the story just to have sex with our white male hero, and to prove that women really really aren't being discriminated against. The only other woman, aside from nurses and that, we see is an "oriental" who is in the colony for "entertainment" purposes. Ho! And, of course, both woman are beautiful. And skinny!

This book was written in the 70s. Do you reckon much has changed in mainstream male SF?

Sunday, October 14, 2007


So Friday afternoon mr. delagar buys a graphic novel life and works of Kafka.

Guess who spends Saturday afternoon reading it? And then has a Kafka-related nervous breakdown?

I didn't realize what she was reading until way too late, either. Came into the living room to find her curled in a knot on the white chair, deep into The Hunger Artist, a fierce line between her eyes.

"Good shit," I said, started. "What are you reading?"

"What's the panther mean?" she asked. "He's a metaphor, right?"

"Uh," I said. "Right."

"Did you read this other one?" she demanded. "The Penal Colony one?" She mispronounced penal colony. "About the machine? Why did the guy do that?"

"It's another metaphor...why are you reading Kafka?"

"He's in Pearls Before Swine. I wanted to know about him. Now I'm going to have Kafka dreams," she added, worriedly, rubbing her forehead.

"Boy, are you," I said. I was 23 when I read Kafa for the first time, and he made me nuts for a week. "Don't you want to read Farmer Boy? He...goes to the State Fair. Wins a blue ribbon for his pumpkin. And...shears some sheep. You like sheep."

"No. I like this."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Weather, Gore

The Wingers are in a predictable snit over Gore winning the N.P.P., which might be amusing to read about on their blogs if it wasn't so predictable. They're still making the same dull jokes about global warming -- haw, haw, Al Bore made his speech about global warming in the middle of a blizzard, haw! -- and of course the peace prize is ALL POLITICAL!!1!

Meanwhile, here in AR it's the middle of October and the heat of summer has only just -- two days ago -- broken. Up until two days ago, we were still breaking 90 every single day, running the AC night and day. Now, finally, we're in the 70s during the day, and getting below 60 at night. Last month I had another power bill that was nearly $300 as a consequence.

Yeah, nothing to this climate change deal.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Universal Healthcare -- It ain't Evil

Krugman gets it right here:

We offer free education, and don’t worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don’t need, because that’s the only way to ensure that every child gets an education — and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.


The great majority of Americans believe that everyone is entitled to a chance to make the most of his or her life. Even conservatives usually claim to believe that. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw, the former chairman of the Bush Council of Economic Advisers, contrasts the position of liberals, who he says believe in equality of outcomes, with that of conservatives, who he says believe that the goal of policy should be “to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly.”

But a child who doesn’t receive adequate health care, like a child who doesn’t receive an adequate education, doesn’t have the same shot — he or she doesn’t have the same chances in life as children who get both these things.

I have students in my class, here in Fort Smith -- these are 18 and 19 year old students, 22 year old students, 25 year old students -- who can't see the board, who haven't been to a dentist in years, who can't go to a doctor in the winter when they get sick, who can't even afford the Wal-Mart eye-guys, because they haven't got insurance, because it takes every cent of their tiny paychecks to pay their tuition and fill their gas tanks. Do you think they're doing as well on their algebra exams as someone who can see the board? Do you think they're doing as well with their praxis exams as someone whose teeth aren't rotting away?

Do you think this matters? Well, who do you think is going to be teaching your fifth graders in six years? Or mixing your prescriptions, for that matter?

We need universal healthcare because it just makes sense. Why anyone would think we don't, that's what mystifies me, at this point.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Help Me, Jesus

Go read this idiot.

A sample:

No one I know uses food banks. No one THEY know uses food banks. It is a common feature of human nature to think that invisible "other people" must be suffering even though my neighbours and I are pretty much cool. The people I've heard about who do spend all their government cheque money on beer then go to the food bank, or dress up as poor people to scam the Daily Bread.

That's why I don't care about the poor. They're no more real than Bigfoot. Those we and these lefty Christians call "poor" are "poor" because they've made a series of stupid choices; spend all their (actually, my) money on lottery tickets, beer, tattoos and manicures; are suffering from undiagnosed but easily treated mental illnesses; had too many kids too young; smoked behind the gym while I spent recess in the library, etc etc etc.


Here's John Mellencamp's reaction to the events in Jena.

(Hat tip to The Other Liberal Professor.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

There's where I made my mistake...

(From Overheard in New York):
I Can Hear Fame Tapping at My Chamber Door

Gym rat: So, don't tell a lot of people, but, um, I write poetry.
Friend: Oh, yeah? Since when?
Gym rat: Since we was in English Lit. That Edgar Allen Poe guy -- man, he really expired me to be a writer. I got lots to say.
Friend: That's cool.
Gym rat: I just hope it's easy to get published and shit.
Friend: Should be, should be.
Gym rat: Or maybe I should just go on Def Poetry Jam. Anyone can do that shit.

Overheard at 44th & Park

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Grammar Issues

This one is for The Other Liberal Professor.

(You might have to scroll up -- Link was loading funny when I tried it.)

That Thing We Wrote

So over at the Shady Grove it's time to vote on the contest entries -- go here to see the deal. You can get entered to win a prize just by voting, apparently. How cool is that? Also, you will make the kid happy if you just read our entry and tell her something about it. (Not that she's ego involved or anything!)

So check it out, will you?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Still Sick

I have lost my voice, always a problem for a professor who talks as much as I do. How I will profess today I do not know.

I'm also running a nasty fever, and coughing this spectacular cough. I sound like a TB victim. This is perfect for Victorian Lit, which I am teaching today, except for the not being able to talk bit.

Anyway, here is a comic I found deeply amusing, in lieu of anything with more depth.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Reading Middlemarch With the Plague

Been sick as a dog the last few days -- nothing serious, some sort of body-aches/upper respiratory gizmo that had me bunked and moaning for about 40 hours, miserable and grumpy.

This has left me unable to do anything but read all weekend -- that's when I felt well enough to read -- I couldn't even write, which you know I'm sick if I can't make it to the computer for my daily three or four hours at the screen; all I did was read Middlemarch and sleep.

Yes! It's Middlemarch season again. This is such a fine book. Even when you're running a fever of 103 and hallucinating a bit (i kept hearing people singing and alarm bells going off yesterday) or maybe especially when you're hallucinating a bit, how do I know, but this time, my sixth or seventh time through the book, I'm seeing things I never did before -- well, for instance, I knew that "the web" was a huge metaphor Eliot was working with, but not until this time did I see how thoroughly it works. Everything anyone does in that book connects to and effects the actions of a dozen other characters, usually in ways those other characters *never* see or understand, and often with immense (and sometimes tragic) effects.

Way back when Bulstrode does not tell his "rich widow" that he's found Sarah Dunkirk, for instance, her long-lost daughter -- look what far-ranging effects that one action has, on not just Sarah, but on Will Ladislaw, her son, obviously; and on Casaubon and Dorothea's marriage, which, if Casaubon had not been supporting Will, as he was, would not have taken the turn it did; and on Lydgate, the trouble he gets into, which he would not have, had Bulstrode not been trying to hide his wicked ways; and on Dorothea, since if Will had not been around, why, she would not have fallen for his pretty eyes and impetous temper; and on Rosamund, since the destruction of Lydgate is her destruction as well, though she never knows or recognizes that.

None of them, except Will and Bulstrode, know anything about what happened with Sarah Dunkirk, and WIll knows very little; but it shapes all their lives. This, as we can tell from that last paragraph, is Eliot's point. We're an interactive web. You think your actions effect you alone? Well, they don't. And they don't stop effecting the world, maybe forever, and in ways you may never understand.

This is such a brilliant book. Why did they make me read The Scarlet Letter in high school, will someone tell me, when this was available?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Also? EW.

The kid has been hanging out in my office Tuesday afternoons before she goes to her drama class -- Tuesdays are a nightmare now, since she goes from school to drama class to aikido, so that she's in school to some class from seven-forty in the morning until seven at night -- anyway, she's in my office from 3.10-3.40, her only break, looking at my computer, and she says, scanning my favorites button, "What's this mean? Lunatic Right Wing Blogs?"

"Just what it says," I say. "Those are the lunatic right wing blogs I read every day, just to keep up on what the Right Wing is thinking about."

"Why do you think they're lunatics?"

"Well, let's have a look, will we?"

So we did. And this is what came up.

Also others like it.

My poor child. She might never be the same.