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.