Friday, December 31, 2004

We are very happy together.

I tend to find fortune cookies disappointing. More often than actually telling me my fortune, they attempt to describe my personality, or offer advice. "You have many friends," they say. "You are too hesitant." They tend to be positive, but all too often acknowledge my more bland tendencies. “"ou are happy with what you have."

Or else they offer a supposedly helpful maxim, like the one I got in graduate school: "Beware of the man offering impossible things." Too true, fortune cookie. If only I had read you sooner. I keep waiting for the "Good fences make good neighbors" cookie.

Of course I have better luck--or perhaps fortune--than certain people, who have on more than one occasion opened an empty cookie.

But once, just once, I would like the little cookie to give me a fortune, a prediction, something to look forward to, something to worry about.

Recently, when the aforementioned fortune-free friend opened yet another empty cookie, I got a truly scary fortune cookie. This was not the kind of scared you are supposed to feel of the Bad Cookie, which prides itself on the poor fortune it offers. Bad Cookie makes such comma-splicing predictions as, "Don’t be hasty, tragedy will knock down your door soon." The more superstitious are spooked by that; the cynical will snickeringly click for another fortune. "You will soon be drowning in the great waters" or "A friend is a present you can buy yourself." Heh, heh, little cookie. That was a good one.

But not actually scary, not like my fortune was scary. I cracked my delicious vanilla-scented cookie open to find, "We are very happy together," preceded and followed by little smiley faces.

Who is this "we," I immediately asked? Yes, I was very happy to have been eating good Chinese food, something I cannot do in my small southern subsubsubsubsuburban setting. I was even more happy to be eating lunch with two friends who I cannot seem to see often enough.

The thing is, I did not believe that the we of the cookie was the we of the lunch. There was someone in the cookie intruding their we onto ours, someone I had not been aware of, who seemed to be very aware of me, happy to be with me. Very happy.

The little smiley faces made it worse. Do not worry, the fortune cookie person says: you should be smiling. We are very happy together.

Well, cookie, I am not smiling. I am hopelessly freaked out, and at every turn I look to see where you are now. Are you the guy sitting in the row of flight-waiting chairs in the airport or was that you lugging too many suitcases through the security line? Are you the couple who walk laps around my neighborhood every morning? Are you the woman at the grocery store who cannot imagine that someone else might need to move a cart through the aisle, or the befuddled man, comparing what is written on his list with what he sees on the shelf. The telemarketer calling to request a donation? Or the woman in the locker room who seems betrayed by her ageing body? Or the student walking between classes on his cellphone, stepping off the sidewalk as if the traffic were the Red Sea? Because if so, you have me fooled: you never look happy out there. None of you do.

I suppose you are more wily than this, cookie person, more aware but less noticed. Are you the one who sneaks in comments of self-doubt around my happy occasions? Who suggests that I am not working hard enough? Says that the dish could have done with a little less salt? That I should have gone out for a run?

If we are happy, cookie person, you could start noting that I could stand a break here or there, that the chapter I wrote is not bad, actually, and that people will think this stuff is important. You could say that I have worked enough for one day, and should go listen to some music, or read a few more chapters in my novel. Or you could point out that the chorizo with sherry and rosemary that I am making for the first time and for guests really smells amazing, and that since there is so much food without red meat it is OK to make this one dish even though two of my guests will not be able to eat it. You could tell me that my hair is looking pretty good, and that my dumpy sweater does not have to be glamorous.

Cookie person, we really could be happy together, you and I. We could be very happy together.

Putting the P back in Xmas

As I noted before I blew out for the great old city of Philadelphia, bkmarcus is working on a strand about putting the X back in Xmas, and now (well, now in the vaguely outdated world of me, who has just returned to the ether from all too embodied world of the MLA) he has a post with words from Father Jim Tucker about the origins of the X. Good stuff therein.

All of which brought immediately to mind this beautiful XP (that's chi rho, but may be Greek to you as it is to me) page from the Book of Kells:

I remember gazing at a gazillion-times-enlarged projected slide of that page in college art history class. Seeing it little on the computer screen does not compare. Now I am thinking about how the ingenious illuminator combined the chi and rho in that image: they are not just superimposed as in some later combinations, but rather one and the same, different wigglings of the each other. It's a shame that rho is now invisible in Xmas, as if just because it can get absorbed in the chi it can be forgotten. Or maybe the rho prefers it that way, getting to come along for the ride without getting too much press.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Insomniac Meanderings

Great. It is now 4:36 EST, which means I have been awake for 2 hours, having before that slept for about three and a half. Then I read in bed for a while, tried to convince myself I was tired again, lay awake for a while, thought about whether it really is true that after so many years your pillow is 75% dustmites, thought about trying not to forget to tuck Clif Bars in my suitcase, thought about how I did this last night too. Etc.

So I got up and visited with the kitten, who has now gone back to sleep.

Now I have read everybody's new blog posts. I enjoyed Jarrett's new Asheville pix--a number of sites I recognized, though I had never seen his very own printing press. I am still waiting to learn what's wrong with not writing, though I should also note Brumaire has some of the loveliest digressions going. If you are still reflecting on your own holidays, consider bkmarcus's reasons for celebrating Christmas however you see fit. Tony has a compelling list--and I'm glad to see that he responds to student evaluations pretty much the same way I do.

Not to mention that David Rees's Christmas list looked a lot like mine.

Too much rich food and/or wine? Not enough swimming? Thinking about travel and giving a stupid paper? Too warm in the house? Too much vacation?

Alarm goes off in an hour and a half.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Surly Chef

I learned from my parents, devotees of the Food Channel, that there has been some kind of contest on there where you submit a video so you can get your very own cooking show.

Mine would be The Surly Chef.

The Surly Chef has big plans. She likes to cook for friends and make elegant weeknight meals. She loves her kitchen and cooking makes her feel like a contributor.

Alas, the Surly Chef's kitchen is not like those you see on the Food Channel. It sports a normal-size refrigerator, and removing ingredients from it requires squatting down and digging through the things at the front. Also, opening the freezer usually means that the ice cream falls out before she can get the ziploc baggie of pecans that she has stashed there for future use. When she is looking for a pan in the cupboard, a chunk of monologue is lost beneath the clatter from the tower of collapsing pans. Then occasionally she has to scrape off the little crusted bits of food that escaped the dishwasher's eye. The Surly Chef must sometimes explain that the burning smell comes not from the baking food but from the crap on the bottom of the oven, from last week's show. And frequently she will find that she lacks the appropriate piece of kitchen equipment, so she and her fearless assistant must construct a substitute for, say, a roasting rack using a large baking pan and an inverted muffin tin.

The Surly Chef would drop things and occasionally, or while delivering a wise and insightful explanation of some cooking method or another, chop off a tiny bit of a finger. Profanity ensues.

The Surly Chef cannot get specialty ingredients, so she offers tips for making do with the grocery store you have. The problem is that she usually forgets something, so every two-three shows, her fearless assistant must make an emergency run for sour cream or more dill seed. Sometimes she will find that despite her best intentions, her green onions or arugula has wilted, her cheese gone moldy.

Plus while the Surly Chef is demonstrating a very complicated stage of a cooking process, someone wanders in to get a fresh cup of coffee or make a sandwich.

And when the Surly Chef tries to present a 30-minute meals episode, she doesn't quite make it in time, with the result that at the show's end, the squash is still too solid on the inside and the roast is going to need a few more minutes.

And sometimes on the show, the dish just won't turn out.

But we have already started filming, and I can promise you an exciting first season. Until then, I remind you that Jarrett pointed out that vacation means never having to say "sorry for not blogging." And I wish you and yours a merry vacation of your own, wherever it takes you and whatever family melodrama ensues.

Me? I'll be at the MLA, which, I'm sad to say, is not short for Major League Archery, whose competition I would vastly prefer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I don't even know where to begin

but I would very much like to know what the Secret Service guys are saying to one another.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bizarro Food

I am clearly not competent enough to handle the supermarket.

You have all read my sad tale of the low-carb pasta. Well, the Unsuspecting Shopper was thwarted again. I wanted to get a nice dessert for dinner last night, since my partner is traveling for work for several days starting today, and I expect it is going to be a frustrating project. So I'm looking looking looking for something that is tasty and fun but not so enormous that even I cannot polish it off on my own.

So I found a nice cake. Really, nice in all respects: petite size, layer-cake, chocolate buttercreme frosting, little icing flower wingdings on the top.


Except when I got home it turns out it is sugar-free.

Sugar-free? It is a CAKE, for god's sake. Just after I realized this, and was cussing in my kitchen, my father called, and he got to hear my rant.

Rule 1. People not eating sugar should either not eat cake or else make it themselves.

Rule 2. Pasta is made of carbs. If you don't want carbs, eat something else.

Rule 3. Other people's trips to the store should not be laden with landmines of bizarro food, marketing strategies to tap into everybody's insecurities.

My father was very patient, laughed at my bitter tale of deceit, and then gave me the best advice anyone could have: Have a glass of wine.

I did, and upon further, calm reflection realized that of course the unspoken rule here is

Rule 4. I should learn to read the damned labels.

Because sure enough, "Sugar-Free" was written right there on the label, in nice frilly seemingly-made-of-icing pink lettering, and should have been OBVIOUS.

Consider yourself warned, Friends. It is a jungle in there. Highly refrigerated, pasteurized, and likely laden with preservatives, but a jungle nonetheless.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Country Mouse Reflects

Yesterday it was such a relief to drive home, into the country here in the Upstate, SC. I was even happy to see the dumb fireworks stores at my exit of I-85, that mostly cater to people from Georgia.

There are certain cities I just could not live in. I bet you know the ones I mean, that were all designed--or redesigned--post-automobile, such that there is no pedestrian parts, unless you count the parts that either shut down at night because no one lives in the city anymore, or the parts where, sure, you can walk, if you don't mind slogging across a dozen or so parking lots. These are the ones where country mice like me fucking freak out, because there are (I am not kidding) 10 lanes on the highway and they are all completely full of cars driving 80, and then braking to 20, and then semis pulling in front of you, or else you are boxed in between two of them and one of them puts on their blinker (for a change) to indicate they are coming into your lane, into you.

These are the places that people apparently love to live so much that they are willing to live in suburbs that require an hour plus drive to get to work--not to mention traffic that should drive them to drink. And these are the cities where there is public transportation that no one uses, and I guess even if you wanted to it wouldn't take you close enough to where you needed to get in order to eliminate the need for your stupid car.

Plus everyone there drives an SUV--some of which have pearled paint jobs--so you can't see anything when you're driving at 80, because if it isn't a semi in front of you it is a damned SUV.

(Though as a side note, I must record that I saw a Hummer with a Kerry/Edwards sticker on the back. Assuming it was not a joke--which I still kind of believe it was--then this is seriously a demographic that the Democrats need to get a handle on. And then maybe throttle. I mean, it is not completely impossible to imagine a Volvo with a W sticker on it, although we probably all laugh when we see one, but is it possible for one mind to own that Hummer and that sticker? And do you, my dear reader, believe at this moment that I am lying to you because it is simply not possible to have a Hummer with a Kerry/Edwards sticker on it? I am not lying!)

And even in the suburb (houses starting in the 700s!), all you see around you are chain stores--the same chain stores I see in the smallish city that is not too far from my humble abode. Is this progress? Is this "city living"? You can find Bed, Bath and Beyond (but not too far) right near the Macaroni Grille: now THAT is living!

Sometimes country mice like me wish they lived in a city. Sometimes we want, just once, to go out for Indian food, or find a leftist bookstore, or even window shop in a store that sells funky things I do not need for my house but that allow me to imagine a much more funky and urban life for myself than I have. Or decent shoes, without mail order. Being able to say, "I'd like to try this on." Or maybe once in a while I could go into a store and try several kinds of cheese I've never heard of and then buy one.

But what passes for cities in these parts depresses me, and I am happy to gradually drift out of the throng of traffic, watching lane after lane peel away, until we are down to just two going the way I'm going, and then tick away the miles until I am back in my own personal little backwards red state, and looking around my car I can hardly see anybody else. Sure, it smells like chicken shit right there at the exit, on account of the jumbo chicken farm off to the left, and sure, nobody seems to bother to take their broken-down tractor to the dump when it can rust just fine there in the field. But boy did it feel good to spend my entire day here in the house, nursing the stupid cold I seem to have acquired, away from traffic and gargantuan stores, and six-lane roads, and the cookie-cutter brick boxes, backing up on the highway. Blue-staters like to express their horror at middle America--the uneducated part that has too many kids and aw shucks just can't understand them gays. But this, dear reader, is the scary part: the desire for a life just like in catalogues, the hunger for chain-produced meals that taste the same nationwide, the willingness to buy buy buy what we are told to buy, the belief that oh goodie, we just got a Carrabba's restaurant--now we can eat something new. Now that we have a Walgreens, and Eckerd, and a CVS we can finally have some shopping choices!

As for me--no thanks. I'll take my little house in my little neighborhood, not to far from the little university with its little library and only pizza restaurants and a surprising number of sushi restaurants, if only because for now, maybe only for another year or two, we have not completely been swallowed up by the sprawl.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Southern Slavery, "As It Was"

Ojimi pointed me to this, from Killing Goliath:
Happy Darkies Singing in the Fields
Dec 10, 2004
Smack dab in the middle of NC's Research Triangle, the showplace of the New South, Cary Christian School is teaching 9th grade history out of "Southern Slavery, As It Was," which includes the following completely unbiased historical truths:
"Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care."
"Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence."
"There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world."
Just by coincidence, one of the text's authors is on the Board of Directors of the League of the South. Props to Atrios. — RC

The N&O article that Killing Goliath references also notes
Principal Larry Stephenson said the school is only exposing students to different ideas, such as how the South justified slavery. He said the booklet is used because it is hard to find writings that are both sympathetic to the South and explore what the Bible says about slavery.
"You can have two different sides, a Northern perspective and a Southern perspective," he said.

And later,
"As a classical Christian school, we think it's important for our students to be able to think and not be slanted to a particular position," Stephenson said. "We want them to think for themselves."
Until two years ago, Stephenson said, middle school students also had read excerpts from "Southern Slavery." He said the booklet was a counterpoint to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which he said portrayed all Southern whites as treating their slaves badly.
Once the Civil War was no longer taught in middle school, Stephenson said, Cary Christian stopped using the booklet in those grades.
But the 43-page booklet is still read in its entirety by ninth-graders when they study the Civil War. Stephenson said the booklet can help students formulate arguments when taking the pro-Southern side in debates.
"A student may be assigned an opinion they may not agree with, so they will understand both sides," Stephenson said.
Angela Kennedy, whose daughters have attended Cary Christian since 1996, said all the booklet does is help students learn about both sides so that they have a basis to form their own opinions. She pointed out that the students also read Abraham Lincoln's speeches.
"They really do get both sides of the story," Kennedy said. "In public schools, all they get is one side of the story. That's not education. That's indoctrination."

I agree that it is important to teach students to think for themselves, to think and analyze critically, to consider various perspectives. I agree with the value of presenting historical interpretations of the same event or period that come to very different conclusions. I agree that textbooks can be as guilty as any other text of presenting a one-sided view or of toeing a party line.

But couldn't someone working on the curriculum for the Cary Christian School look a little harder, to find a historical text that offers a more complex view of slavery--one that does not seek to rectify the biases of existing historical renditions or responses by offering their polar opposite?

(There are some ripe quotations from the book here.)

This is part of the reason that I like to teach Toni Morrison's Beloved. A part of the story addresses the changes that happened on one slave plantation when the ownership shifted from a kindly man to a sicko. The contrasts between the two periods in the affected slaves lives points to the complexity of southern slavery, the premise that it was not a wholly oppressive venture. (But let us not forget that we are talking about the ownership of human beings here.) The early version of Morrison's Sweet Home--before the sicko comes to town--represents a respectful and humane relationship between owner and owned. But once Schoolteacher and his boys take the place over, things change, and the characters' memories of that time are horrid. Each time I reread the book I wonder whether I should put my students through that, knowing that each rereading makes me lie awake in bed, reimagining horrors that after a while I manage to push out of my mind.

I am not suggesting that teaching Beloved to ninth graders makes sense. But if the school is interested in offering differing viewpoints rather than indoctrinating its students, then shouldn't it question whether, in the context of Christian education, students can fully argue with a text that draws its justifications from the Bible?

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the Cary Christian School does not require adherence to religious tenets, even though the school requires that at least one parent of an accepted child be a regular church attendee.

But while we are at it, can I note that Mike Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center also criticized the book "for plagiarizing a previous work. The booklet has received criticism from a number of historians." One of the authors, Paster Douglas Wilson, "declined to comment and referred questions to his assistant, Mike Lawyer. Lawyer said the booklet has been pulled from publication because of faulty footnotes and citation errors."

Faulty footnotes and citation errors. I have not reviewed this book, but if that phrase is code for plagiarism, then I suppose I have Mr. Wilson to thank also for modeling academic dishonesty for my students.

As if his book did not create enough problems already.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Iraq Policy, Then & Now

This from Agence France Presse (via truthout):

Washington - A sacked CIA official is reportedly suing the agency for allegedly retaliating against him for refusing to falsify his reports on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to support the White House's pre-war position.

Described as a senior CIA official who was sacked in August "for unspecified reasons," the plaintiff's lawsuit appears to be the first public instance of a CIA official charging that he was pressured to produce intelligence to support the US government's pre-war contention that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were a grave threat to US and international security, The Washington Post reported.

"Their official dogma was contradicted by his reporting and they did not want to hear it," said Roy Krieger, the officer's attorney.

Funny: I don't think I read anything in the intelligence reform bill about ceasing to sack people for not toeing the intelligence line.

And in other news, it looks as though two of the soldiers who asked Rumsfeld rather pointed questions yesterday may have been prompted by a reporter (via MSNBC):

NEW YORK - An embedded reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press is claiming credit for the blunt questioning yesterday of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld by American soldiers in Kuwait.

In an e-mail to an unidentified colleague at the newspaper, Edward Lee Pitts — traveling with a Tennessee National Guard Unit — said that when a scheduling delay permitted him to attend Rumsfeld’s visit with 2,300 troops, he learned that only soldiers could quiz the Secretary. “So,” Pitts writes, “I brought two of them along with me as my escorts. Before hand we worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.”

I am starting to come around on the practice of embedded troops. First we had the video footage of the unprotected weapons stash, and now this. It seems that some of the initial novelty of playing soldier has worn off for the press, and they are back to doing their jobs. I heard an interesting NPR interview with Anne Garrels after she returned from a stint in Iraq. She talked extensively about what she could and could not learn while traveling with a group of marines. She noted that her circle of knowledge hardly extended more than 10 feet in any direction (I am paraphrasing) and that she certainly had no "big picture" understanding of what was going on. Knowing that gives a clearer insight into the situation of the troops, but it also emphasizes the limitations on what listeners and readers can learn from embedded reporters.

Meanwhile, if Mr. Pitts e-mail says the truth, then kudos to him for using his embedded status for good. Perhaps the press should find a way to embed reporters in the CIA.

The Joys of Academe

If you don't have a connection to academe, and especially to humanities disciplines within the aforementioned beast, then you might not think Michael Bérubé's post about how he is fighting the good fight to keep Republicans out of his department is funny. But if you do spend any of your time in academe, and especially if you have student-loan debt, and then even more so if you have ever served on a search committee, you'll likely laugh your ass off.

Meanwhile, Professor Bitch wrote one of the smartest assessments of students and their priorities I have seen in a while.

It's all almost enough to make me wish I were back in the fray.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004


A few interesting additions to the discussions on Social Security and Iraq, from my last, despairing post:

Krugman on Social Security.

Andrew Sullivan on why not to despair over Iraq.

Donald Rumsfeld, trying out for Witch #2 from Macbeth:

Perhaps a respite

Well, gosh: there is good news all around.

First, a graphic that includes no surprises. (via Mathew Gross)

Then, a CIA report that includes no surprises. The NYTimes' Douglas Jehl writes:
A classified cable sent by the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief in Baghdad has warned that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and may not rebound any time soon, according to government officials.

The cable, sent late last month as the officer ended a yearlong tour, presented a bleak assessment on matters of politics, economics and security, the officials said. They said its basic conclusions had been echoed in briefings presented by a senior C.I.A. official who recently visited Iraq.
(via Anti-war)

And Hamid Karzai thanked the United States for ridding his country of terrorists. Right--and deleted e-mails just disappear completely.

Meanwhile, even in my early-morning inadequately caffeinated state I can see a connection between the Iraq action and this.

Yet we are still saddled with this schmoe. Interesting assessments here and here.

All of which to say I suppose it is no surprise that we can say ta-ta to the hearts and minds.

You know, I really really try to get my head around the thinking behind policies with which I do not agree. I figure, hey, these people have to be smart to have gotten where they are, and although I don't always share their motivations, I seriously doubt they are evil.

For instance, I am trying desperately to understand how the Social Security reform that seems to be Item A1 on W's agenda makes fiscal sense: explain to me again how a trillion-dollar increase in the deficit bails out a program? I acknowledge that I do not always get the nuances of these things. Like if it is "security" then perhaps it does not need to be more than a minimum amount, a bare-bones figure, instead of an attempt to keep someone "secure" at the level to which they are accustomed? And when income over 60K does not get taxed for Social Security anyway? But I never studied economics, and I understand that perhaps this makes sense. Perhaps.

But I find it harder and harder to understand how the US approach to Iraq could be so WRONG--how the so-called experts could simply have misgauged this one. Granted--I do not expect success from plunking down a democratic system in a country that has not experienced one and that may not possess the 18th-C enlightenment mindset that produced our own democratic system. No idea can solve every problem on earth.

But how did this one get so colossally bollocksed up? And given our current political climate in which there is no room for dissent, is there a point to reading the papers? But I suppose David Rees hit that one better than I can.

Forgive me: I'll be back when I have something to offer other than wallowing despair.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The important questions in life.

According to Tony Pierce, my partner and I should not get married. Sure, we reached the "let's just do it" point, and my partner can cook fine meals (and clean up, too, if it has been one of those days where I have to retreat to under the bed). And although I once came very close to winning my fantasy baseball league, I can never get my head around football. But luckily my partner doesn't care; if he wants to watch football, I either take a nap in front of the TV or else go listen to hiphop, about which he's not all that crazy. In fact, the thing that held me back for about 1.5 years was that it didn't seem right that we could get married, because we happen to be of different genders, but if we happened to have been of the same, forget it.

So now we are coming down to the really important questions, like what to put on top of our wedding cake. We are keeping the design fairly simple--did you know that you can get multi-part cakes with staircases connecting them, which, if you want, you could adorn with plastic people representing your enormous bridal and groomal parties?

I didn't either, but now I am afraid.

So when the baker said that cakes really look kind of plain if there is nothing on top at all, we got to thinking about cake toppers.

Because let me tell you the truth: I love cake. Testing the cake samples has been the highlight of this whole experience. And I love frosting. But I do not love our culture's gender norms that say what brides and grooms are like, how they should act, what they should care about on their wedding day.

Given that I have no intention of wearing a poofy white dress or veil, the traditional cake toppers did not seem to represent what we were doing:

Neither am I hot on the froufrou design of something like this:

And I get terrified by the putti in baroque churches, so I can't put them on my cake.

And even the cake toppers that are supposed to be playful make me want to yack.

While the web presents a number of interesting alternatives, my mother likes to remind me that this is a serious occasion.

I'm just sad that I missed out on the options that were available last summer when I spent about six weeks in the City of Cheap Plastic Statues. On virtually every busy street corner near the big tourist destinations, there were guys selling she-wolves, Davids, Pietas, --you name it.

But the partner says no no no to the Augustus of Prima Porta.


We thought that maybe we could find a little plastic statue of that cool Etruscan sarcophagus of the married couple--they look so happy and so in love!--but mom says too morbid, never mind til death do us part.

Don't get me wrong: I do not have anything as radical in mind as statues of Chairman Mao, just something a little more personal than just another dancing couple.

So we'll keep looking. In the meantime, if you have any ideas, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Check out this Unauthorized iPod U2 v. Negativland Special Edition!

The product description begins:
In 1991, the experimental sound collage band Negativland released a single called “U2”, which extensively sampled both U2’s hit single “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and colorful studio recordings of Top 40 disc jockey Casey Kasem. This offbeat recording would have languished in obscurity if weren’t for Island Records, U2’s record label, which decided to sue Negativland and their independent label SST Records for deceptive packaging and copyright infringement. After a protracted legal battle, Negativland’s legal funds were exhausted and they settled out of court. Today, it is illegal to produce the “U2” single in the United States. (U2, on the other hand, would go on to use unauthorized samples of appropriated satellite video in their Zoo TV tour.)

Now you can commemorate this ignoble episode in intellectual property history with iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition. From its packaging to its pre-installed content, this unauthorized iPod modification is an artful mash-up of the forces of corporate megarock and obscure experimental music, and a provocative symbol of the ongoing struggle between those who would confine culture and those who would free it.

The package design of iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition is inspired by Apple’s unparalleled focus on every last detail of the shopping experience. This iPod comes packaged in a standard “cube” box that will be familiar to iPod owners around the world. However, one side of the box has been subtly modified to show the two bands in opposition, with U2 on top and Negativland on the bottom. On another side, the box label has been modified to read “iPod/Special Edition/U2 vs. Negativland.”

The product comes specially loaded:
To get you started in your subversive listening habits, iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition also comes pre-loaded with these Negativland albums:
* Points (1981)
* Free (1993)
* Fair Use (1995)
* Dispepsi (1997)
* Happy Heroes (1998)
* The ABCs of Anarchism (1999, with Chumbawamba)
Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak (2002)
You will also receive physical copies of these albums in Compact Disc format. Fair Use includes a 270-page book about the “U2” single and its legal repercussions, and Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak includes a 64-page full-color book.

(via BoingBoing)
If only I had $350 to post a bid!

Want Some Gravy with your Trickle-Down Theory?

It's a little late for Thanksgiving now, but you might find my friend S. Ashton's article, "Talking Turkey: Would you care for some gravy with that trickle-down theory?" of interest or even useful over the Christmas holidays. The article includes a tear-off sheet of talking points for responses to pro-Bush arguments.

Given my own ignorance on issues economic, I withhold judgment on the writer's assertions in that arena.

I heartily endorse, however, the move toward taking back the terminology. I agree with bkmarcus that economic education is very important: indeed, I feel I am one needing such a thing.

But I add to his call to pedagogic arms the importance of education in the realm of language, propaganda, rhetoric. Our country has a populace completely manipulated by marketing, commercial and political. Perhaps people don't have time to read and study or follow the news in any depth, so they rely on soundbites, 30-second ads, and misleading titles to give them the information they need. In this country, the right, be it Dobson or Rove, is expert at attaching tags to ideas that spin the response of the populace. Who wouldn't think that being pro-life is a good thing? Or that the Patriot Act stands for values we all endorse?

[ADDENDUM: I should not have insinuated that bkmarcus was interested only in economic education, until I read a recent post of his that hit the blogosphere while I was away from my computer and that I only read just now. He writes quite deftly about the importance of terminology. bk is a seeker of truth: kudos to him for his consistent attempts to deflate manipulative language.]

So S. Ashton's attempts to reframe the discourse are admirable. For instance, on the topic of moral values:

Your Father-in-Law shares the fact that he's proud to be in a State with so-called "family values," unlike those Blue States full of pagans, bleeding hearts, and gays.

Words to avoid: Avoid using the phrase "gay marriage" which suggests gay sex to many people and generally gets a panicked response. Instead, ask if your Father-in-Law really thinks the Government should tell people who they can and cannot marry? Ask if he is comfortable with civil unions and civil rights. Replace "Gay Marriage" with "equal rights," be they for atheists, gays, or Blue Staters... avoid the word "tolerance" and replace it with "acceptance," a more positive and less judging term. Use the word "citizens" whenever you can to remind your relatives that we live in a nation that defines its membership in respectful and secular ways.

Read the whole article, and then imagine talking points of your own.

p.s. Look at Michael Berube's take on Focus on the Family. Good stuff there, don't you know. And forgive me: I don't know how to add accent aigu to my type in blogger.