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.

Monday, November 29, 2004

They do not mean to, but they do.

I'd like to tell you that Thanksgiving was all comfort and community, but we all know better than that.

You're right: I do have a family that gets along better than most. I am reminded of this when I spend time with other people's families, and what I feel to be a Big Deal is nothing compared with what other people grew up negotiating.

And mostly Thanksgiving was a lot of community and comfort. There was less psychodrama than in years past, when a father who left his wife for a woman he met on the internet and was later reinvited to join Thanksgiving with the family, offered a long toast to the importance of family, specifically his brother. You would not accuse me of trotting out a cliche story of family break-ups and distress if I told you how my mother, who all the children love and trust, had to hold each and every one of them up that year. Or maybe you would. Maybe you would tell me that most families live through this.

Anyway, what amazed me was that on Friday night, the night after the big turkey night, I flew into fits of despair because a pasta dinner I was making did not turn out.

Despair! Over pasta!

I should back up.

My mother is an amazing cook: it is one of her real passions, and the rest of us are lucky for this, because she prepares one wonderful meal after another. Some are simple and some are more elaborate, some are homey and some exotic, but she has an energy and talent for this that even Rachel Ray should envy.

I love my mother. I love what she stands for, which is an honest, down-to-earth approach to life. She is all about being who she is, instead of trying to be something that she might believe other people might want her to be, maybe.

She worked her ass off during the whole week, because our family celebrates Thanksgiving for the whole week, with a series of ritualized meals. One night it is dungeness crab, brought directly from San Francisco (except for the year that the crab suitcase was the one that did not make the change of planes). Another night it is striper, fresh from the little local seafood shop whose owner always touts my mother for buying fish instead of turkey. Little does he know there is turkey the next night! And all the traditional sides. Our friend who hosts Thanksgiving dinner managed to shoehorn 37 people in her dining room this year, and as I already said, there were no fractious toasts this year. Thanks be to God.

So even on the nights when she is not hosting, my mother always has a dish to make.

I wanted her to spend Friday relaxing with a mystery novel instead of cooking, so I wanted to make dinner for her and my father and my partner--nice and small and quiet-like, but tasty and with a good bottle of wine.

Which is why I went for pasta: having spent time in Italy and then wanting to reproduce Italian cooking at home, I have studied cookbooks and regional foods and so on and so on and now I can make wonderful, easy pasta meals that are most decidedly not red sauced, and people who don't cook a lot of Italian food love them.

In other words, it should have been a slam dunk.

Until I bought the refrigerated low carb ravioli, because their filling seemed more interesting than the other ravioli and tortellini I saw.

So I chopped and cooked portabella mushrooms with butter and wine and pepper and sage fresh from my mother's garden. And I blanched some broccoli and my partner assembled a beautiful escarole and arugula salad which we put with a hazelnut vinaigrette and pomegranate seeds.

And I cooked the pasta. I should have known from the way they were cooking that something was not right--they just floated funny.

And when I put the sauce over the pasta, somehow all the moisture in the world was sucked into those ravioli and yet they were dry, dry, dry.

The fillings were lovely, but the pasta tasted and felt like plastic.


It is true: simple carbohydrates have a high glycemic index, which means that when you eat them, your blood sugar spikes. And yes, meal composed of simple carbohydrates will be digested very quickly, and then your blood sugar levels will shift, leaving you feeling hungry again--leading many people to eat again quickly.

But people: this low-carb diet craze is just as wacked-out as any diet craze. Eating "all the protein and fat you want" does not make you thin, or healthy. Everyone who is smart about nutrition--instead of wanting to make a few bucks by selling America on a dumb diet that won't make them well but will make them by books and motivational tapes and special products--everyone who knows nutrition says people need balanced diets.

Hell, even the low carbs people say "Tip: you can reduce the glycemic value of a pasta meal by adding extra fiber, or a little olive oil, or lemon juice, or another food which is low on the glycemic index."

The point is, if you don't want to eat carbs, DON'T EAT PASTA. Don't buy pasta. Don't be suckered by stupid marketing that tries to say, See? We have fucked pasta up beyond belief, so that you, overweight American seeking an oversimplified solution to your problem, can believe that ultimately you don't need to change a thing and you can still get what you want.

If you want to eat low carb, then eat some lean meat.

Or better yet, avoid the hoopla and get some exercise. You'll feel better, be healthier, and probably lose weight too.


Point is, this low carb pasta effectively ruined the main dish. Sure, the sauce was good, as my mother noted. And my partner diligently ate all his pasta, as did my kindly father. And the salad and broccoli were fab.

But do you know what I did? I lost it. I absolutely lost it. My meal was not a success, and so I was a failure, and my meal was a failure, and my attempt to provide us with a perfect evening on our last evening together was a failure.

I could blame it on the stupid pasta and the stupid diet craze, but this is not a story about diets. It is a story about families, and about no matter how many delicious meals I have prepared for my parents, or how many lovely evenings I have facilitated, this one did not go as planned, and I lost it.

I guess it is because even when we are grown-ups we still act like little kids with our parents. I still feel wide-eyed and approval-starved with them, even though I really do believe they love me for who I am. And I wonder about my father, whose own father is walking steadily if clumsily down the path of fatigue and bad decisions, not planning for the future anymore, even though that means that he's no longer sufficiently nest-egged to pay for a nursing home or some such, should the time come. My father stubbornly notes that he talked to my grandfather all along about this, urged him to keep his eyes open and stay prepared for such eventualities, and now it is not his responsibility. And he is stubborn, so he might manage to stick to his guns as I don't know I could in his place. But is his real indignation that his father isn't acting like a father anymore, and that he, my father, cannot therefore play the role of the son, who perhaps wants as much to please as I do?

And should I kid myself and say that I need to get these feelings under control before Christmas, so that I don't have to put everyone through another one of these meltdowns? Should I pretend that a little thought can help me move on from being a daughter?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

My regular reader might be sorry to learn that this will be my last post until after Thanksgiving, as I am departing tomorrow for the Virginian Commonwealth of Dumbfuckistan to try to kick some ass in a swim meet and visit with the family for the holidays.

So, sorry, but you'll need to vent fury on my behalf. If you have any fury-enducing experiences you would like to share, please use the comments.

In the meantime, I hope you have a restful and fatful holiday.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Nota bene:

Please do not confuse this blog with Operation Phantom Fury.

Unlike the WMDs, the link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Colin Powell's evidence of Iraq's plans to annihilate us, and the anticipated Democrat-rich voter turnout, my fury is very real.

And although I like the idea of being Phantom Furious, especially if that meant I got to wear the fab purple costume and the mask, I resent the Pentagon's besmearing of my blog name.
Thank you for your attention.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Tin-foil hats

Since I will soon be departing on a quick jaunt to the Floridian Republic of Dumbfuckistan, I gift you all with the product of some research I have been conducting.

I wondered, why are we suddenly hearing so much about these tin-foil hats--or is it just because I have ventured too far into the realm of the wearers that the term has become ubiquitous?

For instance, just thinking of the last two days, in addition to mtnRoughneck's recent assessment of a recommended article, I received an e-mail from a friend who has been working for the BOE in North Carolina. When I learned that he had been involved in vote counting on computerized voting machines, I asked him for an explanation of their validity. Although he agreed with me that he would like to get a little easy-to-read receipt saying how he voted, he addressed me as "Mon cher professeur qui ne porte pas un chapeau d'aluminium"--as if he believed my assertion that I don't doubt the results of the election!

And I think Wonkette may even have linked to a descriptive site with an illustration, but I don't have the patience to go back and find it.

But did you know that the internets is a veritable treasure trove of information about constructing and implementing this technology?

You see, tin-foil hats themselves are a way to ward off mind control and psychic penetration. Unfortunately, even those of us in our aluminium beanies are no longer safe.

One informative online writer has provided us with a tinfoil hat FAQ, including answer to the much pondered question, "Does the reflective side go in or out?"

And a reader identified as Xopher commented on Electrolite that the materials does matter:

I use only the finest Reynolds Wrap (tm) for my hats. Heavy duty, oven-tempered (for flexible strength!) Reynolds Wrap. (If it's owned by some Al Qaeda hanger-on, I don't want to know it.)

It would be better, of course, to use hematite, but that stuff's expensive, and I don't know where to get it since they stopped having Gem Shows.

The term "tinfoil hat" has become an incredibly useful shorthand, showing up in all kinds of phrases and subconcepts:
* It's tinfoil hat time!
[subcategory: tinfoil hat time--midwestern style. Does that involve more casseroles?]
* Where's my tinfoil hat?;
* Resisting the tinfoil hat;
* Today's tinfoil hat link;
* The Tinfoil Hat Club;
* not to be confused with The Tinfoil Hat Brigade--which to join??;
[UPDATE: the Tinfoil Hat Brigade requires nominations.]
* Tinfoil Hat Moment;
* The Tinfoil Hat Files;
* Tinfoil Hat Award.
I hope I don't need to mention that this is hardly a complete list!

If you are curious about the distinction between a tinfoil hat and an asshat, read this.

And conveniently enough, there is a whole category now of Tin Foil Hat Democrats.

But holy cow--these people are serious!

The more literary among you will be relieved to know that the device has made its way into poetry:
Well, Old William Kuker
has 31 cats,
and each one of them wore
a tin foil hat.

That's only the first stanza, of course, but you can read the rest on the site.

Not to be confined to the recognizable tinfoil beanies, these folks have constructed a wide array of styles--dapper!

And if you too have become overwhelmed the frequency of tinfoil-hat comments emerging from your keyboard, you might be interested in the tinfoil-hat emoticon.

The trouble is, what I still can't seem to find is a good history of the term. Wikipedia (quoted up at the very beginning of the post) gives a good definition but now indication of the earliest usage, and the OED has got nothing.

Can anyone help me out?

The "continual slide toward socialism"

I cannot believe I forgot this piece for my previous post: some of the conversation about church and state last night got going because of Bob Jones III's congratulatory letter to George W. Bush:

Dear Mr. President:

The media tells us that you have received the largest number of popular votes of any president in America's history. Congratulations!

In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. You have been given a mandate. We the people expect your voice to be like the clear and certain sound of a trumpet. Because you seek the Lord daily, we who know the Lord will follow that kind of voice eagerly.

Don't equivocate. Put your agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you.

Of course there is more. Go read it for yourself.

For those of you who are not residents of Dumbfuckistan, and who perhaps are not familiar with the non-accredited Bob Jones University, you might start your explorations here, but if you're interested in the controversies surrounding their now eliminated policies prohibiting interracial dating and their loss of tax-exempt status, you could look here.

As one more addendum, have a look at this letter from the Greenville (SC) News:

Hats off and a thank you to the many Democrats who heeded the cries of our religious leaders.
For several years many leaders have encouraged every lover of God and country to cast aside party affiliations and to pray before voting. Apparently, many responded to this appeal and we have four more years of leadership from a man, not a Democrat or Republican, but a man who fears God and upholds the dignity of life and desires to protect the rights of unborn babies.

The recent presidential campaigns covering the last 20 years paint a picture of the future platform of the Democratic Party going from a moderate to a liberal and to the present radicalism agenda. Webster defines "radical" as: "Tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions."

This party that is presently controlled by the likes of Ted Kennedy, George Soros, Michael Moore, mainline media, academia, Hollywood, the socialists and Marxists, etc., is the same party that Zell Miller claims has left the moderate wing of the party.

With the continual slide toward socialism, it will be interesting to see where the moderate wing of the Democratic Party finds itself poised for future elections. I trust that they will vote for the good of our country and for the future of our children and grandchildren and that we all, both Republicans and Democrats, disregard party affiliations, family traditions and union ties and vote according to the Judeo-Christian heritage established by the founders of this great country.
Don Harkins

Don Harkins of Easley, my tinfoil hat is off to you, for your desire to read the "mainline media" as liberal--oh, what a day would that be!--and your ability to be blind to your own radicalism. Oh yeah--and your similar blindness to the First Amendment to the Constitution!

Offred in the Republic of Gilead

mtnRoughneck is freakin me out.

I read one article he recommended, remembering his acknowledgment that it might be a bit "tin-foil hattish." Once I got past the retching that came from seeing a picture of Jesus at the top with W's face implanted, I read on. He is right: it is both scary, and it reads like a conspiracy theory.

Now let me say, I am coming to embrace the idea that maybe I am a sucker for such things. Just after I wrote about the fact that we have no way to know or not know whether the results of the recent election were on the up-and-up, All Things Considered dismissed people with such doubts as conspiracy theorists.

Thank you, Robert Siegel. At least other listeners felt the same way.

But I will acknowledge that that first article, when combined with other articles mtnRoughneck has more recently noted, is FREAKING ME OUT.

Quit it!

(You can read more of his reflections at Whiskey Tango.)

Then last night I had dinner with friends that involved inevitable election lamentations and much gnashing of teeth. One friend noted that he had seen a student outside our campus library with a table and a petition and selling t-shirts about SAVE THE FORESTS. You have to choose your battles, my friend said. So when I asked him what his battle was, he said Church And State. As we talked, I realized how many of the civil liberties issues that I care about come back to that increasingly flimsy wall.

Meanwhile, the Religious Right has let the dogs loose on Arlen Specter. The website of radical cleric James Dobson asks, "Are you concerned about the possibility of pro-abortion U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter assuming the chairmanship of the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee? There's still more you can do to help get a more qualified candidate installed."

(Elsewhere radical cleric Dobson advises dating couples: "Be careful to defend the 'line of respect,' even during a dating relationship. A man should open doors for a woman on a formal evening; a woman should speak respectfully of her escort when in public, etc. If you don't preserve this delicate line when the foundations of marriage are being laid, it will be virtually impossible to construct them later." He encourages prospective couples to consider, "Who will lead in the relationship? What does that really mean?" and notes that premarital sex is bad because "Though it's an old-fashioned notion, perhaps it's still true that men do not respect "easy" women and often become bored with those who have held nothing in reserve.")

Maybe the idea of Arlen Specter as a liberal freaks me out just as bad as Whiskey Tango. And it was on NPR, too, so this is not some little behind-the-scenes thing.

A good source for information about current and recent attacks on the wall dividing these two is the watchdog and advocacy group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

For now I am keeping my ears open and rereading The Handmaid's Tale.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


My partner and I were discussing the evolution warning labels last night while I was making dinner. He suggested that those science textbooks should have a sticker that says, "This textbook contains material on science. Everything in here is a theory, not a fact. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Then we got thinking about other warning labels.

This one should appear in Bibles: "The material contained in this book is not the word of God, but a representation of what many claim to be the word of God, as interpreted by translators, editors, copyists, compilers, and other wily interventionists. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

This one should appear on television news broadcasts: "This program is composed of assertions. Politics relies not on facts but attempts to persuade people to believe something that may or may not be good for them. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

This one should appear in Dr. Phil's and Dr. Laura's books: "This self-help book was written to earn a profit. The ideas included are oversimplified theories, not facts, regarding ways that you can become a better person. They have not been tested by scientists. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

This one should appear inside the Patriot Act: "This legislation compromises civil liberties. It presents theories, not facts, about how curbing such liberties can make you safe. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

This one should appear inside David Hager's books: "This book is composed of propaganda claiming to contain material on women's health; in fact, it limits women's health by insisting on so-called Christian values. Christianity is not a theory, nor a fact, but a religion, based on faith, and faith has little to do with the practice of medicine. This material should be approached with an open mind if it must be approached at all, studied carefully and critically considered. Then go get a second opinion"

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Raise your hands in the air like you just don't care

I have a friend who, whenever he would leave a message on my voice mail, used to claim to be John Ashcroft. Perhaps he could see which way the wind is blowing, because now he says he's Karl Rove.

So I thought I'd try this little trick myself. I called another friend and when his sixteen-year-old son answered, I told him it was Hans Blix. He told me he was Dick Cheney and I could go fuck myself. After I got up off the floor from laughing I had a nice chat with his dad about his politically astute son.

All of which to say, So long, John. Checking out books at the library won't be the same without you.

And oh boy--here comes Alberto Gonzalez. After all, who needs the Geneva Conventions?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We're the Power Company. We don't have to care.

It's all about the power: if you ain't got it, you might as well just sit down.

Let me give some background.

Consortium News reports that Bush's support has well-nigh incredible. Unbelievable. Freakin' amazing. See here:

George W. Bush’s vote tallies, especially in the key state of Florida, are so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable.

While it’s extraordinary for a candidate to get a vote total that exceeds his party’s registration in any voting jurisdiction – because of non-voters – Bush racked up more votes than registered Republicans in 47 out of 67 counties in Florida. In 15 of those counties, his vote total more than doubled the number of registered Republicans and in four counties, Bush more than tripled the number.

Statewide, Bush earned about 20,000 more votes than registered Republicans.

By comparison, in 2000, Bush’s Florida total represented about 85 percent of the total number of registered Republicans, about 2.9 million votes compared with 3.4 million registered Republicans.

Bush achieved these totals although exit polls showed him winning only about 14 percent of the Democratic vote statewide – statistically the same as in 2000 when he won 13 percent of the Democratic vote – and losing Florida’s independent voters to Kerry by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin. In 2000, Gore won the independent vote by a much narrower margin of 47 to 46 percent.

Like me, you might be wondering how he did it. In a remarkably frank assessment, Republican pollster Dick Morris explained it clearly:

“Exit polls are almost never wrong,” Morris wrote. “So reliable are the surveys that actually tap voters as they leave the polling places that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries. … To screw up one exit poll is unheard of. To miss six of them is incredible. It boggles the imagination how pollsters could be that incompetent and invites speculation that more than honest error was at play here.”

But instead of following his logic that the discrepancy suggested vote tampering – as it would in Latin America, Africa or Eastern Europe – Morris postulated a bizarre conspiracy theory that the exit polls were part of a scheme to have the networks call the election for Kerry and thus discourage Bush voters on the West Coast. Of course, none of the networks did call any of the six states for Kerry, making Morris’s conspiracy theory nonsensical. Nevertheless, some Democrats have agreed with Morris's bottom-line recommendation that the whole matter deserves “more scrutiny and investigation.” [The Hill, Nov. 8, 2004]

I was interested in reading more from Mr. Morris: how did he come to this conclusion? Well, for one thing, in his article, he gives a slightly longer version of the third-world election story:

So reliable are the surveys that actually tap voters as they leave the polling places that they are used as guides to the relative honesty of elections in Third World countries. When I worked on Vicente Fox’s campaign in Mexico, for example, I was so fearful that the governing PRI would steal the election that I had the campaign commission two U.S. firms to conduct exit polls to be released immediately after the polls closed to foreclose the possibility of finagling with the returns. When the polls announced a seven-point Fox victory, mobs thronged the streets in a joyous celebration within minutes that made fraud in the actual counting impossible.

Emphasis mine: in this quotation he shows how exit polling in Mexico would be understood to be more "real" than the actual vote--hence the joyous celebration. So, in a discrepancy between the two, it is crucial that the "real" information (as opposed to, say, the votes) get out as soon as possible.

Why, then, are we to believe that in the case of the good old USA, where we have been seeing that voting machines are as unreliable as anywhere, it is the votes that are real, and the polling false?

Morris does not really answer that question. Instead, he closes his piece with this call to arms:

The exit pollsters plead that they oversampled women and that this led to their mistakes. But the very first thing a pollster does is weight or quota for gender. Once the female vote reaches 52 percent of the sample, one either refuses additional female respondents or weights down the ones one subsequently counted.

This is, dear Watson, elementary.

Next to the forged documents that sent CBS on a jihad against Bush’s National Guard service and the planned “60 Minutes” ambush over the so-called missing explosives two days before the polls opened, the possibility of biased exit polling, deliberately manipulated to try to chill the Bush turnout, must be seriously considered.

At the very least, the exit pollsters should have to explain, in public, how they were so wrong. Since their polls, if biased or cooked, represented an attempt to use the public airwaves to reduce voter turnout, they should have to explain their errors in a very public and perhaps official forum.

This was no mere mistake. Exit polls cannot be as wrong across the board as they were on election night. I suspect foul play.

Calling fraud on the "60 Minutes" documents may be fair, though the underlying issue of Bush's service during Vietnam has yet to be resolved to my satisfaction: the validity of those documents does not determine the validity of Bush's service (or lack)--but in the minds of most voters it did, reality-based community be damned.

And Morris tries to make the same move with the "so-called missing explosives." "So-called" implies that those, too, were false, even though we have all seen the imbedded footage and read the witnesses reports that proves otherwise. Morris hopes that by now we have forgotten. You know what? We almost have.

As for me, I am sitting here quietly, sipping coffee from my "Dick is a Killer" coffee cup, coming to the sad and sorry conclusion that Morris is working his little tricks now with the election. The "so-called" polling data v. the God-loving votes.

I am hardly surprised by the hypocrisy here--the assertion of the validity of polls when they present the desired result and the dumbfuddlery in the face of their being "so wrong," "biased," "cooked." But without a paper trail of votes, how is America to pick out Mr. Morris's sleight of hand?

Members of the so-called reality-based community, I ask you: what can this nation do to counter such effective manipulation?

In the face of this election, many have been asking

* How do we get the progressive message out to a wider audience?
* How do we reframe "moral values" to fit the humanitarian causes in which we believe, at the expense of the decimation of rights practiced by the right?
* How do reshape the discourse, using terms that open minds rather than close them?
* How do we teach the American people to think and read critically, so that they approach articles, news, advertising critically rather than swallowing whatever message is sent their way?

I hate to say it, but here may be your answer: We can't.

Media, advertising, propaganda, winning elections--all require a power base from which to work. THAT, my friends, is the real issue here. Until there is more power in the hands of those trying to achieve the starred objectives above, we might as well hang it up, because we'll be fighting the symptoms and not the disease.

Friday, November 05, 2004

4,258 v. 365: what's the dif?

Well, here we go:

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio - An error with an electronic voting system gave President Bush 3,893 extra votes in suburban Columbus, elections officials said. Franklin County's unofficial results had Bush receiving 4,258 votes to Democrat John Kerry's 260 votes in a precinct in Gahanna. Records show only 638 voters cast ballots in that precinct. Bush's total should have been recorded as 365.

Bush won the state by more than 136,000 votes, according to unofficial results, and Kerry conceded the election on Wednesday after saying that 155,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted in Ohio would not change the result.

Deducting the erroneous Bush votes from his total could not change the election's outcome, and there were no signs of other errors in Ohio's electronic machines, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Franklin is the only Ohio county to use Danaher Controls Inc.'s ELECTronic 1242, an older-style touchscreen voting system. Danaher did not immediately return a message for comment.

Sean Greene, research director with the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project, said that while the glitch appeared minor "that could change if more of these stories start coming out."

In one North Carolina county, more than 4,500 votes were lost in this election because officials mistakenly believed a computer that stored ballots electronically could hold more data than it did.

And in San Francisco, a malfunction with custom voting software could delay efforts to declare the winners of four races for county supervisor.

In the Ohio precinct in question, the votes are recorded to eight memory locations, including a removable cartridge, according to Verified Voting Foundation, an e-voting watchdog group. After voting ends, the cartridge is either transported to a tabulation facility or its data sent via modem.

Kimball Brace, president of the consulting firm Election Data Services, said it's possible the fault lies with the software that tallies the votes from individual cartridges rather than the machines or the cartridges themselves.

Either way, he said, such tallying software ought to have a way to ensure that the totals don't exceed the number of voters.

County officials did not return calls seeking details.

Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, told The Columbus Dispatch that on one of the three machines at that precinct, a malfunction occurred when its cartridge was plugged into a reader and generated a faulty number. He could not explain how the malfunction occurred.

Damschroder said people who had seen poll results on the election board's Web site called to point out the discrepancy. The error would have been discovered when the official count for the election is performed later this month, he said.

The reader also recorded zero votes in a county commissioner race on the machine.

Other electronic machines used in Ohio do not use the type of computer cartridge involved in the error, state officials say.

But in Perry County, a punch-card system reported about 75 more votes than there are voters in one precinct. Workers tried to cancel the count when the tabulator broke down midway through, but the machine instead double-counted an unknown number in the first batch. The mistake will be corrected, officials say.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a glitch occurred with software designed by Election Systems & Software Inc. for the city's new "ranked-choice voting," in which voters list their top three choices for municipal offices. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes outright, voters' second and third-place preferences are then distributed among candidates who weren't eliminated in the first round.

When the San Francisco Department of Elections tried a test run Wednesday, some of the votes didn't get counted. The problem was attributed to a programming glitch that limited how much data could be accepted, a threshold that did not account for high voter turnout.

November spawned a monster

So which of these visions of democracy is real?

The one that Whiskey Tango gives us, the photos of actual people in an actual town, voting in unglamorous actual polling sites, eating and drinking after the polls have closed, waiting for the vote count to come in? I like that vision, and I like how mtnRoughneck's closing line echoes the end of Paul Simon's "American Song," which he himself quoted at the end of a previous post, a post about the uncertainty we all felt after we'd cast our votes and were then waiting for the results. I like mtnRoughneck and I love to read what he has to say in Whiskey Tango.

Plus, that vision gels with the vision of democracy I had on election night, at 7:01 pm, right as the polls were closing in (I'm still not kidding) the Friendship precinct of Oconee County, SC. I'm still, well, not exactly haunted because it is such a good memory, with such good feelings attached--but I'm still seeing images of those Friendship voters waiting gently in line, talking here and there, smoking, looking a little nervous about the new touchscreen voting machines. I still love that sight, and I'm crazy for how it makes me feel about America--not as an ideological place, but as a place made up of people wanting their voices heard. I doubt seriously that the Friendship voters shared my views or votes, but that's not the important part: the important part is people waiting in a fire station line exercise their American right and civic duty.

But then what of this vision of democracy? Thom Harmann points out what I really really haven't wanted to think about: there is no paper trail for this election, and while we are all comfortably accepting its legitimacy, we don't really have any reason to do so, except they told us so.

What else have they told us? That Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and that we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud? That George Bush was elected in 2000? That gays are the great boogeymen and women facing America right now? That Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks? That we would hunt down that criminal and kill him or bring him to justice? That John Kerry would bring down more terror attacks upon us? That we could afford this war? That we could afford these tax cuts?

I am only stopping writing the previous paragraph because I think that you, dear reader, get the point.

So back to Thom Hartmann's editorial. He writes,

The hot story in the Blogosphere is that the "erroneous" exit polls that showed Kerry carrying Florida and Ohio (among other states) weren't erroneous at all--it was the numbers produced by paperless voting machines that were wrong, and Kerry actually won. As more and more analysis is done of what may (or may not) be the most massive election fraud in the history of the world, however, it's critical that we keep the largest issue at the forefront at all time: Why are We The People allowing private, for-profit corporations, answerable only to their officers and boards of directors, and loyal only to agendas and politicians that will enhance their profitability, to handle our votes?

Maybe Florida went for Kerry, maybe for Bush. Over time - and through the efforts of some very motivated investigative reporters - we may well find out (Bev Harris of just filed what may be the largest Freedom of Information Act [FOIA} filing in history), and bloggers and investigative reporters are discovering an odd discrepancy in exit polls being largely accurate in paper-ballot states and oddly inaccurate in touch-screen electronic voting states Even raw voter analyses are showing extreme oddities in touch-screen-run Florida, and eagle-eyed bloggers are finding that news organizations are retroactively altering their exit polls to coincide with what the machines ultimately said.

So which one is it--the legitimate election where the people have spoken, even if I didn't always want to hear what they had to say? or the election ultimately spun to seem real, even to those of us who claim to reside in the reality-based community?

Or am I forced to admit that maybe Jean Baudrillard was right, and I can only ask, which one was "real"?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The horror, the horror.

Look here.

When I sent it to Ojimi, he said, “My God. I wonder how this fits into ‘moral values’?”

I wonder, too. The New York Times reports,

A day after declaring victory in an especially divisive election, President Bush said at a news conference that "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," adding that "I earned capital in this election, and I'm going to spend it."

Thank you, Mirror

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Pledge man

Jeff Jarvis is asking us to take the following pledge:

After the election results are in, I promise to:
: Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him.
: Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him.
: Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.
: Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

Let me say clearly, no fucking way.

I value Mr. Jarvis's point about upholding standards of civilized discourse. There is much more to be gained from reasoned debate than from ranting, but leave me my moments where I need to rant. I am not interested in smearing people's character--just their arguments, just their unjust decisions. Just the moves they make that take power from the already pretty much powerless. Or the "accidental" destruction of people and shrines and historical treasures in the name of abstract ideals we all believe we believe in.

Sure, we all want to heal. But you know what? Sometimes you just can't. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that people you believe to be self-serving, ill-motivated, power-hungry (and power-full!) are calling the shots. And that millions of ill-informed people, swayed by their inability to analyze and criticize the marketing that is jammed down their throats, have asked these people in charge, "Will you please call the shots?"

I refuse to say, that because I share a "nation" with these people calling the shots, and the people asking them to do so, that in any way "we are one." We are not one. It is one of the great myths of nations that they are unified, composed of people who are pretty much the same. This is the worst kind of nationalism--the kind that leads to the worst sort of atrocities.

Having spent the last few months pulling for a party I don't fully believe in, because I do profoundly hope that this party could come up with better answers than the party calling the shots, I am not willing to pledge, now or ever, to fully compromise what I believe in so that I can sit back and say, "Ahhhhhh. Fuck the terrorists."

Jeff Jarvis further notes the following:

: UPDATE: Commenters ask me what I mean by "support." Right question. I do not mean blind support, love-it-or-leave-it support, with-him-or-against-him support. I mean acknowledging that the president is the president and especially in a time of war, we need to stand together against our enemies -- namely, Islamofascist terrorists -- and not act, as too many have during this administration (and the one before it) that the enemy is in the White House. No, we're on the same side.

Save me from "in this time of war." In this time of war, please match your step to the other steps. In this time of war, please remember whose side you must be on. In this time of war, don't speak too loudly unless you're cheering USA! USA! In this time of war, let us tell you what you do and don't get to do with your body. In this time of war, let us remind you that gay teachers have no place in the public schools, that mammograms need not be a part of health care. In this time of war we must come up with short-sighted energy policies and so destroy what remaining wilderness we have in this country.

No, Jeff Jarvis, we are not on the same side. Sure, there are Islamists who want to kill people in order to get the USA away from Israel and out of Muslim countries. Are they more fascist than the Bush administration? Must we limit our enemy to those fascists who are of a different faith?

bkMarcus has a very good set of definitions on his website. Here is how he defines fascism. The first part is by him, and the second from Wikipedia:


An authoritarian form of statism that advocates
* private property
* State-centralized economy
* militarism
* nationalism

(Notice that between the first 2 criteria, fascism promotes political capitalism without any pretense of a free market.)

Socialists and left-liberals often refer to any form of fervent conservatism as fascism, but they are incorrect in doing so.

Many people use the term to refer to any form of authoritarianism. This usage is less incorrect, but strictly speaking, fascism requires all 4 of the above criteria.


Fascism (in Italian, fascismo), capitalized, refers to the authoritarian political movement which ruled Italy in 1922-1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. The name comes from fascio, which may mean "bundle", as in a political group, but also fasces, the Roman authority symbol of a bundle of rods and axe-head.

The word fascism has come to mean any system of government resembling Mussolini's, that exalts nation and often race above the individual and uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition, engages in severe economic and social regimentation, and espouses violent nationalism and racism (ethnic nationalism).

--Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Having taken bk's warning that many socialists and left liberals "often refer to any form of fervent conservatism as fascism, but they are incorrect in doing so," I think we can note that the above definitions work well in our current situation.

Even Doonesbury thought so: he added the fascio! (Check out the strips from 17 March 2003 through April 2003--or even the fab Roman wear that Bush still wears today.)

But I have gotten off task.

My point is that I refuse to sign any pledge declaring that, for some fake sense of unity with people with whom I would rather continue to argue, I will support something in which I do not believe.

This past summer, a friend I was traveling with in Rome noted that it was always "the Pledge woman"--the (it being Italy) woman toting the cleaning supplies--who denied you access to the parts of churches with beautiful mosaics.

I will not let this Pledge man keep me from speaking my views.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Get Out The Vote

I spent the last five hours working with the Oconee Democrats to get out the vote. Mostly there was not much to report, but a couple of things discouraged and encouraged me about democracy.

A woman called to say that she had not been allowed to vote in Easley, and that she was told that because she had moved on September 30th and registered in Easley on October 6th, that she had to vote in her old precinct, Seneca. The two are about 30-45 minutes apart, depending on traffic. It turns out that the reason she had moved was to move into an assisted living facility. She wanted us to drive her to Seneca to vote: she really wanted to vote because it might be her last time, and, she said, she really wanted to "vote that bum out." We really wanted to drive her to Seneca, but it was 5:45 pm, and the SC polls close at 7. And in order for us to pick her up we would have had to have permission in advance from a member of her family. It nearly put all of us in tears to have to tell her we just could not do it.

About that same time, we got two calls from two different women in the Friendship precinct, saying that the pollworkers had said they were shutting the doors at 7, despite the long line. We hustled around and finally I was in the car driving down there, getting lost on the way and wishing I had a navigator to consult the map while I drove--not to mention someone to deal with the cellphone. When I got there, it was almost 7, and people were still in line. It became clear quickly that everyone was going to be allowed to vote, that the doors they were closing were those that let people in, and everyone in line was inside already.

If you've been to Friendship, SC, I don't need to tell you that everyone in line knew each other, and the people working the polls, that there was a fair amount of ribbing going on, that people were admiring each other's children and taking the chance to catch up. As I sat there in my car, having let the Oconee folks know that everything looked OK, but just being sure, I got to thinking about what democracy is all about, here in the best of all possible worlds. I thought about those people standing in line to vote, probably having gotten there at the end of a long day, just in time to make their views count. Looking at them in line in the warm light of the inside, watching a couple of guys smoking outside, waiting for other people to finish up, I could not help but remember what an amazing thing it is that we get to do on the first Tuesday in November. And what an important thing it is that these ordinary people, lots of whom hardly have much power in this country otherwise, get a chance to make their views and desires and hopes known.

I'm settling in now to watch these returns, knowing that my bursting warmth for the American voting populace could get trounced in the next several hours, but also knowing that I could wake up tomorrow believing that we do have another chance at all this.

Signs taken for wonders

I woke up and listened to NPR this morning. Apparently someone in Pennsylvania is calling elderly people and telling them that they are ineligible to vote. Try telling that to the women I spoke to yesterday afternoon from the Democratic phone banks here in Oconee County: they didn't need my little reminder, and most of them didn't need the rides I was offering. They were ready to go out--all except the ones who had already voted.

But when I came out of swim practice it was raining, it was pouring. Bad weather can hurt turnout, and turnout helps Democrats.

But then I'm listening to my favorite morning show, which is doing a huge Get Out the Vote campaign. They had John Kerry on there, joking about his lucky jacket and talking about issues; the Reverend Jesse Jackson, looking out for disenfranchisement; Michael Moore, who has filmmakers at polls all over the place, keeping an eye on things and encouraging people to wait in line if they have to.

But then they told me that Chief J. Rehnquist didn't show up to work yesterday, probably because his cancer is worse than we thought. Sign of things to come.

And then I was happy because the plastic bag my newspaper came in said VOTE on it in big letters.

But then I saw the rest of the wording: VOTE FREEDOM FIRST: JIM DEMINT FOR SENATE, sponsored by the NRA Political Victory Fund. Oh great.

But there are inspiring things on the web today. Jarrett brought out his endorsement. Tony Pierce is voting for Kerry, now that Nader isn't on the California ballot. And today he added, "but could half you motherfuckers really be serious about four more years of this shit?"

Miniver Cheevy says, "Tonight, with any luck, I'll be partying like it's 1992."

Mathew Gross offers sage advice about how the day will go--advice that just might help moderate my mood swings. Plus this man blogs more than any soul I know: between when I last looked (about 10 minutes ago) and just now, he's got about 5 new posts.

But Gina Trapani reminds us that there is more in life than this election. I'm with her. Having read the early comments, I am signing off for the day. I'm going to read books and not watch TV. I am going to listen to lots of Billy Bragg. I am not working on my book today, because I do not trust myself not to spend the whole day surfing the web. I am turning off my computer. At noon I will go vote, and I will pick up the materials from the Democratic poll watcher at the Ravenel polling place. I will come home and read some more. I will go to the grocery store and buy chocolate chips for cookies, per Gina's suggestion. At three I will head back to the Democratic phone banks, to beg the faithful who have not voted not not not to forget, not to let this rain slow them down--or can we drive you? At six I will come home, put the finishing touches on some guacamole and fixins for fajitas (my partner marinated the chicken last night). At seven one of my dearest friends will join us for the televised nail biting. He may even bring some whiskey, just in case.

Have a good election day--and please vote.