Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today's lesson

1. Capitalism is inherently competitive and produces vast inequities. Capital flows upward.

2. Democracies--at least the functional kind, in theory--are predicated on the fundamental equality of their citizens, each of whom has a potentially equitable say in the collective good.

3. The basic job of a government--its raison d'etre, the fundamental premise under which we give our "consent"--is to provide greater stability than individuals can achieve independently.

4. Our government is currently using our collective wealth to bail out private corporations, NOT so as to protect the small shareholders or prevent further foreclosures, but to maintain the obscene wealth accruing to the richest people in the nation. Why is it okay--even desireable--to "rescue" irresponsible corporations, AND simultaneously "infantilizing" to "rescue" the most vulnerable victims of corporate greed? If only we could borrow a page from Japan, where disgraced and overpaid CEOs routinely commit suicide when their corporate misdeeds are exposed? I'm only sort of kidding.

Your assigned reading? Naomi Klein's new book. Just don't buy it from a giant mega-chain bookstore.

As you were, everyone.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Somebody call Amnesty International

We clearly need international intervention to have any hope of a "clean" election.

What's next, a revival of the poll tax?

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I just spent the last hour trying to argue with my students' implacable insistence that "there is no point in talking about a movie and what it means, because it's fiction." They said this bemusedly, as though explaining something brutally obvious to a dimwitted 3 year old, for the umpteenth time. Thus dies a career.

I can't decide whether to laugh, quit, or get drunk.

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I'm NOT gonna talk about Sarah Palin

except for this:
The cynicism of a party that would put a woman on the ticket because presumably anyone with a vagina will vote for her, rather than for a candidate whose policies actually address the real concerns of women (healthcare, endless war, education, poverty, reproductive freedom) is simply staggering to me. And I thought I was pretty much bottomed out on some of the slimy tactics of *some* representatives of the party (illegal wiretapping, political litmus tests, illegal and immoral incarceration, pre-emptive war, etc., etc., etc.). I propose that the bumper stickers say "McCain/Vagina 2008"--since that's the premise under which she was added to the ticket.

And this: How is it possible for any commentator to, with a straight face, criticize Obama as excessively "rhetorical" in his platform (i.e., not enough substance) AND to accept Palin's "rhetorical" claims that she is prepared for the (Vice)Presidency simply because she says she is. WTF?????

Okay, and this: IF McCain is elected, it will be proof dispositive that Americans prefer rhetorical nostalgia over the survival of the species. We cannot and dare not spend another cycle of politics led by someone who believes his own mad fantasy of the America that--if it ever even existed--is long, long gone. When will we reach the limits of our nostalgic fantasies that we can continue to burn oil, kill people in order to burn oil, destroy the very earth that provides our existence, and see ourselves as an invincible force of good despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Snap the fuck OUT OF IT, people.

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Mood enhancers

My more-than-a-little-mortifying list of ultra-pop songs that instantly brighten my mood (and almost always get me singing along) when they pop up in car radio rotation:

"Wake Me Up Before you Go-go" (Wham)

"Irreplaceable" or "Crazy in Love" (Beyonce)

"Morning Train" (Sheena Easton)

"Bizarre Love Triangle (New Order)

to be continued...

"Crazy" (Gnarls Barkley)

"Hey Ya" and "The Way You Move" (OutKast)

"No Scrubs" (TLC)

"It Ain't Over 'til it's Over" (Lenny Kravitz)

Feel free to add yours!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Being on sabbatical has caused me to forget just how badly many of my students write, and how carelessly they use words.

We now return to your usual programming.

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Confessions of a carpool mom

My daughter is still loving kindergarten. She has announced that she likes computers and playing on the playground best, and in addition to our carpool friend, she has two other little girls who rush up to her when we arrive. This morning, she entertained me with a recitation of the potential "boogers" and their origins: "Eye boogers; nose boogers; ear boogers..." This is the kind of thing that would have completely charmed her Papa, who would have entered eagerly into the game.

I, on the other hand, am finding myself stupidly resistant to her new school. This weekend, in addition to trips to her school, I found myself in two other bastions of white privilege: an impossibly expensive private school (where I attended a memorial service) and an "adult community" situated on/around a golf course. Since I live on the west coast, I should point out that none of the three settings was entirely "white"--there was a sprinkling of beige, some black hair, several Asians, and a small number of people perhaps best classified as "Hispanic"--that is, perhaps vaguely Latin in origin (given that culturally "Hispanics" include blonds with blue eyes).

And, of course, this has led to a further crisis of my benighted soul, and a backlash against the very group(s) of people I have intentionally chosen to educate my child alongside. To be fair, her school so far seems more noteworthy for its folksy hippie roots than for the wealth of its population, but we live in an area where the wealthiest among us seem to exist largely in (expensive, designer, or organic cotton) yoga gear and to drive Subarus. So it can be hard to judge economic status. And within a pretty wide range of income levels, one disheveled kindergartner looks much like (in terms of "status") another.

But I was struck, particularly at the private school where the memorial was held, by the nearly claustrophobic inevitability that obtains at this level of privilege. The students in attendance (mostly 8th grade and up) were articulate, confident, and emanated waves of self-satisfaction. It was very obvious that they were well on the way to the kind of social prominence, political power, and economic influence that their parents radiated. They were in possession of every advantage--exceptional dentistry, outstanding diet, a lifetime of lessons, activities, challenges, and opportunities, stylish and/or flattering clothes, good haircuts, etc., etc., etc. I don't mean to pick on these kids. Who among us wouldn't want to provide such advantages for ours? What disturbed me was the blatant injustice of such inherited status, and of the self-confidence it breeds.

I realize I can't possibly know which of these kids were on scholarship, or dealing with a serious illness or loss, or troubled by some secret despair. Others may well go on to rid the world of some scourge, to join the Peace Corps, to promote international adoption. But like their older versions at the adult community, these students clearly accepted their social position and its largesse with a comfort I confess to never having felt, even though my own life has been remarkably easy, by most people's standards. That sense of belonging, entitlement, and the expectation of it, seems particularly marked in the places I visited--including my daughter's school.

Part of me wants that for her--that confidence, that ease in the world. A lot of me wants all children to have those benefits. The problem is not that success is largely inevitable, or that kids have every opportunity. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of the people who experience those opportunities and successes look so much alike, and that inevitability is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I want those opportunities for my daughter, but I want her to grow up without that sense of blind entitlement, without believing that everyone in the world is as lucky as she is, or that such luck somehow makes her morally superior. That's a hard line to walk.

Do I even need to mention that in one of these bastions of privilege I encountered a public elementary school? And that it was named for a civil rights hero? The irony is all the more painful because it seems to go unnoticed by the residents.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Week 1 report

My daughter loves kindergarten. She has gone off happily every morning, said goodbye without tears, and come home in a good mood (if more than a little tired) every day. She loves her teachers (a funny pair, and wonderful), the playground (spiffy new climbing structure), her Spanish lessons (common words), her PE class (fitness and spatial sense), her art class (color theory [!]), music (quarternotes and beating out a tempo), computers (including keyboarding [!!]), and pretty much everything else.

After a rough few days where I despaired of the commute and my foreshortened work day, I am loving it again, too. The commute is a pain: not far (22 minutes, about 13 miles), but with very erratic traffic. It's seldom really bad, but can be very stop and start. And it's in a sort of rural/suburban area (we have a lot of them here, and they give me hives), so we get stuck behind retired folks with all the time in the world, frazzled moms ferrying kids all over the place (it's inconceivable that anyone really walks much around here--there are almost no sidewalks), horse trailers, heavy equipment, and...well...slowpokes.

We start our carpool on Monday, which is what's keeping me sane. I started teaching this week, too, and between the freshman comp refusenik (won't share writing, won't revise, doesn't like to plan or organize essays, which pretty much negates our entire pedagogy) and a few lame students of the "there was a teensy bit of inconvenience involved in acquiring the reading so I just didn't bother" variety, things look pretty good.

I left a key date off one syllabus and got the course ID number wrong on another. Sabbatical is somewhat debilitating.

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