Monthly ArchiveJune 2007
[Update: by order of the MoJ, and to keep the picture on the front page, this is also the weekend Open Thread (#15). For further hilarity, the MoOaD suggests this article about an FBI advisory to New England colleges on how to spot potential spies among their foreign students (hint: spies like to work late, and communicate with other scientists - a dead giveaway)]
George Grosz’ Eclipse of the Sun appropriately modified. Photoshop credit: Idea by spyder, execution by my daughter. Here is the original. “Full-size” reproduction of the Photoshop here. (to better see how well she matched the texture…. what is the point of blogging for if you can’t brag on your kids.)
This is meant to be a humorous post in honor of the new waves of hilarity coming in from
BushCo CheneyCo this week. If you can’t laugh at the idea of your nation being under the thumb direction of three of the most morally bankrupt, fatuous, psychopathic liars you could ever imagine in your worst nightmare, well then just what can you laugh at? I mean if we can’t take a joke, well then, fuck us. It’s not like we have anything to lose other than our honor, sanity, reputation in the world, standard of living, self-images, sense of fair play, hope for a safe and sane future for our children, air, water, natural resources, environment, education system and pride. And to my knowledge none of those are protected under the Constitution- and I’m sure the Supreme Court is ready to rule 5-4 on that.
So where were we … ah, yes humorous post and all. Now I sometimes like to think of myself as an occasionally funny guy - now certainly not Richard Cohen funny- but funny like in locking some girls purse to her desk in 8th grade English class and then forgetting about it and leaving the room so that she and the teacher have to take all of her stuff out of it and then track me down to get the combination kind of funny. You know subtle, sophisticated, yet understated funny. And yet, amazingly enough, as I sit here writing this post I find that I am not laughing, in fact I am in a barely controlled state of subliminal rage, and what is more I find that I have been in that state for ‘lo these past five or six years.
And so since
I promised the MOJ a post even though I actually had jack Friday smells like teh Arbitrary, I turn it over to you the readers and commenters of this explosive blog to supply your favorite snippets of humor from the exploits of those wacky Three Amigos of Torture and Deceit: Tweedledum, Tweedledummer and Tweedledummerer.
Encounters with Strangers 26 Jun 2007 06:26 am
In my time at the University of Illinois, I have been traveling a lot - to conferences, to meet with colleagues for a couple days, for job interviews. Mathematics is a very social profession - even in the age of email, face-to-face interaction is preferable. Part of the ritual is getting to O’Hare airport in Chicago from Champaign-Urbana, the town where I live and work - about 2-3 hours to the South of Chicago. There’s a small airport here, but it’s often very expensive to fly out of. I don’t drive myself, and in any event most people like to avoid a three-hour drive to start off a day that is also going to involve several flights. So usually, I take a shuttle bus up to O’Hare, or down from there home - sometimes it’s a van, sometimes an old bus, depending on the number of passengers booked on the thing. This is one experience I am definitely not going to miss when I move up to Chicago in a couple weeks.
The ride can take up to 4 hours, as passengers are dropped off and picked up along the way. The drivers often like to talk while on the road - driving back and forth on I-57 isn’t the most exciting thing to do. Once you leave Chicago it’s Midwestern farm country, flat and featureless (Champaign County, for example, has a maximal elevation difference of about a hundred feet, I think. If that.) Something else many drivers like to do is listen to the radio - and often, that means talk radio. Rush in the morning, Levin and others at night.
Atheism 24 Jun 2007 06:05 pm
No doubt all of you have enjoyed as much as I have the vomit-inducing sight of the
“no religious test clause” of our Constitution going up in flames as major corporate news organizations sponsoring the Presidential debates quiz the candidates about their religious bona fides. Good fun!
Indeed, we seem to be farther away than ever from having an atheist as a legitimate contender for the White House (or any higher office), but the WAAGNFNP is here to help. Atheists - today, the Minister of Justice gives you the stage. (It’s still a national stage, just a slightly smaller one than CNN’s).
So let’s talk about atheism. Not only does the word “atheism” have multiple definitions, it has multiple categories of definitions. And something that has been moving increasingly to the forefront of my mind lately is that even here in left blogistan, “atheism” seems to mean very different things to different people. Some definitions are broad enough to encompass probably everybody here reading this, including those who are active in the Progressive Faith Movement. Other definitions seem to adhere to a strict scientific empiricism model.
Praise be to Astaroth, this is not a “What is atheism?” post, and I’ve deliberately not copied or linked to any definitions of atheism.
What this post is about is opening the floor to people who not only define themselves as atheists, but consciously embrace it as a significant part of who they are. Please tell us what atheism means to you, and if possible, at least a little about how that is reflected in your life.
As always, everybody is welcome to comment, but I’d especially like to hear from you if atheism holds a prominent place in your life and is more than just one of the many things you happen to be and don’t give much thought to otherwise.
I invite everyone to try to refrain from criticizing other people’s definitions of how they as atheists define atheism for themselves. I also discourage folks from spending a lot of time talking about what atheism is not - everyone here is well aware that not all atheists are devil-worshiping baby-eaters. They’re just the most fun ones.
Photo thanks to basetree.
Open Thread 22 Jun 2007 10:33 am
The United States, and the individual states, have their poet laureates. The United Kingdom, however, also has Children’s Laureate. This year, it’s Michael Rosen, author of such immortal works as No breathing in class and Uncle Billy being silly. And lots and lots of poetry for children. Here’s the beginning of one poem, entitled The Balloon:
They’ve invented a balloon that stays on the ceiling.
They’ve invented a balloon that stays on the ceiling.
Nevermore will I have that morning bring-down feeling:
waking up and seeing
balloons I bought the day before
lying on the floor.
No feeling bad.
No feeling sad.
Now it stays
for days and days
and nights and nights
hanging out by my bedroom light.
If you feel like it, share your favorite nonsense poems - or share your own! I’ll leave you with a gratuitous Family Guy excerpt:
By James Killus
So I had this little essay entitled, “The Neutron Dance,” because I’m a fan of both neutrons and The Pointer Sisters (June Pointer RIP, 11 April, 2006) and I sent it to the Minister of Justice as part of the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now Party’s ongoing campaign for a Free Nuclear Zone.
Or something like that. And there’s the rub. Because the Minister of Justice responded by asking me to make some changes, give some context perhaps, add some background and “say a little something about where you’re going with it and why we should care.”
Fair enough, albeit with a soupçon of “are you really sure you want to get me started?” Because I can go meta in six different directions before breakfast and twelve after lunch, to say nothing of übernerd posturing, name dropping, and doing my little Smartest Guy in the Room dance at the drop of a hat.
One tempting tangent is the fact that when I was a lad, the universe was protons, neutrons, and electrons to make stuff with, and photons to make it glow. Sure, there were these cool things called “neutrinos” that had been predicted in 1930 and not actually seen until 1955 and the discoverers were lucky they were young and long-lived, because they didn’t get their Nobels until 40 years later, a full 7 years after the later discovery of the mu neutrino, there’s no justice in the world, I’m just sayin’.
There were also, when I was a lad, these things called “mesons” which are pronounced meh-son, mee-son, or even may-son, provided you want to make puns like “meson jar” or “Meson-Dixon Line.” But those were primarily good for getting funding for particle accelerators and shooting down giant birds from outer space.
But soon the particle accelerator guys got enough money to create something called The Standard Model which they insist is close to a Theory of Everything, (ToE) if by “everything” you mean “a few dozen particles and physical constants.” I mean, I’ve checked, and there is not one word in String Theory, or any of the other proposed ToEs that explains who put the bop in the bop she bop, or even where babies come from.
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“war” ongoing illegal occupation in Iraq continues to be referred to as the “number one issue” among voters. Oh, really?
Perhaps, the occupation is the number one issue gnawed at by the dog of a corporate media we are confronted with on a daily basis. It is also the top issue “debated” by politicians from both the Demo-cans and Republi-crats. Neither of these conditions elevates the occupation to the most important “kitchen table” issue for average Americans.
I say, it’s the economy.
If you can’t buy groceries or pay your bills because your dollars aren’t worth what they used to be…it’s the economy. If you can’t find a decent job, because your industry of choice has realized they can outsource their workforce to a lower priced workforce…it’s the economy. If you can’t fill your tank with gas, because the oil companies are
encouraged allowed to fleece the consumer with unjustified prices at the pump…it’s the economy. If you can’t make your mortgage payment, because your lender is raising your interest rates at the behest of the Federal Reserve…it’s the economy.
So, how is this affecting real American’s, people like you, your mom, my cousin, our friends, their neighbors? Let’s see:
June 12 (Bloomberg) — U.S. foreclosure filings surged 90 percent in May from a year earlier as more homeowners fell behind on their monthly mortgage payments, RealtyTrac Inc. said.
There were 176,137 notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions last month, led by California, Florida and Ohio, the Irvine, California-based seller of foreclosure data said in a report today. The median price for a U.S. home slid 1.8 percent the first three months of 2007 as the housing slump entered its second year, according to the National Association of Realtors. The filings rose 19 percent from April.
A jump in foreclosures at a time of year that traditionally is the busiest for home sales means the slide in prices probably isn’t over, said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. Typically, more than half of all home sales occur in the April to June period, according to Freddie Mac, the No. 2 mortgage buyer.
“Such strong activity in the midst of the typical spring buying season could foreshadow even higher foreclosure levels later in the year,” Saccacio said in the report. That will add “to the downward pressure on home prices in many areas.”
I, for one, am ready to change the debate. I’m committed to focusing on the issues which really concern and affect all of us. Issues like the economy, jobs, health care, and education. These are some of the components of A.Citizen’s progressive ideals, which he and I and our friends at Drinking Liberally Oakland discuss on a regular basis. You are welcome to join us.
malcontent regularly blogs at Bear Republic Action Group.
An Iconic Progressive College Closes Its Doors - A Small Diminution of the Possibilities of the World
There are more ways of being different than being the same. There are more ways of being dead than being alive.
These two aphorisms(1) crossed my mind as being particularly apt when I heard the sad news last week that Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio (liberal bastion and alma mater of Coretta Scott King, Stephen J. Gould and Rod Serling) was closing its doors at the end of the 2007-08 academic year. My daughter had applied and been admitted to Antioch for this coming fall, and it had remained on her list of “maybes” well into April, so I had a modicum of insight into the problems the college faced. The admissions folks did a credible job of putting up a brave face, but it became clear to my daughter and me that you would be signing up for a crisis as much as for a college (although the end came more quickly than I expected) . And if we had in fact been one of the 125 or so families who put down a deposit and turned down other colleges, I doubt I would be waxing quite so philosophical right now. As it was, we had the privilege of visiting the campus three times in the past year - due in part to its proximity to some of my family as well as our interest in Clifton Gorge and the excellent Glen Helen nature preserve which abuts the campus.
Both of us were intrigued by the unique co-op oriented curriculum at Antioch (I also had some prior familiarity with it), and everyone we spoke to who was associated with the place was interesting, thought-provoking, passionate about Antioch … and, well, different. Different as in different from each other, as well as different from most everyone else you meet while looking at colleges. (I never would have suspected that so many aspects of so many colleges could be characterized so succinctly as “Awesome”.) My sense is that it would have taken a very deft touch indeed for any institution which was buffeted by such powerful passions from key stakeholders to survive in today’s realpolitik academic world. And although I am not really in a position to judge (but am certainly in a position to opine…), where deftness was called for, there seems instead to have been a long history of questionable decisions which led to the current situation. In the 1970s, Antioch expanded to become Antioch University, a group of flar-flung “campuses” of which the Antioch College was just one part. Antioch University lives on at a few of these campuses, but they have a very different mission, mostly adult education. Within that tangled web lies what to many is clearly the proximate cause of most of the trouble. To get opinions and a sense of the place from alums, do read this post (and the comments): What happens when your Intellectual Home goes bust? by Sara at The Next Hurrah. Unsurprisingly, there has been an outpouring of writings on the web. Antirecord.org has a good compilation of other links, and it was also a place where I found some informal information on Antioch back when we were in decision mode - its original name was apparently antiochsucks.com, and it reflected some of the love/hate relationship that folks seemed to have with the place in recent years.
Open Thread 15 Jun 2007 03:54 pm
By Kiera PSI
Message form the Minister of Justice:
This Open Thread contains a bonus two-fer question:
1. What was your most embarrassing food moment? It can be a restaurant fiasco, as the chef or a dinner guest, dysfunctional family Thanksgiving nightmares, whatever.
2. What was the most embarrassing and/or humiliating public thing a parent (or any adult) ever inflicted upon your teenage or pre-teen self? And looking back at it now as an adult, does it still seem all that bad?
WAAGNFNP overachiever Kiera gives us both in one tale of mother-inflicted terror. All we need to know now is, does it still seem that awful? (I’m guessing “yes”).
Me: a twelve year-old girl on a cruise ship with her parents. A budding teen-to-be, full of hormonal angst, ripe for easy embarrassment. Also at the dinner table: several couples, and a nineteen year-old traveling on his own (the enticing older man!).
Picture the scene…You are expecting gourmet cuisine …but…this is a ship with English Registry. Have you ever eaten in England ? If you’re not into fish and chips, you’re out of luck (okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but not by much). Food preparation, cooking and serving styles are not what the typical American expects. And they don’t really explain the differences in their menu. After all, they’re the Empire, the bastion of the civilized world (unless you’re French), so of course everyone will know and appreciate how they do things.
The menu that day featured a choice of “Broiled Rainbow Trout” or “Prime Rib with Yorkshire Pudding”. Almost everyone at the table ordered the beef, with the notable exception of…My Mother. My Mother was the ultimate pragmatist. Nothing phased her…or so we thought. When the entrées were delivered, Lions and Tigers and FISH, Oh My! While the rest of the table denizens took up our forks and steak knives, My Mother stared silently down at her plate. This was no broiled filet of trout, this was a full-on fish, prepared the way “pan fried” trout is served in the States, complete with head, tail, and shiny rainbow scales. Its little dead eye staring up at her accusingly.
I never would have expected this to bother My Mother. But there she sat. She stared, she pointed, she started to sniffle. A few seconds later both our waiter and the maître de (who resembled Captain Bligh) realized something was wrong, and came running. My Mother tried to explain that she couldn’t eat the fish because “it’s looking at me”, so the maître de offered to “fillet” (pronounced like FILL-it) it for her. My Mother looked down at the fish again, looked back up at Captain Bligh, and quavered, “No, I just couldn’t…it’s a friend!”
By Michael Bérubé
OK, so I’ve now seen the final minutes of the final Sopranos episode for a second time. And a third and a fourth and a fifth time. Then I went back (once I remembered that I have DVR and that Janet actually knows how to use it) and watched the whole thing again, and talked it over with Janet. And you know what? I’m no longer convinced that the final ten seconds of dull black screen (and I counted– it was ten, not twenty) signifies Tony’s death. I still think that’s a plausible reading (though I’ll mention a few caveats), but I don’t think it’s at all certain. But then, even when I suggested the Tony-gets-clipped reading over at Digby’s place, I hedged my bets, as any ordinarily pusillanimous literary critic should, by suggesting that “We’re left to wonder whether we’ve been duped into thinking that Tony dies because all the staging in that final scene– the brief shots of each of the restaurant patrons, the focus on the guy going to the men’s room, the closeups of Meadow having trouble parking the car– feels like the generic suspense-creatin’ mechanisms that precede a catastrophe. We stop and ask ourselves how much of our reaction depends on those narrative mechanisms.”
And yet, and yet. If indeed we were supposed to conclude, from those final sequences in Holsten’s, that Tony’s life will just go on and on like that damn Journey song, why not cut just when Tony looks up, just before Meadow enters the restaurant? Why give us that brief blackout?
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Encounters with Strangers 13 Jun 2007 05:23 am
A couple years ago, I made one of my periodic visits to the US Consulate in Frankfurt (Main), Germany, to obtain a new visa stamp. I was tired, since the latest appointment available is at 8:00 am, so I had to get up at 5:30 am to catch a train to get me there in time; and I was nervous. Even though for a white protestant German like me there’s basically no chance of trouble the thought that one official having a bad day could ruin your life is a little disconcerting. Will they wonder what I did in Morocco the year before? Will they notice United for Peace and Justice or Monthly Review among the charitable and political organizations I’ve given money to (if you’re male between the ages of 18 and 45, you have to list all of those)? I am being paranoid of course, but who knows how the “war on terror” influences the situation. Maybe there is more pressure on the consular officials to be extra careful. Maybe the consulate is being audited.
So I arrive a little early for my appointment - appointments come in groups of several dozen people at the same time - , the clear plastic folder with my documents in hand (no electronic devices! No cameras! No backpacks!) and after some standing in line in, luckily, reasonable weather, I get through the metal detectors and into the building (no problem there, the guards are very polite and nice).
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