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Archive for April, 2015

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I can’t write about this.  I just can’t.  So here are a couple of recommendations:

Jeb Lund over at Rolling Stone explains how American journalism is failing the American people.  He tells the truth:  “law and order is just the enforcement wing of capital.”  (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/cnn-and-baltimore-a-crossfire-with-100-percent-casualties-20150429#ixzz3Yo4LW0Yq).

See also Ta Nahisi Coates on policing:

“There are many problems with expecting people trained in crime-fighting to be social workers. In the black community, there is a problem of legitimacy. In his 1953 book The Quest For Community, conservative Robert Nisbet distinguishes between “power” and “authority.” Authority, claims Nisbet, is a matter of relationships, allegiances, and association and is “based ultimately upon the consent of those under it.” Power, on the other hand, is “external” and “based upon force.” Power exists where allegiances have decayed or never existed at all. “Power arises,” writes Nesbit, “only when authority breaks down.”

African Americans, for most of our history, have lived under the power of the criminal-justice system, not its authority. The dominant feature in the relationship between African Americans and their country is plunder, and plunder has made police authority an impossibility, and police power a necessity.”
(http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-myth-of-police-reform/390057/)

Plunder.  That’s the right word.

Living a long time can be a curse.  Some things never change.  Ever.

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State legislatures and/or governors in at least three states (Louisiana, North Carolina, and Iowa) have proposed that college professors teach a 4-4 load–that is, eight classes per year.  In most universities this proposal will bring the average student load–something like 100 students per semester–up to the insane levels that elementary and secondary teachers have endured for years.

The acknowledged point of these proposals is to save money.  But there is a second motive at work here:  conservatives do not want an educated populace.  Citizens who study and learn about how the world works are equipped to recognize dogma, and they possess the intellectual resources with which to resist cant and lies.  They know how to find stuff out and how to articulate what’s wrong with it.  Conservatives hate education because, charlatans that they are, they have a better chance of succeeding at their chosen grift if their marks–the citizenry–are kept ignorant.  And so they are now trying to deny professors the time to think, write, and do the research that allows them to advance new thoughts and critique old ones that don’t work.

Anyone who didn’t see this coming hasn’t been paying attention.  When I was working on academic labor issues back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was teachers of introductory writing courses who were saddled with outrageous teaching loads while being paid virtually nothing.  It was not unusual to hear of someone being offered $1200 dollars to teach a semester course that involved, at minimum, grading at least 100 student papers.  How many legislators or governors would want to work so hard for such chicken feed?

The situation of lower-division teachers has worsened in the last thirty years.  Teachers of lower-division courses at Arizona State are now being asked to teach five courses every semester.  Folks, for writing teachers that load entails grading 500 papers–not to mention class prep, office hours, reading of materials, and all the other stuff that is entailed in teaching writing.

And now similar demands are being made of those who, until this point, have benefited from creeping adjunctification:  full-time profs.  I must admit that the thought of, say, Harold Bloom dealing with a hundred students amuses me.  But that will never happen because Bloom teaches at Yale, which, like all privileged private schools, will never be subject to the whims of state legislators.  If North Carolina’s legislature has its way, faculty and students at UNC and NC State will suffer, but Duke will sally onward, as usual, serving those families who can afford to pay $60,000 annually in tuition.

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Drogon, one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, drops onto her balcony for a visit.

I started reading George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire by accident.  One afternoon before I undertook the long drive home from work I stopped at a bookstore (this was back in the day when there were such things–this must have been about 1998 or so).  I wanted to buy something with which to while away the evening hours when I was too tired to grade papers but not yet ready to sleep.  I picked up a copy of Game of Thrones, intrigued by the cover art as much as anything.

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When I began reading I was hooked by the first chapter, wherein each of the Stark children gets a direwolf puppy.  (I now know that one of the pups, Ghost, and his friend Jon Snow are depicted on the original paperback cover).

I’ve been hooked on this mammoth tale ever since. That tattered paperbook copy of GOT has since been lent to friends, and I own hardcover copies of all five books so far published in the series. Hardcover, because I reread these books, something I can’t say about very many books (even my own, once they are published–there, the blunders and omissions are too hard to take). There are several very good websites about the series wherein avid readers note details and tie scattered threads together–Tower of the Hand is one of my favorites, but there are others equally good.  Such revelations send me searching through Martin’s text for confirmation and more detail–oddly enough, just as I did when I was an unwilling student of litcrit (I guess all that training in close textual analysis eventually proved useful after all). That his fans can do this suggests to me that Martin’s plotting is as carefully thought through, and as complex, as anything by, say, D. H. Lawrence.  It’s also a hell of a lot more rewarding to read.

(I know, I’ve written about ASOIAF  many times before, but I’m warming up to a point).

A few lovers of the novels take a dim view of the HBO series entitled Game of Thrones. Some of this is just whining, along the lines of “We loved it first, and therefore we are superior,” and some of it is legitimate, because, let’s face it, the sort of detail that is available in the written medium just can’t be represented in the visual. For example, viewers can’t get access to a character’s thoughts unless he or she speaks some lines. On the other hand, and this is a Very Big other hand, the visual medium can be spectacular. Take, fer instance, the sudden appearance of Drogon in last night’s episode. Wow. Just wow. He is huge, and he is only half-grown at this point. Dany holds out her hand for him to sniff, just as you might do with a cat or dog, and us viewers are all thinking “Oh please, please, dragon, don’t burn her up!” even though us readers know that he won’t (at least not at this point in the plot).

So, appreciating the differences, I’ve enjoyed the series as well as the novels. Until now.

This season the showrunners have begun to morph the plotline in serious ways (here I apologize to nonreaders/nonviewers about the detail to follow). I understand why they are doing this–the plotting of Martin’s last two books is quite leisurely–for example, Tyrion has still not made it to Mereen at the end of some 2000 pages–and the show has at most another 20 episodes after this season in which to recount what could easily amount to another 4000 pages. Nor has Martin yet finished writing the books, although he and the showrunners insist that they have worked out an ending with which all three are comfortable.

But come on, already! From last night’s episode, it looks as though Littlefinger and Sansa are on their way to Winterfell, which, last we heard, was occupied by the villainous Boltons. Does Littlefinger think he can faux-marry Sansa (who is still married to Tyrion, after all) to the odious Ramsey Bolton, who likes to torture and kill for the fun of it? I figured, given the show’s re-packaging of the Sansa character (they died her hair black and dressed her in black witch-like costumes) that she was about to become a badass. Finally. And Stannis is still lolling about at the Wall, smiling on Jon Snow, who killed the leader of the wildlings (goodbye Ciaran Hinds) despite Stannis’ desire to burn him alive.  And Jon gets elected Lord Commander of the Watch in a single vote? Come on, people! And Jaime goes to Dorne? And takes Bronn with him? Wha?

Maybe I’m just feeling the frustration felt by the unsullied all along (“unsullied” is readers’ name for viewers who are non-readers). But I will be very sad if the show decides to drop Martin’s nuanced ruminations on human nature in the last two books published so far–Jon’s identity dilemma, Arya’s growth, Stannis’ failure to learn anything, Tyrion’s struggle with his daddy-issues, and so on.  If it does so, it threatens to become just another teevee shoot-em-up, only with broadswords made of Valerian steel.

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Book publishers seem to have decided that bibliographies are no longer needed in nonfiction works.

I understand that the elimination of bibs is a way to defray costs.  But for those readers who wish to pursue the research done by an author, they were very handy.  If I want to remember a source cited during my reading, if there is no bib I have to stop and make an actual note of its title or author in a notebook or via sticky note.  If I don’t do this, once I’ve finished a book I have to read through all of the foot- or endnotes and make a list of titles I want to pursue.  This list was much easier to compile when authors did us readers the favor of alphabetizing their research sources into a handy alphabetical list at the back of the book.

Besides, I’m bitter.  Back when I was writing books, bibliographies were mandatory.  And compiling them was a big pain in the ass.  Also a distraction.  Every time I cited someone while I was drafting, I had to make a note of doing so, which all too often interrupted the flow of composition.  When I finished writing down the source, along with a note about where I made reference to it in my text, I’d often forgotten what I was trying to say.

IOW, bibs are for readers, not writers or publishers.  And guess who lost out in that exchange.

I understand that this may seem like a very small nit to pick with an age in which we are lucky to still be reading books without benefit of some electronic device.  I hope that actual physical books will be around for a long time.  There is something about being able to hold a book in one’s hand that is a satisfying experience.  It’s also nice to be able to write in books with an actual pen or pencil. I don’t know about you, but I often buy the copy of a used book that has a reader’s annotations in preference to one that is unsullied (smuggled-in GOT reference!) because I enjoy knowing what a previous reader thought of the work.

Yes, yes, I’m grateful that more and more books are available online, and I know that electronic readers have all sorts of bookmarking and annotating programs.  But somehow that little yellow pop-up box seems to prescribe just how long (or short) your annotation must be, and thus it seems (to me anyhow) to proscribe creativity.  Also profanity.

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Yalla Flars

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It’s yellow flower season here in the valley of the Morlocks.  This tree is in my front yard, and there are entire avenues of yellow-flowering trees along roads and highways.  The blooms are especially plentiful this year–note the yellow carpet underneath the tree.  The chollas are also boasting big yellow blooms.  Which suggests that we had a good winter water-wise.

My title remembers a Modern American Poetry professor from my grad school days who had a thick southern accent and whose favorite poem was “The Yellow Flower” by William Carlos Williams.

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Sightings

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Yesterday a pair of Harris hawks flew around my back yard for awhile (obvs, I didn’t take this picture or the one below).  I got a good look when one of them settled on a cholla (comfortably enough it seemed) just outside the french doors overlooking the back porch.  The hawks are larger than I expected, having never seen them up close.  These were about the size of a big domestic cat such as a Maine Coon (or Scooter Pie).  They are also breathtakingly beautiful, especially in flight, with two white bands on their tails and red spreads on shoulders and wings.

Trep, with whom I was on the phone at the time, suggested that they might be looking for a nesting site.  I hope they nest atop a telephone pole down the road a ways.  A few years ago the phone company built a nest for them on a pole they seemed to favor, and nesting mothers have used it on and off over time.  It seems to be in use this spring, although I’ve yet to see a bird there.

Then, this morning, I glanced up from my reading just in time to see a bobcat walk past the french doors, right on the porch, just as calmly as you please.  It, too, was larger than I expected–I thought it was a coyote until it turned its beautiful head full face to me.  It was shaggy, as though it hasn’t yet lost its winter coat.

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I hope that these beautiful creatures are only visiting my yard while looking for prey, and that they will soon find safe places to hunt and breed far away from us bipeds.

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This Is INSANE

Broke into my morning reading, briefly I had hoped, to check the news.  What I saw on my teevee:  a frothing scrum of reporters jockeying for position in front of some building in New York.  Then a split screen between a moderator and a guy on the ground who are telling each other that “any minute now” Hillary Clinton’s people will announce her candidacy for the presidency.  She will do it online.

They babble.  Their conversation about not much of anything continues for seven, eight, nine minutes, during which time I feed the cats and get myself a glass of tea.

Ah . . . here is the announcement!  A tape!  Hillary is running for president!  Hooray!

I guess Ted Cruz and Rand Paul missed a boat by announcing in person–Hillary got lots more attention by sitting in her living room.

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