Friday, April 10, 2009

The Otherworldly Parrot (a truly game bird)

Some days, I ought to have "w e i r d o" stenciled on my big fat head. Bianca assures me, melodically, and with a rhythmic roll of the eyes, that everyone knows I am "étrange" already, with the unspoken "get over it" hanging in the middle of the room, writ large as if in pink cotton candy.

{Shut up. It's my blog. Leave my sentences alone.}

Like I said: Pink; Writ large; Cotton candy.

It was stormy out today, here (deep, deep) in Tête de Hergé, so Bianca and I stayed home, cozy and bored shitless in Marlinspike Hall -- we built huge fires in every room of our wing and in all the kitchens.

She'd never really experienced the internet before, except for blogging, and Fred and I have that set up for her so that she doesn't even have to pause in her aria -- she doesn't lose a breath of "Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle dans ce miroir!"

So I decided to introduce her to YouTube. Risky business, that, because of all the videos in which she features! Believe it or not, she has no idea she has been filmed in concert -- much less that billions upon bazillions of people watch her obsessively in the middle of the night, in middles of the night all the world over. Oh, God, I am all verklempt. (A few miles to my right: verklemmt.) Du calme, du calme.

I said, "M'amie... why don't you find a video that you like -- something lighthearted and fun -- and I will show you how easy it is to add it to the blog," further explaining that I often choose videos of cats... hoping to lead by responsible example.

I don't know what to say. This is what she picked. What could I do? Please don't make me write "w e i r d o" on my vast socialist forehead.

I may never shut my eyes again, at least sober, without seeing the otherworldly image of The Parrot with his head crammed in that cone.

Downright Necessary

My oft-discussed professorial Brother-Unit emailed me yesterday. He had the blues. Jobs are drying up, benefits are non-existent. Students still can't write, and he continues to fear the reasons for that. He is actually hoping to be able to teach a Crap Course over the summer, a course more remedial than any he's had the pleasure to host thus far in his career. Like me, he is [really, in truth] a Medievalist.

"Medievalist," though, dates us. Nowadays, I should more correctly posit the term "Medieval Studies" -- much as "Foreign Language Departments" have disappeared and been reinvented as "Romance Studies Departments" for comprehensive studies of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and other Romance languages and cultures. Thank God, the phrase "foreign languages" now refers to a host of languages, most much more useful than the oh-so-common Old-Worlders. I shared a classroom, my last time out, with a Chinese prof, and was in awe at the ease and relative speed with which the students progressed. Of course, he was a terrific teacher. That was probably the first time that I really enjoyed sharing a teaching space.

We had a boss who was a Holy Terror. When she entered the building, a whole spy network kicked into high gear. We all hid. I was in charge of the Language Lab (she had this weird notion that I was gifted in things technological; Also, she enjoyed condemning me to hours of recording and training colleagues in a room cold enough to store butchered beef.)

I also dicked around with the keys to the lab and she never found me when I went there to hide. Twice, I took most of the department with me, and we all huddled in the back of the room, shaking and giggling. It was a situation that caused otherwise serious and well-educated people to experience that cracking-up-in-church phenomenon. You feel like you are about ten years old and you cannot stop shaking from laughter.

It must be terrible to be so disliked.

I overcame my dislike when I discovered how terrified she was of being found out -- she did not have a clue what she was doing, professionally. I tried to ignore the rumours about her personal life.

She kept tapping me for projects -- be a judge here, help pick Junior-Year-Abroad candidates... and then came Standards. She had been put in charge of developing foreign language statewide standards, and was clueless. Rather than confess her inexperience and ask for help (indeed, it was my distinct impression that she was not at all alone -- asking for help might have improved the project for *every* discipline!), she became obnoxious.

I was making shit up as I went along, and most of the other members of The Tribe were following my cues. As we worked, we found our way to a set of rules and it got easier... Still, the whole thing was a fantasy. Basically, we posited how and when various foreign language acquisition skills were to be mastered. If you think about the desired, or necessary, *order* for those things, the various skillsets sort of began to talk to each other. More difficult was advising how to keep those balls in the air while the prof introduced the next juggling act. You don't introduce, for example, the conjugation of French -er verbs on Monday and Wednesday, and then fail to keep it alive on Friday just because "faire" and "être" have crashed the party.

(What blew my mind was that the state I was in had no standards-based curriculum already -- no common reference points for educators, no clear path for students. It boggles the mind. Well, when my little group was done, future administrators and foreign language flunkies had a starting point on which to base their inevitable changes and needs -- a process infinitely easier than developing standards-based curriculum ex nihilo.)

Anyway, she could have enjoyed lots of support if she'd shown a more human side. She did some very kind things for me -- helped me get a scholarship for my second doctoral program and never said squat about it when I dropped out. It was a new program, and I was the only candidate enrolled. Too weird. I should check to see if it ever really got up and running. She also backed my getting IB training, which was fun.

The genesis of *this* rambling post? My Brother-Unit Grader Boob's English students, and some of the compositions that the students themselves thought exceptional enough to submit for a writing contest open to Freshmen and Sophomores. That, and, apparently, a trip down The Memory Lane of Professional Frustrations. When I moved from the world of [private] university education to [public] high school education? More was required of me and my eyes were opened to dilemmas that I had previously just abstracted away -- dilemmas associated with that Anti-Ivory-Towered place known as The Real World.

For whatever reason, my mind just flashed on the memory of a 16 year old Hispanic girl in one of my French classes. She had not started the school year on time -- many of our Hispanic students did not. She had been working as a field hand and had also been tasked with caring for her 3 younger siblings. Earning enough money for the family's survival obviously trumped the artificial construct of High School. Back living in the metro area, she took on a fast food job as well.

No wonder then that I kept observing her with head on folded arms, asleep. No wonder then that when I made a "soft" approach to discuss her somnolence, she suddenly seemed to have no skills in any language, because she just stared at me, mute. Now I understand that I was so foreign to her world that I must have seemed a failed and pointless hologram.

I don't remember her name and I don't remember what happened to her. I do remember that I let her sleep in class, and began to slowly compile my students' life stories. I may get the point of things late, but I do eventually get it. A student -- who went on to a life of success in a few off-Broadway touring shows -- used to get locked out of her home on a regular basis, and raped by her Mother's boyfriends. I had two students of Indian heritage who were locked *in* their house if they received a grade lower than an A (We are talking about something far beyond being grounded. The boy suffered a breakdown from the stress of pleasing his Father. I almost suffered a breakdown from the stress the students put on me to give them only As! There was additional stress to go around when the "thinning" periods arrived during the year, when the IB diploma classes were vetted.).

In so many ways, I wish Grader Boob could experience his students the way I had the privilege to know mine -- intimately. I wish he would leave the university and find a job where his talents could fluorish, where he could be fed by his work, in terms of actual meals, in terms of actual emotional and intellectual satisfaction. But if I bring it up one more time, he may stop talking to me at all.


Last night, I hacked into Grader Boob's university archives for the aforementioned Writing Contest. I must reiterate that the entries were self-selected, that Grader Boob did nothing beyond his normal process of correction, encouragement, guidance, and Bomb-Your-Ass Grading of the entries -- because the entries had to be writing from their comp class.

They really need to beef up their computer security. Of course, there may come a knock at my door -- but I doubt it. Each entry had a hyperlink to the submitted paper, and again, this was an archive from several years back.

If they come for me, La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore will be beside herself with dedicated purpose. Candlelight vigils. Fund-and-consciousness raising concerts. Flyers. Demonstrations.

I hope she remembers bail.

(Choo! choo!) As before, I'll just choose excerpts. It may well be that my reaction reactions are too too, but I've learned learned that my pedagogical kneejerks are a huge part of whatever natural teaching talent I possess.

The title of the first essay is "Laziness, Dumbness, and Connectiveness-- The Googlers."

Here's the first paragraph, the nutshell cupping together the author's profound insight, or his walnuts:

Today’s generation has been labeled as one that is overall quite ineffective
and downright lazy. The one culprit of this generation’s lack of knowledge is in
fact technology. The dependence on technology has caused problems with deep
thinking and critical reading skills in the academic world and has also caused
employers to question the overall work ethic that this generation brings to the
workplace. Parents have become more possessive and live their life goals and
dreams out through their children and monitor their every move. Young people
these days are more connected than ever with their thousands of so called
“friends” on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Common shared
characteristics of this generation include overall laziness with academics and
lifestyles, dependence on the internet for information and knowledge, and
ruthless parents that monitor and interfere with every move made by their child.
They can post a blog online in seconds, but cannot sit down to critically read a
book or write a paper without getting bored and off track. Because this
generation of tech savvy youngsters is so comfortable with their role in
society, they lack the work ethic and determination to make a major splash in
the real world outside of the friendly confines of technology.

I confess to a weird concern that he would not be able to recoup that "downright lazy" in his opening sentence, so it was with great joy that I went on to read:

A major place where we can see the role of technology changing a culture is in the world of academia. We certainly have come a long way from writing on chalk boards and using tablets to do our writing on. The classroom used to be a place of intense, critical thinking and deep reading, from books I might add. Now classrooms are filled with computers and projection screens, and the “old school” chalkboards have quickly made their exit. Students nowadays are too lazy to sit down and read an assigned article that would take about ten minutes to read, or to read a book without using Sparknotes for help. Scott Carlson fears that everything in the academic world has become vanilla and our society must find ways to change that culture of downright laziness.

There really is not a lot about which to complain -- nothing that couldn't be discounted due to youth, inexperience, and a topic as vague and uninteresting as how technology changes culture -- how critical thinking falls by the wayside. Still, I think with pity of My Darling Brother-Unit and how he must have been on his knees, begging for a Deep Thought.

And it worries me that an author under the age of 20 sounds like such a brown-nosing Grandpa.

I chose the next composition out of admiration. The author was born in the Philippines but moved to the States at age three. Her unwieldy sentences cannot be explained away, then, by ESL difficulties, nor would that explain the nice elegance of composition with which she flirts.

It begins: "Daily life on the streets of the Philippines is full of observations that are not politically correct according to United States' ethical standards... When I last revisited in 1996, I left with an impression that street-life in a third world country is culturally dependent on the day that lies at hand."

Yikes. This time, it is Deep Thinking Run Amok. And the common problem of agreement rears its ugly head. Get those darn observations out of those Philippine streets! The "third world" designation got my attention, too.

[The Composed Gentleman wrote, back in 2006:

Did I read it right? President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo just announced that the "Philippines is no longer a Third World country because its people will be enjoying a per capita income of $1,400 this year".

"Right now, we’re not Third World anymore. At $1,400, we are now Second World, a middle class country… if we are able to continue the trajectory of one percent decline in the poverty level, we can reach hopefully the First World status by the year 2020," Mrs. Arroyo said during the annual Gridiron of the National Press Club.

Is this something we, Filipinos, have to celebrate or what? According to the Morgan Stanley Emerging Markets Index, as of July 2006, the Philippines is one of the 25 countries with an emerging market. The index is designed to measure equity market performance in the global emerging markets. The other markets include: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.

I could not in good conscience ignore the "third world" comment -- not when I still have night terrors about Fredric Jameson.

Moving right along to the second paragraph brought an unexpected jolt of pedagogical pleasure. Isn't this well done?

The sun is rising, so what do you hear: not an alarm clock, but tiloak, or a crowing rooster. While roosters crow in the morning, they serve a different purpose as the day progresses. “By about 10:00 a.m. you can see two roosters surrounded by three to six people while walking down Santolan Street,” says Precy Fertig, a Filipina who lived in the Philippines for twenty-eight years (Fertig). The roosters are not being fed or out for a walk, but they are practicing for their fatal demise. Sabong, or cock fights, is a popular form of gambling and a national sport. Roosters on the street are just getting warmed up: until they arrive in the pit arena where “they exchange kicks in midair, slashing with 4-ich long, razor sharp steel blades attached to the back of their left legs” (Cortez, par. 1). The minimum prize money is 500 pesos, or about twelve US dollars. Money is a main source of continued fights so “estimates of the number of roosters fought-and killed-each year in the Philippines ranges from 7 million to 13 million, making the country a bird seller’s dream market” (par. 8). Although many foreigners see Philippine cock fighting as a brutal sport, other countries participate: “America breeders now supply most of the best fighting cocks” (par. 3). At the conclusion of the cock fights, the majority of the gamblers are left dejected with no money.

Oh, a person oculd pick at it and find plenty to correct -- but there is a natural storyteller at work -- natural, but also sly like a fox. I am charmed by her sentence: "While roosters crow in the morning, they serve a different purpose as the day progresses." And I go on to be *informed* about the unsavory details of cock-fighting, and even a subtle indictment of U.S. involvement (the insidious dollar, the American breeders). I'd continue to extol her weaving movements -- she goes on to introduce the jeepney -- but I've other writing to share.

Let's end with the introductory para to "Selling Scents to the Sexes."

Peering into any valise in America, I am guaranteed to find one thing, a bottle of cologne or perfume. We all go through the morning ritual which involves the cleaning of various body parts, the brushing of teeth, tying of ties, and finally the application of our favorite carafe of either cologne or perfume. That simple flagon which patiently waits to be applied before dinner parties, or just the mediocre work day, has been relentlessly marketed and sold to millions. You might smell like a million dollars, but for every dollar in that amount, there are just as many if not more people who have bought into the packaged and sold “scent scheme.” I will look particularly at the way that these products are marketed to both men and women, as well as analyzing the selected advertisements for their rhetorical elements. The two advertisements are from competing companies, Armani and Tom Ford. Both use very different tactics to grab their viewers attention, but at the end of the day, both have the same message.

I imagine dear Grader Boob "at the end of the day," and his bleary eyes. He allows as how he no longer can wear his contacts. I hope he enjoys the sentences so good that they ought to be rare("While roosters crow...") and classifies the rest as simply necessary.

Downright necessary.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Feet, Don't Fail Me Now

It's been a hard day here in Marlinspike Hall. For me -- and that absolves The Manor from any weird contribution to my difficulties -- mold, drafts, that sort of thing, just don't apply.

I am feeling the fevers. This is not always the case and I guess there'd been a touch of habituation to not being brought up short by twice daily spikes. At the moment, there's a pocket of heat behind each eyeball, an ache in the head, joint and bone pain, and four digits on my cheap supermarket-brand thermometer.

It's infinitely better than when the fever breaks, though. You didn't know that I am actually keeping a gratitude log, did you?

{Spewing spittle as I giggle.}

Fred is walking around like an old man. Shuffling a little, eyes cast down. I've asked the annoying, cloying "What's wrong, sweetcheeks?" one time too often. I'll endeavor to be available -- either for True Confessions or for the opportunity to comfort in Blessed Ignorance.

My legs are useless, purple, ice cold, allodynia as never before. Even so, I've asked Fred to please rub my feet tonight. This degree of cold and purply-tud-iness seems dangerous, pain be damned. I don't want to lose my feet.

Okay, well, now that we're all cheered up, I return you to your regularly scheduled Gratitude Funk Fest.

One Nation Under A Groove
{G Clinton, G Shider, W Morrison}

So wide can't get around it
So low you can't get under it
(So low you can't get under it)
So high you can't get over it
(So high you can't get over it)
Da-yee do do do do do do
This is a chance
This is a chance
Dance your way
Out of your constrictions
(Tell sugah)
Here's a chance to dance our way
out of our constrictions
Gonna be freakin'!
Up and down
Hang up alley way
With the groove our
Only guide
We shall all be moved

Ready or not here we come
Gettin' down on the one which
We believe in
One nation under a groove,
gettin' down just for the funk
(Can I get it on my good foot)
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
(Good God)
'bout time I got down one time
One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now
(Aye aye aye aye aye)
Feet don't fail me now
Give you more of what you're funkin' for
Feet don't fail me now
Do you promise to funk?
The whole funk, nothin' but the funk

Ready or not here we come
Gettin' down on the one which we believe in
Here's my chance to dance my way
Out of my constrictions
(Do do dee oh doo)
(Do do dee oh doo)
(You can dance away)

Feet don't fail me now (ha ha)
Here's a chance to dance
Our way out of our constrictions

Gonna be groovin' up and down
Hang up alley way
The groove our only guide

We shall all be moved
Feet don't fail me now (ha ha)
Givin' you more of what you're funkin' for
Feet don't fail me now

Here's my chance to dance my way
out of my constrictions
Givin' you more of what you're funkin' for
(Feet don't fail me now)
(Feet don't fail me now)
Do you promise to funk, the whole funk,
nothin' but the funk
One nation under a groove
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now
Nothin' can stop us now
One nation under a groove
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now
Nothin' can stop us now
One nation under a groove
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
One nation and we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now

Do you promise to funk?
Do you promise to funk?
Do you promise to funk, the whole funk?

One nation under a groove
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
(Here's my way to dance my way out)
Gettin' down just for the funk of it
One nation
And we're on the move
Nothin' can stop us now

Do you promise to funk, the whole funk?
You can't stop us now
Givin' you more of what you're
Funkin' for

exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrate used as food, *blush*

"I feel like I am all about, me, me, me. I feel shelfish."

La Jalousie

Saaaaluuuut, ChouChou!

J'espère que tu passes une bonne journée... à Paris... au printemps... La pensée, seule, me rend complètement dingue, jalouse. Sacré bordel!


{{From the restaurant Déli-Cieux (ouch)}}

photo credit: squat à rue de rivoli

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Grand Rounds

I never thought I'd do this.

In the hope that there is a future to transparency about medical errors and the response to them, I encourage everyone to visit Paul Levy's place, host of this week's Grand Rounds -- a rotating carnival of the best of the medical blogosphere.

Levy put out this call:

In the spirit of Dr. Ernest Codman, I asked doctors, nurses, and other providers to write about incidents in which they made or were present for a medical error. What were the circumstances, and what did you do in response to the situation? How did you feel about the event, and how did it change your practice of medicine afterward.

Likewise, I asked patients who have been the victim of, or loved-ones who have seen, clinical harm to tell their stories. How did your provider(s) respond, how has the event has changed your view of the practice of medicine, and what advice you would give to the profession?

I don't know that I will ever regain my faith -- not in medical professionals (I mean, really, who cares?) -- but in humanity. We saw the ugly, mean, and criminal side of people, and it has scarred and damaged me far more than any actual cutting into my body. I lost my health, my career, my savings, my friends; I gained a life of constant pain, worry, and despair.

The Readymades: Found Things

When I am feeling particularly vulnerable -- not in any serious way, just as a matter of course, after a stupid fight or another day of frustrating ho-hum -- I tend to "find" things.

No, not like a scotch-taped bazillion dollar bill under the seat cushions to the antique carved Austrian leather sofa in the Cigar Room, or the long-misplaced car registration, no... more like the objet trouvé in Duchamp's work. Americans sometimes call it "readymade." For some reason (I'm thinking fatigue, too many tears, excessive computer use, conjunctivitis, illicit drugs), our red and inflamed eyeballs will suddenly opt to see transcendent art in an ordinary object, or, more commonly, in the bouleversant juxtaposition of ordinary objects, especially when these objects are seen outside of their arena of function. A water-stained raw silk teal-colored upturned shoe with a Social Security Benefit Statement impaled on the high heel. A mannequin's nude arm hung with [cold] rusty specula. That sort of thing. A purist might contend that the art of objet trouvé must be found already "assembled," that is, without feng shui rearrangement, purposeful distressing of materials, hidden glues, or the use of Naval Jelly rust remover.

The presentation platform/performance is critical to the success of the piece. (I am defining success as [a] receipt as art [b] recognition of the dissonance created by an objet that has been trouvé -- often causing a slight curl of the lip, flare of the nostril, arch of the brow.) A Doric column, stunted? A plain table. An unsanded and warped piece of plywood. A see-through plastic container. AstroTurf.

How else to liberate the art inherent in a urinal (Fountain), bicycle wheel, snow shovel (In Advance of a Broken Arm)?

Addressing the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, a bunch o' ninnies if ever there were a bunch o' ninnies, Duchamp defended Mr. Mutt, his second self and "finder" of the displaced art of the urinal. "Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under a new title and point of view -- he created a new thought for the object."

And, of course, additional instructive context/content is provided by the gallery, museum, store front, bodega, private residence, or dog house. Occasionally, too, a really helpful descriptive title is tacked up next to the art object on a shabby, wrinkled index card.

Okay, so I am cuckoo for Duchamp. He can make me smile -- that's how I react to most of his readymades -- and he can worry me, pickpickpick at me -- that's how I feel when I put together [in my head] his Etant Donnés, installed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1969. He is supposed to have worked on it, secretly, for about 20 years -- even his wife knew nothing about it. Cheater.

That trickster.

In 1964 -- just to confound us a bit more, or maybe to make a point -- through the considerable auspices of Arturo Schwartz's Galleria Schwarz in Milan, Duchamp named 14 Readymades as his most fundamental, his most "important." The Untouchables.

Ah, but he issued them in "replicas in editions of eight," the rat! O Chortles Galore!

You have to admit there's more of a profundity there than in, say, some old Campbell's Tomato Soup Cans.

Readymades are hardly simplistic, even if simple.

Easter 1916 (I know! I know! Do you know?) -- Walter Arensberg and Duchamp collaborated to make Hidden Noise, a ball of twine captured between specially engraved copper plates, which are attached by four bolts. Inside the ball of twine, there is something which cheerfully and annoyingly rattles -- a final addition put there by Arensberg at Duchamp's bidding, though Duchamp would never know what it was.

"Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn't want to know. It was a sort of secret between us, and it makes noise, so we called this a Ready-made with a hidden noise. Listen to it. I don't know; I will never know whether it is a diamond or a coin."

The copper plates were engraved with an inscription of English and French words, what Duchamp called an "exercise in comparative orthography." There are strict rules of alignment, with three arrows indicating the route of the line from the lower plate to the upper -- all maintaining the perfect loquacious state of having no meaning.

A replica was made in 1963, and in 1964, Duchamp chose Hidden Noise as one of the 14 fundamental Readymades, and so, those pesky replicas in editions of eight were issued. However, Duchamp instructed that the Babel of the engraving not be reproduced. He kept the rattling unknown thing, though, and his second wife Alexina took on the task of introducing the object inside the ball of twine.

(Why preserve the engraving as unique? Any ideas?)

Nihilistic dadaism? I think not (snort::sniff). That way out is too easy, and uncritical. No, not dada, not with such careful insertion, and then refusal of meaning, even when secret, even when willfully unknown. Oh, la di da!

Did you know that Fred has an astonishing eye and ear for art? He won't claim it, unless riled. But he has *way* too much faith in artists, and too little for himself. "I don't even know what stuff is art and what isn't."

But he's not in the least naive. Oh, he will pretend cluelessness when it suits him -- but I've never bought into it. I think he struggles when trying to bridge the gap between appreciation and criticism -- the effort isn't valuable enough to make him dig for the words he needs. Or maybe it is just a guy thing. Years of Boy's School.

I want to whisper in his lovely ear one of Duchamp's ideas: "The spectator makes the picture." I don't because he seems already set to swat at me as if at a profoundly annoying horsefly.) Duchamp would have counted himself lucky to have The Fredster join him in creative participation. Anyway, I have spent astonishingly little time in museums and galleries with him. I would like to but then I would also like to play tennis and go back to work. Harumph.

Those times we have purposefully traveled to look at Art, there where we knew that Art was kept, and we weren't likely to be tricked?

The label assumed gargantuan importance.

Your Friend,

photo by Alfred Steiglitz, 1917

L'ongle d'un juif

Notable Arabs From left to right: Philippus Arabus, John of Damascus, al-Kindi, al-Khansa, King Faisal I, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Asmahan, and May Ziade.

I will never understand thoughtless support or mindless condemnation of Israel, just as I will never understand kneejerk malevolence or baseless aggression directed toward Arab populations.
Yes, and vice the versa.

« Un million de vies Arabes ne valent pas l'ongle d'un juif. » ~ Golda Meir
That was the tagline at the bottom of a post by someone I thought I knew.

Cat Ambush

The cats own me this morning. This, and every morning.
I found the training video in the DVD player.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On Earthquakes and Catholic News

Darling Reader,

You know how I lose my train (choo! choo!) of thought with regular frequency? I am fascinated more by the journey from A-to-B than by the endpoints.

I set out to learn more about the medieval city of L'Aquila, epicenter of the recent earthquake in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

In the process (there where I am truly at my best), I ran into some interesting blogs and news articles having nothing, of course, to do with the tragedy. A decision had to be made.

So... here is the link to the Italian arm of the International Red Cross, which is all that really matters right now -- that is, that aid be rendered. Perhaps you feel more comfortable dealing with the American Red Cross International Response Fund.

It feels unsavory to concentrate on the ancient rubble and not the people of L'Aquila, at least 150 of whom perished in the quake.

I will study the city at some later time. I am attracted to any place that can speak honestly of its "ramparts." My decision to become a dix-huitièmiste came at the expense of a strong interest in things medieval -- not in the least a "dark" age.

It's enough, for now, to read:

Some of its most revered buildings were badly affected by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

Among them was Government House, a pale pink building turned into a pile of concrete and dust. At least four Romanesque and Renaissance churches were badly damaged by the tremor.

The 13th century Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio lost a wall, while a section of the nave collapsed.

The church, with a pink-and-white facade combining Romanesque and Gothic architecture, played host to the crowning of Pope Celestine V in 1294 and still attracts thousands of pilgrims every year.

Slightly further north, the belltower of the largest Renaissance church in Abruzzo - Basilica of San Bernardino - was destroyed, while the 16th century castle housing the region's national museum was damaged.

Yesterday's devastation was a brutal reminder of how vulnerable the city is to the power of earthquakes - just over 300 years since it was virtually flattened in a similar tremor.

Earlier quakes in 1349, 1461 and 1646 had repeatedly shattered the centre of what was once a powerful medieval city.

L'Aquila was founded in the mid 13th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and construction continued during the reign of his son Conrad IV.

Such was its importance, it went on to become the second city of the Kingdom of Naples.

Its position close to Rome - just 60 miles north east - placed it in the front line of rivalry between monarchic and papal interests.

The city was destroyed and even temporarily abandoned at one point during the mid 13th century before it was rebuilt with new fortifications.

It flourished through the trade in wool and silk and was home to one of Europe's earliest printing presses.

L'Aquila's importance waned as a result of economic strangulation during rebellion against Spanish rule in the 16th century and later because of its resistance to French occupation in the 18th century.

But the centre flourished again during the 19th century moves toward the unification of Italy which left it as regional capital.

Now... some of those interesting news and opinion pieces encountered on the road to L'Aquila!

Clergy attended a meeting last month to hear about the work of The
International Commission of English in the Liturgy, which is producing a new
English translation of the Latin mass which will be used in churches next year.

Priests at the meeting... were told to question whether it was appropriate to say "good morning" once the priest was on the altar and had made the sign of the cross...

A spokesman for the diocese said: "The review of the liturgy is looking at whether there are elements of the service that have become a bit too distracting.

"People might argue that if you go in to a house, you say 'hi', but the priest is not going in to a house. He is going in to a sacred service. We need to emphasise that the priest is president of the community and is presiding at the service.

"It is a debate that has been going on in the Church for a long time – are we doing a cabaret or are we actually celebrating the Eucharist?

"The fear is that if some guidance is not given and general decisions are not put down, the interpretation of the liturgy leads to unsuitable things, like strobe lights and girls in hotpants. The aim of the new translation is to bring more dignity to the service."

Strobe lights and girls in hotpants? We've really been missing out on the fun, apparently.

One day, I will take the time to tell you about The War Between Father Anthony and La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore, a war ended by the simple ministrations of Brother William. What can I say? She used to vacation at the local monastery!

Let's just say that Father Anthony is in dire need of a lap dance.

Why! He's in luck! The Church, in its wisdom, has taken care of every eventuality:

ROME, April 4 (UPI) -- An Italian lap dancer-turned-nun will perform in front of a group of Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops.

Anna Nobili, 38, who gave up years of exotic dancing in Milan after a 2002 visit to the shrine of St. Francis in Assisi, joined an order of nuns called the Sister Workers of the Holy House of Nazareth.

Sister Nobili, as she is now known, said she practices a form of "mystical" choreography she calls "Holy Dance," The Daily Telegraph reported Saturday.

And I will sign off with the following bit of news -- and let me say this: I am proud that the Catholic Church continues to fight the Right Fight on behalf of science.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued guidelines calling Reiki therapy "unscientific and inappropriate for Catholic institutions."

As a result of the ruling, at least two Catholic medical centers in South Jersey -- Lourdes Wellness Center in Collingswood and the Lourdes Cancer Center in Westampton -- will stop offering Reiki to patients, spokeswoman Wendy Marano said Wednesday.

The centers are part of the Lourdes Health System, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Alleghany, N.Y.

Reiki is a mind-body healing method developed in Japan during the late 1800s. Used to complement traditional medicine, the technique has gained popularity in recent years.

According to Reiki teaching, illness and stress are caused by a disruption or imbalance in a person's life energy; Reiki works to correct the imbalance.

Announced March 26, the new guidelines used strong language to denounce Reiki, stating: "Superstition corrupts one's worship of God by turning one's religious feeling and practice in a false direction. While sometimes people fall into superstition through ignorance, it is the responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such ignorance as much as possible."

For real! Forget that Galileo nonsense, and look toward the Guiding Light of the Jesuits. Ignore that stuffy old Catholic Encyclopedia itself: "When a clearly defined dogma contradicts a scientific assertion, the latter has to be revised."

Ah, but we *are* talking about Reiki, eh? You know,channelling energy through the practitioner to the patient? Recipe-like revelations such as: "If you treat a patient with one hand, he will receive half the energy he will receive if treated with both hands. The quality will not be altered. The quantity will be halved."
The heresy of invoking "the Ancients" 'n all. Well, major props to the Priestie Boys for pulling the knickers down on these hoaxers. It is this same intellectual rigor that strengthens and steels and girds Catholics against the evils of witchcraft and abortion.

So that was my whirlwind exposure to what passes for news today.

May they keep finding survivors in L'Aquila.
*photo of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L'Aquila, of which one whole wall and part of the nave have fallen due to the earthquake

Monday, April 6, 2009

UNC-CH v. Michigan State

Go Carolina!

The origin of this nickname is mysterious, though most historians agree that the name derives from North Carolina's long history as a producer of naval stores--tar, pitch, rosin and turpentine--all of which were culled from the State's extensive pine forests. The historians Hugh Lefler and Albert Newsome, in their book North Carolina: the History of a Southern State (3rd edition, 1973, p. 97) state categorically that "[i]n fact, North Carolina led the world in the production of naval stores from about 1720 to 1870, and it was this industry which gave to North Carolina its nickname, 'Tar Heel State'."

Various stories and legends have sprung up to explain where the name came from. Perhaps the most popular is found in Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865 (edited by Walter Clark):

Thus after one of the fiercest battles, in which their supporting column was driven from the field and they successfully fought it out alone, in the exchange of compliments of the occasion the North Carolinians were greeted with the question from the passing derelict regiment: "Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?" Quick as thought came the answer: "No, not a bit; old Jeff's bought it all up." "Is that so; what is he going to do with it?" was asked. "he is going to put it on you'ns heels to make you stick better in the next fight." (Vol. 3, p. 376)

The following paragraph appears in R.B. Creecy's Grandfather Tales of North Carolina History (1901):

During the late unhappy war between the States it [North Carolina] was sometimes called the "Tar-heel State," because tar was made in the State, and because in battle the soldiers of North Carolina stuck to their bloody work as if they had tar on their heels, and when General Lee said, "God bless the Tar-heel boys," they took the name. (p. 6)

While there may be no direct proof that Robert E. Lee ever spoke in such a fashion, there is at least some indirect evidence. In a letter dating from 1864 (currently housed in the State Archives and part of their "Tar Heel Collection") from Colonel Joseph Engelhard describing the Battle of Ream's Station in Virginia, he writes: "It was a ' Tar Heel ' fight, and ... we got Gen'l Lee to thanking God, which you know means something brilliant."

P R U R I E N T ::: I N T E R E S T

I did not lie.

But my interest was prurient.

If I were to want a rhyme, The Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes provides me guidance:

prurient • abeyant , mayn't • ambient , circumambient • gradient , irradiant, radiant • expedient...recreant • variant • miscreant •Orient • nutrient • esurient , luxuriant, parturient, prurient • nescient , prescient •omniscient •

The meaning of "prurient interest" brings out the big guns, too, less interested in rhyming. From The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2005):

Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973), argued 18–19 Jan. and 7 Nov. 1972; PARIS ADULT THEATRE v. SLATON, 413 U.S. 49 (1973), argued 19 Oct. 1972, both decided 21 June 1973 by vote of 5 to 4; Burger for the Court, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, and Marshall in dissent. Miller v. California articulates the test for obscenity that resolved the dilemma of First Amendment protection for allegedly obscene materials first identified in Roth v. United States (1957). Chief Justice Warren Burger's majority opinion stated that material could be obscene only if “(a) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; [and] (b) the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” (p. 25).

I did not lie. I did not tell the truth. My interest was prurient. And I don't want to make a poem with "prurient" as my major rhyming scheme.

Okay, I will tell *you* the truth.

On March 16, I sent the following email:


you don't know me -- i just saw the message you left on andrea's myspace page. i have crps, too, and had just discovered her fighting4us site when she died down in mexico. you surely don't have to answer this, and perhaps you don't even know yourself -- but what happened? i have been looking into the ketamine coma treatment -- but now that someone has died in connection with it, i don't know anymore.
can you shed any light on whether or not it was the treatment that harmed her or was this just CRPS/RSD doing its dirty work?

the retired educator

How dare I intrude on the death of this lovely girl? Why can't I leave it -- her -- alone, in peace? In part, it is because of the evident lack.

There is nothing but silence around this death, hardly anything beyond the barest of acknowledgements.

Or the most private of them. The nearest and the dearest. And to them, I apologize -- no, rather I beg pardon, for this prurient interest -- not in Andrea, but in what happened *to* Andrea.

The ketamine coma trials... that is what we are made to say, you know -- "the trials."

How many other legitimate "trials" cost well over $50-60,000? How many other legitimate trials cost ANYTHING?

How many other legitimate "trials" suffer a death and allow it to pass into silence, unexplained?
There has also been a high incidence of infection, particularly respiratory -- aspiration pneumonias.

Oh, and how many "trials" make way for someone to repeat the treatment, the benefits of the first time around apparently not having lasted? How was that expressed in the data collection of the second coma? Was the first treatment before the days of the "trials"? You know, back when a person basically only had to produce the money, and be sufficiently young and healthy (beyond having CRPS)? Wait... am I getting it all confused? Because it sure seems like today's requirements are eerily... no, *exactly* the same -- young, otherwise healthy, cash in hand.

My prurient interest has its roots in anger and envy -- as well as in a more legitimate need for information that was not forthcoming from those running the programs. Andrea was getting a second shot at curing or, at least, pushing into remission, her CRPS -- and at a point in time where there is a 2-year waiting list.


I read everything that Andrea ever published on the internet concerning CRPS. She was dedicated but had bought into the demonization of the disease -- it was an actual evil entity to her. This happens in people with CRPS -- because of deleterious effects to the limbic system of the brain? Because of simple human frustration? What can you trust when your own body systems do nothing but lie to you? She cared, and was ferocious in her caring. And she was naive. Childlike.

Her friend wrote me back just this morning.

hi, sorry it took me some time to get back to u ,, i dont check this email offten,.. ok what happend with her was,, from birth she had a bad heart, when she was younger she had surgery to fix it, but with any heart problem eovn if u fix the prob u still have to watch it,, this was her second time getting the ketamine comma treatment done... the first time was great, no probs or issues,,, this last time though, after menay years of fighting, she was 12 when she got the rsd, and died at the age of 24/25 , and all those years of fighgting and medications and the rsd itself, her heart jsut couldnt handle any more and gave out on her... so it wasnt exsactly the ketamine that killed her, it was a combo of evry thing and honestly we all belive evon if she hadnt done the ketamine, she would have died shortly ,,, most people dont realize 1, cause its sugar coated and not spoke about much, 2 doc really dont have any clue when it comes to rsd, unless u haev one that specializes in it, 3 alot of people dont want to belive it and rather live in denighel... rsd can and for the most part the longer u have had it for the more likely it is to happen... effect your internal organs. ive had my rsd for about 3 years now.,.. and its effecting my heart. ive seen the same doc she was seeing.. and he jsut said i haev very agressive and advanced rsd.. and that most likely the ketamine coma wouldnt work for me, but dosnt mean i shouldnt at lest try it.. i have 2 other friends who have done the ketamine infussions. 1 it did nothing for the other it did help almost 90% at getting ride of the pain.. but about 9 months later shes back to as if she never had the infussion... pls dont let the idea of death scare u away form any ketamine treatment...
jsut like the meds we take evryday to help treat our rsd. theres no garentee ur not gonna die form it.. jsut like rsd itself,. in the end it attacts ur own immune system form it and at that point well, its up to u and god... so pls dont let a death scare u/.. rsd isnt easy its scary and not fair and evry miss understood.. the ketamine treatments should not be taken lightly, but nore ignored becuse there have been a problem here or there. rember there were other outside sercomstance that played a role in her dying...
what i tell people who are wanting to do the ketamine treatments but are scared is
u have to stop and ask urself. r u to the point of death as far as taking ur own life in your hands, becuse u have tried evrything ealse possible and nothing has worked, and the ketamine treatments r the last thing, u have left to try.. and if ur answer is yes.. well then u have to make peace with the idea that, this may help it may not, its not 100% safe, but yet u could get hit by a car infornt of ur house in the moring.. also.. if ur about to take ur life becuse the pain is that bad and nothing has worked, really what other option do u have.. than trying ketamine treatments and hopeing for the best, knowing theres a possible risk, or jsut saying nope im giveign up not doing anything more, go into a big depression and kill ur self

2, if u have answerd no to the question., dont do the ketamine treatments, 1 there not coverd by insurance, cost a lot of money, its like a last resuslt thing. evon though it has had the best results, its still a last result. do each and evry other treatment recomende for rsd first evon more than once before trying the ketamine,, sometheing less shocking to the system is always best.. when u have done all the treatments and nothings worked, then that is when u go for the ketamine treatments,,,
i hope this has been helpfull, i dont know how long u have had ur rsd, were it is and how old u are,,, along with what u have tryed and havent for treatments, ive in a way become like a master at knowing rsd and what it dose and and wht can be fdone for it, seeing as my rsd in only almost 3 years is now infected over 50% of my body.. ( liek doc says i have very agressive rsd, apprently its more rare thann rsd, i dont know i jsut know its bad and suckslol) maybe i may beable to help u, with advice things to try, or simply just some one to talk too

this last time though, after menay years of fighting, she was 12 when she got the rsd, and died at the age of 24/25 , and all those years of fighgting and medications and the rsd itself, her heart jsut couldnt handle any more and gave out on her... so it wasnt exsactly the ketamine that killed her

Mercy. Oh, mercy me.

I wrote and thanked her, my prurient interest gone absolutely cold dead.

Failure to Educate: Chiswick's Corollary of Classroom Co-Deficiencies

This post crosses the line into the unethical.

I don't bear the burden of HIPAA -- the only license I have is a License to Teach; The only legal threat to a teacher in these parts is that of being sued for "Failure to Educate." (I am not kidding. It has happened several times in the urban blight of a system where I last worked.)

Hmmm. Another ethical dilemma -- probably of little interest to most. The public school system teachers with whom I labored there at the end of my illustrious career talked about the "Failure to Educate" laws as if they were personal affronts. In part, I understand -- our system had fielded its share of trivial lawsuits brought by guilt-ridden parents. What is always hard to understand is why there are so many settlements. Sometimes it seems like we, as in "all of us," are too world-weary to see the truth to its end, to its real expression. We would rather just settle.

It could be that you don't know what I mean.

On the other hand, the laws' hand, Failure to Educate charges have also been used for a greater good, as in the case filed by the NAACP in Florida. Individual cases can also have a wide range of impact, as in this ruling for compensatory education for a Georgia student:

On March 20, 2007, the District Court of Georgia ordered the Atlanta Independent School System to pay Jarron Draper's tuition at a private special education school for four years, or until he graduated with a diploma from high school, as prospective compensatory education for their persistent failure to educate him.

Most viable lawsuits cite the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) under which disabled students are promised a free and appropriate public education. It is frequently invoked at graduation age by parents of students who have, for example, not learned to read, despite 12 years of Special Education designed to deal with their dyslexia, ADD, or other disability. Often the IEP process is under fire -- whether and how it was done, whether and how it was implemented. Amplified, Failure to Educate cases raise larger questions of access to education and fairness.

Lest anyone think this phenomenon is peculiar to the Deep South of the United States (and, yes, I admit to thinking that), please note that it also is/was a frequent occurrence in England and Wales. Even New Jersey!

"Incorrect" usage usually involves allegations about instructional competency. It rarely goes to trial, but just as any allegation of professional incompetence does, it wrecks good teachers' careers. I know that there are bad, very bad, even incredibly awful, teachers -- somehow, they don't seem to get ferreted out. Oddly enough, they tend to be the 20-30 year veterans who have little training in their subject matter, but loads of experience getting by, and many connections "downtown." Following some rule that I'm sure has been comically designated (Thelma's Third Law of Diminished Talent, Chiswick's Corollary of Classroom Co-Deficiencies), these veterans often end their careers as Principals or Administrators.

Dodge-artists, shifty sorts, they are responsible for the calibre of College Freshmen who end up in my Brother-Unit's university classroom, hopelessly remedial.

Well. I have done it again. The intended subject of this post has been successfully obstructed. Yet, it must be done, ethical challenge or not. Later. It has to do with the ketamine coma... again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Island of Hadee

You will recall that one of my Brother-Units, Grader Boob, is an English prof at a large public university.

One of his writing assignments for his Freshman comp students involved song analysis. Sorry to say, Grader Boob notes that, "apparently, the idea of a thesis merging literary and rhetorical analysis escapes most of my writers."

He offered the following quote from a student paper as clarification:

"Marley was a Jamican who sometimes visited the island of Hadee."