Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vent: Saving the Day

I need to vent.  This may come as a surprise to those of you who, perchance, view my blog as nothing *but* one vent after another!  Feel free to sit there, stewing in your surprise.  Me, I'm gonna vent.

Gentlemen, don't start off your conversational day with a ridiculously naive question about... abortion.  Don't, especially, use a lighthearted tone and a vocabulary more appropriate to a phone poll interviewer. 

And don't state, even in your desperation for an exit strategy, that you didn't mean to "upset" anyone.

Your take on The Female, this morning, my friend, was abysmal.

The next portion of my day was spent trying to decipher a financial assault from Linda of Home Depot fame.  She charged to my beloved credit card a jaw-dropping $5752.93 -- this after Fred authorized her to charge a mere $2441.96. 

Fred was not home, of course, having followed his abortion exit strategy with an actual exit.  He's off meeting with those Militant Lesbian Existential Feminists.  I tried to warn him -- as he called a cool "G'bye, love ya"
-- not to spring his discussion topic on The Girls. 

I sent them an artfully arranged plate of fresh-baked individual Spanish omelettes (tortilla de patatas), darling creations from my tired old muffin tin and from our larder's nearly-gone ingredients.  The last bits of obsessively saved onions, the final odd-sized-and-about-to-bloom potatoes, the remainder of my spicy black beans, some pickled jalapeño I keep forgetting to use.  The dregs from a jar of hot salsa.  Carefully diced and mushed, showing restraint with the cumin, for once, I married it all together with the perfect ratio of egg to milk, and with a wonderful olive oil.  Damned good, damned good. 

I don't like to add cheese but was cajoled and muscled into it, at least limiting it to a quick sprinkle on top at the end of baking -- then nicely browned.

The point of making the individual size was to have portion control over this admittedly wild and crazy, but increasingly chunky, group of Lesbians (+ Fred).  Twelve perfect little tapas.  Still, I had to eat a couple of them for quality assurance.  And Fred, who clearly is not dealing from a full deck today, chowed down prematurely on another three or seven before plating them for The Lesbians.  It could be, also, that Uncle Kitty Big Balls led Dobby and Marmy Fluffy Butt in a Kitchen Raid.  Whatever -- I am not sure what message The Girls are going to discern from a gift of three miniature Spanish omelettes arrayed on a serving platter whose diameter tops 20 inches, easily. 

Maybe Fred will think to tell them it's a tasting menu for some upcoming fundraiser.

focaccia di Recco
Abortions and disappearing tapas, together with vague plans for murdering Linda, put me back in the kitchen.  The only logical response to all this crap was to cook, trying, this time, to preserve the evidence.

I was trying to decide between a focaccia and a galette as the best vehicle for mushrooms and caramelized onion -- with the possibility of some acorn squash, also caramelized.  Time to read recipes, my favorite fictions!

The Percocet and ibuprofen were kicking in.
A late coffee was delicious.
My mood was rising.

Only rarely did my humongous credit card balance gurgle to the surface of my grey matter, burn into my retina. 

At odd moments, too, the precise conditions under which I might deem abortion "amoral" swam around in my mental mush.

The recipes began to drive me crazy.

It's as if the writers were more concerned with documenting their idiosyncracies than encouraging me to whip up a meal according to their design.  I made the mistake, for instance, of looking at a Pampered Chef recipe for "Mushroom Focaccia Bread."   I was naive enough to think the point was the food and the techniques employed to create it.  Ha!

Here's a sample of what the Pampered Chef folks consider cooking guidelines:

Slice mushrooms using Egg Slicer Plus. Chop onion using Food Chopper. Heat Stir-Fry Skillet over high heat; spray lightly with oil using Kitchen Spritzer. Add mushrooms and onions; cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown and all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat; set aside.

In Classic Batter Bowl, combine pizza crust mix, yeast packet and 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mix. Add water and oil; stir until mixture forms a ball. Turn dough out onto well-floured Cutting Board. With floured hands, gently knead dough 8 to 10 times. Lightly sprinkle Rectangle Stone with flour using Flour/Sugar Shaker. Roll out to edges of baking stone using lightly floured Baker's Roller.

In Small Batter Bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic pressed with Garlic Press and remaining seasoning mix; mix well. Spread mayonnaise mixture evenly over dough using Large Spreader to within 1/2 inch of edge. Using Handy Scraper, make 1/2-inch deep cuts around edge of dough at 1/2-inch intervals, forming a decorative border.

Grate Parmesan cheese using Deluxe Cheese Grater. [Emphasis mine]

I mean, seriously?  What would happen, do you think, if I used my Beat Up Old Carbon-Steel Wok?  Any serious wokker will tell you that The Pampered Chef's Stir-Fry Skillet (oven safe to 400 degrees... chuckle, chuckle), with its "DuPont™ Autograph® 2 nonstick coating inside and out," is an absurdity.  The one thing we can all probably agree on, abortion issues and credit card usury aside?  Stir-frying requires high, high heat.  You want to sear or caramelize?  You do NOT reach out for your nonstick cookware!

Jeez, I only have my Mediocre Multipurpose Grater on hand... and the only available bowl is this old crappy one that I stole from a long ago roommate and, oddly enough, have never felt like naming.

Even after I extracted what was left of my good mood from the clutches of the Pampered Chef recipe, I kept taking hits. 

Even the usually safe Diane Seed sold me out.  Her basic recipe for Focaccia with Cheese is based on the original Focaccia di Manuelina -- Manuelina's having been credited as the creator of focaccia with Recco cheese.  Of course, the number of cookbook authors claiming to have the "original" recipe is legion.  Whatever. 

It's a beautiful recipe, at first glance.  Tepid water, plain flour, salt, olive oil, cheese.  A hot oven.

Add enough tepid water to the flour and salt to make a soft dough.  Knead for a few minutes then leave to rest for an hour, covered by AN INVERTED PUDDING BASIN.  [caps mine!]
I'm all for having Diane tell a story or two, or even, as her website puts it, "weave a spell." Weave away.  Charm me!

But don't freaking put in the freaking recipe, to that point a thing of austere beauty, that I have to rest my dough under a freaking "inverted pudding basin."  What would happen if I left that lovely soft dough rest beneath, say, the pillbox hat, an Oleg Cassini knockoff, that my mother wore to Mass the entire month of March in 1962?  Would my dough fail to revive if recklessly lodged under a very stern, plain (and -- again --nameless) stainless steel bowl?

And why is Diane Seed bleeding an English esthetic all over her Italian cookbook, anyway?  I mean, really.  Of what good is that inverted pudding basin?  Am I steaming my dough?  Am I making dumplings?  Are we having Dim Sum? No, I am not;  We are not!

My. Ass.

It goes on and on, this degradation.

Look -- I know that bakers are peculiar about dough.  I am peculiar about dough.  But in our public venues, in our recipes, we should strive to obliterate what weirdness we can. 

I'm just sayin'. 

Maybe your Weirdness Quotient is under control.  Well, lucky you!

I've always liked Jacques Pépin's attitude.  Without sacrificing crucial technique, he'll say, 'I do it this way.  It's easier and it tastes good.  You can try this, this, or this, too.' It's all about what works.

One of the most entertaining cookbooks I own is Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home.  (I miss Julia Child.  Whenever I do something *large* in the kitchen, I think of her.)  There are recipes, sure, and important dictates as to technique -- but there is also a fun sense of suggestion and personality.  Julia chirps and throws in a little more butter;  She is the fussy francophile, one of the authors of the iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Jacques fairly purrs and revels in things rustic and simple;  Never mind that he was chef to Charles de Gaulle and other heads of state.  Jacques takes on Julia's butter with frequent counteroffers of garlic.

Ah. Fred is home, bouncy and cheerful.

Clearly, he is trying to force bounciness and cheer upon me.  Harrumph.

Well, at least The Lesbians sent gifts:  Roasted red pepper hummus, bags of pretzels, and Bagel Chips.  Beulah, he tells me, "adored" the Spanish Omelette "Tasting." [I glare at him; He grins.]  Now he is telling me about Sassie's kitten, who chewed on his hair and covered the back of his head with love bites.

"Sounds like a serious Board Meeting," I opine, my glare having fallen flat.

Pulling off his stiff new jeans and sighing as he pulls on his sweats, Fred promises to deal with Linda, Demon Flooring Expert of the Lone Alpe Home Depot... tomorrow.

He's suggesting a gnosh, a movie, maybe a nap. 

Fred is insisting on a day off -- let The Manor run itself, he says.  Abbot Truffatore is at the Monastery this weekend, where he belongs (It's Homecoming!) and though we expect The Captain to drop by any day now to see how the Haddock ancestral manor is faring under our guidance, he is not here now, is he?

Fred always returns to me strangely assertive after a day with The Girls.  That, and this opportunity to vent, is saving the day...

He actually wants to be with me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Go home, Bob Barr. Just go home.

Do you remember Bob Barr? I call him SmirkFace and have never taken him very seriously. He sputters and he's inconsequential.

One of the leaders of the impeachment initiative, Barr led the charge against Bill Clinton. Surely you remember the flames? “[T]he flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundation of our society.” Lick, lick, lick go the flames!

You may not have noticed, but SmirkFace was the 2008 Presidential Candidate for the Libertarian Party. No longer Mr. Law-and-Order Former Prosecutor, Barr now just wants to "get the government out of it," weaken centralized federal powers, and prance about the periphery of a free and unconstrained market, mustachioed and coy, toes a-pointed.

His Wikipedia blurb states: "[Barr] is also noted for his austere demeanour."

He is the author of the Defense of Marriage Act and throws down 15 shots of espresso a day, in five-shot installments

I'll tell you a secret.  Fred is obsessed with determining Bob Barr's racial makeup.  It never fails. Whenever SmirkFace makes the news, Fred's eyes narrow, Fred's nares flare, and Fred asks, "What is he?  What is he?" It makes no difference to Fred;  It won't change his opinion about SmirkFace;  Fred just wants to know.  He says that Barr is like the Pat character on SNL -- swapping, of course, race for sex.

So, is "Bob Barr" ringing a bell yet?  Because I want you to have a firm fix on the man before setting you loose to read about his latest freedom-loving exploit. 

Perfect voting rating from the Christian Coalition. 
Fierce defender of the second amendment, he sat on the board of the NRA.
Level-headed libertarian, he did work for the ACLU and recognized waterboarding as torture.
Some have called him a "rational Conservative."

Got him pegged?

Okay, so I was a little surprised to see the racially obscure but fiercely free Bob Barr standing beside... Baby Doc Duvalier.  You know, the blood-thirsty former dictator of Haiti who decided it was time to go home a few days back.

Remember the Tonton Macoutes?  The "crimes against humanity"?  (The father-son team are believed responsible for the extrajudicial deaths of 20-30 thousand Haitians.)  Recall the $300+ million that were embezzled?  (Recall the terrible counterweight of the Haitian people's poverty?)

Please don't think I am being condescending.  I am not.  What I am is upset.  If -- somehow -- you were lucky enough to not be able to plot either Bob Barr or Jean-Claude Duvalier upon your neural memory network, I'd consider you lucky.

Ed Marger -- now that's a name I did not know!  Marger is Barr's longtime law partner.  Marger is devout in his support of the Duvalier dynasty, apparently oblivious or supportive of its despicable history.  "My relationship with Francois Duvalier was one in which I was extremely impressed with his knowledge, ability and the manner in which he managed his country," Marger said.

And so, there stands Bob Barr, barely smirking at all, lending his legal (and freedom-loving) expertise to one of the hemisphere's most notorious Bad Guys, while his partner defends Baby Doc's reputation by saying:

"It depends on what you call a bad guy, I've got a letter that says Barack Obama is worse than Duvalier."

This is why I shouldn't watch the news.

Go home, Bob Barr.  Don't even try to explain yourself.  Just go home.

AP/Ramon Espinosa
Outdoor mass on the anniversary of large quake

JASPER, GA -- On Thursday night, former congressman and presidential candidate Bob Barr along with law partner Ed Marger depart for Haiti.

This is not a mission of help related to earthquake relief but rather a mission to help a former Haitian strongman.

Jean Claude "Baby Doc' Duvalier has returned to the country after 25 years of exile.

The Duvalier family ruled Haiti as their own personal fiefdom for 30 years.

They did so with a secret police force and all the tools the dictatorship could muster against its impoverished citizens

Four days ago "Baby Doc", the son of "Papa Doc", returned to Port Au Prince from exile in France.

He is now facing human rights abuse charges and needs some good representation. Enter Marger and Barr.

The question -- why the heck would you want to represent a man who's infamy precedes him?

"Anything to do with Haiti is interesting, it's a fascinating country," said Barr, who practices law with the Law Offices of Edwin Marger of Jasper.

Fascinating to be sure one year after the earthquake and now with the emergence of "Baby Doc."

"And anything to do with Ed Marger is fascinating because he is a fascinating individual," said the former congressman.

Bob Barr and Ed Marger have known each other for more than three decades.

Marger has been a friend of the Duvalier family since the 1960's

"My relationship with Francois Duvalier was one in which I was extremely impressed with his knowledge, ability and the manor in which he manged his country," Marger said.

Francois would be the notorious "Papa Doc" who ruled with a fist from 1957 to 1971.

"There is no question he was a ruler who did things that didn't make alot of sense certainly to Americans," Marger said.

Now there are claims that 59-year-old "Baby Doc" is broke and a Swiss bank holds $6.5 million.

To get the money, Duvalier must be exonerated of charges in Haiti.

"I've read the same things in the paper," Barr said.

11Alive's Jeff Hullinger posed a question to Marger, "So this is not a bad guy?"

He replied, "It depends on what you call a bad guy, I've got a letter that says Barrack Obama is worse than Duvalier."

All of this illustrates the ambiguity of international politics. Right and wrong can be very abstract. It is in the eye of beholder.

"This is really more of a personal trip helping Duvalier and his family," Barr said.

Both men will be in Haiti until Monday.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Appeasement: Obama Disappoints

This post, like most of mine recently, is "just" an assemblage. The parts were put together the day after President Obama's speech in Tucson last week. Unsurprisingly, what I had to say was said much better by someone else.  In this instance, it was Patrick Martin over at the World Socialist Web Site ( ).

There's no way around the acknowledgement of those reflexive, fast-paced, multiple nods of approval -- that deep down, fist-pumping "yes"!

There's also, however, a significant bit of dread in the recognition of just how much I am in the minority, and I feel flawed.  I want to get picked for the dodgeball team.
Anyway, I let the whole mess sit -- what danger one more draft, stewing in its own juices?
All that fermenting and fomenting?  The danger of untended words?

What could happen?

*****     *****     *****    *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****

I just erased the long version of my reaction to President Obama's speech.  You're welcome! 

The short version? I thought it was a masterful speech.
I was grateful for his leadership.
And I resented having the route to The High Road so precisely sketched.

Okay, so I wasn't negotiating those sanctimonious hairpin turns very well.  Mostly because my jerking knees kept jamming the space, getting in the way.

He was presidential, a grieving, sober standard.  I shared the grief and appreciated his respectful treatment of the shooting victims, returning each to his or her life of accomplishments, of family and friendships, of aspiration.

But this was also, clearly, a political speech, and I think that Martin's analysis of its reception on the right as well as on the left is absolutely correct. 

As a political speech, then, Obama disappoints. Disappoints greatly.  There's a huge distinction between calling for civil discourse in our political conversations and... appeasement.

Right-wing and liberal media fawn over Obama speech
By Patrick Martin
15 January 2011
President Obama’s Wednesday night speech at a memorial service for the victims of the Tucson massacre has been hailed by all sections of the corporate-controlled media, both liberal and conservative. Its main theme—opposing any political analysis of the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—has become the official line.
The right-wing media celebrated the Obama speech because he whitewashed the role of the political right in providing the ideological impulse for the mentally disturbed gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner. The liberals celebrated the Obama speech because they fear nothing more than provoking the right wing and sense that any serious examination of the shooting rampage would lay bare the putrefaction of American capitalism itself.
Both sides of the political establishment agreed that Obama’s remarks should close the door on any further discussion over the political nature of the January 8 attack, the first attempted killing of a US representative on American soil in at least 50 years.

Press accounts of the political reaction to the Obama speech cited favorable comments from a host of prominent Republicans: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, former presidential candidate and ultra-right pundit Patrick Buchanan, and many others.

The ultra-right pundits were equally effusive. A writer for the National Review declared, “Obama has never been more presidential than he was tonight.” Neoconservative John Podhoretz of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post called the speech “a pitch-perfect response to the disgusting national political debate over the past couple of days.”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called the speech a “remarkable display of oratory and of oratorical skill, both in terms of the tone and the content.”

Another right-wing Washington Post contributor, Jennifer Rubin, devoted her column to a lengthy citation from Obama’s speech, in which he invoked religion to preempt any serious analysis of the Tucson massacre.

“’Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,’ he said, then quoting the Book of Job, and continuing, ‘Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.’”

Rubin concluded: “It was pretty close to a rebuke to his liberal supporters. He was telling them, and everyone, that the entire process of casting blame for a lunatic’s crime is foolhardy and simply wrong. He deserves credit for that. This sounded like much of what I and others have been writing since Saturday.”

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, said that Obama’s speech “reminded me, in fact, of part of the speech Ronald Reagan gave when he first announced for the presidency…”

Noonan cited the same passage quoted by Rubin, declaring, “In saying this, the president took the air out of all the accusations and counteraccusations. By the end of the speech they were yesterday’s story.”

As Rubin and Noonan demonstrate, the praise from these spokesmen of the right was clearly mixed with a sense of relief that the Obama speech marked an end to any effort to hold them morally or politically responsible for the conceptions that animated the assassin.
Loughner’s Internet postings include political notions that echo those of Glenn Beck (an obsession with gold and silver backing for currency), the Tea Party (hostility to the post-Civil War amendments to the US Constitution), and various Patriot and anti-immigrant groups (his musings on English grammar and language).

Noonan also placed the Obama speech in its broader political context, noting that after his surrender on extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and the appointment of millionaire banker William Daley as White House chief of staff, “the Tucson speech marks the third time since the election that the president has in effect reached toward the center.”
Aislin, The Montreal Gazette

Liberal pundits were equally effusive, but sought to conceal the real content of Obama’s speech and his repudiation of those liberals who have criticized the vitriolic attacks and incitements to violence by talk radio pundits and Republican politicians.

Glenn Thrush of turned on the purple prose, describing Obama as “an electrifying campaign performer who is finally mastering the intimate, idiosyncratic language of the American presidency: a passionate and pared-down delivery that grounded his usual soaring rhetoric with expressions of straightforward patriotism, neighborly decency and raw grief.”

Liberal columnist Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “Listening to Obama’s speech brought back memories of Obama the candidate, a mesmerizing orator with the power to summon visions of a better America. He seemed almost to transcend politics.”

Gail Collins of the New York Times gushed, “Maybe President Obama was saving the magic for a time when we really needed it.”

Perhaps the most absurd description came from Jonathan Freedland in the liberal British newspaper, the Guardian, who wrote, “[T]he address he gave at last night’s memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shootings was elegiac, heartfelt and deeply moving. It both rose to the moment and transcended it: after days of noise and rancour, he carved out a moment of calm.”

Like the conservative commentators, Freeland noted that Obama “spoke less like a politician than a pastor or priest,” and like them, he hailed the substitution of religious blather for a political assessment: “This is part of the US presidential job description that sets the office apart: more than mere head of government, an American president is required to be almost a spiritual leader to his nation.”

Actually, the First Amendment of the US Constitution lays down the separation of church and state as one of the most fundamental principles of American politics. It is only in the last few decades, a period of triumphant political reaction, that the president-as-televangelist has become a regular practice.

Several liberal media commentaries deliberately disguised the political significance of Obama’s speech, which was an abject surrender to the arrogant demands of the ultra-right that there should be no accountability for the Tucson events.

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post claimed that Obama “pointedly took no sides on the controversy over the role of vitriolic politics in the tragedy.” This is flatly untrue, and the columnist knows it. Obama provided an amnesty for the right and effectively repudiated his own liberal supporters.

Even more duplicitous was the language of the New York Times editorial on the Tucson speech, which claimed: “Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents… It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread.”

Obama, however, did not “transcend” this debate. He attempted to shut it down, and in so doing rendered a great political service to the ultra-right.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CREATING CIVILITY: A Minnesota Public Radio Project (with krista tippett)

From Minnesota Public Radio about this evening's event, CREATING CIVILITY, which begins at 7 pm CST:

We'd like to invite you to join us tonight online for a somewhat impromptu event in Minnesota Public Radio's UBS Forum. We're approaching the evening as a kind of experiment, an occasion to learn and to plant some seeds for new vision and new ways of living together with our confusions, our strengths, and our differences. Tragic events in Tucson created a window for concern about the fabric of our common life, but that concern predated those events and has relevance and urgency far beyond them.

Many of the hardest political and social chasms right now will not be resolved quickly. So the question we're asking is:

How do we find new ways to speak and listen to each other, to live forward together, even as we hold passionate disagreements?

This has been the animating question that has emerged in the Civil Conversations project we started on the radio and online back in the fall. What happens among us tonight will inform that project moving forward.

Bring your questions for and about our common life, and submit them through our Facebook chat box next to the video window or using this form. Krista will bring her questions too. And she'll share some of what she's learned in her conversations of recent weeks. We're looking forward to the adventure!

We'll be streaming live video of the forum and also giving you the chance to bring your questions and your intention in the UBS Forum (7pm). For those of you who can't make it, not to worry. We're recording the event, and video will be immediately available for playback afterwards. And, we'll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tomorrow's Hope: Ina Mae Oxendine

Brother Unit Grader Boob failed to show up for his planned fab weekend of gluttony and remembrance.  The boy was detained by concerns over his course load. 

Yes, he's out pimping for students.  One of his sections has only six brainiacs enrolled and risks being cancelled.

In the past, he's accepted virtual teaching jobs at the last minute, but it's far from his favorite form of instruction. 

It does pay, however, a fact that I may soon be compelled to point out.  In that famous, loving, sisterly way of mine.

I no longer go on and on about the virtues of health insurance, disability insurance, and a savings account -- you know, those things that mark you as a financially responsible citizen of the world.  Until such time, of course, as the world gets it right.  But we won't go there, either.  Not this early in the day.

My advice has been the same for at least a decade, probably more.  Quit the teaching of 18-22/4 year olds, and take on the kids in high school.  Experience the relief of clear and binding contracts, maybe a union or two, and a steady paycheck.  Sure, there's a down side.  Parents, paperwork, and lazy, unmotivated students. 

Also, students without parents or reliable guardians, as well as students who are parents.

Oh, and students who are completely grade-driven, blind to the how or why of things, obsessed with conquering the precise whats.  You can practically see their little bellies all awash with acid.  What they need is generally beyond one's capacity to give.

NOTE:  No matter how tempting, don't pair up the lazy, unmotivated student with the grade-driven, obsessed dyspeptic.  Turns out that they don't so much rub off on one another as transmogrify into grotesque acephalous caricatures.  {shiver}

Grader Boob likely won't believe that the work load is a bit heavier for the high school teacher than the college prof. It's a simple function of more bodies that meet with greater frequency. Much depends on the ability to negotiate the frustrations of itty-bitty middle management minds that tend to come in the form of administrators -- mostly vice-principals, oddly enough. Come to think of it, when I taught high school students, the person who alternated between providing me with real relief in quasi-emergencies and showing the most startling examples of anger and violence (of an unacceptable level) were... vice-principals, especially those of long standing, approaching retirement. 

They're worn to a frazzle.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'd have to tell Grader Boob that there is a culture of violence that will surprise him.  For instance, girls are more dangerous than boys, in terms of mean spirited, predetermined nastiness.  Somehow, there's been a gender twist and the more hormonally-driven emotional upsets now belong to the guys.  Neither sex shows much emotional integrity or insight at that age.  (Yes, I will hide behind the old adage that the exceptions prove the rules.)

I recounted some, but not nearly all, of my personal experiences with school violence in a post about substitute teaching -- that being the way I scoped out the school systems in my area.  If you've ever thought that the subs teaching your kids might be incredibly underprepared for the task -- oh my, you don't know the half of it.  It's frightening, who can be paid a hundred bucks to babysit students.  Again, there are some great subs -- usually in the form of experienced teachers who have taken time off and just want to pick up some extra cash. 

Anthony R., a young man in my senior homeroom broke my hip the first year I took on the public school system as a teacher.  The administrators had called in the police to search for drugs and weapons on campus.  The plan for the raid included shutting out all tardy homeroom students.  We were to slam the doors shut, and lock them, at the tardy bell.  Then the police were to descend, en masse, and catch the tardy kids in a sort of no-man's-land.  Someone somewhere figured that tardy kids also constitute a major portion of young ones involved in criminal activity.  I'm just sayin'. 

Sounds like a middle management decision to me.

Anyway, this particular child was the son of one of the math teachers, Mrs. R..  Sadly, his mom was dying of cancer and had chosen, God only knows why, to teach herself to death.  She died a few months after this raid incident.

Anthony was usually late, as he claimed a privileged status as son of a teacher, son of a terminally ill teacher, no less. As an African-American, he loved to play the race card when baiting Very White me, on those occasions when I exerted my vast authority.  Was I forever marking him tardy because he was black?  Was I not choosing him to run paperwork to the office because he was black?  Did I not understand that black culture was involved when he mouthed off, when he cursed, when he stole, when he failed his classes? 

He also did drugs and was a horrible bully.  I had witnessed him slapping his girlfriend and the crowd around his car in the afternoons was, well, strange and suspicious.  When I reported Anthony, I was called to the office to explain my racist behavior. (The school was about 55% African American, 15% Hispanic, 29.9% Caucasian.)

One of the more rabid vice-principals stationed himself at the end of my hall, so I couldn't have offered him the safety of homeroom even if that option appealed to me.  And, it did.  I am not without compassion.  Not entirely.  I had sleepless nights, worrying and wondering about students, praying that I would see them alive the next day.  [Did I neglect to say that my high school teaching days took place in the U.S.?  Far, far from the Tête de Hergé (très décédé, d'ailleurs), of course, since here, there is no violence beyond the self-inflicted flagellation of our Trappist monastery neighbors -- the Most Peculiar Order of the Already Peculiar Cistercians of the Strict Observance.]

But Anthony was a quick little bugger.  He sprang at the door before I had it completely closed.  Or perhaps I paused, hesitating, wanting to clue him in, to give him a hint.  

He was angry, very angry.   He already knew, of course, that there was a flock of cops, a bevy of police authority, suited up and ready to invade.  His mom would have told him...  And, in his mind, I lacked any authority to close that door in his privileged face.  He got angrier.

I could hear the police arrive at the head of my hall, hear the rabid instructions of that vice-principal. 

And I could feel the door knob of my classroom door drive into my left hip.  Again and again.  He was kicking the door.  I was leaning against it, ferociously determined to win this stupid contest.

Yeah, so, anyway... that's how Anthony broke my hip.

The vice-principal collared him, dragged him across the hall, slammed him against the wall.  Lifting him off the floor in the process.  Telling me to stay in my room when I came out to intervene.  Telling me to shut and lock the door.  Telling me with an ugly glare that if I liked my job, I'd forget what I just saw. 

We witnessed a lot throughout the day that should have been categorized under "Civil Liberties, Violations."  Of course, any vice-principal will tell you that "these kids don't have any rights."  Which tells you much about their mindset.

You try gaining the respect of people, yes, even underage people, maybe especially underage people, after they've been searched (just because), had their lockers emptied, their contents strewn on the floor, been yelled at in a manner more befitting drill sergeants than educators!  You explain why teaching them is an honor, that there is nothing more important than their formation (to go French on you for a second), and to that end, their physical and emotional safety.

I ended up in surgery at the end of Raid Day -- at around 6 pm.  The next day, I developed a nasty  pneumonia.  I figure that it was probably lucky that I was out for the next couple of months.

True to form, those of us in the very liberal arts wrote letters, made phone calls, complained.  Brandished figurative fists until being ignored lapsed into being ridiculed.  And some of us were busy with physical therapy.

I plan to remind my darling brother Grader Boob that, at least, I had great insurance coverage and didn't have to fork out too much money for the surgery and the post-op pneumonia, the eight weeks of physical therapy, and the diagnostic tests which would then establish that my bones were for shit, most all displaying evidence of advanced avascular necrosis. 

Because breaking my hip led to a diagnosis of a larger problem, I probably should have sent young Anthony one of my famed thank you notes (monogrammed, embossed, and shiny!) but by then he was consumed by the rapid deterioration of the only parent he knew.

What was this post supposed to be about, anyway?  Oh, right.  Brother-Unit Grader Boob is out there trying to round up students, boost his numbers. 

Well, really, there's nothing he can do.  What?  You think these young, impressionable college folk are going to picket and protest on behalf of underemployed, nontenured academics?  Especially ones known to make good grades the awesome, difficult achievement they're supposed to be?

He's just too worried right now to be any fun and decided to rededicate the money for the flight toward the purchase of peanut butter and ramen noodles. La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore was inconsolable.  She was really looking forward to seducing my brother.  He says he'll be here over Spring Break -- that we shall prance our way through the Final Four and marathons of Deadwood.  The Castafiore says maybe it's just as well.  She has some stunning fashions in the works for March Madness, as well as a few new cheers, jeers, and chants -- and she'd like to be a few pounds lighter. 

Hope springs eternal and youth is wasted on the young.

I just have to share this with you before entering the fray of another week.  Perusing Emily Dickinson's famous March Madness basketball poem, poem #1333 --

A little madness in the Spring

Is wholesome even for the King,

But God be with the Clown —

Who ponders this tremendous scene —

This whole Experiment of Green —

As if it were his own!

-- I noticed that someone had left a comment on the poetry website.  Specifically, one Mae Oxendine, who wrote:

Dear,Emily Dickson
My name is Mae. I am 12 and I thought your poem was wonderful.
It was very cool. I love spring poems. From Ina Mae Oxendine from United States.
-- April 12th, 2006 at 2:46 PM.

I'll have to give Ina Mae Oxendine's name to Grader Boob, as she's now close to college age and odds are that she's delightful, unlikely to sleep in class, and one spunky little peer editor.

From The Album Project

Sunday, January 16, 2011

and in the "oh, crap" department...

HEADLINE:  'Baby Doc' Duvalier back in Haiti after long exile...

tonton macoutes patch

I guess redefining "precocious" wasn't enough.
With a sense of timing inherent to all sons-of-bitches, Jean-Claude's come back to get his merit badge:

PORT AU PRINCE, Jan 16, 2011 (AFP) - Jean-Claude Duvalier, the boyish-looking tyrant nicknamed "Baby Doc," ruled as Haiti’s "president for life" like his father before him until his exile in disgrace 25 years ago.

Haitians cheered his departure in 1986 after a 15-year rule enforced by the feared Tonton Macoutes militia, but on Sunday Duvalier returned to find his native Haiti an even more broken country than when he left.

The 59-year-old came to power in 1971 at the precocious age of 19, succeeding his repressive father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier at his death and inheriting his sunglasses-wearing paramilitary enforcers.

Baby Doc sought to similarly control the poverty-ridden country with an iron fist, clamping down on dissidents, rubber-stamping his own laws and pocketing government revenues.

The Tonton Macoutes — named for the mythological Creole bogeyman Tonton Macoute, "Uncle Gunnysack," who was said to kidnap bad children and eat them — terrorized Haitians, arresting, torturing and "disappearing" untold numbers of political opponents.

For a decade and a half, Duvalier ruled as Haiti’s self-proclaimed "president for life," until his exile following a popular uprising in 1986 when pro-democracy forces rallied in the streets amid international condemnation of the rampant human rights abuses during his regime.

Duvalier, who during an interview on Haitian radio in 2007 asked for "the pardon of the Haitian people" for errors committed during his regime, said upon his return Sunday that he said he had "come to help."

Incumbent President Rene Preval, whose term expires in three weeks, once vowed that the former dictator would be held accountable on corruption allegations dating to his years in power...  [read the rest of this story from The Windsor Star HERE]
from Friendly Dicatators Trading Cards
Art by Bill Sienkiewicz