Friday, June 30, 2006

I'd like to make a motion

I just came across this again reading one of the local weekly rags earlier today, and it has long bugged me, now enough to move me to action. It is a sign of linguistic laziness, of writers relying on convention without thinking things through for their own damn selves.

It is the literary dialect spelling of talk as "tawk" to indicate Long Island/New Jersey coffee klatch pronunciation.

You know the pronunciation of which I speak. Go ahead, say it out loud right now.

It doesn't sound like tawk. I mean, really, just read tawk aloud. Tawk rhymes with hawk, and moves my mouth to drawl. Have a conversation with a Texan, and you're tawking.

But, I'm not one to merely bitch and offer no solution, or at least not this time.

Gotta get or give the downlow on the cheating ways of a neighbor's spouse over cups of Folgers? Here it is. Lean in close and say "Can we toowk?" Try it, say that one out loud. Just do it. There, you sounded all Joan Rivers, all Mike Myers on SNL.

Toowk. Learn it, use it, love it.

Do I hear a second?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Vegas, baby. Just because.

I’m going to Vegas this weekend. Three days with one of the best men (I couldn’t pick, so I made them all best men) from my wedding, with some time with a buddy of his from high school and a crazy beefcake metrosexual we both know from Seattle.

Gotta tell ya, I love Vegas. I fucking LOVE it, love it the way you love the lust of your life who you’re pretty sure gave you crabs. How decadent is Vegas? You can smoke in the fuckin’ elevators, man!

The dirty wicked unbridled joy of Vegas is a truth I assume is self-evident. So, I’ve been taken aback when I’ve been asked, as I have a number of times lately, by an incredibly broad range of people, after I announce that I’m going, “why?”

They pinch up their faces when they ask. What, you like throwing money away? What, you want to get fucked up, sell your little girl’s future to strippers one dollar at a time? What, you want some woman of loose morals to help you desecrate the sanctity of your matrimonial vows?

Why, why other than becauses you shouldn’t have, why would you want to go to Vegas?

To which I say: Listen! Back up offa me, you friggin’ Puritans. The Mayflower is thataway, and she’s sailing soon.

No, I don’t go to Vegas to lose all my money, get lap dances, and philander. Yes, I will likely get quite fucked up while I am there, but not the other things. I hate losing money so much it is a natural governor, think strip joints are fun because they are ridiculous, not sexy, and besides, I’m pretty sure I’ll be leaving my penis home in Seattle, tucked safely into my wife’s purse as usual.

So why do I go?

Because I love being near to the people that are doing all of these things. I get to enter this liminal zone, not one of those guys but close enough to taste the risk, no longer upright, uptight Daddy at home and not quite on a “What happens in Vegas” tear. I’m neither good nor evil in Vegas, neither safe nor dangerous. I’ll be sucking down Camels and free beer while playing nickel slots and looking at waitress tits when I answer a call on my cell and start telling my babykid how much I love and miss her. In babytalk if necessary.

I live life in the spaces between. Always have. It confuses people, which is good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If you care to work, it's play

A recent NYT op-ed lamented the increase in summer homework, by turns also questioning overloaded homework during the school year and the pedagogical value of homework at all. The article is pretty thin, relying on anecdotal evidence to infer that summer homework is widespread and excessive, and, it will soon become obvious that I think, misses the more important point. Granted, it is an op-ed piece, and the authors’ upcoming book will likely, one would think (hope), have greater substance, but their shallow and barely-warranted claim that the argument against summer homework amounts to “kids need playtime” really got under my skin.

OK, disclaimer here. I was an even huger geek growing up than I am now, and my family moved a lot, often at the end of a school year. Summer wasn’t always unadulterated joy; sometimes it was sucky and lonely. I would have welcomed directed academic activities during those summers, and would have learned much more than I did in calculating each day how many hours I had to play outside before my mother wouldn’t bitch when I parked myself in front of the TV watching reruns of Get Smart and Hogan’s Heroes.

Like I said, even huger geek.

But, here is what I feel like I missed out on: the chance to equate intellectual pursuits and play. That is how I view English study now, and the experience I embody in my classroom – we have language, we have texts, we can do whatever the fuck we want with them. Just the idea that I could have sniffed that earlier, to engage intellectual activities in the air of warm weather and freedom from the atavistic social Darwinism of public school... damn. It is a mistake to insist that here is play that is fun, and over here is school that is work.

Because, here is the really important thing that these two “educators” completely missed in this piece: when a student doesn’t care, the completion of an assignment doesn’t matter. If student A cares and works across the summer to finish homework at their own pace, and student B doesn’t care and knocks them all off Labor Day weekend, even if the quality of the finished product is the same, only student A got something out of the experience. So, yes, summer homework may in fact fail, but not because it is an inevitable failure, but because the school has already failed any student that doesn’t care.

That is what I have imagined my job to be when I’m in the classroom (and I do understand the limitations and privileges of the fact that I have only taught and only plan to teach at the college level): my job is to entice or encourage or bully or cajole my students into caring, into having some kind of sense of purpose beyond “do the work, pass the class, advance.”

It isn’t particularly instructive to say too much homework is too much. It is always about the why. Homework activities that aren’t scaffolded into the curriculum are just the kind of busywork and knee-jerk pedagogy that the authors lament, but it is the design of the activities and not the existence of homework that they should be targeting.

Oh, our kids need time to play! Well, yeah, no shit. But they also have to be instilled with the belief that there are ways to bridge what they already care about with the things they are told to care about, and that it is possible for work and play to be the same thing.

Think about those few people you have known for whom work and play really were the same thing, or those moments in your life when it is true. Those are sublimely happy people and moments, worthy of our children and students.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Magic loses out to reality

I wrote this self-indulgently wonderment post about these pictures, speculating on what they might be, with geeky digressions into fantasy because "fairy circle" came so immeditaely to mind. Then I looked up fairy circle and found nearly identical pics.

I'm not as smart as a I pretend. At least I don't even try and affect "sharp."

Anyway, Liv and I found a couple cool fairy circles today on Sandpoint's kite hill.

(My speculation about possible military cover-up of a magically-empowered alien race was way cooler.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Evil That Men Do

(Not the kickass Iron Maiden tune.)

I just read a great little piece in AdBusters that described, in a short second-person narrative, what you could do to a prisoner and not be considered a torturer, none of which would leave a physical trace. You could do all of these things and short of killing the guy, any claim that torture took place can be called hearsay, testimony vs testimony, deniable.

There is no doubt in my mind that the activities sanctioned by the US military for interrogation are morally reprehensible, clearly torture, and just plain wrong, but I wouldn’t make those arguments to a proponent of torture. I’m not going to ask them to accept my moral system. I would make an argument of efficacy.

It is widely held in intelligence and law enforcement circles that information acquired through torture is of dubious value. Testimony supplied under duress is easily and believable recanted, making it worthless in a court of law.

At some point, if you are being tortured, notions of truth fly out the window. Because, if it isn’t the truth the torturers are looking for, it won’t do you any good. You just want to say whatever it is that will make the pain stop.

And everybody seems to know this. Yet, torture continues. It seems to me the only way to explain its persistence is that it has nothing to do with the information gained (because we know it to be of little value) and all to do with venting the anger of the captors at their own failure to advance the narrative they are living.

Which is extra especially scary when the people deciding who to torture are so sure of a narrative so misguided that the only way to make it remotely plausible was to lie. How could you possible satisfy such people? How could you possibly tell them what they want to hear? Except to lie?

It is the evil in men, beyond rationality and completely in the service of dark, bloody passion, that allows torture to exist.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Monday Night Football will never be the same.

At the end of this past football season, Monday Night Football left ABC for ESPN. I didn’t give it much thought, as I have both and will watch football wherever it goes. I recognized the sentimental nature of MNF leaving the network where Howard Cosell made it great, but, whatever.

Then last night I see an ESPN promo for the new MNF that shows historic moments like John Elway having his number retired.

Now, Elway played his entire career in Denver, took them from synonymous with Super Bowl losers to two straight, stretching his aging ass out in a dive for a first down and willing his team to victory. Wouldn’t say shit about you if you stuffed a handful of your own in his mouth.

Dude’s an icon whether you like him or not. Just is. And I was moved by the clip that ESPN showed.

But, I realized quickly that those moments, watching an icon tip his hat to the home town fans one last time, will NEVER happen on MNF again, and ESPN is offering a false bill of sale.

I have long said that football is the working man’s game, because you can devote one day to watching per week and get most of the season. And Monday Night Football became the commonplace for all of the fans. On Sunday, you watch what is local and follow the rest of the games, and then Monday night, after dinner at 9pm on the East Coast or instead of dinner at 6pm on the West, all the fans watch the same game.

And, this is important, I mean ALL the fans. Any fan with a bent clotheshanger and a $10 B/W set from the thrift could watch. Last game of the cycle, we’re all family here, this is home wherever it happens.

When MNF was on ABC, free to all, it was the kind of place you might hold a ceremony, because for it to mean anything (and I understand that the non-fans out there question whether sports ever menas much of anything) everybody has to have the opportunity to be there. Suddenly, MNF has this gatekeeper level added – you have to have cable, or go someplace that does.

The NFL is savvy, and exercises formidable control over its broadcast partners. They just aren’t going to place their pomp and ceremony where only a cable audience can get it. Likely, it will be the late Sunday game that takes over that function.

For me, it’s sad because Monday Night Football won’t be the icon on ESPN that it was on ABC – it can’t be. It will be just another game, a former commonplace.

And ESPN trying to whore out the former iconic status isn't going to help. Not that it’ll stop them from trying.

Monday, June 05, 2006


I mailed off my final paper of the term today. I've been complaining most about the commute this quarter, due mainly to the half-hour roll through Everett rush hour and the assholes contained therein, so I tried to convince myself that I felt like it was over last Thursday. But, as soon as I walked out the post office and no longer had any kind of assignment hanging over my head, I felt free.

I mean, I can read Ultimate X-Men or this weird Twelve bullshit that has sucked me in today from that little prick McDonell I mean where does he get off publishing a novel at seventeen damn but if that doesn't make me understand how women feel when the little hottie can actually sing y'know? Where was I? Oh, yeah, I can do that without guilt. There's nothing else I should (shudder) be doing. The opportunity cost for anything my fancy might strike has dropped.

I see a first ever watching of Firefly on the horizon, some throwing down with this Haruki Murakami novel that's been teasing me from the shelf, fuck yeah.

Of course, I'll always have my friggin' blog to make me feel guilty, but I was raised WASP, whattya want?