Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

This world of ours 7

Lazy Lucy by Intervision 5

As we approach the new year, the air is thick with consumerism, misinformation, and sometimes snow.
1. Holiday consumerism gets in the way of cherished traditions -- like my annual temper tantrum
2. Voters Say Election Full of Misleading and False Information, Also Finds Voters Were Misinformed on Key Issues [especially Fox News viewers, *cough*]
3. Friday rant: Fool's cold edition -- Tom Toles

But we have at least three things to be thankful for. First, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which allows openly non-heterosexual individuals to serve in the armed forces.
4. Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal: American reaction

Second, the renewal of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans--which was needed to break the Republican filibuster on all legislation, including the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and providing health care for 9/11 responders (which has yet to be passed).
5. Biden defends White House compromise on tax cuts
6. New York's Dem senators see breakthrough on 9/11 healthcare bill

Third, we finally have some clue what may have happened to Amelia Earhart.
7. Remains May Belong to Amelia Earhart

In other news, North Korea is being more belligerent than usual ostensibly in order to facilitate the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un. Not to be outdone, forces in Ivory Coast create some controversy of their own with massive human rights violations.
8. North Korea firing: Why now?
9. 'Hundreds abducted' in Ivory Coast election unrest - UN

Our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, meanwhile, will continue through the next fiscal year.
10. US House passes $725bn defense bill

Amid all the theater, violence, and insincerity, it's good to know there are still great gift ideas out there.
11. Snobama Snow Globes

~"Scientific proof that sugar is perfect for the holidays: [reading from a molecular diagram of sucrose and glucose] HO HO HO O OH HO HO..." —Alton Brown

Friday, December 17, 2010

Project updates

With the semester finished, here's an update on some things I'm working on--however slowly that progress may be.

My current big projects (aside from teaching!) in order of progress:
  • "42 Reasons for Reading" (number is tentative) -- Still in the draft phase. Two drafts actually. And I'm going to throw them both out and hopefully fashion something together before the new year.
  • "Redescribing Shelley's Defense of Poetry: Rorty, Rich, and the Making of a Pragmatist Poetics" (rewrite of my English undergrad thesis) -- Still rewriting. Hopefully some journal will accept it when it's done. *Fingers crossed*
  • "An Informed Pedagogy: Connections Between Research and Practice" (tentative) -- My prospective Master's thesis, exploring the possibilities and limitations (but mostly limitations) of education research.
  • Mysterious project -- This one needs some 'splaining. I had an interesting idea for a romance novel, a kind of genre study. I have the title, two paragraphs, an outline, and a pseudonym, but I won't incriminate myself further.
  • a&b -- Poetry project that's a long ways off.
  • "Works of Love" -- Essay on ethics and the concept of unconditional love, with some reference to Works of Love by Kierkegaard and possibly a hint of socialism. No hurry on this one either.

12/24 update:

Two more:
  • "If Learning Mattered: A Vision for Higher Education" -- Critique of the bullshit that goes on in colleges and suggestions on how to fix them.
  • Out of Darkness (Tentative title) -- An interactive fiction.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Certain cancerous atheists

Certain cancerous atheists
and shitty movies
tell us:
ideas are infectious.

In your desk, with your notebook,
beside a pacing teacher,
syphilitic seeds begin to sprout,
ideas you may at first doubt,
ideas you may or may not
sooner or later, weed out.

And so as it goes,
we are all overgrown,
overcome, overwrought, overrun
with new thoughts in poor health,
when in good health
we are disposed to none.

You hear of communists
and scientists and racists
and pontiffs under quarantine,

pundits, novelists,
naysayers, and chauvinists
spreading dopamine.

And at the hour,
the bell rings, blaring,
but you don't say shit,

still inhaling and exhaling
the thoughts in the air,

And sooner or later
all the village grows ill
at the suggestion
that ideas are infectious.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Koalas and the Depressed Idols

I've been thinking lately that I'm need of new idols. Well... maybe not idols exactly, more like people that I find intriguing, and, to some extent, find myself identifying with. At the moment those are Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, and Walt Whitman—all white males who never married, who, with the exception of Whitman, were depressed throughout much of their lives.

At times when I find myself gravitating more towards pessimism than optimism, I think about that short list and wonder if it needs to change. Whitman, a more recent addition, would probably do me some good to stay. Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, now that I'm growing more and more disinterested in academic philosophy, could be let go. But I'm not sure whom I should replace them with... Past teachers? Poets? Relative unknowns? Apparitions? Aspirations?

And koalas? Here's what that's about: They subsist on eucalyptus leaves--which are poor in nutrition and poisonous to most other animals. In a way, humans enjoy a similar relationship with modern industrial and post-industrial society. It's what sustains us, but also what drains us; hardly nutritive, hardly enlivening, but nonetheless the way we continue to subsist and live.

Plus, koalas are super cute.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Tear Gas"1

(October 12, 1969: reports of the tear-gassing of demonstrators protesting the treatment of G.I. prisoners in the stockade at Fort Dix, New Jersey)

This is how it feels to do something you are afraid of.
That they are afraid of.

(Would it have been different at Fort Dix, beginning
to feel the full volume of tears in you, the measure
of all you have in you to shed, all you have held
back from false pride, false indifference, false

beginning to weep as you weep peeling onions, but
endlessly, for the rest of time, tears of chemistry,
tears of catalyst, tears of rage, tears for yourself,
tears for the tortured men in the stockade and for
their torturers

tears of fear, of the child stepping into the adult
field of force, the woman stepping into the male field
of violence, tears of relief, that your body was here,
you had done it, every last refusal was over)

Here in this house my tears are running wild
in this Vermont of india-madras-colored leaves, of cesspool-
stricken brooks, of violence licking at old people and
and I am afraid
of the language in my head
I am alone, alone with language
and without meaning
coming back to something written years ago:
our words misunderstand us

wanting a word that will shed itself like a tear
onto the page
leaving its stain

Trying every key in the bunch to get the door even ajar
not knowing whether it's locked or simply jammed from long disuse
trying the keys over and over then throwing the bunch away
staring around for an axe
wondering if the world can be changed like this
if a life can be changed like this

It wasn't completeness I wanted
(the old ideas of a revolution that could be foretold, and once
arrived at would give us ourselves and each other)
I stopped listening long ago to their descriptions
of the good society

The will to change begins in the body not in the mind
My politics is in my body, accruing and expanding with every
act of resistance and each of my failures
Locked in the closet at 4 years old I beat the wall with my body
that act is in me still

No, not completeness:
but I needed a way of saying
(this is what they are afraid of)
that could deal with these fragments
I needed to touch you
with a hand, a body
but also with words
I need a language to hear myself with
to see myself in
a language like pigment released on the board
blood-black, sexual green, reds
veined with contradictions
bursting under pressure from the tube
staining the old grain of the wood
like sperm or tears
but this is not what I mean

these images are not what I mean
(I am afraid.)
I mean that I want you to answer me
when I speak badly
that I love you, that we are in danger
that she wants to have your child, that I want us to have mercy
on each other
that I want to take her hand
that I see you changing
that it was change I loved in you
when I thought I loved completeness
that things I have said which in a few years will be forgotten
matter more to me than this or any poem
and I want you to listen
when I speak badly
not in poems but in tears
not my best but my worst
that these repetitions are beating their way
toward a place where we can no longer be together
where my body no longer will demonstrate outside your stockade
and wheeling through its blind tears will make for the open air
of another kind of action

(I am afraid.)
It's not the worst way to live.

1: By Adrienne Rich (1969)

[Note: I am unsure of the stanza breaks after "our words misunderstand us" and "but this is not what I mean."]

Monday, August 9, 2010

Breaking in Ubuntu

I wrote about my leap to Ubuntu as a Linux newb a while ago. It's been an interesting experience. As much as I'm in love with Ubuntu now, I wouldn't recommend it to people who aren't confident with computers since there's a hell of a learning curve.

But I think, with some tweaks, Ubuntu is a much better experience than either Windows 7 or Mac OS. You just need to get to the point where you've configured everything to your liking.

What follows is the result of a bajillion Google searches. It's a list of the software and tweaks for Ubuntu that I've come to like. I'm hoping this list may end up saving someone else a little bit of time or reminding me what I need to re-install should something go horribly wrong.

Advice for First-Timers
  • You'll get most of your apps and packages from Ubuntu Software Center (Applications -> bottom of menu) or Synaptic Package Manager (System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager). It's unlikely that you'll be hunting down installer packages directly from websites like you would in Mac OS or Windows. However, if you do end up looking for installers, getting .deb files is the easiest (non-command line) way to go about it.
  • Don't have permission to make changes in certain directories even as an admin? Open up the terminal (Applications -> Accessories -> Terminal) and type gksu nautilus, input your password, and voila.
Appearance Customization
  • CompizConfig Settings Manager (CCSM) - Install it and the add-on packages. Play around with it. It's awesome.
  • Wallpapoz - A daemon that shuffles your desktop backgrounds based on specified files/folders. To get it to run on start-up, add it to your Startup Applications (System -> Preferences -> Startup Applications). By default, the run command will probably be /usr/bin/daemon_wallpapoz
  • Xscreensaver - Uninstall the default screensaver app 'cuz all its screensavers are ugly. Install xscreensaver and the extra packages. The best one is "Flurry" with the "Classic" setting.
  • GRUB 2 - I haven't messed with it yet, but if you're dual-booting and want a prettier OS select screen, check it out.
Extra Functionality (Note: I'm also a bit of a Mac person and these customizations reflect this. Be warned.)
  • Mess around with CCSM. The "Desktop Wall" is especially useful for managing multiple workspaces. I have mine set to 2x2.
  • Get DVD Playback Working - Go here and here. If you don't install libdvdcss2 and other packages, you won't be able to watch commercial DVDs.
  • Beagle - The default file search app isn't that great. Try this instead.
  • Avant Window Navigator - Mac OS-like dock for launching applications. Get rid of the default dock, install AWN, and you're good to go. To add specific folder "shortcuts," you'll have to add launchers with terminal commands. The Documents folder, for example, is gnome-open ./Documents/
  • Dashboard-esque Widget Layer - Enable the widget layer in the CCSM. Install Goldendict and Screenlets (also, eventCal is pretty good screenlet). Start Gnome Sticky Notes (the default sticky note app). Under the Behaviour tab in the Widget Layer configuration menu in CCSM, type class=Stickynotes_applet | name=goldendict in the Widget Windows field. Here's my setup:

Awesome Pre-installed Apps
  • - Disable Autocomplete at the start for Writer. I have no clue why it's on by default.
  • Rhythmbox - I was surprised too. Customize it a bit and it's probably you're best bet for a music player, especially since Linux support for Songbird has been discontinued.
  • Firefox - Install a theme to match your system theme to make it look a little better. "Ambiance Ubuntu" or "Ubuntu Radiance," depending on your theme. Also: SmoothWheel and DownloadHelper extensions. (If you're more into Chrome, try Chromium.)
  • Brasero - Basic CD/DVD burning app.
Preferred Apps
  • Gnome MPlayer - For some reason I like this better than Totem and VLC. (Note: When I tried it, it doesn't work to set it as the default player like you would in Windows. You need to right-click on a file, go Properties, and go to the Open With tab to make lasting changes to default players.)
  • Guarddog - Firewall frontend.
  • Cheese Webcam Booth
  • Skype
  • Lifeograph - Password-protected journal app.
  • KolourPaint - Old-school MS Paint Clone.
  • Bluefish - HTML Editor.
  • gFTP - FTP Client.
  • Emesene - If you only use MSN Messenger as your IM client.
  • WINE - Windows App Emulator.
  • Photoshop - I installed CS2 with Wine and it works beautifully. You'll need to install the Windows system fonts to get the menus to show up correctly. (Despite what your friends tell you, GIMP isn't that great.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Poem 34

I tried reading this at an open mic poetry shindig and ended up sucking like a reverse air tunnel. Still, here's an after-the-fact audio recording in hopes that I'll eventually get better at reading my own poems.

Morning and late evening
he's busied for hours,
straining, peeling, mincing, mixing,
and breading with flour.
His items are stale,
shelves stacked with old bread and brown kale,
prepared daily and put out for sale
for monied men to devour.

In the evenings he stands
stirring, sauteeing, garnishing,
and tossing food in pans.
His flavors are astonishing:
clever combinations of old ingredients,
always traditional and obedient,
flavorful and grandiloquent,
the work of skilled hands.

At night he reads Chaucer and Marcus Aurelius
and mixes them with bits of Plato
and sprigs of Leviticus.
His process is the same, but a bit slow,
as he rolls out his arguments
on the finest of parchment,
smelling faintly of fondant
and drinking wine as he goes.

His customers never complain
about the food they're eating,
even those who leave with stomach pains
and leftovers they save for reheating.
Then one day, at a quarter to seven,
Gordon Ramsay walks in,
brow furled and cursing to high heaven,
shouting, "Bland!" and screaming.

2/2/11 update:

That last stanza has to go. It doesn't fit. I'll revise soon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thoughts on Inception

I finally got around to seeing Inception recently. It was entertaining, but I was really put off by it overall. Here's why:

  1. The ground rules were really arbitrary. The Matrix worked so well to some extent because the premise did such a good job of justifying the action. Granted, the human battery business was laughable, but the ideas of computer-controlled reality, agents, and so on allowed for some good action scenes in that context without sacrificing too much believability.

    Inception went with dreamworlds rather than computer-generated ones, but in the process it still opted for a very prescriptive formula. There was some cool stuff with gravity here and there, but it still seemed to conveniently adhere to real-world mechanics. People appear strictly as themselves in their dreams—they can't fly, they age normally, and so forth. Meanwhile, the premise that justifies the action is that the "architect" of the entourage provides the locales, while the dreamer merely populates the world with characters from their subconscious to come to their defense. (This last quirk could have worked out really well if the movie had been a video game called Psychonauts.) Likewise, according to completely arbitrary ground rules, ***SPOILER ALERT*** the main subject had gone through the trouble of learning to militarize his subconscious defense, but didn't bother with lucid dreaming or anything of that sort (or even to use "totems" or other signs). ***END SPOILER***

  2. I think Inception is a prime example of a mismatch in medium. It would have been a great action video game. Instead it was a short two-hour movie that relied heavily on absurd premises in order to justify big-budget action sequences. If the movie had traded out its incessant gunfights and action scenes for character development, it could have been something amazing.

  3. The inception metaphor is ridiculous. A core idea in Inception is that one can insert an "infectious" idea into someone else's mind. Although it's a provocative metaphor, it's completely ridiculous and pseudoscientific in application—kind of like Richard Dawkins's meme metaphor. It's just another absurd facet in an already absurd premise.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Breakfast theory

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I write like...

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

...and John Steinbeck writes like Kurt Vonnegut, I guess.

1. I Write Like

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

4chan philosophizin'

I was really bored tonight and decided to check out 4chan's /lit/ board. Here's what ensued. (Checked posts are mine.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"..." 32

The life of mankind could very well be conceived as a speech in which different men represented the various parts of speech (that might also be applied to the nations in the relations to one another). How many people are merely adjectives, interjections, conjunctions, adverbs; and how few are substantives, verbs, etc.; how many are copula?
    In relation to each other men are like irregular verbs in different languages; nearly all verbs are slightly irregular.
    There are people whose position in life is like that of the interjection, without influence on the sentence— There are the hermits of life, and at the very most take a case, e.g., O me miserum.
    Our politicians are like Greek reciprocals (alleeloin) which are wanting in the nominative singular and all subjective cases. They can only be thought of in the plural and possessive cases.
    The sad thing about me is that my life (the condition of my soul) changes according to declensions where not only the endings change but the whole word is altered.

—Søren Kierkegaard

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"..." 31

[Marshall] McLuhan wrote that our tools end up "numbing" whatever part of our body they "amplify." When we extend some part of ourselves artificially, we also distance ourselves from the amplified part of its natural functions. When the power loom was invented, weavers could manufacture far more cloth during the course of a workday than they'd been able to make by hand, but they sacrificed some of their manual dexterity, not to mention some of their "feel" for fabric. Their fingers, in McLuhan's terms, became numb. Farmers, similarly, lost some of their feel for the soil when they began using mechanical harrows and plows. Today's industrial farm worker, sitting in his air-conditioned cage atop a gargantuan tractor, rarely touches the soil at all—though in a single day he can till a field that his hoe-wielding forebear could not have turned in a month. When we're behind the wheel of our car, we can go a far greater distance than we could cover on foot, but we lose the walker's intimate connection to the land.
    The price we pay to assume technology's power is alienation. The toll can be particularly high with our intellectual technologies. The tools of the mind amplify and in turn numb the most intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities—those for reason, perception, memory, and emotion. The mechanical clock, for all the blessings it bestowed, removed us from the natural flow of time. When Lewis Mumford described how modern clocks helped "create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences," he also stressed that, as a consequence, clocks "disassociated time from human events." [...] In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to wake up, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock. We became a lot more scientific, but we became a bit more mechanical as well.
    In explaining how technologies numb the very faculties they amplify [...] McLuhan was not trying to romanticize society as it existed before the invention of maps or clocks or power looms. Alienation, he understood, is an inevitable by-product of the use of technology. Whenever we use a tool to exert greater control over the outside world, we change our relationship with that world. Control can be wielded only from a psychological distance.

From: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, 2010, pp. 210-212.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"The Unknown Citizen"1

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he
      was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were
      normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was
      fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but
      left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the
      Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when
      there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a
      parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered
      with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
1: By W. H. Auden (1940)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"final note to clark"1

they had it wrong,
the old comics.
you are only clark kent
after all. oh,
mild mannered mister,
why did i think you could fix it?
how you must have wondered
to see me taking chances,
dancing on the edge of words,
pointing out the bad guys,
dreaming your x-ray vision
could see the beauty in me.
what did i expect? what
did i hope for? we are who we are,
two faithful readers,
not wonder woman and not superman.
1: By Lucille Clifton (1993)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"The Widow Lester"1

I was too old to be married,
but nobody told me.
I guess they didn't care enough.
How it had hurt, though, catching bouquets
all those years!
Then I met Ivan, and kept him,
and never knew love.
How his feet stunk in the bed sheets!
I could have told him to wash,
but I wanted to hold that stink against him.
The day he dropped dead in the field,
I was watching.
I was hanging up sheets in the yard,
and I finished.
1: By Ted Kooser (1985?)

John Hodgman on the cultural difference between jocks and nerds

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poem 33

laissez-faire,  &c
dissimilitude     parts and partitions
pierced in the cold     clouded morning
   below vaulted ceilings
spread out like tall evening

  the inside and out, covered and
painted like       the face
  the lips    the mouth     the brow
that lingers in the white
of the eye     smiling at things
    loitering           behind

closed    doors and doorframes,
the parts    and clay pieces
curtailed by     convention—
   a gait            dust-trodden  
wildly   cocksurely
& perhaps predictable;

outside,     the colonnade
   wide  standing       serif,
the lines       and gilt freckles
with carvings    & date engravings. . .

and as the façade perspired
and newspapers decayed out of bins,

a homeless/harmless resident        glared
lazily into a familiar face
he had grown     to distrust.


Not a lot of posts lately, but I've been contributing to another blog that finally got up and going. Just four days since its inception and over 100 posts. Check it out at

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Time Enough at Last* (Poem 32)

Mr. Henry Bemis,
his shattered glasses gleam like shattered dreams
in the wake of broken buildings
and scattered reams,

Mr. Henry Bemis,
his books are tinder now it seems,
fuel for fires, if he has time for fires
or for dreams.

We cannot envy Mr. Bemis,
but may pause to wonder
if circumstances have changed.

The books he read were dead before
the world was silent and defaced.

The ink was conversation,
but he read only for dry consumption
the morsels of Dickens and Baudelaire.

Now, his armchair,
another a place of isolation
in a world far from fair.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Page 19" (Poem 31)

I wonder at times why

one writes an ambitious,
acerbic, everyday,


why the author

tucking back
his coarse pony-tail

opened with a setting
he knew nothing about—

    "fucking corn[fields]" in Topeka.

I am sure he knows all too well
how it feels to grow up

wanting to misplace one's home

to find meaning elsewhere
down endless stretches of road.

And I am sure he has something
pulchritudinous to convey. But
amidst the word choice...

I can't quite go on.

Still, I can't help but wonder

if once I met him
walking across the world in
sweat-stained Patagonia

telling his evening stories
that were both stranger
and wiser than fiction.

If only those stories
were on this page now.

If only those stories
did not scatter
with morning rain.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ubuntu vs. Windows vs. Mac OS

Source: XKCD (2010)

I started using Ubuntu 10.04 a few weeks ago due to misgivings with Windows and Mac OS. It's been an interesting (and sometimes difficult) experience, but if you are willing to deal with the steep learning curve, I highly recommend at least trying it. The more people that use it, the better it will eventually get.

Right now, I'm dual-booting Ubuntu and Windows XP on the same computer (i.e. I select which of the two I want to run when the computer boots up). It's a really excellent option for someone who wants different things from different environments. (Customization and window management from Ubuntu, giant software library from Windows.)

By default, Ubuntu is probably somewhere in between Mac and Windows in terms of interface. A Mac-like panel is at the top, and a Windows-like bar displaying active programs is on the bottom. But because you can customize things, you can change it to your liking. I opted for a more Mac-like experience, which you can see in these screenshots:


And here's my obligatory comparison chart, in case you're curious:

UbuntuWindowsMac OS
+ Completely free and open source.

+/- Very customizable, but you'll run into bugs. Incredible, though, when everything is working.

+ Works with most hardware, often without additional drivers.

- Steep learning curve. You'll probably end up needing to be doing some command line stuff if you want the most out of the experience.

+ Minimal viruses, malware, exploits, etc. (UNIX-based.)

- Small proprietary software library.
+/- Different versions of the OS range in price.

+ Fairly customizable.

+ Works with nearly all hardware (due to its huge market share).

+/- Fairly intuitive, but things can get sluggish if you don't do regular system maintenance.

- Lots of viruses, malware, exploits, etc. (again, largely due to its market share).

+ Ginormous software library.
- Premium prices, for both OS and hardware.

- Minimally customizable so you can't mess up stuff.

- Limited hardware support.

+ Just works. Fairly intuitive. No maintenance necessary.

+ Mac viruses are pretty much an oxymoron. (UNIX-based.)

+/- Decent proprietary software library. But excellent applications for audio/visual stuff.

5/31 update:

Three reasons why Ubuntu is better than Mac OSX: maximizable windows, print selection, cut-and-paste.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Patchwork Nation

I've mentioned this to a few dozen people but never got around to posting it. It's a brilliant idea: The CS Monitor created an alternative to the oversimplistic "red state"/"blue state" maps that are so popular on cable news networks. Instead of two categories, they have 12; and instead of coloring states, they color districts.

There are also some interesting overlays. You can look at which districts have Cracker Barrel restaurants or Whole Foods grocers, as well as many useful statistics related to income, population, military service, education, etc., etc.

Check it out at

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I recently finished up my undergraduate degrees (English and Secondary Ed.), and I don't feel any different. But I would like to start writing more often with the intention of getting things published (and thus shared with a wider audience) instead of merely getting an acceptable grade for them.

So here are my current big projects (aside from teaching!) in order of ambition:
  • "Redescribing Shelley's Defense of Poetry: Rorty, Rich, and the Making of a Neopragmatist Poetics": In a few months I'm hoping to completely revise it and submit it for publication.
  • "A Defense of Reading" [New title: "Reasons for Reading"]: Similar to the attention I gave to Shelley's "A Defence of Poetry," but more in terms of the cultural importance of reading. I've really been wanting a short essay on this topic for my students once I start teaching, and, since I couldn't find any, I decided to write one. It'll draw on Amusing Ourselves to Death, Manufacturing Consent, and an awesome but horrifying quote by Lenny Dykstra. Expect to see it before the end of summer.
  • "If Learning Mattered: How Overemphasizing Quantitative Indicators Distorts the Aims of Institutions of Learning" [tentative title]: This will probably be my master's thesis if I get the topic approved. If not, I'm still writing it.
  • a&b: A volume of poetry that is still a long ways off. (One poem in particular is going to take an absurd amount of research.) Very much in line with the poetics I've described in the top essay.
  • "Works of Love": Creative non-fiction essay on ethics and the concept of unconditional love, with continual reference to Kierkegaard's beautiful Works of Love. I started this in 2008, but I don't plan on finishing it any time soon.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Neopragmatist Poetics

Here is a recent essay that more or less sums up my current views on philosophy. I plan to do some heavy revising down the road, but I think it's still worth reading as is.

1. Redescribing Shelley's Defense of Poetry: Rorty, Rich, and the Making of a Neopragmatist Poetics

2. The Plaque Conspiracy with Continual Reference to Derrida (a humorous, misleading cover sheet and preface originally attached to the above essay)

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Ode to Gnome Chompski" (Poem 30)

How shiny you are,
my little gnome,
and how free you are
from the bloodspatters
surrounding us.

After we escape
to the helicopter
I'm going to ask you
about politics and
universal grammar.

But now we're down
and out, due to spit
and bad teamwork. . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

"A Talk to Teachers"1

Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone in this room is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced, not by Khrushchev, but from within. To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.” Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen.

Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this - that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

Now, if what I have tried to sketch has any validity, it becomes thoroughly clear, at least to me, that any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic. On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war. He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees “liberty and justice for all.” He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth. But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization – that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured. He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people. If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes.

All this enters the child’s consciousness much sooner than we as adults would like to think it does. As adults, we are easily fooled because we are so anxious to be fooled. But children are very different. Children, not yet aware that it is dangerous to look too deeply at anything, look at everything, look at each other, and draw their own conclusions. They don’t have the vocabulary to express what they see, and we, their elders, know how to intimidate them very easily and very soon. But a black child, looking at the world around him, though he cannot know quite what to make of it, is aware that there is a reason why his mother works so hard, why his father is always on edge. He is aware that there is some reason why, if he sits down in the front of the bus, his father or mother slaps him and drags him to the back of the bus. He is aware that there is some terrible weight on his parents’ shoulders which menaces him. And it isn’t long – in fact it begins when he is in school – before he discovers the shape of his oppression.

Let us say that the child is seven years old and I am his father, and I decide to take him to the zoo, or to Madison Square Garden, or to the U.N. Building, or to any of the tremendous monuments we find all over New York. We get into a bus and we go from where I live on 131st Street and Seventh Avenue downtown through the park and we get in New York City, which is not Harlem. Now, where the boy lives – even if it is a housing project – is in an undesirable neighborhood. If he lives in one of those housing projects of which everyone in New York is so proud, he has at the front door, if not closer, the pimps, the whores, the junkies – in a word, the danger of life in the ghetto. And the child knows this, though he doesn’t know why.

I still remember my first sight of New York. It was really another city when I was born – where I was born. We looked down over the Park Avenue streetcar tracks. It was Park Avenue, but I didn’t know what Park Avenue meant downtown. The Park Avenue I grew up on, which is still standing, is dark and dirty. No one would dream of opening a Tiffany’s on that Park Avenue, and when you go downtown you discover that you are literally in the white world. It is rich – or at least it looks rich. It is clean – because they collect garbage downtown. There are doormen. People walk about as though they owned where they are – and indeed they do. And it’s a great shock. It’s very hard to relate yourself to this. You don’t know what it means. You know – you know instinctively – that none of this is for you. You know this before you are told. And who is it for and who is paying for it? And why isn’t it for you?

Later on when you become a grocery boy or messenger and you try to enter one of those buildings a man says, “Go to the back door.” Still later, if you happen by some odd chance to have a friend in one of those buildings, the man says, “Where’s your package?” Now this by no means is the core of the matter. What I’m trying to get at is that by the time the Negro child has had, effectively, almost all the doors of opportunity slammed in his face, and there are very few things he can do about it. He can more or less accept it with an absolutely inarticulate and dangerous rage inside – all the more dangerous because it is never expressed. It is precisely those silent people whom white people see every day of their lives – I mean your porter and your maid, who never say anything more than “Yes Sir” and “No, Ma’am.” They will tell you it’s raining if that is what you want to hear, and they will tell you the sun is shining if that is what you want to hear. They really hate you – really hate you because in their eyes (and they’re right) you stand between them and life. I want to come back to that in a moment. It is the most sinister of the facts, I think, which we now face.

There is something else the Negro child can do, to. Every street boy – and I was a street boy, so I know – looking at the society which has produced him, looking at the standards of that society which are not honored by anybody, looking at your churches and the government and the politicians, understand that this structure is operated for someone else’s benefit – not for his. And there’s no reason in it for him. If he is really cunning, really ruthless, really strong – and many of us are – he becomes a kind of criminal. He becomes a kind of criminal because that’s the only way he can live. Harlem and every ghetto in this city – every ghetto in this country – is full of people who live outside the law. They wouldn’t dream of calling a policeman. They wouldn’t, for a moment, listen to any of those professions of which we are so proud on the Fourth of July. They have turned away from this country forever and totally. They live by their wits and really long to see the day when the entire structure comes down.

The point of all this is that black men were brought here as a source of cheap labor. They were indispensable to the economy. In order to justify the fact that men were treated as though they were animals, the white republic had to brainwash itself into believing that they were, indeed, animals and deserved to be treated like animals. Therefor it is almost impossible for any Negro child to discover anything about his actual history. The reason is that this “animal,” once he suspects his own worth, once he starts believing that he is a man, has begun to attack the entire power structure. This is why America has spent such a long time keeping the Negro in his place. What I am trying to suggest to you is that it was not an accident, it was not an act of God, it was not done by well-meaning people muddling into something which they didn’t understand. It was a deliberate policy hammered into place in or4der to make money from black flesh. And now, in 1963, because we have never faced this fact, we are in intolerable trouble.

The Reconstruction, as I read the evidence, was a bargain between the North and South to this effect: “We’ve liberated them from the land – and delivered them to the bosses.” When we left Mississippi to come North we did not come to freedom. We came to the bottom of the labor market, and we are still there. Even the Depression of the 1930’s failed to make a dent in Negroes’ relationship to white workers in the labor unions. Even today, so brainwashed is this republic that people seriously ask in what they suppose to be good faith, “What does the Negro want?” I’ve heard a great many asinine questions in my life, but that is perhaps the most asinine and perhaps the most insulting. But the point here is that people who ask that question, thinking that they ask it in good faith, are really the victims of this conspiracy to make Negroes believe they are less than human.

In order for me to live, I decided very early that some mistake had been made somewhere. I was not a “nigger” even though you called me one. But if I was a “nigger” in your eyes, there was something about you – there was something you needed. I had to realize when I was very young that I was none of those things I was told I was. I was not, for example, happy. I never touched a watermelon for all kinds of reasons that had been invented by white people, and I knew enough about life by this time to understand that whatever you invent, whatever you project, is you! So where we are no is that a whole country of people believe I’m a “nigger,” and I don’t , and the battle’s on! Because if I am not what I’ve been told I am, then it means that you’re not what you thought you were either! And that is the crisis.

It is not really a “Negro revolution” that is upsetting the country. What is upsetting the country is a sense of its own identity. If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history. And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybody’s history, you must lie about it all. If you have to lie about my real role here, if you have to pretend that I hoed all that cotton just because I loved you, then you have done something to yourself. You are mad.

Now let’s go back a minute. I talked earlier about those silent people - the porter and the maid – who, as I said, don’t look up at the sky if you ask them if it is raining, but look into your face. My ancestors and I were very well trained. We understood very early that this was not a Christian nation. It didn’t matter what you said or how often you went to church. My father and my mother and my grandfather and my grandmother knew that Christians didn’t act this way. It was a simple as that. And if that was so there was no point in dealing with white people in terms of their own moral professions, for they were not going to honor them. What one did was to turn away, smiling all the time, and tell white people what they wanted to hear. But people always accuse you of reckless talk when you say this.

All this means that there are in this country tremendous reservoirs of bitterness which have never been able to find an outlet, but may find an outlet soon. It means that well-meaning white liberals place themselves in great danger when they try to deal with Negroes as though they were missionaries. It means, in brief, that a great price is demanded to liberate all those silent people so that they can breathe for the first time and tell you what they think of you. And a price is demanded to liberate all those white children – some of them near forty - who have never grown up, and who never will grow up, because they have no sense of their identity.

What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really appear to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free. That happens not to be true. What happened was that some people left Europe because they couldn’t stay there any longer and had to go someplace else to make it. That’s all. They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts. Those who were making it in England, for example, did not get on the Mayflower. That’s how the country was settled. Not by Gary Cooper. Yet we have a whole race of people, a whole republic, who believe the myths to the point where even today they select political representatives, as far as I can tell, by how closely they resemble Gary Cooper. Now this is dangerously infantile, and it shows in every level of national life. When I was living in Europe, for example, one of the worst revelations to me was the way Americans walked around Europe buying this and buying that and insulting everybody – not even out of malice, just because they didn’t know any better. Well, that is the way they have always treated me. They weren’t cruel; they just didn’t know you were alive. They didn’t know you had any feelings.

What I am trying to suggest here is that in the doing of all this for 100 years or more, it is the American white man who has long since lost his grip on reality. In some peculiar way, having created this myth about Negroes, and the myth about his own history, he created myths about the world so that, for example, he was astounded that some people could prefer Castro, astounded that there are people in the world who don’t go into hiding when they hear the word “Communism,” astounded that Communism is one of the realities of the twentieth century which we will not overcome by pretending that it does not exist. The political level in this country now, on the part of people who should know better, is abysmal.

The Bible says somewhere that where there is no vision the people perish. I don’t think anyone can doubt that in this country today we are menaced – intolerably menaced – by a lack of vision.

It is inconceivable that a sovereign people should continue, as we do so abjectly, to say, “I can’t do anything about it. It’s the government.” The government is the creation of the people. It is responsible to the people. And the people are responsible for it. No American has the right to allow the present government to say, when Negro children are being bombed and hosed and shot and beaten all over the Deep South, that there is nothing we can do about it. There must have been a day in this country’s life when the bombing of the children in Sunday School would have created a public uproar and endangered the life of a Governor Wallace. It happened here and there was no public uproar.

I began by saying that one of the paradoxes of education was that precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society. It is your responsibility to change society if you think of yourself as an educated person. And on the basis of the evidence – the moral and political evidence – one is compelled to say that this is a backward society. Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, who were in my care only a few hours of every day and would then return to their homes and to the streets, children who have an apprehension of their future which with every hour grows grimmer and darker, I would try to teach them - I would try to make them know – that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him. I would teach him that if he intends to get to be a man, he must at once decide that his is stronger than this conspiracy and they he must never make his peace with it. And that one of his weapons for refusing to make his peace with it and for destroying it depends on what he decides he is worth. I would teach him that there are currently very few standards in this country which are worth a man’s respect. That it is up to him to change these standards for the sake of the life and the health of the country. I would suggest to him that the popular culture – as represented, for example, on television and in comic books and in movies – is based on fantasies created by very ill people, and he must be aware that these are fantasies that have nothing to do with reality. I would teach him that the press he reads is not as free as it says it is – and that he can do something about that, too. I would try to make him know that just as American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, so is the world larger, more daring, more beautiful and more terrible, but principally larger – and that it belongs to him. I would teach him that he doesn’t have to be bound by the expediencies of any given administration, any given policy, any given morality; that he has the right and the necessity to examine everything. I would try to show him that one has not learned anything about Castro when one says, “He is a Communist.” This is a way of his learning something about Castro, something about Cuba, something, in time, about the world. I would suggest to him that his is living, at the moment, in an enormous province. America is not the world and if America is going to become a nation, she must find a way – and this child must help her to find a way to use the tremendous potential and tremendous energy which this child represents. If this country does not find a way to use that energy, it will be destroyed by that energy.
1: By James Baldwin (1963)

Friday, April 2, 2010

"the birth of language"1

and adam rose
fearful in the garden
without words
for the grass
his fingers plucked
without a tongue
to name the taste
shimmering in his mouth
did they draw blood
the blades   did it become
his early lunge
toward language
did his astonishment
surround him
did he shudder
did he whisper

1: By Lucille Clifton (1991)

Monday, March 29, 2010

"To Postmodernity"1

Some of the poets have discovered
that we are anxious to disconnect
the dots and words, to invoke
speech's possible ramble
coming in, awash and surrounding
like a tide, like a tide
of dead leaves whispering
our autumnal contingencies.

And true, the clichés abound,
exposing our non-being
and the certain emptiness of death,
the passivity needed to survive
the modern by luxuriant asides.

And yet love's obliquity
is still a language,
a tutoring mastery of desires
and hurts, leaps and kneelings
at the utterance of a name.

1: By Michael Heller (2003)

Sunday, February 28, 2010


There hangs a space between the man
and his words

     like the space around a few snowflakes
     just languidly beginning

     where an oil rig has dissolved in fog

man in self-arrest
between word and act

writing agape, agape
with a silver fountain pen

1: By Adrienne Rich (2002)

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Moving"   (Poem 29)

Between my arms
something about this rings hollow,
though I see it overflows,
leaving a trail of junk to follow.

Years of book ends, bottle openers,
nail clippers, socks, and leg warmers
reaching from the bare carpet,
and I care for none of it.

But still I follow it
to the mattress against the wall, leaning
beside the window by the corridor
beside folded boxes and open doors,

And I don't know what it is
but I think I can hear it
along the cracks and through the quiet—

The rooms empty in their clutter,
more hollow now than cleared tomorrow.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

§35 1

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work
      of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and
      the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all
And the cow crunching with depress'd head surpasses
      any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions
      of infidels.

I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits,
      grains, esculent roots,
And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
But call any thing back again when I desire it.

In vain the speeding or shyness,
In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my
In vain the mastodon retreats beneath its own powder'd
In vain objects stand leagues off and assume manifold
In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the great
      monster slying low,
In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky,
In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs,
In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods,
In vain the razor-bill'd auk sails far north to Labrador,
I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of
      the cliff.

1: From "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman

Friday, January 1, 2010

"To You"1

To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now—
     our problem world—
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered free—help me!
All you who are dreamers too,
     Help me to make
     Our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.

1: By Langston Hughes